The Coast News Group
Camp Coffee Company in downtown Oceanside. Photo by Ryan Woldt
Camp Coffee Company in downtown Oceanside. Photo by Ryan Woldt
ColumnsFood & WineRoast! San Diego

Exploring new grounds at Camp Coffee Company

Where: Camp Coffee Company, 101 N. Cleveland St, Oceanside, CA 92054
Open: Daily, 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
What: Bird Rock Coffee Roasters Colombia Tolima (Medium-Dark roast)
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, honey, dark chocolate
Price: $3.00 (Save $.25 when you bring your own mug)
What I’m listening to: Holy Hive, “Float Back To You”

If you’re visiting Oceanside, California, you’ll inevitably end up on Mission Ave. It’s a busy road, packed to the gills with restaurants and shops. It will lead you to the ocean and a view of the iconic Oceanside Pier. Fun pier fact, according to Wikipedia, Oceanside’s pier “is the longest wooden pier on the western United States coastline at 1,954 feet.”

You might think that this is the city’s nerve center, and I’d forgive that misconception. In truth, you need to travel one short block south on North Cleveland Street to experience the beating heart of downtown O’side.

Camp Coffee Company is nestled into the corner of one of the many luxury builds that have become ubiquitous along the Southern California coastline. Instead of looking out at the ocean, the view is of the transportation depot and another building just like theirs.

Despite the potential for being just another coffee shop, Camp Coffee Company has become ingrained in the fabric of the community. It isn’t just where tourists go. It isn’t just where locals go. It isn’t just where millennials with computers, modern families with strollers filled with kids or dogs, senior citizens, liberals, conservatives, the rich, or the poor go. It is where everyone goes, including me.

A s’mores station for Camp Coffee Company's Camp Mocha, a latte topped with toasted marshmallows. Photo by Ryan Woldt
A s’mores station for the Camp Mocha, a latte topped with toasted marshmallows. Photo by Ryan Woldt

On a recent visit, Alex takes my order. It is a standard batch brew, black, with no room for cream.* He rings me up, and a fellow barista pours a medium-dark roast coffee from the Tolima region of Colombia into my mug. I have my own Camp Coffee Company mug. It is heavy and green with white speckles.

This shop exclusively offers Bird Rock Coffee Roasters coffees, which is a pretty good idea if you aren’t going to roast your own. They’ve been roasting coffee at a high level for a very long time.

The layout inside Camp is efficient with seating at long tables, the bar, a corner booth, and a rail near the window for 18-20. Customers line up next to a reclaimed wood wall. A bright red Victoria Arduino espresso machine on the coffee bar is constantly hissing, steaming, and dripping. Just to the left is a s’mores station. I repeat, a s’mores station for their Camp Mocha—a latte topped with toasted marshmallows.

Overlooking it all is a floor-to-ceiling black and white photograph of misty woods. A tree hangs precipitously at the forefront. I want to run over and hold it up. If only space and time worked so fluidly.

Owner Jason Simpson took the tree photograph outside Cabin 14 at William Heise Park and Campground in Julian, CA. His family used to stay there and take photographs in front of that tree year after year. According to him, the family favorites were the ones where it was overcast and stormy.

In April 2019, he drove to Julian on a cloudy day to photograph the tree for the shop mural. While he was there, a landscaping crew showed up to cut down that tree. It had become unstable after excessive rains had passed through. According to Jason, only a stump remains.

Pastries at Camp Coffee Company in Oceanside. Photo by Ryan Woldt
Pastries at Camp Coffee Company in Oceanside. Photo by Ryan Woldt

This photograph is important to the story of Camp Coffee Company, as is storytelling in general. Check out the Camp Instagram feed, and you won’t only see close-up glamour shots of cappuccinos with perfectly foamed milk.

You’ll see the community of Oceanside reflected in the street photography of Will LeFevre. You’ll see lives being lived. You’ll see Oceanside expanding and contracting with the seasons. You’ll see the people as they are, and you’ll see perfectly coiffed lattes.

I take my coffee outside to the patio. My seat is part of a long booth and wall protecting customers from the street. Bright orange umbrellas offer shade on a sunny morning that promises the perfect SoCal afternoon. My first few sips are lovely. It is quiet, except for the chatter of unseen birds nesting in the eaves of the building. I’m reminded I’m near the downtown when a city worker lets rip with a gas-powered leaf blower. He politely aims his tool away from the patio and towards my freshly washed and waxed car.

I’m not alone on the patio for long. Some locals wander up after a morning of fishing off the pier. Nothing caught today but a hankering for hot coffee. An elderly Frenchie gingerly hops out to sniff at the remnants of a pastry beneath my seat.

Coincidentally, a trio of French-speaking gents sits down with espressos and baked goods. They are quickly immersed in what I think is an argument, but my understanding of French is vague. I slowly sip my coffee and feel like I’m part of something— something bigger than myself.

*This order will likely look familiar if youve read this column before.

The Bean Journal is a new column by Ryan Woldt, host of the Roast! West Coast coffee podcast, which you can stream at: Look for features on North County coffee shops, cafes, and coffee roasters.