This past month we had some family in town and had the opportunity to go on an excursion with the Oceanside SEA Center. With wonderful weather year-round in Oceanside, we would recommend this excursion to all of our guests that like to get out on the open water and actually catch fish.
Read on to learn more about what to expect when you arrive and throughout the day of your excursion and see our additional tips and tricks to having the best excursion possible.
A walk through the process, starting at booking!
How to book with Oceanside Sea Center
Although you can book directly at their center in the harbor, it is recommended that you book in advance https://oceanside.fishingreservations.com/sales/ to ensure there are enough spots available to accommodate your group.
We booked the Southern Cal AM (Half Day) fishing trip which left at 10:00 a.m and returned at 3:00 p.m. The rate for this excursion is $70/person with a Jr/Sr rate of $60/person for those 15 years or younger and 63 years and over. The departure time of 10:00 AM was perfect for our group of 6. We had 4 children and 2 adults on the trip. The children ranged in age from 9 –14 years old and all had some previous fishing experience but really didn’t need it due to the helpful staff.
You will want to arrive at least 20-30 minutes before your departure time to give yourself enough time to park, check-in and take a few pictures at the harbor before your excursion begins. The 2-hour lot parking right next to the SEA Center (red outline in image below) is best to use to drop off your group and tackle. You will then drive to the 72-hour lot located at 101-499 Riverside Dr, Oceanside, CA 92054 (blue path). You can then park anywhere in the lot and walk under the railroad tracks back to the SEA Center (White dotted line).
When you enter the SEA center someone will be at the counter to check your party in and collect payment and be provided with bags that will be used to store the fish you keep and a number to identify which bags are yours.
You are able to bring your own fishing gear and tackle on the excursion. However, unless you are experienced in deep-sea fishing, we would recommend renting the gear and tackle from the SEA center. The cost to rent tackle from the Oceanside SEA Center is $17 and includes hooks and sinkers. By renting their tackle, you have everything ready for you so you can start fishing as soon as the boat arrives and they will also take care of any snags or line issues by swapping your reel out right away while they work on getting things untangled (this is HUGE when bringing kids along). Their reels will also have plenty of line to reach the deeper depths as well as the right type of tackle set up to give you the best chance at catching fish right away.
After you have checked in you will likely have some time to take pictures at the harbor and even do a little shopping in the tackle shop. You can purchase some snacks for the excursion or souvenirs.
Our boat ride out to the fishing destination took about 30 minutes but that will vary on the time of the year and where the fish are at. During the ride, our group saw schools of fish swimming through the water, kelp, jellyfish, and even two dolphins.
The captain was great at locating a place with lots of fish so the group was reeling them in as soon as we dropped our lines in the water. We fished that location for 1 to 1 ½ hours and then moved to two other locations before returning to the harbor. Each time we stopped at a new location the fishing was hot as soon as we arrived. As time went on it would start to slow and that is when the captain would move onto a new location.
As soon as you reeled in a fish the deckhands would help get it off the hook and take it to your bag. You could choose whether to have them rebait your hook or do it yourself. The deckhands were extremely knowledgeable and happy to help.
On this type of excursion, the goal is to catch a lot of fish as opposed to seeking out a specific type of fish. The majority of fish we caught were Rockfish, Whitefish, and Sculpin.
Something we hadn't anticipated was with your line 200 feet down at times, it can be hard to tell when you are getting a bite. However, with time you learn to feel the bite and the deckhands were always there to help. Each person in our group caught 5-10 fish on the day we went out.
On our way back to the harbor the deckhands asked us if we would like to keep any of our fish and if we wanted them to fillet them for us. This is an optional service you can pay them to do. The cost is $1-$3 per fish based on the size of the fish. We felt it was well worth the price as it saved us a bunch of time and we had planned to make fish tacos with our catch for dinner that night! Once you’ve arrived back to the harbor you are free to go as long as you have paid for your fish and gratuity on the galley on the boat ride back.
From the warm welcome in the tackle shop to the deckhands that were really on point, the entire SEA Center team worked very well together. The check-in process was very easy, and we never felt rushed. When we boarded the ship the deckhands were preparing all the rods, lines, and reels. They were great with our young group, showing us how they tied their knots as well as telling us about their most recent outings.
When we arrived at our first fishing spot they were great at making sure everyone was catching fish. Even with 25 -30 people onboard, they made their way around the entire boat. If anyone hadn’t caught a fish yet they were there to help them recognize when they are getting a bite and small tricks to help attract the fish to the bait.
The cooks in the gally were very friendly and did a great job cooking what all looked like delicious food. Burgers, quesadillas, French fries, and sandwiches were all on the menu that day. The captain was great at explaining where we were going and when it was time to move fishing locations, and he even took time to fish himself and make comments to our group when they brought in a few large Whitefish.
The weather can shift quickly on the open water and what may feel like a cool day on the shore can quickly change into either a cold or Hot day on the water. The morning we went out it was overcast and when we got out on the water the temperature dropped about 10 degrees so having a jacket was a good idea. On other days the opposite will happen. It will be cool in the morning but when the sun fully comes out, it warms up quickly.
We would recommend this to everyone, even those that think they have fairly strong stomachs. It ensures that everyone has a better time on the boat and can focus on fishing. If you forget your medication before you arrive, the SEA Center does sell it in their tackle shop. For those that are extra sensitive, take a dose the day before as well so it is already in your system and you’re body will absorb the effects better and faster.
The SEA Center’s website is full of tons of useful and helpful information, especially their FAQ page. Make sure to check it out before your trip so you can have all of their helpful tips.
The Southern Cal AM/PM (Half Day) is an ideal trip for groups with children and beginners but is also a great experience for adults that may only have half of a day to dedicate to the excursion. The age range for our group was 9 – 14 years old and they all had a GREAT time and want to do it again!
With that said, I would feel very comfortable taking my 6- and 8-year-old children on this trip, as I know they would have a wonderful time as well. As parents you know your children best. There will be some 4 or 5-year old’s that will do great and possibly some 8-year old’s that may not. We believe almost everyone will have a great time if you follow our recommendations below.
The only thing we didn’t love about the excursion was the fact that they allowed smoking on the boat. This wasn’t a huge deal as we were out in the open water with a breeze and there were only one or two that did smoke on the ride back into the harbor. However, it was one thing we felt could improve the experience.
The Oceanside SEA Center did a wonderful job, and we are happy to recommend them to all our guests. It is a great way to create a wonderful and unique memory with your family while you stay in Oceanside or the surrounding cities. The price for a half day or even a full day is very reasonable. They have different excursions if you want to go after the larger sport fish and we hope to be able to try one of those in the future. For those that may not be interested in fishing, the Oceanside SEA Center also offers a variety of other excursions such as marine biology science labs, whale watching, and even burials at sea.