Plan to surf California in an area where you can experience a strong surf culture.
The surf culture here really helped identify and shape the city. Surfing in San Diego is more than catching waves; it’s a way of life. From the local vernacular to the casual style of dress, everything has been forged by the surf. The city is filled with surf themed shops, restaurants, bars, festivals, and more, paying homage to San Diego surf life.
Some of the best places to surf in the county can also be some of the most dangerous. It’s good to have an idea of the skill level required, types of waves present, and other variables that will make your surf experience either epic or tragic.
We’ve rounded up the best San Diego beaches to surf no matter what your level of surfing is. So even if you're just beginning, there are spots for you to surf San Diego. Including Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, and Ocean Beach.
Surf San Diego, but watch out for the crowds
The climate in San Diego is often comparable with that of the Mediterranean.
Which results in more people in the water more days out of the year.
Apart from tourists, San Diego is importing new surfers every year, from the Navy and the Marines, there are also new students arriving to one of four universities and several colleges.
Best Surf Seasons in San Diego
Surf San Diego in the Fall
The summers in San Diego last longer than usual. Creating hot and dry conditions alongside southwest swells. In the fall, the water is colder. With a shift to north/northwest happening without warning. One day surfing in a bikini then surfing in a wetsuit the next.
Surf San Diego in the Summer
The onshore winds are active around 11AM. Most surfers will be in their wetsuits until July, which makes a springsuit a good option, too.
Surf San Diego in the Winter
Water temperatures are in the low to mid-50s thanks to the northwest swells from Alaska.
Surf San Diego in the Spring
Windswell is also common this time of year, and, with underlying groundswell, two days of weather are often followed by three of fun surf. Just when you think the water is beginning to warm up and summer is on the way, a new storm will bring upwelling.
Waves in San Diego
La Jolla Shores
La Jolla provides consistency and quality, which is great for beginners and intermediate surfers. It’ll often have a consistent steady crowd from sunrise until sunset. La Jolla Shores is that it is protected from the southwest trade winds which means that a stiff onshore won’t blow off the waves in the same way it would along with other spots on the coast.
Most of the surfing schools are in this area. Bring your foam surfboards and practice catching waves here. Once you get better, just move up the beach to Scripps Pier to challenge yourself a bit while being safe.
A favorite place to surf is Swami’s, located on the south end of Encinitas next to the Encinitas Temple and Meditation Gardens. This marine protected area has a reef that creates waves for experienced surfers, especially during winter swells. The lineup here is usually crowded. This spot is for intermediate and advanced surfers for the specific reason of knowing how surf etiquette.
La Jolla Submarine Canyon funnels into Black’s Beach, creating great swells.
There are three distinct surfing spots on Blacks beach:
- South Peak, a heavy left
- Middle Peak, lefts and rights
- North Peak, a fast, short, righthand barrel
This spot offers swells and more rip currents; so stay alert! Also stay alert because this is San Diego's unoffical nude beach. Just know, this is not a beginner surfing spot, this is for experienced surfers looking for quick waves. Mostly for shortboarders.
Scripps Pier is known to be good for intermediate surfers due to waves that are 3-4 ft and can range upward to 5ft this time of year. This is right up the beach, walking distance, from La jolla Shores. Right by the Institute of Oceanography, this is the right place to enjoy all Ocean wonders. This is mostly for shortboarders and mid-sized boards.
Wind and Sea
This is a notorious surf spot that has been popular since the 1930s. There is a lot of and has a competitive edge in getting the best location in the water. Check out when the winds are to the east, it is the best time to catch a ride on the waves. Although according to surf reports, it is a great surfing location regardless of wind direction.
On the North end of Pacific Beach, there are three main surf breaks:
- Old Mans, a long but mushy wave favored by longboarders.
- Channels, in the middle, can get a little more speed on the inside.
- Pumphouse, on the south end is a typical California beach break populated by a mix of longboards and shortboards.
The biggest swells coming from the northwest winds have arrived for the season.
Regardless of your skill level, Pacific Beach is the place to get out there. The tide is waiting.
For a really unique surf San Diego Experience, you'll want to check out the longboard waves at Sunset Cliffs. Winter is the time to surf in Sunset Cliffs as you are aware of rocks and getting down the stairs with your board.
Apart from La Jolla Shores, this is one of the best spots to learn to surf in San Diego. Mission Beach is also a sandy bottom break that is perfect for beginners. You’ll want to visit Mission Beach when the swell is small and clean, and the tide is high. If you're an intermediate surfer, check out the South Jetty. The only downfall is that Mission Beach gets extremely crowded.
The Oceanside Pier has great waves on both the north and south sides at any time of the year. Expect there to be a crowd.