Harbor (1200 N. Pacific St.)
If a beach is judged by nothing more than the quality of the sand between the breakers and the street, Oceanside's Harbor Beach may be the best beach in the county. Of course, there's more than sand on your mind when choosing a beach, and Harbor Beach scores well in most categories.
It's one of San Diego's widest beaches, nearly a quarter-mile from street to surf. Except for major holidays, Harbor Beach is never a sardine squeeze. You're also likely to share the beach with tourists staying at any of several hotels just to the east. Bodyboarders, bodysurfers, swimmers and surfers enjoy the waves here, with surfers separated into their own zone.
There are restrooms, fire rings and beach showers. Lifeguards staff the towers during high-use season. Picnic at several shade structures. Stock up at a mini-market and snack stand adjacent to the parking lot.
Pay just $5 for an all-day ticket. Extra-long spaces are available for boat trailers. RV travelers pay $15 per night on a first-come, first-served basis. A free two-hour lot is available just to the east of the pay lots along Harbor Drive South.
Buccaneer (1500 South Pacific Street)
Barely 150 feet wide, Buccaneer Beach is more like a sandy break in the monolithic wall of condos that separates Pacific Street from the Oceanside breakers. You’ll find this family beach filled with sun worshipers working on their tans. Buccaneer Park has a great lawn, restroom and a shaded gazebo.
South Oceanside (South Pacific Street)
South Oceanside Beach offers only hard-packed sand, swallowed by the waves at high tide. No amenities here, unless you can convince a condo owner to let you use their restroom.
Oceanside (301 N. The Strand)
The Oceanside Pier is ground zero for beach activities and, in many ways, the heart of the community. Refurbished in 1987, the pier extends about a quarter of a mile into the water. Anglers crowd the edges of the wide deck, experiencing degrees of success and sunburn. Ruby's, a '50s-style diner, sits at the end. Go upstairs for drinks at the casual Surf Lounge - it has a great view. At the opposite end of the pier, a sloping - and wheelchair-unfriendly - ramp takes you down to beach level. A stylish, tiny McDonald's offers typical fare with a few unusual items added to their menu. Chow down at a forest of umbrella tables and grassy spots in the shade of the pier. The main street along the shore is called, simply, The Strand. The concrete strip welcomes cars, bikes and pedestrians. The wide, sandy beach to the west is considerably more appealing. The palm-lined four-mile beach is a multicultural mix of families, teens, bodyboarders and surfers.
Oceanside's harvest of beach-break peaks and barrels work year-round, but are cleanest on a south swell at low to medium tide. It's usually bigger than the rest of North County. A good rule of thumb with Oceanside is that it blows out early. To get the glass (and beat the summer blackballs and crowds), get there at the crack of dawn. From Buccaneer Beach in south Oceanside to the pier, peaks break along Pacific Street and The Strand. The best waves follow the migratory sandbars.
When it's cranking, the jetty, at the foot of South Harbor Drive and at the mouth of the San Luis Rey River, serves up torquing barrels. This jetty is usually the last Oceanside wave to close out on a big swell. Find metered parking along south Harbor Drive, and free parking at Cape Cod Village.