From San Diego's balmy shores to Northern California's chilly waters, the surf's up in the Golden State and all ready for you to ride! The coastline is blessed with the allure of the most astounding waves for every surfer (and there are many). In August 2018, the state assembly had a unanimous vote to make California's official sport "surfing". September 20 is an official holiday marking this event. Whether you want to catch a wave or watch surfers ride in wonder, the best surf spots in California await people from all over the world.
What are the advantages of surfing in the best surf spots in California?
California is the surfing capital of the USA. The birthplace of surf culture, Australia only picked up the habit from the Golden State. The stretch of coastline is home to the top surf towns and the most popular waves. Everything in California is big, from its recreational parks to its waves. From classic break points to its gnarly reefs, there are more waves than you can hope to imagine. Most of these waves can be surfed all year long, and this makes California the go-to surfing destination. In California, surfing is a way of life. Lining the coast, you'll see surf shops, and some of the best board shapers call this home. You will also find several surfing camps and you can get addicted to the sport overnight. Waves can go up to 80 feet (24.38 m) in some sots and this poses a welcome challenge for surfers.
Does Northern or Southern California have the best surf spots in California?
SoCal is the epicenter of the surfing tradition. All the action is here, and in that sense, Southern California is more famous than the North. Going all the way from San Diego to the border of Mexico, home of Disney, Hollywood and the best surf spots in California, SoCal is eclectic. Northern California is raw and unspoiled. Stretching from the Oregon Border to San Francisco, its home to bulky beach breaks and rocky reefs. These are frightening waters, even for hardcore surfers. The water is colder here, but with waves that are huge, it's a professional surfer's paradise.
Which are the best surf spots in California?
No matter whether you're a novice or expert, riding the waves was never easier than in California. Most new surfers tend to begin at the various certified camps in Southern California, like at the Lower Trestles. The weather is conducive to surfing all year long, and the water in the south remains at a comfortable temperature. If you want areas to surf in, offering some good waves and a small crowd, you can explore Central California. The area spans from Santa Cruz to Ventura. A few inside peaks for elementary surfers exist here. What follows is a handy list of some of the best surf spots in California.
Malibu, Los Angeles
Recommended for all levels of surfing, west of Los Angeles, Malibu is iconic as far as beaches go. The Malibu area has played a large role in the surfing culture in America for years. Featured in numerous Beach Boys' songs, it has retained its cool vibe. Here, the entire family can enjoy a day out. Surfrider Beach is the top-notch surfing beach. You'll find perfectly peeling point breaks for any level (First, Second and Third Points). Nonetheless, the best of all is the First Point. First Point is the world's most respected right-hand break point.
The waves are gentle for beginners as you get closer to the shoreline. Further out, the surf gets massive and you can see famous professional surfers there. This area is classified as an exclusive Surfing Reserve, preserving the stellar waves from pollution. The best time here is the summer, but the beaches at Malibu are always crowded.
The Wedge at Newport Beach
Out of all the preferred California surf spots, Newport Beach is the space for the advanced lot. Literally defined as the "skate park of the ocean", the sandy stretch along the Balboa Peninsula touches waves for all levels, but The Wedge is the hotspot. This is at the east end of the Balboa Peninsula, shallow and quite unforgiving. Large wedge-shaped waves abound and some reach 30 feet (9.14 m) peaks. In the summer and fall, these swell higher, and may go up to 50 feet (15.24 m). In case you cannot experience The Wedge, the Seal Beach close by is a good bet for heavy surfers, with waves that are bulky and shallow. These may not be as heavy as The Wedge, but you get some up to 25 feet (7.62 m).
Pismo Beach Pier, Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach Pier is for all skill levels of surfers, known for its star quality of waves. It has a lively surf scene and you will see wave swells the whole year through. Soft sandy beaches and a sea bed the same, its an easy place to learn to surf. You can pick up great surf outfits from the stores that line the pier. Even on a typical foggy day, the beach is a welcome spot for many surfers. The World Surf League Qualifying Series is held every October, called the Pismo Beach Open.
Rincon, Santa Barbara
In the northern part of SoCal, Rincon represents the very definition of point break. Straddling the border of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, Rincon is the official surfing spot for winter surfers. Some surfers claim that this is the gnarliest spot in the state. A long and fascinating right-hander stretch wraps around a tiny beach neighborhood. The people are friendly and you can learn a lot from the locals. With a swell of a decent size, rides go up to 400 yards (0.37 kilometers) and above. In winter, the swells are at their best, and in summer, the water is quite flat. This is because the Channel Islands block the south swells from coming through. Called the "Queen of the Coastline", this point represents the golden-standard for surfers all over the world.
Huntington Beach Pier, Huntington Beach
The original "Surf City", southeast of Los Angeles, this is the surfing capital of California. Host to the annual Vans US Open Surf Event, the area has consistent waves. A variety of sand bars work year round on both sides of the pier. All levels of surfers find this an ideal spot to surf at. This surf spot made surfing legends of Andy Irons, not to mention, Kelly Slater. A flagship spot among the best places to surf in California, this is a legendary surfing heaven. Across the Pacific Coast Highway, you'll find some great surfing stores, some as old as those opened in 1957.
San Onofre Beach, San Clemente
Located near Camp Pendleton in the northern part of San Diego County, this beach has access from San Clemente in Orange County. Three waves dominate San Onofre - Old Man's, The Point and Dog Patch. These are all long boarding point breaks. Soft mushy waves are found in Old Man's, so beginners are happy here. The surfing in the summer is great here, and in rare hurricanes, the waves are scary for experts too.
Asilomar Beach, Pacific Grove
Safe and consistent, you get what you expect here. There are no sudden swells, and beginners like the mellow waves. On occasion, the waves can get pumping, so it's important to check conditions before you hit the water. Phoebe's Cafe is a good place to refuel between hectic surfing sessions, even if you're a beginner.
For all surf skill levels, in North County, Cardiff Reef in San Diego has long and smooth waves. The beach isn't as crowded as other beaches in the vicinity, and for a novice to hone their skills, it's a great beach to surf at. Representative of Cardiff Reef, its most classic wave is a right-hander, long and gently rolling. The reef is level, though a bit rocky. A great beach for long boarding too, peak tides can spin to the left and you can ride them on the nose.
When you compare the best surfing beaches in California, the Oceanside Pier has consistent surf spots that are available right through the year. Summer waves are as good as winter tides, and both sides of the pier have super waves working well with a low tide. This is a good spot for intermediate and professional-level surfers.
Doheny Beach, Dana Point
Searching for an original surf town on the map? Dana Point is it. It is among the best places to learn to surf in the USA. The rocky bottom produces waves that are symmetrically perfect and surfers love it here. Waves here are 3-4 feet (1.22 meters), and the waves close to the jetty produce 10-15-feet swells.
This is exclusively a beginner surfer's beach. With a soft-top board, you can hit the waves which are kind. When you need a break, you can slow to a stop and float along and relax.
Lower Trestles, San Clemente
A place that suits intermediate and advanced surfers, this is a hidden gem in California. Gathered in the Trestles, are five break reefs - Uppers, Cottons, Middles, Churches and Lowers. All offering ultimate rippable lefts and rights, Lower Trestles offers the best rip tides for surfers. Lower Trestles offers A frame breaks of waves over a reef of cobblestones. The right side is long, while the left is shorter, swifter and quite sunken. Kinder stretches along the long beach are apt for newbies.
Blacks Beach, San Diego
Avoid Blacks Beach if you are anything but the most advanced surfer. This is a rapid, ravaging and hollow beach break that holds gigantic swells. Winter is the best surfing time, but it works the whole year. Waves have a load of power and experts find them unforgiving as they challenge resistance levels.
Windansea Beach, La Jolla
Situated at La Jolla, this is a surfer's classic spot. The distinction of a place in some of the best surf spots in California was reached for Windansea when it appeared in a movie. Windansea's waves can be quite huge, reaching 10 feet (3.05 m). Nonetheless, this spot has gained some notoriety for being unpredictable. The place has a highly competitive air about it, and novices may not feel comfortable here. Skilled surfers have it made, always indulging in casual competition.
A classic right point break, Swami's is a conservation area. Encintas has the honor of a mention in National Geographic as being among the World's 20 Top Surf Towns. For intermediate surfers, Swami's is the place to train for advanced levels.
Pleasure Point sits across the bay at Santa Cruz, and is more accessible than Steamer Lane. As a result, it's a more crowded spot with surfers of all types around. You can have long rides on the waves here, and that's what draws more people.
Casually called C-Street, this spot has two point breaks. The right is slower and good for beginners. The left is faster and shorter, bringing a lot more power.
In Santa Cruz, a superb surfing city, Steamer Lane was named for the steamboats that cruised along the coast. This is a cold-water surf spot and is for advanced surfing enthusiasts. Steamer Lane has four reef breaks. These are prone to get extremely heavy in cooler conditions. The spot debuted as a surfing bestseller when three Hawaiian princes road the waves on their handmade redwood surfing boards.
Mavericks, Half Moon Bay
A huge wave area, Mavericks holds sway as the place with the scariest and wildest waves. Twenty-five miles south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay is a cold surf area for advanced surfers. Waves reach heights of 25 feet (7.62 m) and crest at about 60 feet (18.29 m). Winter is the best season to catch sight of some of these powerful surges. The bay to the right is shark-infested and at best, it's a view for most people. Still, some pros rise to the challenge and it's a sight to behold from the cliffs high up.
Ocean Beach, San Francisco
South of the Golden Gate Bridge, for advanced and mid-level surfers, one of the best surf spots in California's Bay Area is Ocean Beach. Equipped with the heaviest beach breaks on the planet, as some say, this is comparable to Mexico's Puerto Escondido. When the waves form high peaks, the rips and currents are threatening and dangerous. The dropping tide makes the bed more hollow. The best swells for surfers of advanced levels, waves should ideally be 20-feet high.
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