The 11 Best San Diego Surf Spots
Plentiful sunshine and miles of coastline make San Diego the perfect city to perfect your California surfing game, learn how to surf in the first place or just watch surfers do their thing on those impressive waves. Are you planning to travel to America’s finest city? This guide will offer up 11 of the best spots for surfing in San Diego, whether you’re a novice or looking for a challenge in hitting some of the country’s best waves.
Before you head out, there are a few things you should know about surfing San Diego and planning your trip to the shores of this Southern California jewel.
The 11 Best San Diego Surf Spots
Swami’s (Encinitas) | Imperial Pier (Imperial Beach) | Black’s Beach (La Jolla) | La Jolla Shores (La Jolla) | Windansea Beach (La Jolla) | Outlet (Coronado) | Oceanside Pier (Oceanside) | Tourmaline Beach (Pacific Beach) | Sunset Cliffs (Point Loma) | Ponto Jetty (Carlsbad) | San Onofre State Beach (San Clemente)
What is the best time to surf in San Diego?
San Diego is a year-round surfing destination, but early to mid-fall boasts ideal surfing conditions and south swells in San Diego County. The water is at its warmest following several months of gray mornings known as May Gray and June Gloom, and the beaches aren’t as thick with beginners taking advantage of San Diego tourism in the summer months.
By late autumn, though, expect cooling conditions that may make the surf more comfortable in a full wetsuit. The winter months also mean larger, more aggressive waves in some of the surf spots mentioned here. Be aware of your own skill level before you head out and hit the waves.
Do I need a wetsuit to surf in San Diego?
Whether you need a wetsuit for San Diego surfing depends on the water temperature at the time. Late summer to the middle of fall is when you’ll enjoy the warmest ocean temperatures. Keep in mind that the Pacific Ocean will never feel like warm bathwater as you may have experienced in Florida or the Caribbean.
Wetsuits also help with floating and absorbing some impact if you hit the water unexpectedly, although some surfers prefer the flexibility of surfing without a wetsuit. You’ll typically find that surf schools recommend that you rent one no matter the time of year.
Where can I surf for beginners in San Diego?
San Diego has enough variety in its surfing that there are plenty of spots for beginners, like La Jolla Shores, and for experts, Sunset Cliffs. The surf spots listed below will include expected skill levels, no matter your level of experience with surfing. Surfing is also a fantastic spectator sport, and San Diego’s beaches and piers lend themselves to perfect observation points to watch the action in the water.
And now, let’s find your favorite surf spot in San Diego.
1. Swami’s (Encinitas)
Swami’s up in Encinitas goes by several names. You’ll hear locals refer to it as Swami’s Beach or Swami’s Reef, or dropping that apostrophe altogether as Swamis. No matter what you call it, it’s a popular surf spot in north county San Diego. It’s so popular, in fact, that the water is thick with locals and visitors on warm weekend mornings. Head to Swami’s during the week for your best chance at the large swells that move through this surf spot. Waves are the biggest and most suitable for intermediate to expert surfers during the winter months.
Nearby D Street, also in Encinitas, is a popular break with young surfers looking to put on a show. The waves here are advanced, so if you’re not well-equipped with your board – shortboards are what you’ll see at this break – it’s probably best to watch from ashore.
For spectators, the beaches of Encinitas here are beautiful, with a number of beach hike opportunities available if you’d like to stretch your legs after some relaxing on the sand. San Elijo State Beach nearby is worth a visit, with tide pools visible during low tides.
2. Imperial Pier (Imperial Beach)
Surfing near Imperial Beach, or IB as the locals call it, will give you the unique experience of being on the southernmost surf spot in California, as in just a short drive you could be in Mexico.
You’ll likely find fewer people to compete within Imperial Beach and finding parking is easy. Just head to the pier and find a spot within a short walk of the beach. You’ll notice wetlands on the other side of the beach that are not appropriate for surfing or swimming for that matter, but the park is a nice diversion if you want to check out the waterfowl in this area.
Imperial Beach is also host to an annual family-friendly event that will certainly put a smile on your face: the Imperial Beach Surf Dog Competition. Watch different heats of dogs of all sizes navigating the waves with their human handlers. It’s likely one of the most impressive feats of athletics you’ll see on your trip to San Diego and a fun place to bring your own furry friend if you’re traveling with pets. The beach there is dog-friendly, as long as your pup is on a leash.
3. Black’s Beach (La Jolla)
Black’s Beach may be known as the city’s only unsanctioned nude beach if you’ve been reading up on San Diego beaches in your travel guides, but it’s also well-known among local surfers for its waves. It does take some effort to get onto this patch of beach, and effort when you’re in the water, too. The surfing here is not for beginners.
To get to Black’s Beach, your easiest route, although it’s still quite steep, will be to head down to the beach from the Torrey Pines Gliderport. There are additional trails that aren’t as steep on the way down, but you really need to monitor the tides for those, as they are not accessible during high tides. You don’t want to be stranded out on a nude beach, or really on any beach waiting out the tide. Monitoring the tides is an important skill to master more generally if you’re interested in becoming part of the San Diego surf scene.
4. La Jolla Shores (La Jolla)
Compared to the challenging conditions elsewhere in La Jolla, the waves at La Jolla Shores are perfect for beginners learning how to surf. Surf instructors love the predictability of the waves here, and they never get too high. It’s why you’ll find most of the city’s surf schools located here.
La Jolla Shores is also a popular diving spot. If you’re interested, you can look into underwater tours that will take you through the kelp forests, coves and sea caves, some of the most stunning landscapes you’ll find on land or at sea and one of the best things to do in La Jolla.
5. Windansea Beach (La Jolla)
This stretch of coastline in La Jolla is best for skilled surfers as the break is over rocks/reef and have a very different character to the other breaks around San Diego. Despite that warning, you’ll find surfers here at all skill levels, which isn’t the wisest decision. There are plenty of injuries every year coming out of Windansea, many due to inexperienced surfers underestimating the waves here and not knowing where the hidden rocks are.
If you’re a spectator, you’ll find plenty to do near this beach even outside of watching the city’s surfers manage the aggressive surf here. Windansea Beach is a great place to explore the tidepools and rocky shores, even if the swimming is for the more experienced as well. Windansea Beach is very busy on sunny weekends, so parking in and around the beach can get tricky. If you’re able to, head out early on a weekday to find your perfect stretch of sand.
6. Outlet (Coronado)
Outlet, a surf break near the North Island Naval Air Base on Coronado, is a favorite for locals. The summertime waves here are quite unique, as they pick up the swells coming off the Baja coast during hurricane season. That can mean challenging surf during the warmer months, with calmer waters otherwise suitable for beginner and intermediate surfers.
Coronado has plenty to do to fill in the rest of your day if you want to make the trek over the Coronado Bridge worth your while. Pop by the Hotel del Coronado, a jewel in these parts and a well-known San Diego landmark grab a cocktail at one of the beachside bars with your toes in the sand or just spend some time in the sun on some of the best beaches in San Diego.
7. Oceanside Pier (Oceanside)
The Oceanside Pier, recommended for both beginner and intermediate surfers, offers great surfing on both the north and south sides of the pier. If you’re there to watch, the long wooden pier is an icon in these parts, originally constructed back in 1888 as a gathering place for Oceanside events or for those seeking a bite to eat after a day at the beach.
An alternative in Oceanside is the Oceanside Harbor, popular for all kinds of water activities on top of surfing, including fishing and boating. Oceanside is also home to two well-known annual surfing events, the World Bodysurfing Championship and the Supergirl Surf Pro. Both are popular with the locals, so if you’re at all interested in attending, plan your San Diego trip well in advance.
8. Tourmaline Beach (Pacific Beach)
Tourmaline Beach also called ‘Old Man’s aren’t known for the best waves in the city, particularly if you’re not accustomed to watching the tides. So why are these beaches so busy, and what keeps surfers coming back to Pacific Beach?
It’s the ambience of Pacific Beach in and outside of the water and accessibility to all kinds of amenities in the beach neighborhood that keep locals and visitors coming back to surf spots here. Nearby Crystal Pier is another popular Pacific Beach surf spot, with excellent people-watching, food options and beach bars nearby when you’re done with the waves.
Mission Beach and Ocean Beach offer similar wave opportunities as Pacific Beach, with similar beach vibes. Ocean Beach caters to a somewhat older crowd, while Mission Beach will offer access to Belmont Park if you’re traveling with the kids.
9. Sunset Cliffs (Point Loma)
Sunset Cliffs are considered a hidden gem in the San Diego surfing community, so you’re likely to run into locals while you’re out there. That said, the surf here is challenging and recommended for experts who have experience navigating rocky coastlines, hidden reefs and unexpected breaks and swells that are driven by the tides.
Getting down to the beach is also a challenge, as it’s essentially a hike down the bluffs with all your gear. The more laid back approach is to walk the cliffs from above to view the action below. Sunset Cliffs is a fantastic place for picnics, breathing in that sea air and as you’ve likely guessed, some of the most magical sunsets in the city.
10. Ponto Jetty (Carlsbad)
Ponto Jetty of South Ponto Beach in Carlsbad is popular with advanced surfers able to navigate the unpredictable nature of the waves here. The jetty here isn’t entirely brought to you by Mother Nature, but by the Army Corps of Engineers. Nearby Batiquitos Lagoon makes tides here unpredictable as well, although generally, surf conditions at Ponto Jetty are best in the summer months.
Carlsbad boasts some of the most beautiful beaches north of San Diego, with well-maintained stretches of sand that are never too crowded on warm summer days. Head to Tamarack Beach for a promenade path along the seawall if you want to stroll one of the most scenic stretches of shore here off the sand.
11. Onofre State Beach (San Clemente)
This beach on the border of San Diego and Orange counties is one of the most popular surf spots in the state. There are a few sections available to surfers, but the Lower Trestles is the most well-known and what you’ll likely hear the most buzz about.
Lower Trestles is for intermediate to advanced surfers, as you’ll likely be competing with crowds on your visit here on top of navigating those impressive waves. The Upper Trestles may feel a little less intense if you’re at the intermediate level, as it’s not as popular. Any of the surf spots at San Onofre State Beach are perfect for viewing some of the best surfers in the region.
Ready to hit the waves? You have options if you’re planning a surf trip to San Diego. If you’re just coming as a spectator, San Diego has plenty of options for that, too, a preference for many locals intimidated by some of the impressive surf here.
Did I miss any great spots for surfing San Diego? Let me know in the comments below.
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