Appropriately named for its picturesque location along a small stretch of America’s infamous West Coast, the Californian town of Oceanside had humble beginnings first as a landmark during the time of Spanish exploration and mission-building in the San Luis Rey Valley. In the 1940s, thanks to the United States Navy taking up residence with a nearby base, the town was spearheaded by increased development via a rapidly growing population of marines and their families.
Jet skiing, surfing, outrigger canoeing, scuba diving, and whale watching excursions only just scrape the surface of the array of water sports Oceanside has to offer. Meanwhile on land, the town breathes an easy-going charm with local markets, a fishing pier, and a smattering of parks. Add insanely amiable weather and a palm-tree dotted coastline, and it’s a location anyone with a craving for salty ocean air would fall in love with.
One such seaside-loving family, the Dennings (aka the team behind Family Beach Travel) are big believers in raising their two children with a taste for exploring foreign shores. Both writers for online magazine The Inertia as well as their own Family Beach Travel website, Chelsea and husband Mike have spent the past year surfing and journeying across 6 continents, with over 30 countries ticked off their bucket list.
Although their travels have taken them far and wide to places rich in culture and diverse in adventure, the Denning family’s home base is in Oceanside. Chelsea and Mike were able to give us a peek into what makes their town in San Diego County the perfect destination for your next family sea-cation.
Name: Chelsea & Mike Denning
Where’s home right now: Oceanside, CA, which is a coastal city in San Diego County.
Kids: Coral our daughter and Reef our son. Plus we have another daughter on the way!
Q: How long have you been living there, and what inspired you to move there?
A: We have lived in San Diego since we graduated from college, in 2008. We are both from Orange County and when we left O’ahu, we wanted to come back to Southern California, and we also like San Diego over Orange County, so we ended up here.
Q: Best thing about where you live:
A: The best thing about where we live is the ocean and the weather. We get to surf every day and lots of our friends surf every day too. Chelsea actually has a group of friends who do a daily “mom swap” where she brings the kids to the beach and the moms take turns watching each other’s kids while they surf. It is a great way to have fun and support your friends. This group of women started off doing this once a week and now they meet almost daily.
Q: When you have overseas visitors with kids visiting you, where’s the first place you take them to showoff your town?
A: When we have overseas visitors, we take them to the beach, and we take them to get Mexican food. We have incredible Mexican food and great beaches in San Diego. We take them to Mexico if they have time. Its only 45 minutes from our house and it is an entirely different country/culture/experience.
Q: What’s the best time of year to visit the area and why?
A: The best time of year in our opinion is September through November. Summer is crowded, Spring is cloudy and not very sunny, Winter is the coldest. You can hang out at the beach and swim in the ocean in September and October in your board shorts or bikini and not have to fight for parking or a spot on the beach, because all of the tourists are gone!
Q: Would you rate the area as expensive to visit? If so, what are some tips to keep costs down?
A: Expensive is a relative term. If you’re from Europe, San Diego is not expensive. If you’re from Cuba, San Diego is incredibly expensive. A lot of it has to do with the dollar and foreign currency exchange rates. They are constantly fluctuating and if you plan trips to places where the currency is weak against the dollar, you can save a ton of money. I went to Australia in 2000 when the dollar was strong and the Australian dollar was weak. It was dirt cheap. If I went in 2008, when the dollar tanked and the Australian Dollar was strong, I would have had to sleep in a car or on the beach! San Diego is one of the more expensive cities in the USA, so if you’re coming to the US from a different country, San Diego will cost more than most other US cities. Tips to keep cost down would be to stay in an Airbnb or VRBO and buy groceries and cook your own meals. Don’t park right on the beach, walk a block or two for free parking.
Q: Best nearby beaches for surf families?
A: Surf families would love our town. Every beach city from San Clemente to Mexico has great waves. You really can’t go wrong visiting here as long as you stay in a beach city.
Q: Any local attractions you think are overrated/best to avoid?
A: I think Disneyland is overrated. I probably will get a lot of heat for saying that, but it’s expensive, crowded, and really not that cool! If you have kids, they will love Legoland and if you’re into theme parks, Magic Mountain and Knott’s Berry Farm are WAY better! It just depends what you like. There’s lots of wine tasting that we think is overrated, but we also don’t drink wine, so of course we won’t be too excited about something like that. We aren’t big museum people either, so we don’t do that kind of thing either.
Q: Best local coffee place (and is it kid friendly?):
A: Pannikin Coffee in Leucadia is legit. It is kid friendly. It’s right by the beach too.
Q: Family friendly places to eat out:
A: Our favorite place to eat is Primo’s Market. We can walk there from our house and the food is incredible, cheap and the portions are enormous. We can split a carne asada burrito for about $6 or $7. When it comes to upscale places, I love 333 in Oceanside. I never eat there because of the price, but the time I did was amazing!
Q: List the best local activities/places to keep the kids entertained for free (or at least under $20):
A: The beach is free. That’s all we do or need. We have small houses with tiny yards. We walk to the beach every day and let the kids play in the sand and surf in the water. There are community pools that you can pay a few dollars to enter, if you prefer the pool. That is all we ever do. In our experience, kids are stoked anytime they’re in a new situation or outdoors. There are neighborhood parks too that are free.
Q: Local park with the best kid facilities:
A: We go to Buccaneer Park. Its great for the kids. And it has a restaurant and bathrooms.
Q: Best local hidden gem that tourists don’t often know about:
A: Oceanside is pretty well discovered. There is a cool trail that you can walk or ride your bike along the 76 freeway that empties out to the beach.
Q: Tell us a bit about your biz – and how much of what you do is inspired by being a parent and/or where you live?
A: We are travel bloggers and writers for The Inertia. We enjoy traveling for fun and going places that are a little more off the beaten path. Sometimes we go to really touristy places, but we like the element of exploring and doing things that the locals would do instead of what the tourists do. We enjoy surfing in all these countries, because we usually have waves to ourselves or with way less people than here in San Diego. It is actually inspired out of fun and lifestyle preference. Americans work too hard. Our culture looks down on taking lots of holiday and vacation and typically focuses on advancing your career and climbing the ladder. Plus, lots of couples stop traveling when they start having children. The main reason we started this in the first place was to inspire others, especially families, to get out and travel more. We figured it is best to lead by example, so we started taking our kids across the world and to every continent. We have measured success as seeing others get out and travel more and also by having conversations about traveling with people that are now starting to think that they might be able to take their kids on vacation. We have had lots of great conversations and lots of people have asked us about how we afford travel, how we plan, tips for flights, jet lag, taking kids, entertainment…etc. We didn’t start this to become rich or famous, it’s really just a hobby and we want to inspire others to enjoy life to its fullest!
Q: Since travelling, what have you noticed that is unique to where you live that you haven’t noticed anywhere else?
A: The most unique thing about Oceanside is that it has better weather than anywhere else in the world. It’s rarely humid, never cold, it gets hot about a month a year, but we just open our windows and our house feels ok. We don’t even have air conditioning. We are incredibly spoiled with our weather. If it’s hot, just go to the beach, the breeze will cool you down.
Q: And finally, best piece of travel advice you’ve ever been given:
A: The best travel advice is to collect memories, not things. You can’t take it with you when you die. Life is an accumulation of memories. When we are old, we will more likely be talking about how we went surfing in Haiti or how we hiked the Na Pali coast than we will be talking about how nice our cars were or how expensive our furniture was. Most people can’t afford to experience life if they spend all their money and resources on material things. Lots of people may scoff at simpletons, but it’s really what works for us. Less is more!
Join the Denning family on their incredible adventures around the world:
Find their stories on The Inertia: www.TheInertia.com
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Happy Place Hunter's resident Editor In Chief, Caz Emge, has written for publications around the globe for two decades. An avid outdoor buff, in her (limited) spare time she and her videographer husband and two sons gather insights for this site – sharing happy places as they find them Click to read full bio