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 to southern 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. Heading to Santa Barbara? Visit our Santa Barbara Travel Guide.
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. Visit San Clemente, start with our in-depth travel guide.
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. Vacationing to Half Moon Bay? Head to our Half Moon Bay CA travel guide.
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.
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. Ready for a vacation to Santa Cruz? Visit Santa Cruz now with the help of our Santa Cruz Travel Guide.
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.
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.
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. Visiting Huntington Beach? Visit our travel guide here.
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. Visiting Malibu? Read our Malibu Travel Guide here.
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.
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. Visiting San Clemente? Read our San Clemente Travel Guide here.