Oceanside Is Secretly The Best Surf Town In California
This is the low-key beach break you/we/everyone needs
Surfing is the quintessential California activity. In an instant, everything can come together in a triumph, or fall apart into a glorious mess — and after several years of traveling the world competing with the greats, surfing pro-turned-surfing instructor Duran Barr is ready to help other people experience that same thrill.
Born and raised in Carlsbad, Barr now lives and works in Oceanside running North County Surf Academy — a position from which he’s witnessed the region’s massive growth over the last few years. Barr’s grandparents initially settled in the area because of proximity to a military base, and his parents both grew up on the beaches there as well: His dad, David Barr, competed during the ‘80s and has since become a renowned surfboard shaper.
In a recent interview Barr explained how he was “destined” to become a surfer, given his family background.
“I got started surfing as soon as I could walk — or even earlier, maybe, in the womb with my mom,” he said. “My dad was a professional surfer, he was on tour, so he helped pave the way for a lot of San Diego surfing and competing, and putting San Diego on the map at that higher level. I was born into a pretty highly respected local surfing family, so that was my lifestyle from the start.”
Given the recent influx of interest in surf culture — the sport was just recently added to the Olympics, along with another paradigmatic San Diego activity, skateboarding — Oceanside has come into its own as a destination not just for SoCal adventurers, but for landlocked travelers eager to get a taste of a real surf town. A pair of recently opened hotels in the area, a family-oriented classic resort called The Seabird and its more modern, adult counterpart, Mission Pacific, have also spiked interest in the beachfront city.
For Barr, partnering with these properties to offer surf lessons to their guests has been a boon for his fledgling business, and a chance to make sure newcomers learn the proper surfing etiquette. “I’m grateful for it, and super blessed to be able to help mold how surfing is taught in my community,” he said. “The hotels have done a good job of reaching out to the right people, and getting the right people in place so the locals will respect that. If they brought in an outside surf vendor from, say, La Jolla, we would all be bummed.”
Hiring Duran to give guests a taste of local surf culture isn’t the only thing these properties are doing right. This fall, a highly anticipated new restaurant from acclaimed Mexican chef Roberto Alcocer is slated to open. Named for the Valle de Guadalupe region — Alcocer’s home — Valle will be the first American concept from one of Mexico’s modern culinary greats. Meanwhile, Mission Pacific’s completely outdoor Rooftop Bar has already become a local hang for peak sunset viewing at happy hour, with a menu of assorted tacos, tostadas, and tortas — plus unmissable grilled oysters — that’s also overseen by Alcocer.
Across the way, The Seabird offers a larger pool, with all-day beer, cocktail and wine service from The Shelter Club, along with a menu of poolside classics like chicken tenders, nachos, burgers and salads. This restaurant is limited to hotel guests, which helps make the pool something of an oasis, especially if you settle in for the day at a private cabana. If noshing and drinking by the pool while enjoying an ocean view is your speed, this welcoming, low-key resort will not disappoint. For those who want to feel the sand between their toes, walk less than a block down to the water and pick up beach chairs, towels and umbrellas from The Seabird tent staked out to help equip guests with all they need to enjoy the water and sun.
Sitting on the sand or taking a surf lesson are all well and good, but there’s plenty more to explore in Oceanside if the beach isn’t in the cards for whatever reason. Visit the California Surf Museum to learn more about the sport’s historic roots and local connections, or rent a bike, preferably an electric one for increased relaxation, and ride down to the marina on the other side of town for a cold beer and a cheap appetizer at local haunt, The Broiler — they have daily happy hour from 12-6 PM, and two outdoor patios to enjoy views of the boats while you get a buzz on. Or, if skateboarding is your preferred method of madness, the hotel offers skateboarding lessons or sessions by appointment as well.
And even if you’re not in the water surfing for one of Duran’s lessons, always keep in mind that hanging out on a beach in Oceanside is kind of like stepping into the living room of the area’s avid surfing community. “Surfers treat their beach or the place they grew up surfing like their home,” Barr explained. “When you go to someone’s home, you treat it with respect, and you’re gracious and you’re kind. In the water, tread lightly and show respect to the locals — give respect and you’ll receive respect.”
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