Get extra lift from AOPA. Start your free membership trial today! Click here

California Flying

Surf's up at Oceanside

Surfing has grown so much since Jan and Dean sang Surf City in 1963 that schools in Southern California have surfing teams. It makes sense — schools in the upper Midwest have ice hockey teams.

Surfing has grown so much since Jan and Dean sang Surf City in 1963 that schools in Southern California have surfing teams. It makes sense — schools in the upper Midwest have ice hockey teams. Surfing certainly has its allure — warm, sunny weather, healthy, energetic activity, and the laid-back atmosphere of the beach. California pilots who yearn to either revisit the surf-music days of their youth or actually catch a wave can do it at Oceanside. Oceanside Municipal Airport is within walking distance of the city's 3.5-mile-long series of beaches. Oceanside is also home of the longest wooden pier on the West Coast, one of the most beautiful of the historic California missions, loads of parks, and yes, a surf museum.

The Oceanside airport

The Oceanside airport is located a mile or two inland from the ocean shore, near the northern edge of town. Runway 6/24 is 2,712 feet long by 75 feet wide but looks shorter because it's only 28 feet above sea level and the bluffs to the west seem to emphasize this visual illusion. There are GPS approaches to each runway and a VOR-A approach, as well as established good-neighbor (noise prevention) procedures.


Oceanside is located 35 miles north of San Diego and 80 miles south of Los Angeles along Highway 101 in northern San Diego County. The Camp Pendleton military base is located north of the city.

At the present time there's limited transient parking because of a shortage of available ramp space. But that should change in the near future because of the 1997 approval of an airport master plan by the City Council. The first stage of a three-stage airport master plan has already taken place. The second stage — which mandates repairs to existing hangars, replacement of the airport offices, and the opening of a small café — is proceeding. A portion of the third stage, implementing the purchase of 14 acres of land on the north side of the airport, has already been funded — with FAA Airport Improvement Program funds — and has taken place. Airport employee Harold Davis said the ramp will be expanded to the south with more hangars, and two large maintenance hangars will be built as part of the plan.

Once the airplane is tied down

The Oceanside airport is located along the San Luis river. Paralleling the runway to the north is the San Luis river trail — a 7.2-mile biking/walking/hiking path. After crossing to the north side of the airport at Benet Road — which is just off the west end of the airport — a left turn takes visitors to the north end of town. From there they can visit the city or head for Oceanside Harbor, where they will find restaurants, shops, boat charter companies that specialize in fishing and whale-watching, and sailing and surfing schools that rent equipment.

A right turn up the trail will eventually lead visitors to the Mission San Luis Rey, one of the last of the California missions. It's so spectacular that it is often called the "King of the Missions." If walking is inconvenient, taxis are available as are rental cars from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Avis Rent A Car, and Hertz, which all will provide airport pickups and drop-offs.

Most of the attractions in town are arrayed in the city blocks on both sides of Coast Highway (state Highway 101), which runs through town a few blocks inland from the beaches. The San Luis river is on the north end of town and the Buena Vista lagoon bookends the south end. Pier View Way crosses Pacific Coast Highway. At one end of Pier View Way is the 1,942-foot-long pier, which draws fisherman, sea birds, and families. Go up Pier View to Pacific Coast Highway, turn right, and go in the door of the California Surf Museum. It's open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, except for major holidays, and admission and parking are free. The photographic artistry of well-known surf and outdoor photographer Tom Keck is on display. Seven blocks up Pier View Way is the Oceanside Museum of Art, which showcases fine art by regional and international artists.

The Strand is a narrow path that parallels the shoreline. Beach access is made easy by the many small parking lots along The Strand. Railroad tracks also parallel the beach a little farther inland. Oceanside visitors and locals often catch the "Coaster" instead of driving down the coast to San Diego. This modern commuterlike train departs from the Oceanside Transit Center, which is located four blocks south of Pier View Way and is also a stop on the West Coast Amtrak line.

Oceanside is blessed with 28 separate parks. There are also three special-use parks; that's the category that the Center City Golf Course and the Oceanside Municipal Golf Course fall under, as does the Buena Vista Lagoon Nature Center, which is located at the southern edge of the city.

Save the airport

The Oceanside airport has been under attack. Some in city government believe that the city's needs would be better served by plowing the airport under to free up land to build shopping areas. Therefore, it's critical that fly-in visitors show the residents of Oceanside that the airport is an asset, and that fly-in visitors are aware of the local residents' concerns. This means that pilots must follow published friendly flying procedures. All departures off Runway 24 must fly down the curving river until they're offshore before turning on course.

The arrival procedure for airplanes from the east is to fly over the airport at 2,000 feet before letting down offshore. After turning back, cross the shoreline at the creek northwest of the harbor and fly directly toward the water tower painted with a checkerboard pattern. At the water tower turn right and fly to cross the covered reservoir. At the reservoir, enter the right downwind for Runway 24 at 1,000 feet msl. Arrivals from the north and south are requested to enter the pattern to Runway 24 by following the same procedure detailed above.

Departures on Runway 6 should make a left turn when safe, to avoid flying over a school and houses east of the airport. U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton occupies more than 125,000 acres immediately up the coast from Oceanside. The special-use airspace of restricted areas 2503A, -B, and -C must be reviewed before flying down the coast in this area.

Officially, Oceanside is not Surf City, USA — Santa Cruz and Huntington Beach are fighting over that title in court — but visitors will find enough surf and enough of the relaxing laid-back beach lifestyle in Oceanside to enjoy their visit. For more information and particulars on motels, services, and recreation, visit the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce Web site.

E-mail the author at [email protected].

Related Articles