Every year, many people flock to surf California.
To say the least, being able to surf California is on a lot of peoples bucket list. Rightly so, with so many beaches in California, it's technically your best option for surfing in the United States (Other than surfing Hawaii of course). It’s a way of life for many to surf California. Sprinkled up and down the coast there are worthy areas to surf California. And no, you don't have to be in Southern California to surf. There are many other opportunities to surf California in the Central and Northern parts of the state as well. However, you'll need a wetsuit for sure.
Surfing has a long history and California helped the sport get noticed through movies, music, TV shows, and the surf culture which began in the early 1900s and exploded in the 50s and 60s. Visit one of the Surfing Museums in California to learn more about the history of the sport in our state.
Whether you're just starting and want to surf your foam surfboard, or you're seeking out sleek longboard waves, we're sure you'll have a good time being able to find the right area to surf California.
Below is a collection of areas to surf California broken down into Southern, Central, and Northern California.
Southern California Surf Spots
Southern California consists of beaches in the counties of San Diego, Orange, and Los Angeles. These are the classic palm tree, sunny beaches you think of when you surf California.
Ocean Beach City Beach
Ocean beach is a great little surf town with a variety of surf breaks. South of the pier is a consistent reef that breaks mainly left (or the suicide right will take you right into the rocks) The more experienced surfer can shoot through the pier connecting on to the beach breach break.
North of the pier is all beach break with plenty of lefts and rights. On a big day be sure to use the rip currents by the pier.
Further up is a break called Avalanch is a consistent left off the rock pile with scattered lefts and rights to be had.
Further north of Avalanch is Dog Beach and the jetty. Dog beach is a great place for beginners and whitewater newbies, it stays shallow a tad longer making this an ideal place to get to grips with surfing. The Jetty on the other hand is a critical right that produces hollow tubes on the right swell. This is not the place to go unless you are confident in your abilities.
Ocean Beach is pretty consistent year round although summer doesn't pick up much other than a horde of bathers and tourists. If you catch OB on the right swell you will be in for a good time. Try to avoid low-negative tides as this often causes hollow closeouts. OB will hold up to around 8ft anything beyond that and its touch and go. Also paddle outs can be tricky as the size increases as there are no channels other than a rip next to the pier.
Pacific Beach (the beach) is located between Pacific Beach Drive and the Crystal Pier in the Pacific Beach District of San Diego, California. North of the pier is North Pacific Beach. Pacific Beach is a solid local spot with a variety of breaks and a seriously unique and lively atmosphere. A great visit for any local or traveling surfer wanting to surf California in a classic setting.
Tourmaline Surfing Park Beach
Tourmaline Beach is at a San Diego area surfers’ mecca called Tourmaline Surfing Park. This beach sits on the border of the Pacific Beach and La Jolla districts of San Diego.
Windansea Beach is below Neptune Place in La Jolla at the west end of Westbourne, Nautilus, and Bonair Streets. The name is a shortened version of “Wind-and-Sea”. Windansea Beach is below Neptune Place in La Jolla at the west end of Westbourne, Nautilus, and Bonair Streets. The name is a shortened version of “Wind-and-Sea” and comes from a hotel at this spot named Windansea that burned down in the 1940’s.
Like a lot of La Jolla’s beaches this one is just large enough to spread out for sunbathing. Winter storms can remove a lot of the sand here so it’s quite different between summer and winter. Windansea is an expert surfing spot and due to rocks and strong currents, it’s not a great swimming area. That said, this is a picturesque beach with sandstone points sticking out into the surf at both ends.
Scripps Beach is adjacent to the UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceanography campus in northern La Jolla. The long concrete Scripps Pier is not open to the public. Wide sandy beach with peaks breaking on both sides of the pier, the south side usually being better. The Shores, fronting the parking areas to the south, can be excellent. Best with a medium tide; blows offshore during rare wintertime SE winds.
Home of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography (researchers love the deep waters of the canyon). The Shores becomes very crowded during the summer. Very friendly beach. Access via La Jolla Shores Drive.
Cardiff State Beach – Seaside Beach
Seaside Beach is a sandy beach in Cardiff State Beach at the border between Solana Beach and the Cardiff-by-the-Sea area of Encinitas, CA. Cardiff State Beach is the long sandy strip. Great wave that works in most swells. It is a fast, powerful, hollow wave suitable for experienced surfers. Best at low tide.
Swami’s Surf Beach is a famous surfing mecca at the south end of Encinitas, CA. The park at Swami’s Beach is a great vantage point for watching surfers and has shaded areas to enjoy a picnic as well. When the tide isn’t too high, you can walk south for quite a distance into San Elijo State Beach.
Walking north leads into a spot below the steep Encinitas bluffs called Boneyards. Several cafes, including Swami’s Cafe, and other restaurants are just a short walk north on Highway 101. There is a long stairway that descends the steep bluff from the parking lot to the beach. This is a great place to surf California under some epic sandstone bluffs.
Beacon’s Beach in Encinitas is one of out favorite areas to surf San Diego. This area is state-owned and city-run beach has been called Beacon’s for years.
The beach here, just like Grandview Beach, the north beach in Leucadia State Beach, and nearby Stone Steps Beach to the south, is tucked below the bluff where homes and condos are densely packed. A long stretch to find you're own spot when you want to surf California.
Tamarack State Beach
Tamarack Surf Beach is part of Carlsbad State Beach is known, is located where Tamarack Avenue crosses Carlsbad Boulevard. At this intersection is the entrance to a large parking lot that is usually full on nice days. The city provides a stairway for access to the rest of Carlsbad State Beach at Sycamore, Maple, Cherry and Hemlock Avenues.
Between Tamarack Beach and Frazee Beach are two paved paths, a sidewalk at the top of the bluff and a promenade at the back of the beach on a seawall, which makes this a great place to get out and walk. Tamarack Beach is a nice wide sandy beach all the way to Frazee Beach. An easy place to surf California.
Oceanside Pier View South Beach
Pier View North Beach in Oceanside is a popular sand beach just north of the Oceanside Municipal Fishing Pier. The beach on this side of the pier is a little less crowded than the south side of the pier. Pier View North is also a wider and longer beach so there is more room to spread out for those who want to sunbathe and surf California.
San Onofre State Beach – Surfing Beach (Old Man’s)
San Onofre Surfing Beach (the official state park name) is located next to Camp Pendleton in North San Diego County. One of the original areas to surf California. Access to this public beach is via the Old Pacific Highway from San Clemente.
Surfing Beach, which has nicknames like San O and Old Man’s, is located on the north side of the decommissioned SONGS nuclear plant, which you can’t miss from the freeway (looks like it should be wearing a bikini over it). With a name like Surfing Beach you can bet that this beach has a consistent break that draws surfers from around the region. It is considered one of the top surf breaks for beginners in Southern California.
Trestles Beach is the northernmost part of San Onofre State Beach and of San Diego County, but access is from San Clemente in Orange County.
Surfers know this area near San Mateo Point as Uppers, Lowers, and Middles for the different surf spots near the train trestle the beach is named after. Unfortunately this surf area is fraught with localism which can be seen in the various spray-painted warnings along the path to the beach. Not what you want experience the first time you surf California.
T Street Beach
T Street Beach is found at the west end of Esplanade Street in San Clemente and that is why it is sometimes referred to as Esplanade Beach. T-Street is part of the San Clemente City Beach system.
The city maintains facilities at this palm tree-lined beach and provides lifeguards when it’s busy. The San Clemente Pier is just north and frequently photographed from this spot.
The San Clemente Coastal Trail passes by here making it easy to walk to the pier or south to other beaches. Surfing is popular here, but there are rules on when and where it is allowed to avoid conflicts with swimmers.
Doheny State Beach – North Beach
Doheny State Beach is located in the city of Dana Point, California and is one popular state beaches and attracts almost one million visitors per year. Many of whom want to surf California for the first time. Doheny has a day use surfing beach at its northern end and a five-acre lawn with picnic facilities and volleyball courts.
The southern end of the state beach has campgrounds, with some of the campsites only steps away from the beach. The state beach has tide pools and a visitor center with several aquariums. Surf fishing is also popular among visitors.
The beach property was donated by oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny for public use in 1931 and was California's first state beach. It was official named Doheny State Beach in 1963.
West Jetty View Beach – The Wedge
The Wedge is a popular spot for surfers and bodyboarders. It is located at the end of the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, Ca. The Wedge is right next to the Newport Harbor Jetty which helps creates its unique waves. Probably the most unique surf in California where you watch body surfers ride in inhospitable wave.
Huntington City Beach
Huntington City Beach is the center of a long stretch of sandy waterfront for the city of Huntington Beach, CA. This stretch of sand sits along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) between Goldenwest St. and Beach Blvd, and it’s a great chance to see professionals surf California in an advanced way. Huntington City Beach offers various amenities such: volleyball courts, bonfire pits, and of course the iconic Huntington Beach Pier spanning 1,850 feet in length.
Everyone who wants to surf California for the first time, thinks of this area. As it's in so many movies. The pier sits in the heart of Huntington Beach and allows visitors and locals alike to experience the breathtaking views amidst the sounds of crashing waves and the ocean breeze.
Serving as the northern gateway to Orange County's 42 miles of coastline, this quiet, down-to-earth community is the perfect escape. Seal Beach is named after the seals that once frequented its surf California coastline. Today, the city is filled with quaint neighborhoods and hometown appeal.
Wide, sandy expanses and several great surf spots make Seal Beach a favorite community among Orange County locals, and conditions are ideal for kitesurfing, windsurfing and building sandcastles.
Malaga Cove Beach
Malaga Cove is the northernmost and sandiest beach in the city of Palos Verdes Estates. This spot is actually the south end of the long sandy shore that includes Redondo Beach and Torrance Beach (an area known as RAT Beach). Surfers enjoy this beach as do scuba divers, sunbathers and swimmers. This area tends to be less busy than the others because of its off-the-beaten-track location. Access to Malaga Cove is down the Malaga Cove Trail from a parking lot at the intersection of Paseo Del Mar and Via Arroyo. The trail begins on the north side of the lot.
As the trail reaches the bottom of the bluff you can continue right and eventually get to the sandy beach or turn left below the Palos Verdes Beach & Athletic Club to a rocky shoreline with tide pools, dive spots, and a left-hand surf break known as Haggerty’s if you want to surf California.
Hermosa City Beach
Hermosa Beach is a great place for beginners to advanced surfers to surf California. Take your surf lesson right next to the pier in the most happening town in the South Bay. In the summer time, your might be surfing right in front of a concert, or other exciting event taking place on the beach. The pier provides you with many places to enjoy food and drinks, surf shops, and exciting events, such as an artificial snow park!
Manhattan County Beach
A hotspot for both surfing and beach volleyball, the Manhattan Beach pier offers a fun, festive setting for your next vacation to surf California. There are multiple surf breaks are located along the beach, with a variety of types of waves that offer fun rides for all! No matter your skill level, there's a wave to be ridden for everyone.
Venice City Beach
Take your surf lesson in Venice Beach, home to many artists, writers, performers, and musicians, and one of the most vibrant and eclectic areas of Southern California. This town is named and modeled after Venice, Italy. This stretch of beach offers waves for all levels, beginners to advanced surfers.
Expect to encounter plenty of tourists, as this is one of the most well known beaches in to surf California.
Topanga Beach is the closest Malibu California beach to Los Angeles. The Eastern Malibu coast faces south and Topanga Beach is at the east end next to the Pacific Palisades.
Malibu Surfrider Beach
Malibu Surfrider Beach is the popular sandy beach and surfing spot between the in Malibu by the Pier and the Malibu Lagoon. Surfrider Beach is part of Malibu Lagoon State Beach. Malibu, the focal point of SoCal beach culture, is a fantastic place to take your surf lesson if you are looking to improve your surf skills. The coast of Malibu is made of several points that create numerous fun surf spots.
Because of the rocky coast and a dense population of advanced surfers, these surf spots are best for experienced surfers who surf California and are looking to improve their skills.
Zuma is the ultimate surf California beach: wide, extends for miles. Zuma Beach has 1.8 miles of beach frontage with 105 acres of property. There are eight parking lots with approximately 2,000 parking spaces. Food stands are located at each end of the beach. Other amenities include restrooms, restaurants, showers, volleyball nets, and a bus stop. Beach wheelchairs are also available.
The water at Zuma is a little colder than at other Los Angeles beaches but with its ample amenities and white sand it continues to be a perennial favorite with residents and visitors alike. This beach has become popular for both swimming and body surfing; however, it is also known for its rough surf and riptides. Zuma also has surfing and windsurfing. Zuma is also a great place to watch grey whales make their winter migration.
Surfers Point Beach
Surfers Point Beach at Seaside Park in Ventura begins west of the Ventura Pier and follows the Promenade to the Ventura River Estuary. A lagoon forms where the Ventura River backs up behind the beach which makes this a great birding location.
The point faces south so waves coming from the west curl around it making right hand waves that roll in consistently. Surfers will start at various spots and ride these waves toward the pier. Kiteboarders and windsurfers put on a show in the area just west of the point when the wind is up.
West of the point is Emma Wood State Beach. East of the point is Seaside Park and the Promenade, a paved pathway that connects Surfers Point to the pier. The Omer Rains Bike Trail continues from the Promenade and goes in both directions along the shore.
Between the point and the pier the beach has eroded away so if the tide is up you won’t find sand there and if the tide is out the beach will be rocky.
Surfers Point has a couple large parking lots behind the beach. To get there, turn onto Figueroa Street from Harbor Boulevard at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.
Central California Surf Spots
Central California consists of beaches in the counties of Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Santa Cruz.
Surfers Point in Ventura
If you are not from California, we don’t want to scare you off, but we do have sharks here. Attacks have happened at nearly every spot on the coast. Learn more about shark attacks in California.
Localism is another issue at some beaches, but we tried to pick beaches for this list that have less of a local attitude problem. Keep a low profile and it’s usually all good.
For the best surfing beaches in California see the list below ordered from south to north.
Rincon Point State Beach
Rincon Point State Beach is a separate unit of Carpinteria State Beach located at the border of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. It’s a public beach right next to the private gated community of Rincon Point. This is a popular surfing spot for the right-hand waves that break around the east side of the point.
Each year the Rincon Classic surf California competition is held at this location. The beach itself is a narrow rock and sand strip at the access point and also in front of the homes. If you want a wider sandier beach, then go to Rincon Park County Beach across the street.
To get to Rincon Point, take the Bates Road exit off Highway 101 about three miles south of Carpinteria. Turn on Bates Road toward the water where the Rincon Point Beach parking lot is on the left and the Rincon Park County Beach parking lot is on the right.
Campus Point Beach
Campus Point, also known as Goleta Point, is the surfing beach at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It is a popular spot, especially in the summer when there is small surf break for those wanting to surf California. Campus Point is known as a beginning surfers area. Campus Point Beach, which only exists when the tide is relatively low, is on the east side of Campus Point. If you walk east of Campus Point Beach you end up at Goleta Beach, while a westward stroll around Campus Point leads to Depressions Beach.
You can take the stairs at Campus Point Beach to Labyrinth Trail and the bluffs above the beach for one of the most spectacular views in all of the Santa Barbara.
Surf Beach at Vandenberg AFB
Probably the least likely place to surf California for a big reason. It has the most fatal shark attacks in California. So if you don't want to find yourself in the surf with sharks, then avoid this area. Surfers and bodyboarders use this beach, but it has been the site of two fatal shark attacks in recent years so be aware. At minus tides it is possible to walk south on the beach to some amazing colorful sea caves. It’s too bad they are only accessible a few times a year (minus tides AND outside of the nesting season). It’s a three-mile beach walk in both directions to see the caves.
From October to February you can also walk to Surf Beach from nearby Ocean Beach County Park which is an excellent bird-watching spot.
Surf Beach is a public beach located on Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, CA. Access to Surf Beach is from the Amtrak train stop parking area along West Ocean Avenue. The areas north and south of Surf Beach are closed March 1st through September 30th to protect the Snowy Plover bird nesting spots.
If nesting area human violation limits are exceeded, the entire beach will be closed for the remainder of the bird nesting season so read signs and avoid all nesting areas during this period. Vandenberg AFB keeps track of the beach closures on the plover update page.
Northern California Surf Spots
Northern California includes beaches in the counties of Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte.
Pismo Beach Pier Beach
The icon of Pismo Beach (once know for clams), is the wooden pier that is visible from many of the cliff-side hotels and resorts where guests can climb down sets of stairs to the Pismo Beach City Beach and make their way to the base of the pier. From flying kites, to watching seagulls, surfing to swings, kids and adults can stand on the pier and look out on the ocean or nearby hills, or walk under the pier to get up close and personal with the waves.
Morro Rock City Beach
Morro Rock Beach is the city beach between the iconic Morro Rock and Morro Strand State Beach in Morro Bay, CA. This is a wide sandy beach just north of the Rock. The rock itself is protected by a natural preserve that is part of Morro Rock State Park and is completely off limits to climbing on. That’s ok as the best photos of this 580-foot tall landmark are from a distance.
The main parking lot for Morro Rock Beach is on Coleman Drive just north of Morro Rock (you can’t miss the rock from the town of Morro Bay). At this location there are restrooms and other amenities. Two other day-use parking areas are available. One is in front of the Morro Dunes RV Park (1700 Embarcadero) and the other is at the end of Embarcadero which begins at Coleman Park. Neither of these other lots have facilities, but the beach is less populated at these locations.
Capitola City Beach is a sandy beach at the north end of Monterey Bay in Capitola, CA. It’s a popular urban beach that can be jam packed on sunny days and during the town’s organized beach events.
Pleasure Point Beach
Pleasure Point, on the northern Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz County, California, is a world-renowned surf location, traditionally defined as the area along the coast from 41st Ave to Moran Lagoon, up 30th Ave to Portola and over to 41st Ave down to the sea at the “Hook”. It has a firmly rooted surf culture and should be on your itinerary if you want to surf California.
Straight out from the access stairs and extending out and west towards the channel are several reefs, collectively called Middle Peak, then subdivided into First, Second, and Third reefs. Best during N-NW swells, each reef works at a different size, but each boast heavy elevator drops followed by a softer righthand shoulder.
The lefts, however, are usually steeper and hollower, but they can leave you caught inside by the next set coming in off the Slot or the Point. Middle Peak handles any size, although it becomes more challenging to read the line-up as the peaks shift around, keeping the pack on the move.
Surfers Beach is just outside the rock jetty that protects Pillar Point Harbor across Highway 1 from the community of El Granada north of Half Moon Bay.
This location under the right conditions creates a nice surf break as it rolls in along the jetty. At high tide the water level is high enough that the waves crash right on the rocks that protect the highway from erosion. At low tide, there is enough sand exposed to call this a beach. Just inside the jetty is a sandy beach called Harbor Beach that is protected from the waves and isn’t under water at high tide.
Parking for Surfer’s Beach is available next to the Pillar Point RV Park, along the highway shoulder, and across the highway on Obispo Road in El Granada.
Mavericks Beach at Pillar Point near Half Moon Bay is the site of the annual big wave surfing competition called Maverick’s. The big wave surf area is located a quarter-mile offshore from bluff top viewing areas outside the Air Force military installation on Pillar Point. From a distance Pillar Point is easy to spot as it has a huge white ball.
The landforms under the water at Mavericks create a unique big break when large winter swells roll in. The surf competition is held when (and if) sufficient conditions occur between November and March. The first Mavericks event happened in 1999 and has happened in most years since. Several documentary films have been shot here telling the history of Mavericks.
If you are an advanced surfer looking for giant waves, this should be on your stop during you travels to surf California
Three miles of some of the best and heaviest beach break on the planet, similar to Mexico’s Puerto Escondido. Simply called “The Beach” by locals, it picks up all swells and can hold virtually any size as it gets bigger, it just breaks further out and becomes nearly impossible to paddle through.
A dropping tide increases the hollowness, but the random, shifting peaks remain makeable.
Stinson Beach (the beach) is a large public beach within Golden Gate National Recreation Area located in the town of Stinson Beach, California.
It's best on low period, wind swell days. Too much swell will definitely close it out. Be careful of strong currents if the swell is big. There are better places in the region to surf when the swell gets 5 feet or bigger. Beautiful beach for families and friends, especially on a warm fall day.
Bolinas Beach is a quiet public beach in the small town of Bolinas. It’s often called Brighton Beach because the main access road to the beach is Brighton Avenue. Bolinas Beach is at the mouth of Bolinas Lagoon in a spot where waves wrap around the point and roll in softly. For this reason it’s known as a great surfing beach, especially for beginners interested in surfing California.
North Salmon Creek Beach
North Salmon Creek Beach is right off Coast Highway 1 just north of Bodega Bay. A large parking lot is available, but it can fill up in the summer.
Salmon Creek Beach, where a lagoon forms as sand closes the mouth of Salmon Creek, is a popular summer destination. Nearly two miles of unbroken, scenic, sandy beach make this an excellent place for surf California fishing, beachcombing, and picnicking. North and South Salmon beaches are popular with the local surfing community when the waves are good.
Point Arena Cove Beach
Easily one of the best spots north of San Francisco, found off Port Road at the south end of the Point Arena township. When conditions are prime on the north side of the pier, you’ll find a steep, hollow, ledging righthander with a thick wall roaring into the deep channel.
Beware of the rusted ship’s boiler on the inside during low tide.
Needs at least a clean, head high swell (the bigger the better) to break, with an incoming tide. When it’s smaller, the wave peels dangerously close to the inside ledge. The paddle-out is through a keyhole in the rock ledges near shore. There’s also a good left breaking to the south of the pier, best at about head high and offering some punchy sections in front of the exposed rock shelf.
Moonstone Beach County Park
Moonstone Beach in Humboldt is a fairly exposed beach break that has very consistent surf and works all around the year. Offshore winds blow from the east. Groundswells more frequent than windswells and the ideal swell direction is from the northwest. Waves at the beach break both left and right. Best around high tide when the tide is rising. Rarely crowded here. Take care of Shaks,urchins, rips and rocks.
The best time of year for surfing Moonstone Beach with consistent clean waves (rideable swell with light / offshore winds) is during Winter and most often the month of January. Clean surfable waves are typically found 28% of the time in January while 66% of the time it tends to be blown out. For the remaining 6% of the time it is considered too small by most surfers but may still be OK for beginners and groms at times.
Agate Beach at Patrick’s Point State Park
This deep-water left is rocky, bumpy, mushy, huge, powerful, long, and mean. It holds swells as big as the biggest Mavericks, which says a lot about Humboldt’s most popular big-wave spot. Winter-only, Patricks is sheltered from S winds. Although definitely not a user-friendly place, it’s very beautiful. Waves slam into the outer boils and rumble on through more boulders to the inside, where a potent peak exists: Agate Beach, which is a sandbar with a few lethal submerged boulders of its own. Very hollow and steep, Agate snaps boards like toothpicks. A winter break, it’s good during low tides, SE winds, and larger W swells.
South Beach is a locals beach just south of Crescent City Harbor where Highway 101 rolls into town. It’s a wide sandy beach that is partially protected from the west.
The main break of Del Norte County. A wide, flat, expansive beachbreak near the Crescent City Harbor right alongside Hwy 101. The north end of the beach is the most sheltered and blows offshore during north winds, so it’s a good place to go during springtime and between winter storm fronts. Getting out can be a problem. Best during high tide on SW swells.