Best Surf Towns in California
California is glamorous, idealistic, a little bit smug, and very beautiful. It’s one of the most famed places in the world for being the home of international A-List celebrities, large mansions that cover the coast, and all its beauty and glory.
However, California is much more than LA or Hollywood. It has long miles of coastline, the largest tree in the world, many national parks, a rich and diverse landscape, and some of the best surfing waves in the world.
California should be added to the top of your bucket list for more reasons than one. It’s quite the palm tree lined, beautiful place, but it also is the perfect surfing location for beginners or advanced riders.
So enjoy all California has to offer on top of surfing its waves. The third-largest state in the US has over 800 miles of coastline.
- California Surfing Conditions
- Best Time to Surf in California
- Surfing Gear You’ll Need in California
- 9 of the Best Surf Towns in California
- 1. Malibu, California
- 2. Santa Barbara, California
- 3. Laguna Beach, California
- 4. Santa Cruz, California
- 5. Huntington Beach, California
- 6. San Diego, California
- 7. Encinitas, California
- 8. San Clemente, California
- 9. Ventura, California
- Looking for other surf recommendations
California Surfing Conditions
California has consistent, year-round surfable waves to enjoy. It’s one of the best surfing locations in the world, and it’s also the oldest surfing location in the contiguous US.
California waves have been surfed since 1885. California surfing can be broken up among the three coasts of the state: North Coast, Central Coast, and South Coast.
The South Coast, also known as SoCal, is from Santa Barbara down to the Mexican border. The Central Coast is from Santa Cruz to Ventura County, and the North Coast is from the Oregon border to San Francisco.
The North Coast is the least populated and most sparse location. As a result, the conditions can be unruly at times.
Best Time to Surf in California
Surfing is a sport you can enjoy year-round in California. No matter when you visit, you’ll find great waves and breaks somewhere along the coast.
Sometimes you might just need a thicker wetsuit.
The Southern Coast has the best year-round waves, which are consistent and of high quality.
Fall and winter are the best months with the very best waves, but honestly, you can’t go wrong any time of year.
Surfing Gear You’ll Need in California
Though California is warm year-round, you’ll probably still need a wet suit when surfing. The temperature on the south coast ranges from 55 degrees in the winter to roughly 65 degrees in the summer.
Surfing without a wet suit when the water is below 65 degrees is very cold and as a result, you won’t last very long out there.
For this reason, you’ll need a wet suit almost every time, if not every single time you surf. You may also want a wet suit hood and wet suit booties to keep you extra warm.
You can rent gear easily in California, but you can also choose to bring your own board and equipment. For more ideas here is a surfing trip packing list.
9 of the Best Surf Towns in California
California is one of the best places to surf in the United States and worldwide. There are tons of great places to surf along the coast, but below you’ll find a list of some of the best spots.
Depending on what type of experience you’re looking for, any of these locations would be a great spot. So read on and consider the city that’s best for you.
1. Malibu, California
Just west of LA, Malibu is known as the glamorous home of many celebrities and it has some fantastic beaches to go with it.
The surfing community is laid back and welcoming in Malibu, making it one of the best places if you’re new to the sport or the area.
However, because Malibu is very much a well-known and tourist location, there may be large crowds in the water, making it more difficult to surf.
In addition, locals tend to stake out their spots, so you may need to put in the extra work to find a good place.
Malibu is one of the best surf locations in the United States for longboarders. Some of the best waves can be found in Malibu Lagoon State Beach (also known as Surfrider Beach), Topanga Beach, and Zuma Beach. Topanga Beach is great because it has a wide variety of wave sizes, some reaching 10 feet.
The point break at Malibu Lagoon State Beach is one of the best in the world and definitely isn’t for beginners, but it’s an excellent place for advanced riders or to watch all the fun.
Malibu is a great place to visit because it has many exceptional homes, tons to do, and gnarly waves. While you are there you will also want to check out some of the best hikes to do in Mailbu.
2. Santa Barbara, California
With a backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara is a very picturesque city. The downtown has a Mediterranean style because of the Spanish colonial heritage, and there are great restaurants and boutiques throughout the city.
It’s a quaint and quieter town compared to others on the coast.
The waves here are practically perfect. Some of the best breaks include Rincon Point, known as the Queen of the Coast, and Leadbetter Point, which is excellent for beginners.
Many surf pros also come to Santa Barbara to surf the amazing waves, proving their infamous quality. Santa Barbara is easily one of the best surf spots in the United States.
3. Laguna Beach, California
Known for being one of the artsier places along the coast, Laguna Beach is a great option. The art scene is thriving, and there are tons of boutiques, art galleries, and other fun places to check out.
It’s a very welcoming place for beginner surfers.
Thalia Street has tremendous waves for beginners because they’re gentle and consistent, while Rockpile is great for more experienced riders.
Beach Park is another popular surfing spot. You can’t go wrong with some Laguna Beach surfing.
Besides surfing, there are a ton of great things to do in Orange county. You definitely won’t get bored in this magical Californian county.
4. Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz is a college town, so it has a younger crowd. There are 34 beaches in the city, so there are more than enough surfing locations. Make sure to walk along the boardwalk and enjoy the views.
Santa Cruz is the oldest surfing location in the US. The first waves ever surfed in the contiguous US were in Santa Cruz in 1885. Don’t forget to check out the Surf Museum in Santa Cruz to learn more.
The waves here are known for being short and fast, which can be a lot of fun. Steamer Lane is one of the best and most iconic places to surf in the United States.
There are four different zones known as Indicators, Middle Peaks, The Slot, and The Point, and it’s best for more experienced riders. Cowell’s Beach is a good spot for beginners.
5. Huntington Beach, California
Another great California surfing destination is Huntington Beach. The Vans US Open of surfing is a nine-day event held here each year.
Many professional surfers flock to Huntington Beach to participate in the event and try out the waves here. As a result, the city is a hub for surfing, and it’s often known as Surf City USA.
The pier helps combat the wind on the ocean, allowing riders to surf for longer periods of time during each ride. The swells are super consistent and waves can even range from three to twelve feet.
6. San Diego, California
San Diego is a substantial south coast city famous for its perfect year-round weather and beautiful landscape.
It also has some of the warmest water in the state. Ocean Beach Pier and Mission Beach Pier are great places to surf all year long, but it’s also a great place to watch fellow surfers catch waves because you can get pretty close.
In addition, there are tons of sites along the beaches in San Diego to take lessons or rent gear.
With so many beaches to choose from, it’s an excellent place for beginners and advanced riders.
Some of the best spots to surf include the two piers, La Jolla Shores, Windansea in La Jolla, Tourmaline Surfing Park, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, and Pacific Beach.
For advanced riders who are looking “get in the green room” which means you surf inside the barrel of a breaking wave, you’ll want to check out Blacks Beach in La Jolla.
It can be busy, but it’s mighty. Basically, you can’t go wrong surfing any beach in San Diego! Just pick a spot; you have to start somewhere!
7. Encinitas, California
Located in San Diego County, Encinitas is an internationally known surfing hotspot and was named one of the top 20 surf towns by National Geographic.
The city was also mentioned in the Beach Boys ‘Surfin’ USA’ song from 1963. It’s the perfect laidback, mellow surf town to explore.
The area provides excellent swells during winter and Swami’s is the most popular spot in Encinitas; it’s great for all skill levels though it’s better suited for intermediate and up. Grandview is another great spot and it’s more beginner-friendly, although there are tons of sites to choose from.
Lastly, Cardiff Reef and D Street are cool surf spots to check out.
8. San Clemente, California
In Orange County, San Clemente has some significant surf breaks. It has impressive original Spanish architecture and a ton of charm.
Even though it’s a relatively large city, it has maintained a small-town feel. There is also a large surf culture so if that’s what you’re looking for you’ll find it in this city.
The quality and consistency of the waves in San Clemente are unbeatable.
San Onofre has been one of the best surf spots in San Clemente since the 30s.
Other great spots include Trestles, T Street, the Pier, and the State Beach, but there are tons of others. Trestles is arguably one of the most well-known surfing spots on all of the West Coast. Many professionals visit the area to try out the waves, and competitions are often held here.
9. Ventura, California
Ventura is an underrated surf destination. It’s one of the best places for beginners because the waves are soft and consistent.
It’s also quieter than nearby beach towns allowing beginners to ease into the sport of surfing. It’s a great year-round place to surf. Ventura is a super laidback and chill town. It’s also more of a working-class city than other nearby places, so it’s a bit less expensive too.
Rincon is one of the most well-known surf destinations in California and is usually considered part of Santa Barbara, but it’s actually in Ventura. Other great spots include C Street, Pitas Point, and Little Rincon.
California is unmatched when it comes to surfing. It’s one of the best places to surf in the US, and on top of that, it’s also a great place to visit in general.
There is tons to do and so much beauty in the West Coast state. With snowy mountains, national parks, miles of coastline, lakes, rivers, and every other imaginable diverse landscape, you can have it all in California.
After visiting, you’ll never be able to get enough of it. But, of course, surfing will leave you wanting more, too.
So no matter what level surfer you are, go out there and enjoy the waves! Hang ten!
Do you have a favorite surf town in California that is not mentioned on this list? Say so in the comments below.