Best Surfing In California

The sport of surfing traveled from Hawaii to the amazing coast of California more than 100 years ago.  There are hundreds of good surfing locations, from northern tosouthern California, and everything in between along The Golden State coast.  The world-class beach breaks for all levels of surfing can be surfed along the beautiful coastline highways. Although there are no secret spots to be unveiled, Southern California offers the true surf spirit of the aloha lifestyle. Surf crowd is inevitable.   SoCal surfers are friendly, but you should respect locals as well as surf etiquette. Almost all Southern California surf spot are easily accessible and do not demand tricky paddle-out knowledge. Flawless perfect waves will roll in every SoCal beach.  Los Angeles and San Diego are the biggest surf cities of Southern California and offer a large number of unforgettable surf experiences.  Here is a list of the best surfing in California:

Rincon, Santa Barbara

Rincon might just be the best wave in California… when it’s working.  Rincon is located just off Highway 101 on the border of the Ventura and Santa Barbara County line in Central California. On a good day, this long right point-break will leave you with rubber legs. It is divided into 3 breaks: the Cove, Rivermouth, and Indicators. Over the years, Rincon has been the surf spot responsible for spitting out such well-known rippers like Tom Curran and Bobby Martinez.   Although Rincon isn’t as consistent as some of the breaks in south county Ventura, it does get its fair share of swell when compared to the point breaks that lie to the north in Santa Barbara.  Rincon defines the classic California point-break. A cobblestone rocks cover a crescent shaped bay, a creek mouth spreads sand perfectly along the bay after a winter rain, and an indicator refracts waves into the inside cove. It’s a beautiful thing.  It’s no wonder Rincon is a must-surf destination.

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Rincon Surf Spot, Santa Barbara

Lower Trestles, San Clemente

“Lower Trestles” is part of a stretch of several surf breaks known collectively as “Trestles.” This world famous spot is one of the best in OC if not all of California. It is the true ground zero of high energy surfing. Although it is always crowded with pros, locals, and plenty of long boarders, Trestles more than makes up for it with its beautiful setting where the San Mateo Creek empties into the ocean just off of the 5 freeway. It is really somewhat of a surfing outpost as it is situated in a mostly undeveloped stretch of old California. Trestles has something for all abilities; in order from North to South, “Cottons Point” (the location of former President Richard Nixon’s home), “Upper Trestles”, “Lowers”, “Middles”, and “Church”. These other spots do not compare to “Lowers”, but they can be fun as well and without the crowd factor.

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Lower Trestles, San Clemente

Mavericks, Half Moon Bay

Just 20 minutes south of San Francisco, and 1/2 mile offshore from Pillar Point Harbor, Mavericks rises from the wintry horizon to form perfect, massive waves that reach up to 60 feet, exploding with such ferocity that it can be recorded on the Richter scale.  Mavericks is a famous cold water break in Northern California. This right point break is most popular in the Winter when big wave riders come from around the world to test the limits and ride giants. Warning: Mavericks is not the best place to paddle out for visiting beginners. Spirited locals are not afraid to let themselves be heard…often by means of slashing your car tires.  This is the site of the Titans of Mavericks which is the most coveted event in big wave surfing.

Mavericks (Titans of Mavericks competition)

Mavericks (Titans of Mavericks competition)

Cardiff Reef, San Diego

Cardiff Reef (“The Reef”) is a popular surf spot in Cardiff that produces waves both professional and novice surfers enjoy year round. Surfing at The Reef has progressed from just a few surfers in the 1950s to become one of the most popular surfing spots in San Diego County.  Cardiff Reef and nearby surf spot, Pipes, are famous for their smooth and consistent wave shape.  One of the more popular places to surf in San Diego County since the 1940s. It’s the flat rock bottom just beneath the surface that creates some juicy waves. This wave is a nice peak that all types of surfers enjoy year-round.

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Cardiff Reef, San Diego

Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz

Notorious for it’s cold water and world-class rides. Today, the lineup is increasingly crowded, but on a big day, the crowd thins down to only the bravest souls. It’s the surf spot that Jack O’neill once called home and where he came todevelop the wet suit… thanks Jack. If you’re not in the water, the cliffs just above the point provide a perfect vantage point.  There are four parts to Steamer Lane: Indicators, Middle Peak, The Slot, and The Point.  Third Reef is an expert surfing zone just beyond the Lane and closely related.

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Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz

Salt Creek, Dana Point

Salt Creek is located in a beautiful large cove in the northern end of Laguna Niguel. During a decent swell it is normally filled with locals, visitors, long boarders, boogie boarders, and occasionally the Dana High School surf team. The vibe is usually good, and somehow most often everyone seems to get along. To the left is “The Point,” nice left breaking waves but a small take- off area that can be quite competitive. Out front is “Middles” which can be quite epic at times, with shifty, punchy peaks and it offers a bit more breathing room. To the right is “Gravels” which can offer up some freight train right breaking tubes when the swell is up. There is a metered parking lot at the top of the hill. Access to this break and lot is off PCH and Ritz Carlton Drive. There is plenty of good eating and walking to be found in nearby Laguna Beach.

Salt Creek Beach wave

Salt Creek Beach wave

Blacks Beach, San Diego

Just below the bluffs of Torrey Pines you will find Blacks beach, full of nudist and heavily stacked…waves. Paddling out at Blacks is not a big deal. Wait till a lull and paddle out. Once outside watch for the big sneaker sets. These will kill you and they are extremely hard to spot. Because of this it is not a good idea to sit inside. Blacks is all about late drops. Unless you are on a bigger board you will not be able to catch waves unless you drop late. The waves are very hollow and powerful due to the offshore La Jolla underwater canyons which make the shore go from very deep to very shallow. This accounts for the extreme hollowness and bigger size.  Due to the underwater canyons, Blacks is the proud owner of San Diego’s most powerful waves. A surf spot which is not recommended for any beginner surfer. Even the goat trail down to the beach is dangerous, so be weary.

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Blacks Beach, San Diego

Huntington, Huntington Beach

Located in the heart of OC along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) Huntington Beach is known as the true but unofficial Surf City of CA. From the Bolsa Chica wetlands to the north and the Santa Ana river jetties to the south, Huntington is an experience not to miss. Although the feel may be aggressive and competitive in the water around the pier, Huntington offers several miles of classic California beach break. Your chances of finding some emptier peaks are better around Bolsa Chica, the cliffs (around Golden West St.), and south of the pier (Beach Blvd, and southward). Nothing beats experiencing Huntington with a combo swell from the south-southwest and west, combined with offshore/Santa Ana winds. For a fun shopping experience for the latest surf gear try Jack’s Surfboards on PCH and Pier Avenue, among others. There are also lots of good local eateries in the same area such as the Sugar Shack Cafe on Main Street. You can find free or metered parking along PCH or on side streets.

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Huntington Beach Surf

Malibu, Los Angeles

While “Malibu” refers to the long stretch of south-facing coast that extends west like a frying pan’s handle from the bustling Los Angeles basin, encompassing several breaks (including Little Dume and Zuma) and dozens of beaches, it’s First, Second, and Third Point (which together comprise a sprawling right point officially named Surfrider Beach) that make it great. Malibu is typically a slower/smaller break, perfect for long boarders. On big south swells, the First, Second, and Third point can all connect to form a long right hander…really long. The only downside: the weekends are very, very crowded.

Malibu Surf

Malibu, Los Angeles

Oceanside Pier, Oceanside

Even in summer, Oceanside Pier produces very fun and shapely Oceanside waves. Both sides of the pier are very popular and on a good day can be quite crowded. But most of the time there is good surf right around the pier. While the pier is definitely the best place to surf in Oceanside, the north side jetties by the Harbor are definitely a close second. Most locals agree that when the surf is small, the best place to paddle out at is in the Harbor because it will be biggest there.

Oceanside Pier, Oceanside

Oceanside Pier, Oceanside

San Onofre, San Clemente

Both “San O” and “Trails” are part of San Onofre State Surfing Beach. This is a classic, historic surfing spot which goes way back to the days of pulling up to the beach in your woody and hanging out all day. “San O” features mostly beginner waves and is an all around fun place to spend the day listening to The Beach Boys on your iPod. The breaks in order from north to south are “The Point” (the most challenging of the three), “Old Man’s”, and the easiest, “Dog Patch” (in the hard core surfing world, this is called a true mush burger). Exit the 5 freeway at Basilone Road north of the power plant and pay at the gate, $15.00 for day usage.

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San Onofre, San Clemente

A little long but well worth watching!

28 Comments

  1. Angie

    Wow, California is beautiful and the surfing looks amazing! I think Oceanside is my favorite. We are looking to head to California for the beaches this summer. I don’t know how to surf, but it looks amazing. Worth trying that is for sure 🙂 You have provided a wonderful glimpse into some of the most awesome looking beaches in California. I will be back when I am ready to start planning our trip.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      California is beautiful that is for sure. I think I agree about Oceanside. I have been there a few times, and have always love the ocean and the beauty of the place. Thank you for visiting The Best Surfing In California.

      Reply
  2. Suzanne

    Leahrae, your article is amazing! If I were younger, I’d want to take up surfing lol. If we ever drive this highway I’ll have to reference your site for great places to check out. We may not surf, but it’s sure fun to watch.
    Cheers,
    Suzanne

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      I am glad you enjoyed the best surfing in California Suzanne! Thank you so much for taking the time to leave me comments. Please drop in again, and be sure to start planning your beach vacation!

      Reply
  3. David

    Cool article. Ironically I grew up in San Diego and surfed Blacks, La Jolla, Malibu, Trestles and some local spots in Point Loma. I also did some competing in the 80’s which was fun. My favorite break has to be Big Rock and Trestles which gets on fire. You named some great spots which are pretty popular but be careful of the locals which don’t take too kindly to newbie especially on the well known point breaks. Sad, but that’s the nature of the sport which I did for a good 30 years.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Wow, amazing. I know my son has been surfing for couple of years now. We need to head that way and take your advice, and go to the less known points at first 🙂 I am glad you enjoyed reading David! Thanks for visiting the Best Surfing in California!

      Reply
  4. misti

    very nice site. I have always wanted to learn to surf. Your site is very informative. I like all your pictures also. very clean looking site.
    I have family in cali, maybe I can go for a visit this summer & visit some of the spots you talked about. I’ll be back to check out more of your work.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thank you Misti 🙂

      Reply
  5. Roy

    wow,I can feel the sand between my toes, this is a wonderful website and gives me the urge to go traveling .I have never tried a surfboard, actually it looks like it is hard to learn how to master the huge waves.But it looks delightful and I might try it out one day, and then I know where to look for some advice. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      That’s right! I will have it all right here for you 🙂

      Reply
  6. Allen Adkins

    The information that you have provided is so interesting and inviting. The pictures so you how relaxing and fun the adventure of surfing can be. You show a great deal of research and knowledge has went into your page and thought process is amazing. You have done a wonderful job displaying and giving insight to what the page is all about. Keep up the great work!!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thank you so much Allen. It is a HUGE passion of mine 🙂 Glad you enjoyed!

      Reply
  7. Paula

    Great article! Thank you for doing the hard work on searching for and describing every place so thoroughly. It comes as great help to have all places listed with their pros and cons, and even the board of choice for each one. You have, in one single article, saved me from a few hours of research.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      I’m so glad I could help Paula 🙂

      Reply
  8. Efi

    I was in San Diego last year and never thought of checking the beaches and the waves there.
    I didn’t know there are a lot of beaches that offering surfing in California, But I’m not even live on the same continent (Don’t gage me)
    Next time I will defiantly will use your website before my trips 🙂

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thank you Efi, thanks for visiting my site !

      Reply
  9. Eric

    Hi there

    You did it again! I’m always excited to visit your website, because every time I’m here I felt I’m in the real beach. Because you always executed very well your post. You give a thorough idea and tips about in every beaches you feature here in your website. I’ll promise to my self if I become rich all the beach I saw in your website, I’m visiting that beach to experienced the beautiful sunset and sunrise also the waves and the breathtaking view.

    I enjoy reading your post and watching the video. Thank you for sharing and take care always!

    Cheers
    Eric

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thank you so much for your praise of my website. I appreciate the comments, and I hope you can visit all of these beaches one day soon!

      Reply
  10. Von

    Hi LeahRae,

    I have been following your posts and I have also been waiting for you to write one up about Cali. I have plans this summer to visit and I was wondering where to go. I dont know how to surf at all but I am willing to try. One thing that scares me is sharks. Should I worry about sharks in these places? Where should I go as the safest?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Ok, shark attacks are actually more rare than getting struck by lightning. California beaches will have posting if there have been shark sightings and then you don’t go in the water. Another good thing to do is avoid swimming/surfing in early morning or dawn when they are more likely to be around. Lastly, swim or surf in groups. The shark attacks that have happened is usually on an individual. Sharks tend to attack an individual and stay away from groups. Thanks for visiting!

      Reply
  11. Andy

    Wow! I didn’t know there were so many great spots in California!
    I’ve traveled to California a few times but have never gone surfing before.
    This is definitely something I want to try. Hopefully it’s not too hard to learn.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      I don’t think it is hard to learn Andy 🙂 My son picked it up within his first couple tries…that doesn’t mean everyone will…but great and fun sport!

      Reply
  12. David Donahue

    Totally cool website. I grew up surfing in San Diego so this really hit a sweet spot with me. Love the video too!

    Reply
    1. admin

      Great! Did I pick the right places? Just curious what your opinion is. Thanks!

      Reply
  13. chris

    I’ve never gone searching but I think when i go visit my friend in Cali next year I will go to one of these places and try it out. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. admin

      You are most welcome Chris! Thanks for stopping in 🙂

      Reply
  14. Stuart Noel

    This website is absolutely breath taking, oh how I want to escape to the beach, sit in the hot sun and listen to the ocean. Too bad I have to work.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      It is a small obstacle…. but thank you for the comments and for looking 🙂

      Reply

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