This California City Is Great For A Warm-Weather Winter Trip On A Budget

If you want to beat the winter blues, try a perfect beach vacation, preferably in Oceanside, California. Located in San Diego County next to the Camp Pendleton military base, Oceanside was incorporated in 1888 and has been a tourist hub since its founding. This is due to its proximity to the ocean and the 1880s construction of a railroad that connected Los Angeles to San Diego. However, its average year-round temperatures in the 60s, even in winter, have undoubtedly contributed to its fame.

The city, also called O'side, has several beaches, including Harbor Beach, Wisconsin Street Beach, and more. Water activities are abundant, with Oceanside known for being a hub for surfers and surfing competitions. It has also achieved fame for being a popular filming location, including for "Top Gun" and the TNT series "Animal Kingdom."

But despite it being your typical Southern California beach town, the cost of living in Oceanside is cheaper than in the nearby city of San Diego. While this makes it a desired place to live, it's also an affordable vacation destination.

Airbnb prices are reasonable including an entire three-bedroom house that will cost you $120 a night, at the time of this publication. Hotels are just as inexpensive. One night at Econo Lodge can cost anywhere from $59 to $81. Depending on the date, you can find a room at Motel 6 for less than $80. Likewise, there's plenty to do in Oceanside that won't break the bank.

Low-cost activities in Oceanside

Oceanside should definitely be on your San Diego County to-do list. The thriving town has much to see and experience, including the Oceanside Pier (pictured). Built in 1987, this top-rated attraction on Trip Advisor is entirely free. Whether summer or winter, guests can walk and enjoy gorgeous scenic views. Take note that fishing without a license is allowed on the pier, so bring your tackle and gear. In addition, you can have a beach day and swim at Oceanside City Beach, which is located adjacent to the pier.

However, Oceanside is not just for beach lovers — it also has attractions for history enthusiasts, including Mission San Luis Rey. This historical site was established in 1798 and remains a figure of California's Spanish past. Guests can roam the mission, church, and cemetery on a self-guided tour and tickets range from $5 to $8.

The California Surf Museum showcases the sport's history and origins via artifacts and educational exhibits. Admission ranges from $5 to $7. Another top-rated attraction on Trip Advisor is the Oceanside Museum of Art (OMA). OMA's rotating exhibits display works of artists from Southern California. Tickets range from $5 to $10.

If you want to spend more time with nature, head to Guajome Regional Park. The 394-acre park features hiking trails and a lake, and parking is only $3. Overall, Oceanside has something for everyone to enjoy.

Oceanside's cheap eats

Oceanside has diverse cuisine optionsbut this doesn't mean you must spend an arm and a leg on a meal. For classic diner food in a 1950s ambiance, head to 101 Cafe. The restaurant has been around since 1928 and is integral to Oceanside's history. 101 Cafe  (pictured) serves burgers, pancakes, sandwiches, and more, with very reasonable prices.

At Zig Zag Pizza Pie, you can purchase a personal pizza or build your own for less than $12. During happy hour (Wednesday-Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m.), you can get a pepperoni pizza and a beer for $10. An array of salads is also available at Zig Zag Pizza.

Another affordable option for lunch or dinner is Teri Cafe. This casual Japanese eatery has an expansive menu that includes teriyaki, ramen, sushi, salads, and udon. Everything on the menu is $20 or less, and portions are generous. For example, the $14 chicken teriyaki plate features steamed rice, salad, and a potato salad.

If you have a sweet tooth, head to High Pie for a $3.50 hand pie. Flavors include apple, cherry, banana cream, and more. If you prefer it a la mode, it's $5. However, there's another reason why High Pie is worth a visit. The shop, housed in a Victorian home, was featured in the 1986 film "Top Gun" as Charlie Blackwood's home and is known as the "Top Gun" house.

Getting to Oceanside

Oceanside is only an hour and a half away from Los Angeles and a 40-minute drive from San Diego. Thus, it's an ideal weekend or day trip for residents of either city. However, you could fly into San Diego International Airport (SAN) if you are not in Southern California. If you're coming from the East Coast, like from Boston or New York, you can find roundtrip non-stop flights during the winter for less than $300 for a five-day stay. That said, if you drive to Oceanside or have a rental, there is plenty of parking around town.

Public parking near the beach is pricier, and the rate can cost anywhere from $5 to $15 a day. However, prices are a few dollars cheaper in the off-season, during the fall, winter, and early spring. In addition, there is free parking, including at the Oceanside Transit Center Parking Structure, which is only a 10-minute walk from the Oceanside Pier.

If you are local to Southern California and prefer not to drive or spend money on gas, you can take Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner train. A round-trip coach seat from Los Angeles to Oceanside is only $28.

However you make it to Oceanside, you can travel around the city and to the nearby towns of Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Downtown San Diego, San Marcos, and Escondido via public transportation. This is serviced by two commuter trains, the Coaster and Sprinter and the Breeze Bus. Single ride fares start at $2.50.