Best Surfing Spots in California
When I’m California dreamin’, surfing is definitely one thing racing through my mind. Its scenic coastline has endless world-class surf breaks, and I can’t get enough of its chill surf towns. From sinking my toes in golden shores to paddling out to sea, the California coastline is a place dear to my heart.
California helped surfing gain popularity in the 50s and 60s, and the state still hosts international competitions. But California’s dramatic coastline isn’t exclusive to pro surfers, and it’s a fantastic spot to learn the sport. It’s among my favorite surf destinations, and I couldn’t recommend it enough for budding surfers.
If you love surfing as I do, California is a place you must add to your bucket list. I’ve listed over a dozen of the most beloved surf spots in the state, but that only scratches the surface. California is made for surfers, and you could spend a lifetime paddling in the Pacific Ocean here.
Best Surfing Spots in California
California Surfing Info | California Surfing Tips | Best California Surf Spots | Rincon Point | Steamer Lane | Huntington Beach | San Onofre State Beach | Newport Beach | Pismo Beach | Doheny State Beach | Asilomar State Beach | Ocean Beach | Malibu Surfrider Beach | Half Moon Bay State Beach | Windansea Beach | Swami’s Beach
California Surfing Info
Drive along the California coast from San Francisco to San Diego, and you’ll quickly see that surfing is a way of life. Surf culture has its roots in the Golden State, and early surfers here helped the sport go mainstream in the 20th century. California’s massive coastline boasts some of the world’s best breaks, and pro surfers often visit its beaches.
With the help of pop culture, surfing spread across the globe and became a mainstay in California. Vicious swells crash into exposed beaches across the coastline, and surfers always come back for thrilling rides. It’s not unheard of to spot waves soaring to heights of 60 feet at famous surf spots like Mavericks.
SoCal is the epitome of California’s surf culture, and classic surf towns dot the coastline. The Central California coast has a more laid-back vibe, but there’s still lots of great surf without the noise. And for the wildest scenery and most unpredictable surf conditions, Northern California takes you on an unforgettable journey.
California Surfing Tips
When you’re surfing in California, it’s critical to be aware of potential hazards in and out of the water. Before you depart for the Pacific coast, check out these tips to ensure you’re well prepared:
- Watch Out for Sharks – If you’re scared of sharks, then California may not be an ideal place for your surfing vacation. While shark attacks are rare, they have occurred in most areas along the California coast. Wherever you wish to surf, stay updated on lifeguard reports of shark sightings or other dangerous marine life near the coastline.
- Pick the right Wetsuit – Remember that California is a gigantic state and has over 800 miles of coastline. The environment and water temperatures of Northern California will differ from Southern California. If your itinerary takes you to the Central coast and beyond, invest in a thicker wetsuit for cooler waters.
- Surfing Etiquette – For beginning surfers, the proper surfer etiquette can be confusing to learn at first. And some beaches do have a local crowd that’s not the friendliest to out-of-town surfers. To avoid confrontations, speak with a local surfer or lifeguard to know the correct way to enter the wave lineup.
- Visit the Surf Shops – California’s surf culture is BIG, and I highly recommend checking out the local shops. You’ll likely find the latest gear that you wouldn’t dream of getting back home. Most stores have expert staff members and can answer any questions you have about the local surf.
Best California Surf Spot
California has a large portion of the Pacific coast, and the state has many of America’s best surf spots. From the warm waters of Southern California to the gorgeous Central California coast, surfers are spoiled for choice. Here are some of the best California surfing destinations you should add to your bucket list:
1. Rincon Point
Santa Barbara is famous for its exhilarating surf spots, and Rincon Point is the granddaddy of them all. For surfing legends, this sacred location holds a special place in Santa Barbara surf culture. California’s best surfers make frequent trips to the scenic point for incredible swells. If you’re an experienced surfer, Rincon Point is the premier spot to test your skills. Even for beginners who want to watch the show, it’s a beautiful setting with scenic bluffs, tide pools, and wildlife.
The exposed break has the most consistent surf in the winter months, and many pro surfers flock to the area. Summers are often a dud for pro surfers, and there may be calmer waves for less-experienced riders. When you’re not scouting the waves, Rincon Point is an enjoyable spot to hang out or soak up the panoramic views atop the cliffs.
2. Steamer Lane
Outside of Santa Cruz, Steamer Lane has a well-earned reputation as one of California’s premier surf spots. The shoreline doesn’t have much sand, and rocky cliffs border the consistent surf breaks. That’s a plus for experienced surfers since there won’t be many swimmers and sunbathers around. You’ll find the sunbathers on the opposite side of the lighthouse towards Its Beach.
The surf at Steamer Lane is among the most consistent in California, and the exposed reef break gets year-round rideable waves. With its clean ground swells and fierce breaks, you’re likely to get some thrilling rides. The largest waves tend to arrive when the tide rises, and spring brings the best surf to Steamer Lane. But for new surfers, it’s better to sit this one out and let the veterans show you the ropes.
3. Huntington Beach
They don’t call Huntington Beach ‘Surf City USA’ for nothing, and it has some of California’s cherished surf spots. Around 1-hour south of Los Angeles, Huntington Beach attracts professional surfers and hosts world-renowned competitions. If you’re looking to surf with the best, it’s hard to top the 10 miles of sandy shores of Huntington Beach. Stroll the animated boardwalk or walk along the iconic Huntington Beach Pier to feel its bursting energy.
Winter is the ideal time for surfers, but you’ll usually spot big crowds gathering around the pier. With plenty of space, there’s usually a spot for beginner-level surfers. But on those days where the surf is rocking, Huntington Beach can see large crowds in the water. In that case, make sure you’re aware of the proper surf etiquette during your visit. Another reason I love Huntington Beach is the annual fireworks show on the 4th of July. It’s an awesome event to end a fun-filled day of California surfing.
4. San Onofre State Beach
San Diego County
Halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, San Onofre Beach is one of California’s most popular state parks. The 3,000-acre park features famous surf breaks that entice surfers from all over the world. Its exposed shoreline has reliable surf, and most rideable waves come from groundswells. The surf section has some areas suitable for beginners, but there is lots of action for avid surfers.
Although it’s only accessible via a roughly 1-mile walk, the Trestles Surfing Area is sacred amongst local surfers. You must bring a surfboard, and you’ll find a low-key vibe with many of the best surfers in town. The winter months have epic waves, and large groups of veteran surfers usually put on a show. Between surf breaks, San Onofre lets you gaze towards the Pacific Ocean from its sandstone bluffs. Don’t be surprised to spot dolphins, whales, or sea lions from the sandy shores.
5. Newport Beach
Newport Beach is a favorite surf spot south of Los Angeles for its intense surf that produces monster waves. Its south swells slam against the rock jetty of the sheltered beach and entice the most daring surfers. The rip currents shouldn’t be taken lightly and can be dangerous for those unfamiliar with rough surf.
Veteran surfers head to the Wedge for the craziest waves in Newport Beach. The waves reach heights upwards of 30 feet, and you may not find bigger swells in Southern California. January produces the cleanest waves, and newbies should watch more experienced riders. The Wedge is also a popular spot for bodysurfers who travel to Newport Beach from all over California.
6. Pismo Beach
San Luis Obispo County
Between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Pismo Beach might be the most scenic beach on California’s central coast. The relaxed beach town lies just off the Pacific Coast Highway and is one of my favorite stops for a California road trip. Capped by white-sand shores, rocky cliffs, and verdant hills, Pismo Beach has some of California’s most treasured seaside vistas. Stroll along the pier or boardwalk beside the ocean to find the best surf spot on the beach.
Summer can often be busy with vacationers, and avid surfers will have a more enjoyable time in winter. January tends to bring the most consistent surf with lots of rideable swells. High tide has better surf conditions, but you should take caution for strong rip currents and sharks offshore.
7. Doheny State Beach
Around an hour south of Los Angeles, Doheny State Beach was California’s original state beach. With seaside campgrounds, you can combine camping and surfing into one holiday. The crashing waves are a surreal sound upon waking up, and you can catch the surf beside your tent. While it may not be camping weather, the winter brings the best breaks to Doheny State Beach. In particular, January is the best time for the most consistent surf.
For surfers only, head to the northern side of the beach to avoid the crowds of swimmers. Doheny is among my favorites for a scenic picnic or barbecue thanks to its well-maintained facilities. It’s a Cali classic for clean waves, good food, and beautiful sunsets to cap off fun beach days.
8. Asilomar State Beach
For surfers visiting Monterey, it would be criminal not to spend at least one day at Asilomar State Beach. Its pristine shores, tide pools, and sand dunes make Asilomar one of California’s most beautiful beaches. And its reliable waves attract surfers from all over the Pacific coast. While winter has more consistent action, wind swells help produce steady waves throughout the year. When the waves are kicking, Asilomar can often get crowded in the water.
Although they’re a potential surfing hazard, the rocky tide pools are a feature I adore about Asilomar. The crystal-clear water makes it easy to find sea creatures like crabs, mussels, and starfish. During low tide, I’d slip on a pair of shoes to explore the pools and their stunning beauty. Other than the craggy rocks, sharks are another potential threat to remain vigilant of when you’re searching for the next break.
9. Ocean Beach
For that classic SoCal vibe in San Diego, Ocean Beach is the best neighborhood to hang out. The exposed beach has incredible breaks throughout the year, and you can enjoy consistent surf summer or winter. But for the committed surfers, January is unbeatable for its rideable swells and offshore winds.
After a fun day of surfing, nothing beats taking in a San Diego sunset from the Ocean Beach Pier. The swirling orange and purple colors adorn the horizon, and the crashing waves are a soothing sound. Locals love fishing from the pier, and it’s a great place to scope out the best surf. The only downsides to Ocean Beach are large crowds, rocks, and some pollution.
10. Malibu Surfrider Beach
For a taste of the good life in Southern California, Malibu Surfrider Beach has breathtaking views. Malibu is a beloved surf spot in the Los Angeles area and a gathering place for talented surfers. The sandy beach sits between the Malibu Pier and Lagoon and has designated zones for surfers. Surfrider has the best swells in Malibu, and crowds often gather to watch local surfers in action. Take in breathtaking views of the adjacent mountains and lounge on one of the cleanest shores near LA.
I’d suggest bringing a pair of beach shoes during your visit since there are rocks in the water. If you’re a veteran surfer, then you’ll love the monster waves that consistently crash into the shoreline. While this may not be a fantastic option for newbies, it’s a solid spot to learn a few tricks from some of California’s best. After spending the day in the water, don’t miss the chance to watch those dreamy Malibu sunsets from the pier.
11. Half Moon Bay State Beach
San Mateo County
Around 30 miles south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay is a fantastic day trip for surfers in Northern California. The sandy beach stretches 4 miles and offers striking views from its rocky cliffs. It’s one of the cleaner beaches in the Bay Area, and there are well-maintained facilities for visitors. And if you avoid the weekends, the crowds at Half Moon Bay are tame compared to other California beaches.
Half Moon Bay’s laid-back vibe makes it a wonderful spot for newbies to learn how to surf. The waves aren’t too treacherous, but it’s consistent enough for veteran surfers to catch some action. On days where the surf picks up, prepare for bigger crowds to flock to the area. Half Moon Bay is also a fantastic spot to watch the fall migration of gray whales from Alaska to Baja California.
12. Windansea Beach
Located in the upscale La Jolla neighborhood, Windansea Beach is considered the surfing jewel of San Diego. The ferocious rip currents and rocky shoreline make it prime for competitive surfers. Its wild coastline makes the water too dangerous for swimming, and most La Jolla surfers hang out at the Windansea shores. The reef break has grown into a San Diego icon over the years and was given the spotlight in the film San Diego Surf.
The exposed reef break produces rideable waves in summer, but the stormy winters bring the biggest ground swells. November is the ideal month for clean rides for experienced surfers in the San Diego area. But the unpredictability of Windansea makes it challenging for surfers to hit the waves for the first time. While you’re there, pay a visit to the Windansea Surf Shack to view one of San Diego’s most legendary surf landmarks.
13. Swami’s Beach
About a 30-minute drive from San Diego, Swami’s Beach is one of Southern California’s most scenic surf spots. You descend a concrete stairway to the shoreline and feel like you’re apart from the world. A steep bluff hides the sandy shore and crystal-clear water from the neighborhood to create a hidden paradise. During low tide, you’ll often find rocky pools that present surfing hazards but are mesmerizing to view.
Swami’s Beach offers facilities like picnic tables, a barbecue area, and showers to have a cookout around your surf breaks. Ground swells produce rideable waves throughout the year, but the winter months are more consistent. Although Swami’s Beach is beloved by veteran surfers, you’ll also find swells suitable for newbies.
Are you a beginner or a veteran surfer? Which one is your favorite spot for surfing California? Let us know in the comments below.
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