A hospitality renaissance of sorts kicked off in Oceanside with the opening of places like Harney Sushi, 333 Pacific and Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen starting around 2011.
“Those three operations were the catalysts for the shift,” said Gumaro Escarcega, program manager at Main Street Oceanside, a nonprofit business group.
The eateries were followed by others like Swami’s Café, Petite Madeline Bakery, Local Tap House, Masters Oceanside, Wrench, and Rodent Seabasstropub and Bagby Beer Co.
And the renaissance continues today at full speed. Drawn to roots in the area, the beach culture and the relatively inexpensive prices compared with other North County waterfront towns, entrepreneurs are planning a bonanza of eateries including Pacific Coast Spirits, Island BBQ and Steel Mill Coffee, among a long list of others.
A walk up and down North Coast Highway in Oceanside these days will easily yield half a dozen “under construction” and “now open” signs in as short as a 10-block radius.
That’s because, for the last eight years or so, the North County city has been going through a food and beverage renaissance of sorts, welcoming a host of new restaurants and tasting rooms, boutique hotels and activities — for example, “Walk This Way,” a walking food tour — to the waterfront town.
Between 2011 and 2019, Oceanside has gained 51 restaurants and four new food and beverage offerings will open in the next few months, said Escarcega. He adds that from 2011 to 2018, the district has seen a 98 percent increase in sales tax revenue in downtown Oceanside, not including the fourth quarter.
“You can see how the restaurants are driving the market,” he said.
Tracey Bohlen, economic development manager for the city of Oceanside, believes the Oceanside food renaissance began with restaurateurs with ties to the city wanting to return to their hometown and open up their businesses there.
“A lot of it is local people that grew up here or went to school here and are coming back and investing,” she said, namedropping Gabe Hogan, who grew up in Oceanside and opened Local Tap House in 2014 (and now Exhale, which offers wood-fired cuisine and opened in January), as well as Charlie Anderson, owner of Privateer Coal Fire Pizza and the Privateer Marketplace & Wine Bar. “These are people that grew up here and are coming back and opening businesses. I believe that started the renaissance, and now people are starting to look at Oceanside with a different eye.”
Bohlen said that to better accommodate the growing hospitality sector in the area, Mission Avenue was recently revamped to make it more of a walkable space; it is a one-way, westbound road now with wider sidewalks. She added that a coffee shop opened on the street weeks ago and Burgerim Gourmet Burgers and Benito’s Pizza Cafe opened up recently on the same strip.
Kathryn Lalicata, director of marketing at Local Tap House and Exhale, says Oceanside is also attractive because it is relatively inexpensive compared with neighboring waterfront towns like Encinitas and Carlsbad.
She added that Oceanside is one of few beach towns in San Diego County with edge and personality. “It’s different than others because it isn’t cookie cutter. It still has soul and a family feel to it. So, we are seeing a lot of people that haven’t been here or spent a lot of time here before discovering us and finding us alluring.”
Nicholas Hammond, proprietor and head distiller of Pacific Coast Spirits, slated to open in a few months, said his search for a venue took him all over North County, including Encinitas and Carlsbad, before he landed in Oceanside.
“We tried Carlsbad but ran into some issues there — the city itself was behind our project, but a small sector of the community was against what we were doing,” he said, adding he wanted a big enough industrial building to house a restaurant, a bar, a tasting room and a warehouse. “If we did it in Encinitas, it would be small there and wouldn’t have allowed us the space to build a warehouse like we wanted.”
Unlike the other cities, Hammond says Oceanside was completely behind the development from the start. Now, Pacific is set to open in a 12,000 square-foot building on North Coast Highway that will include a restaurant in a third of it while two-thirds will be a barrel warehouse and production facility.
Oceanside locals and visitors alike are enjoying the new offerings. According to the Oceanside Travel Impacts 2010-2017 report, the visitor spending in the food service sector in Oceanside in 2017 was $103.8 million, up from $67.4 million in 2010. Leslee Gaul, president and CEO of Visit Oceanside Conference & Visitors Bureau, says in 2017, visitor spending on dining was 30 percent, more than any other category, including lodging, which came in at 27 percent.