Oceanside Surf Guide: From a Local

Along the infamous 101 Pacific Coast Highway and located at the northernmost point of San Diego County, lies a small surf town named Oceanside. 

Known in the past as a prominent Marine town due to its close proximity to Camp Pendleton, Oceanside surf culture has played a big part in the town’s reinvention. It is now known for its funky vibes, local businesses, and consistent surf. 

I had the privilege of calling Oceanside home for 4 years, and can honestly say I experienced some of the best surf of my life! 

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Oceanside Surf Overview 

Aerial shot of the Oceanside pier, showcasing the fun Oceanside surf at sunset
Image by Amy Sparwasser

The Oceanside coast is home to some of the best beach breaks California has to offer. The coastal stretch has hundreds of little peaks where you can almost always find an empty or uncrowded wave. 

I have always considered myself more of a longboarder; therefore my prime surfing time was around mid to higher tides. However, I grew to love those low-tide days and began shortboarding and challenging myself quite a bit after living there for some time. Oceanside works around just about any tide, as long as there is swell. If it is smaller, mid tides will be your sweet spot! 

How to get to Oceanside 

If you are flying in from outside the country, you will most likely want to choose LAX or SAN as they will offer better connections and international rates. 

From here, it is a moderately short drive either north or south along the coast to Oceanside.

 I always recommend people skip the freeway and take the iconic 101 highway overlooking the California coast. It will probably take you a little longer to get there, but the views will make it 100% worth it! 

Note: You will definitely need a car or at least an e-bike here to get around. Discovercars always has the best car rental rates

The Different Oceanside Surf Spots (North to South) 

Surfer riding a steep right hand wave in Oceanside
Image by Thomas De Wever

Oceanside Harbor: 

The Oceanside Harbor is a crowd favorite in the area. Located off Harbor Blvd., you will find a little village on the harbor with numerous restaurants, kayak/boat rentals, etc. There is both paid and free parking, though it is important to note that the area can get quite busy!

You can surf both North and South of the main jetty. The waves here can range from friendly to hollow and heavy depending on size. If you consider yourself a beginner, I don’t recommend surfing here if it is any bigger than 3ft. For the more experienced surfers, the harbor offers all sorts of right and left hand peaks which is nice when trying to dodge crowds. 

The waves breaking right off the jetty usually have slightly better shape. However, when conditions are right, you will see perfect a-frames from one side to the other. 

Oceanside Pier 

Oceanside pier in the background with Oceanside surf in the foreground
Image by MattGush

*If you are a beginner, or not yet comfortable paddling out + controlling and holding on to your board, try to refrain from sitting directly next to the pier. This is where the more advanced surfers usually go and they can get quite annoyed with beginners in their space. Thankfully, there are multiple peaks north and south of the pier, so you will be able to catch waves and not have to worry about getting yelled at or hurt! 

The parking situation is quite hectic, therefore I recommend parking on the street and walking to the break. There is paid parking just in front of the pier, but spots are incredibly limited. 

North Side– This is the recommended side for beginners, as it is slightly less heavy and has a much more mellow crowd. This left off the pier is, to this day, one of my favorite waves to surf. If you are goofy like me, you will likely enjoy it as well! 

South Side– The South side of the pier is known to have a much more aggressive crowd full of really good surfers and not much room for learners, unless you venture all the way down to Tyson.

Here, there is a lot more space and empty peaks to play around on.

The South side is a bit more shallow therefore can get hollow and heavy, so if you are a shortboarder and consider yourself to be intermediate/advanced, this wave will not disappoint! Just be sure to respect the true locals and not take off on every wave, as they are not afraid to regulate their spot. 

Tyson Street 

Just south of the pier, you will find yourself on Tyson Street. There is a big sign and a long staircase down to the beach with a playground at the end of it; you literally can’t miss it! This is another beach entrance if you are wanting to surf the peaks just south of the pier. 

Wisconsin Street 

As you venture further South, you can turn into Wisconsin Street. If you are running low on energy and need a little pick me up, I recommend stopping at ‘The Cup’ coffee shop on your way to check the waves.

This area will also be a sand bottom with the occasional big rock sticking up (make sure you ask a local where these are). It works best around mid to higher tides and is best for more experienced surfers as it can get hollow fast. 

Buccaneer Beach 

If you are looking for a mellow place to spend the day, Buccaneer Beach will be your best bet. It is a small stretch of sand located in front of Buccaneer Cafe (best breakfast in town!). This is another sand-bottom a-frame and works best around mid to high tide. 

Best swell(s) for Oceanside: 

Spring/Summer: Smaller South swells, although we get the occasional big day within this window! 

Fall/Winter: Bigger swells from the North bring in consistent, heavier waves as well as less onshore wind. 

Oceanside surf seasons 

Southern California is blessed to have waves year-round, therefore you can visit any time you want depending on what you are looking for. Obviously, the weather is better in the spring and summer months, and you likely won’t need a full wetsuit.

Unless it is glassy all day, you will still want to stick to the early morning or sunset hours as the middle of the day can see some onshore winds during this time. 

If your main focus is surfing and you are looking to ride some bigger waves, northern winter swells hit Oceanside beautifully. As long as you don’t mind wearing a wetsuit and can bear the brain freeze after that first duck dive, you will score some amazing surf. The wind also tends to die down resulting in more full glassy days than not! 

If you plan to come in fall/winter (October-February) I definitely recommend bringing a full suit and possibly booties + a hood to be prepared as water temperatures can drop quickly. Of course, you can always rent gear since you are in a 1st world country. Oceanside has numerous surf shops along the coast.

Oceanside Surf Tips:

Best Oceanside Surf Shops

Whether you are looking to rent a wetsuit/surfboard or just want to check out clothes + support local, here are some of my favorite surf shops! 

Real Surf Shop 

Asylum Surf Shop 

Surf Ride 

Other places to surf:

 You can also drive south to Carlsbad or Encinitas for more loggy waves. There are numerous reef breaks near Oceanside that can add variety to your surf experience! 

What to do in Oceanside while you’re not surfing

My favorite Oceanside leisure spots:

Jazzy Wishbone – Local Jazz Bar 

Local Tap House (LTH) – Local Restaurant 

Captain’s Helm – Coffee shop / Thrift store 

Coomber Craft Wines – Wine tasting + live music (must make reservation) Sancho’s Tacos – Mexican food 

Kilowatt Brewing – Brewery + Games (Trivia night on tuesdays) 

Communal Coffee Shop – Coffee + cowork space

Oceanside surf guide- final thoughts 

In summary, rent a car, take the 101, drive slow, take it all in, and stop along the coast! Oceanside is unique in the sense that you can still find empty, unridden waves if you look hard enough. 

If you have some downtime in between surfs, I urge you to support local spots/vendors. Be sure to explore the town and its many murals, bars, skate parks, restaurants, etc. I’ve listed a few of my favorite leisure spots above for reference. 

With all this said, I wish you the best time and hope you get the most out of your Oceanside surf trip! 

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