Free Things to do in Oceanside
On a Budget? Don’t fret! Having a blast in Oceanside does not require spending lots of money, no matter the size of your wallet there are plenty of fun activities to do and sites to visit! Whether it’s enjoying nature and the local wildlife, exploring new areas, learning about the local history, or experiencing some of the culture, this list is sure to have something for all the penny savers out there!
Check out our Locals
The best way to experience the true locals of Oceanside is completely free! Simply drive to the Oceanside Harbor and travel down North Harbor Drive towards Sea Lion Island. Once you reach the harbor make sure you roll down your windows so that you can hear the calling card of our locals! Their tell-tale barking will mark their location, all you have to do is pull off, park along the street, and follow the noise back to the waters edge!
Sea Lions are a social bunch that don’t mind lounging in large numbers, or getting vocal with one another. On any given day you can spot 10-15 Sea Lions laying together on the docks to the side of the Harbor Pier, often with a few playing in the water nearby. Depending on the time of year you might even spot babies snuggled up with their mom!
As with all wild animals it is important to give the native Sea Lions adequate space and to not disturb them. Along the sidewalk parallel to the docks there are several benches and a lookout area for you to safely observe and capture your pictures from without intruding on their space.
Take a Hike
With beautiful weather the majority of the year, being outdoors to enjoy the light ocean breeze and warm sun is a privileged we get to partake in often. One of the best ways to get fresh air and stay active is to go on an enjoyable hike in one of Oceanside’s many parks.
Oak Riparian Park is a scenic public park with direct access to over 6.4 miles of the Calavera Trail System, providing a path to Lake Calavera in Carlsbad. The park itself features two large grass fields perfect for outdoor group games, as well as two adjacent playgrounds, several picnic tables and a public restroom.
Guajome Park also features several trails to walk, run, or bike on in addition to a small lake bustling with migratory birds and fish. Here the dirt trails are wide and smooth making it an easy place to get out and enjoy nature without requiring any special planning in advance.
Dogs are welcome to join you on leash, and there are plenty of benches to relax and take in the views from throughout the park. Guajome Park also features a covered playground for the kids to play at, a basketball court and public restrooms. Guajome Park is free to enter and parking is $3.
Lets Have a Beach Day
What would a trip to Oceanside be if you never experienced the beach?! Oceanside’s beaches stretch down the coast roughly 3 miles, offering a variety of coastal experiences. Depending on the Oceanside beach you choose, in addition to the sand and waves there might also be kids playgrounds, volleyball nets, bonfire pits, bbq stations, and even nearby parks with large grass fields to retreat to.
After you’ve gotten your fill of beach fun, if you chose to stay at Oceanside’s Harbor Beach or don’t mind a walk in the sand, head to either one of the jetties that jut out into the ocean. There the sure-footed can carefully walk out onto the jetty and take in the stunning views that would otherwise be impossible without a boat. Don’t forget to look around the rocks for crabs, starfish and other cool creatures you wouldn’t normally see from the beach either!
More: Oceanside Beaches
The free multi-level parking garage located at the corner of Seagaze Drive and S Cleveland St. stands as the best spot for free parking near the pier. For Oceanside’s harbor beach, the Riverside Drive Parking Lot is also free and offers hundreds of parking spots to choose from. Both are under a 10 minute walk to the beach sand. We recommend dropping off family at the sand with your beach gear, then parking and meeting up. To learn more about parking in Oceanside check out the City of Oceanside Parking Guide.
Murals and Street Art
Home to an emerging art scene, Oceanside’s cultural district is one of fourteen premiere state cultural districts designated by the California Arts Council. With the arts such a significant part of Oceanside, many local businesses have embraced it by commissioning murals to be painted on the sides of their buildings.
Each mural emanates it’s own unique personality and flare that coincides with it’s location. Ranging from beautiful ocean depictions to flying pigs, Oceanside’s murals transform otherwise ordinary buildings into public art. Taking a short drive through downtown Oceanside many murals can be spotted from the car, but to truly appreciate them we recommend taking a self-guided mural tour using the map with their locations below. Thankfully many are clustered together so that you can easily park and walk from one mural to the next. Don’t forget to take a selfie in front of your favorite and hashtag #OceansideMurals!
More: Murals in Oceanside
Click on the top, left map icon to expand specific mural location information
Click on the top, right icon to open in Google Maps application
Oceanside Art Walk
On the first friday of the month Oceanside transforms into an artist haven! The Oceanside Art Walk showcases local artists and their work in pop-up art galleries located in local businesses and public spaces. In addition to the art galleries there are also live art performances, live music, poetry, art education, and culinary demonstrations!
This event is open to the public, and admission to the Oceanside Museum of Art is also free during the Art Walk!
Can you Spot the Wildlife?
Another fun and free activity you can do is head to the Buena Vista Nature Center to learn all about the wildlife that lives in Oceanside and the surrounding areas. Featuring numerous displays showing taxidermied local wildlife, as well as interactive displays and resources, the center is a great place to learn about nature. Following your tour of the displays head to the top deck and grab one of the complimentary binoculars to try and spot the many types of species you just learned about!
Finally take your new found knowledge out on the 1/4 mile trail which loops through the grounds. There you’ll see a variety of native plants and habitats, and if you’re lucky some pretty special creatures as well!
Don’t Miss the Markets!
Thursday’s are the best days! People from far and wide travel to Oceanside every Thursday to participate and experience the wonderfully diverse Farmers and Sunset Markets, both of which are free to attend! Taking place every week year round in downtown Oceanside, visitors will be treated to a colorful sea of pop-ups boasting their own unique sights and smells that will have your senses firing on all cylinders!
Starting in the morning, 9am to 1pm, the Oceanside Farmers Market kicks off Thursdays the right way with a blend of fresh local produce, blooming and fragrant flowers, gourmet treats, freshly baked goods, organic honey and more for sale. The Farmers Market doesn’t stop there, unlike other similar markets this one also features dozens of craft booths that offer jewelry, clothing, soap and lotions, local photography and more in addition to food booths for those craving a ready-made bite to eat.
Once 5pm hits, the larger Oceanside Sunset Market officially begins. Featuring ~200 merchants every week, this market spans four city blocks and brings people from all walks of life together. The center of the market includes an open area with live music at the Main Stage, as well as seating to relax and take in the sights and smells from. Head out in any direction and you’ll find 40+ food vendors making up the International Food Court, which boast American Classics, Asian and Pacific Cuisine, Exotic Island Specialties, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and more. Eclectic shopping can also be done in the World Marketplace, and gourmet fresh treats are also available at Fresh and Ready Row. If you’re having trouble deciding which food to try check out our blog on What to Eat at the Oceanside Sunset Market.
There’s History Everywhere
The City of Oceanside was incorporated on July 3, 1888 as a coastal town located close to the largest of the California Missions, Mission San Luis Rey. Due to it’s location, Oceanside grew rapidly with the advent of the Oceanside Pier, Oceanside High School, and Oceanside Library. Despite being well over a century ago, remnants of Oceanside’s early days still exist today scattered throughout downtown Oceanside. Buildings like the Bunker House for example, originally built in the 1800’s, continue to operate as active places of business while simultaneously standing as historical landmarks within the downtown community.
A great way to learn about Oceanside’s rich history and see these landmarks in person is to take a guided Downtown History Walk. Taking place April through September on the second Saturday of the month, if you can make it we highly recommend setting aside a couple hours in the morning to attend. These walks are free, but if you can spare some cash consider donating to the docent leading your tour.
If you are not able to make one of the guided walks, fear not! Self-guided history walks are made easy thanks to the Oceanside Historical Society’s history map, complete with a list of locations and points of interest to visit on your own time!
(Click to Enlarge)
Kids get in Free!
Located right in the heart of downtown, the California Surf Museum features an incredible array of surf history and specialized exhibits giving a window into surf culture both old and new. Here you’ll not only find vintage surf boards proudly on display, but also famous surfer exhibits including that of Kelley Slater and Bethany Hamilton, as well their newest exhibit “The Healing Power of Wave-Riding – Featuring Adaptive Surfing.” Admission is free for Kids 11 and under, and general admission is $5.
Just a short walk up the street from the California Surf Museum lies the Oceanside Museum of Art, or OMA for short. Serving as a hub for art in Oceanside’s Cultural District, OMA offers a diverse and ever changing list of exhibits featuring artists with styles that span the entire artistic spectrum. In addition to incredible exhibits, the Oceanside Musem of Art also hosts numerous art-based workshops and classes throughout the year. To see a full list of current and upcoming exhibits visit Exhibitions at OMA. Admission to the Oceanside Museum of Art is free for children 18 and under. General admission is $8, and on the first Sunday of the month admission is free!