Newcomers to Oceanside hear tales of a day gone by, when the city had no budget deficit and the now-eroded beach was wide and gleaming. Back then, old-timers remember, San Diego County's northernmost city was known for this cheeky motto: "Tan Your Hide in Oceanside."
Times have changed some. Now, civic boosters prefer "The Beauty by the Sea" to describe this struggling resort town that many seniors and military families call home. Still, now more than ever, an Oceanside shopping spree is more likely to yield sunblock than haute couture.
If you like your clothing to contain at least some natural fibers, then yes, it's probably best to head for the malls. But for other items--from surf wax to Spandex--a trip to Oceanside will not disappoint.
A discerning shopper will find that, behind its tire outlets and discount furniture stores, Hill Street is Oceanside's Rodeo Drive. Especially if you have a yen for sporting goods.
Even if you've visited its other branches, Hobie Oceanside Sports & Beach Center is worth the trip. Housed in a pink mock-adobe building, the two-story outlet is like a museum for the eternally playful.
There are surf-, boogie- and skateboards--not to mention seriously casual clothing to lend you that I-look-this-good-without-even-trying attitude to which true beach bums aspire. The prices aren't cheap, but there are used boards upstairs.
Pro Motion Wetsuits down the street sells boards and surf accessories as well as rubber-wear. But this month, their windows alone are worth the trip. Painted for Christmas, they feature a spirited Santa riding a wave. A bikini-clad woman (Mrs. Claus?) watches admiringly from the next pane. "Oooh, Santa, you rip!!" she screams.
Across the street, near the intersection of Oceanside Boulevard, Alan's Cyclery awaits. Like Hobie, this is no bargain basement. But the selection is great and the salespeople are both knowledgeable and friendly--and not just when they're ringing up your purchase.
When I bought a helmet, a sales clerk spent half an hour adjusting it to assure a safe fit.
And, because it is located along one of the county's most popular cycling routes, the store often serves as a way station for bikers whose chains have slipped.
They can make a quick trip inside to fix that chain, pump up a tire and maybe even get a new water bottle and pair of riding gloves before hitting the road again.