best surf spots in california

  The Regions of Coastal California,best surf spots in california

In certain places, the California coastline is no less beautiful than Hawaii.
In fact, one could refer to the golden sands and luxurious green foliage of the Carmel, Point Lobos, and Big Sur area and say that Hawaii was a more tropical continuation of this most dramatic part of California.

Other parts of the southern seacoast are admittedly less interesting but could still be compared with southwestern Oahu or with the drier regions of surf spots in california.

However, the surf in California is much less spectacular than that of the big wave beaches of the North Shore Oahu.

On the other hand, there is plenty of surf with perhaps a thousand miles of surfable coastline.

The beach receives, facing to the southwestward as it does, the southern swells from many of the winter storms of the southern hemisphere.

Winter surf is caused, sometimes, by northern or western swells hooking around points and reefs.

The Kuroshio – or Japan – Current, which assures California a relatively mild and Mediterranean-type climate, is a cold current compared with the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf Stream.

And if we dare to mention it within earshot of the California Chamber of Commerce, the sea off the California coast in the winter is extremely cold, even in the southern parts which sink in the 50s °F – the San Francisco area sinks to the high 40s °F.

Even so, hardy souls with or without cold-resisting wetsuits may be found at all the surfing beaches when the surf is up.

  California is diverse as it is large, and there are vast differences between surfing in Northern California and Southern California. To keep it simple, here’s the nutshell version of the three main coastal regions: Southern California, Central California, and Northern California.

  The Central Coast

  The epic Highway 1 drive in Big Sur

  The Central Coast technically spans from Ventura County in the south (just north of Los Angeles) to Santa Cruz in the north. But the surf world and many a’ Californian considers Santa Barbara and Ventura counties to be Southern California, so we’re going to run with that version. Just wanted to let you know there are some variations out there, but in this guide, we’re going to consider the Central Coast going from San Luis Obispo County in the south to Santa Cruz in the north.

  The Central Coast is much less populated than the south, full of quaint beach towns, rugged coastline, rolling hills, and remote beaches.

  Home to the enchanting Big Sur, lots of wine country, the incredible Monterey Bay Aquarium, and scenic drives.

  Northern California

  Trinidad State Beach in Northern California / photo by Everett McIntire

  Northern California (AKA NorCal) stretches from San Francisco up to the Oregon border and this coastline is California’s most rural. The North Coast (beyond San Fran) is so sparsely populated that there’s only one city with a population over 100,000. The region is characterized by wild often-inaccessible coastline, lush forests, and unruly surf.

  Home to giant redwood trees, moody weather, large ocean wildlife, and more scenic coastal drives.


  best surf spots in california,Just as the climate, culture, and landscape vary in the South, Central, and North Coasts, so does the surf and the overall surf experience. Surfing in sunny SoCal can be a world away from the moody and gnarly breaks of the North Coast, so in the sections below we cover the surfing lowdown on each region of the coast separately.

  Since there’s a lot of coastlines to explore in California, we would recommend spending at least a full week in any given region if you’re able. A very popular stretch is a surfing road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway between LA and San Francisco. There are so many amazing spots along this stretch that the more time you have the better.


  If you want to see a lot of the coastline and don’t have 3 to 4 weeks to work with, that’s okay, you can cover a good amount of ground in 10 days or so and at least get a little sample of this beautiful land. Just be prepared to be on the go quite a bit if you want to stay in multiple spots.

  Surfing Southern California

surfing california

  SoCal tube time / photo by @stansievers

  TYPES OF SURF BREAKS: Reef breaks to beach breaks, point breaks to jetties, and couple very serious shorebreaks, Southern California has a little bit of everything on offer.

  LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned pro, you’ll be able to find some suitable waves in just about any part of SoCal.

  SEASON AND SWELL BASICS: This beautiful and well-populated region of the Pacific Coast is blessed with sunshine and swell year round. With the winter months (Dec-Feb) come colder water and northerly swells. A solid NW swell will light up many of Southern California’s premier attractions.

  In the spring (Mar-May) northerly swells are still the predominant force although southerly swells start to mix things up in April and May. Plenty of onshore winds this time of year can have a damper on late morning or mid-day sessions, so getting it early or late is usually your best bet for the cleanest conditions.

  In the summer (Jun-Aug) long period swells from the south start to pulse. The water temperature starts to warm back up from the cold to cool range, and full on tourism season kicks into gear with travelers and locals alike taking the beaches by storm. Again, onshore afternoon winds are common so look for lighter wind forecasts and plan accordingly. If you score a good south swell with sunshine and light winds all day you’re in for southern California at its finest.

  In the fall (Sep-Nov) a combination of south swells, north swells, and the possibility of offshore winds make for some magical conditions. The sea temp is still pretty warm in Sept and Oct and starts to get colder in Nov.

  Fun rollers near Ventura

  COUNTIES: San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara

  CROWDS: You better believe it. All of the best and most well-known breaks will certainly come along with crowds of 15 – 50+ surfers when the waves are good. However, on average swells and at scattered beach breaks you can often find your very own peak and surf by yourself or with a mellow crowd.

  It helps to be able to surf during normal business hours of 8 am – 4 pm while a lot of people are working day jobs. There are also generally fewer crowds during the winter months.

  Newport Beach in Orange County

  SEA TEMPERATURE IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: The ocean temperature in So Cal ranges from an uncommon low of 52 on the coldest of winter days over the last decade to 74 in some late summer early fall tropical swells in recent years. The summer of 2018 was a record-breaking year with highs in the 76-78 range. Southern California fluctuates a bit more than up north so it’s good to have some options when it comes to wetsuits. A quality 3/2 mm for colder days and a 2 mm wetsuit top or spring suit for warmer days will you get by all year long. If you like to be toasty and plan to surf in the middle of winter, a 4/3 mm and booties are nice to have for cold morning and evening sessions. Winter (Dec-Feb) 52 – 58, Spring (Mar-May) 54 – 62, Summer (Jun-Aug) 60 – 72, Fall (Sep-Nov) 60 – 73

  GETTING TO THE SURF: Renting a car or campervan is best as there are a lot of surf breaks you’ll want to hit from Santa Barbara to San Diego which is about a 3-4 hour drive with dozens upon dozens of breaks to check out.

  Top Surf Spots in Southern California

  Malibu’s famous right-hand point break / photo via Surfline

  RINCON (Santa Barbara / Ventura): Located in all her perfection on the county line, Rincon is often referred to as the Queen of the Coast. A long, beautiful, right-hand point break with the perfect pace. Late fall to early spring is your best window to catch her in all her glory. Barrel sections typically on offer with a decent size swell and mid to lower tide. But works on all tides, easterly winds are offshore.

  MALIBU (Los Angeles): Another perfect right-hand point break set up. Unlike Rincon which turns on in the winter. Malibu is a hotdogging summer break. Always crowded and very popular with the longboarders, Malibu is not where you want to surf if you’re looking to avoid the masses. It doesn’t rain in the summer all that often, but if it does, you probably shouldn’t go in the water here as all the runoff and local septic tanks will be sure to tainting the lineup and will get you sick.

  TRESTLES (San Diego / South Orange County): While Trestles is technically a part of San Diego County, it’s commonly considered to be a part of San Clemente/South Orange County since it’s separated from the rest of North County San Diego by the military base Camp Pendleton. This beautiful collection of surf breaks consists of the world famous Lowers plus many other awesome waves like Uppers, Middles, Cottons, Church, and San Onofre State Beach/Old Man’s. With a variety of super rippable lefts and rights on offer, there are a lot of options. Lowers, the best wave of the bunch is often full of local rippers and pros so the competition is stiff if you’re not at that level. In that case, Uppers and Middles can be better options although still very competitive.

  Surfing Central California

  TYPES OF SURF BREAKS: Spooky reef breaks, thumping beach breaks, and the breathtaking setups of Big Sur and beyond make Central California a very special place.

  LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: Mostly intermediate to advanced but there are some inside peaks and more tame breaks for beginning surfers. There’s a lot of open water energy and power on tap in Central California. You should know your way around a competitive local run lineup and be able to handle yourself in stronger surf.

  SEASON AND SWELL BASICS: Fall, winter, and spring are the best seasons to surf Central California when northwest swells are very common, but you can also find some breaks that pick up some south swells and get decent surf in the summer.

  Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County

  COUNTIES: Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Luis Obispo

  CROWDS: Most popular breaks within the Santa Cruz town area will typically have somewhat of a small crowd on it, but you can easily find solitude outside of Santa Cruz if it’s solitude you seek. Just you and whatever might be lurking beneath the ocean surface.

  SEA TEMPERATURE IN CENTRAL CALIFORNIA: Basically the same as Northern California with a couple of slightly warmer pockets here and there during the warmest times of the year. Temperatures range from about 48 – 62 degrees with average temps running in the 50 – 54 degree range.

  GETTING TO THE SURF: Renting a car is best. Surf breaks are often quite spread out from county to county so you’ll definitely need your own wheels.

  Top Surf Spots in Central California

  A big day at Steamer Lane / photo by James Griffith

  STEAMER LANE (Santa Cruz): Heavy, shifty, rock reef break with several peaks depending on the size of the swell. Can handle triple overhead waves. NW winds are the best.

  PLEASURE POINT (Santa Cruz): There are a variety of peaks to pick from in this little stretch of coast. But the main wave at Pleasure Point is primarily a somewhat rolling and sectioned right, with a punchier sometimes hollow left breaking off of the main peak. Typically pretty crowded as its a popular spot for all levels of surfers on all types of surfboards.

  MORRO BAY (San Luis Obispo): Sand bottom beach break with a variety of peaks to choose from. Usually both lefts and rights on offer. A long stretch of beach to spread out and bit and explore if too crowded at the main peaks. Works on most tides, swell directions, and easterly winds are offshore.

  Surfing Northern California

  Ocean Beach in San Francisco

  TYPES OF SURF BREAKS: From super heavy beach breaks like Ocean Beach and Salmon Creek to rugged and picturesque rocky reef points of less visited northern California areas, this raw and unspoiled region of California is best suited for the adventurous type.

  LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: Good intermediates to advanced. Between navigating uncharted coastlines, local norms, and powerful surf, you’ll be best off with some solid surf experience under your belt and a good understanding of proper surf etiquette in this neck of the woods.

  SEASON AND SWELL BASICS: Certain breaks work year round but fall, winter, and spring are your best bet for size and consistency when there are plenty of swells with north and west in them. It’s likely to be a wet, cold, and rugged adventure. So be prepared and bring plenty of rubber.

  Iconic Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge / photo via Surfer

  COUNTIES: San Mateo, San Francisco, Marin, Humboldt, Mendocino, Sonoma, Del Norte

  CROWDS: It depends on when and where you go and how the conditions are. At many of the best and most popular spots, despite disgustingly large white sharks, brain-chilling cold water, and overall gnarly conditions, it can still get busy out there at times. However, you can definitely find unpopulated breaks if you go searching for them.

  SEA TEMPERATURE IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: It’s typically cold, really cold, or really, really, cold. Temperatures range from about 48 – 62 degrees with average temps running in the 50 – 54 degree range. You’ll probably want to wear a quality 4/3 mm OR 5mm winter wetsuit most of the time as well as booties and a hoodie in many cases if you want to be warm.

  GETTING TO THE SURF: Rent a car and use Google Maps, or better yet, abandon technology, pick up and old school road atlas and explore this wild surfing frontier.

  Top Surf Spots in Northern California

  A picture perfect swell at Ocean Beach in San Francisco / photo by @jimmicane

  OCEAN BEACH (San Francisco): World renowned beach break known for it’s heavy, raw, open water power. All sorts of peaks can be surfed up and down this 3-mile stretch of coast. Be careful of strong current, rips, and fast building swells.

  MAVERICK’S (San Mateo): Famous deep water big wave surf break about 25 miles south of San Francisco in Half Moon Bay. Very serious wave for trained experts and pros only. Needs a big swell to break and is very dangerous.

  POINT ARENA (Mendocino): Hailed as one of the best breaks north of San Francisco, this often hollow and heavy left-hand rock reef break works best on a mid-tide, with a decent size swell, and north to northeast winds.

The 5 Finest Browse Spots in California

If you stay in San Diego as well as intend to discover to browse, this is your spot. You don’t need to take our word for it– it’ sranked by Surfline as one of the leading 10 coastlines in the whole country (consisting of Hawaii) to find out just how to browse. It has every little thing you’re searching for. Constantly excellent browse that remains around 2-4 feet in the summertime, a sandy bottom without any coral reefs to bother with facing, as well as someawesome individuals offering lessons to get you ready to start surfing on your own.

The Shores is long, level, and sandy, and the coastline break that’s protected from a lot of the strong southwest winds and also currents implies that there’s hardly ever a day when there’s bad waves. And unlike coastlines where the breaks can lead to fast-moving, ever-changing waves, the coastline break at La Jolla Shores is always very foreseeable with smaller waves that are sluggish sufficient to be forgiving while you grasp your turn up, while being strong enough to capture while you’re still working in your paddling strategy.

This is a beach that’s known as a place with great deals of beginners, so you’re not going to have citizens trying to keep you out, and also they’ll be quite forgiving if you inadvertently break a few of the policies of surfing decorum. Once you obtain a little bit much more positive in your capabilities, you can go up north closer to the Scripps Pier, where the waves get bigger.

But do not believe that this is a placeonly for novices. La Jolla Shores is also a browse area for significant internet users, and also is house to browsing competitors consisting of the yearly Amp Browse Champion as well as the Windansea Menehune Competition. And when the winter months storm swells strike the coastline perfect, you’ll see best 10+ foot collections that make the Shores among San Diego’s premier progressed surfing areas.

Pro tip: Especially in the summertimes, come right here early. The Shores gets PACKED on bright afternoons in July as well as August, as well as the parking lot by the coastline is generally Mad Max.

The Wedge

Best browse spot for high strength searching

Web surfers call effective waves punchy. The waves at the wedge are Mike Tyson in his prime. They’re not just huge; they’re insanely thick and also solid. Also seasoned surfers need to be a little bit insane to surf on a wave like this, and they understand they’ll be taking a strong risk.

The intense waves are the result of a 2,000 foot long jetty constructed in the 30’s. Waves that strike this lengthy line of rocks at the best angle are reflected back as well as combine with the following wave in the collection, producing fanatic waves that can be up to 30 feet high. This occurs at irregular intervals and also produces uncertain waves that break in superficial water extremely near the shore. It’s not horribly unusual for individuals to end their searching session here with fewer teeth than they started with.

But if you are all right with the risks, it’s the excellent area for adrenaline junkies. You might want to make use of a foamie like Jamie O’Brien did when he surfed here because when– not if– the wedge throws you down like a ragdoll, you’ll at the very least have a soft surface area to shatter your face against.

The Wedge is a popular place for bodysurfing, so when you browse here, you’ll need to keep a keen eye out for swimmers. The black sphere flag is increased annually from Might 1st to October 31st to book the area for bodysurfers, yet surfers are constantly lobbying the city to reduce this moment and also open up the break to boards for even more of the year.


Ideal browse place for large wave browsing.

Like The Wedge, Mavericks is a surf spot for thrill candidates, yet the waves here are on an entire various degree. Located just north of Half Moon Bay, Mavericks has the greatest waves in the mainland USA, and also is among the premier large wave browsing places in the entire globe. Whereas you require experience to surf The Wedge, you require experience to browse Mavericks.

Mavericks is still a relatively brand-new browse spot, compared to a few of the prominent coastlines in Hawaii that have been surfed for centuries. A couple of people surfed it in the 60’s, and after that in the 70’s, but it didn’t actually remove up until the 90’s. In 1999, a yearly invitational surfing competition known as Mavericks International and later rebranded as Titans of Radical helped cement the place’s heritage as a first-rate location for big wave browsing.

The waves below can rise to 50 feet and also usually damage onto the rocky reef, so you’ll require to be all set to finish a trip before you get too close. If you can take care of the waves and prevent the rocks, you’ll additionally require to keep an eye out for the great white sharks. The major takeaway below is that it’s not the place for the faint of heart.

Even if your abilities are up for it, do not browse right here alone. Mavericks has already declared the lives of several web surfers, as well as not due to the fact that they did not have ability or experience. The Mavericks Water Patrol is routinely in the area with jet skis and also highly-trained rescue workers, however when the surf obtains excellent (as in dangerously big), even they might not be much aid.

However if you have the ability, the right prep work, and the appropriate surf, these are several of one of the most famous waves you’ll have the ability to surf in your life time.

Lunada Bay.

Best for Palos Verdes Locals/Worst for anybody else.

The browse is excellent. Individuals … not a lot.

Lunada Bay is a tiny bay in the city of Palos Verdes Estates, Los Angeles County. It has a few of the best waves in Southern California, as well as the place and also geography can suggest that when various other close-by breaks are liquidated, the Bay can still have perfect, lustrous waves that have actually been reported to stand up to 20 feet. It’s one of the surf areas that shows The golden state can measure up to Hawaii for the nation’s best browsing.

The problem is that it has one of the worst track records for localism in the entire nation. The Lunada Bay Boys, a local surfing gang, are fiercely protective of their beach, and have striven to offer it an online reputation as a locals-only place. Even world-famous web surfers have been the target of harassment. Despite several suits and also negotiations versus the gang and also the city, it’s still largely a spot for residents. If you grew up by the coastline in Palos Verdes, this is where you’ll wish to surf. If you really did not, you’ll most likely wish to look in other places.

If you want to take your opportunities as well as try to surf right here, just realize that you might get involved in a battle, have actually rocks thrown at you, or return to the parking lot to find your tires slashed and your vehicle coated in browse wax when the fragile Bay Boys obtain their sensations injured. And also while you’re there, make sure to follow the guidelines of surf decorum– dropping in on a local at Lunada Bay is a surefire hard time.

We think surfing should be for everybody. As long as you’re considerate to other surfers and also to the ocean, we have no worry with sharing waves. With any luck at some point quickly, localism such as this will be a thing of the past and also the Lunada Bay Boys will pass their elementary school maturity levels and also come to be Lunada Bay Males. Until then, there are lots of various other coastlines.

San Onofre.

Best browse place for longboards.

You understand those awesome browsing videos where pros on shortboards launch themselves off 6 foot waves, spin with the air, as well as sculpt pull back the face? You typically will not see excessive of that at Sano. This surfing place is understood for the opposite– smaller, mellower waves appear to expand forever down the coastline.

It’s mellow enough that this is an area that’s fantastic for children and new internet users, and on a windless day with the appropriate swells, the waves attract longboarders of all ages and also skill degrees, also pros as well as surfing tales. On the best day, the waves damage so cleanly as well as for so long that it feels like you’ll pass away of old age before you need to end your trip.

One of the most famous attributes in San Onofre is the nuclear reactor best alongside the beach. It was energetic from 1968 to 2013, and also is still in the process of being deactivated, which means there is still nuclear waste at that website. It’s entirely contained as well as risk-free, so there are absolutely no dangers to surfing there. But if the old nuclear plant scares you away, we won’t try as well tough to change your mind– it just indicates more waves for us at one of California’s best surfing spots!

There are a couple of various locations in San Onofre State Beach, including Trestles, The Factor, as well as Canine Patch, but for longboards, one of the most popular places is Old Man’s.

When you’re ready to check it out, bear in mind that you need to pay $15/day to park in the state park’s lot. You could be able to locate some free street parking, however it’s a preferred area, so go early if you don’t want to pay. Additionally be prepared to be person in the lineup. The water is crowded, however the waves deserve the wait.

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