By Greg Aragon
Oceanside has always been a classic California beach town. But now, thanks to a current renaissance, the city is showcasing its fascinating history, architecture and culture, while also welcoming a host of new restaurants, boutique hotels, exciting waterfront adventures and more.
I began a recent getaway to Oceanside at the newest, yet oldest hotel in town, The Fin (thefinhotel.com). Located on Coast Highway, in the “happening” district known as “South Oceanside,” the property originally opened in 1927 as the Keisker and was one of the first hotels in Oceanside. After few closures and incarnations, it reopened in May 2018 as The Fin, a luxe boutique hotel that blends Oceanside history with modern surf culture. The 27-room property retains much of the building’s original character including multi-colored, mosaic tile flooring in the lobby, a grand wooden-railed staircase, elegant Tiffany windows and a classic, 1920s architectural profile attracting attention from the street.
My standard King Room at The Fin was modern and efficient, with a 49-inch HDTV, free Wi-Fi, Keurig coffee maker, microwave, minifridge, separate toilet and shower, occupancy sensor lighting, alarm clock with Bluetooth speaker and a partial view of the ocean.
Once unpacked, I joined some friends for lunch at St. Tropez Bistro (sttbistro.com). Set in a 130-year-old, yellow Victorian house that has become an Oceanside landmark, the eatery serves up Euro-California cuisine in a charming, intimate setting, with creaky hardwood floors and tales of ghosts.
For our lunch we sampled delicious veggie ratatouille and swiss, with zucchini, eggplant, red bell pepper, red onion in a tomato sauce; baked quiche with spinach; and smoked salmon with goat cheese, pesto and red onion.
After lunch we set out on foot to explore town. Part modern and part retro, Oceanside boasts an exciting and walkable downtown lined with historic structures housing eclectic shops and restaurants, museums, breweries, barbershops, and one of California’s most beautiful civic centers. The latter, designed by Architect Charles Moore, is a group of white buildings with arches and courtyards, surrounded by fountains, reminiscent of Moore’s famous Piazza d’Italia in New Orleans.
Our first stop was the “Top Gun” house, the cottage made famous in Tom Cruise’s 1986 fighter pilot adventure. Also known as the Graves House, the Queen Anne Victorian cottage was built in 1887 and is one of the oldest houses still standing in Oceanside. Besides being associated with Lieutenant “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) and Charlie Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), the house is the best preserved example of folk Victorian architecture in San Diego County.
After taking a few selfies in front of the “Top Gun” residence, I walked across the street to the 1,942 ft-long Oceanside Pier, one of the longest wooden piers on the West Coast. I then strolled along the sand for a couple blocks to Pier View Way, where I turned right and found the California Surf Museum (surfmuseum.org). Celebrating the history and lifestyle of surfing, the museum showcases exhibits such as “Courageous Inspiration,” which profiles surfer Bethany Hamilton; and “China Beach,” which highlights surfing during the Vietnam War. The place also displays numerous popular surfers and the boards that made them famous.
Back at The Fin Hotel, I relaxed before walking across the street to meet my friends for dinner at Masters Kitchen & Cocktail Restaurant (mastersoceanside.com). Located in a reinvented industrial-inspired space, that was once an auto drag racing shop, the restaurant serves craft cocktails and exciting, unique food. Here we met Chef Darrell Campbell and sampled some of his creative and tasty dishes.
Our culinary journey featured specialty cocktails, incredible vegan cheeses, homemade pickled vegetables, Scottish Salmon, Italian speck prosciutto, Calabrese spicy salami, black truffle salami, and beef bresaola. For dessert we devoured flourless chocolate cake, with blood orange creme fraiche and Cyclops Farms strawberry’s.
Next week, I continue my tour of the city with a moonlight paddle through Oceanside Harbor with its beautiful yachts and barking seals; I hop in a helicopter, ride along the beach in a Batman-like Slingshot sports car (waveriderhelicoptertours.com); and take an electric, Fat Tire bike (rideoside.com) to Mission San Luis Rey, the largest of the 21 California Missions.
For more information on visiting Oceanside, visit: visitoceanside.org.