Updated: Aug 18
Though the home break out front is always a tasty choice, it’s travel to new spots that adds the spicy to this sport that feeds us.
Dream destinations are inspiring, but American surfers don’t have to wait until they can afford journeys to Australia, Europe, and Africa to elevate their game — join us as we explore 10 of the best places to surf in the US (in no particular order).
Santa Cruz, California
California’s longest stretch of mainland US coastline has copious blessings, and the reliable, frigid righthand point break called Steamer Lane makes the artistic town of Santa Cruz one of the best places to surf in the US.
The four Lane breaks — the Point, the Slot, Middles, and Indicators — all require skill and strength to manage the waves and the crowd, so those at the beginning of their surf journey may opt for Cowell Beach just south of Indicators.
No matter your skill, you’ll need some neoprene, as the fact that Jack O’Neill long called this place home proves.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
The barrier islands just off the North Carolina coast are to thank for creating the Outer Banks, one of the best places to surf in the US East Coast.
The islands’ positioning stop promising swells from just dissipating at sea, allowing desirable nuggets that travel all the way to shore in favorable winds or offshore storms.
Winter nor’easters can create 8-10 ft waves here, but the fun high-performance waves up and down the Outer Banks get packed during summer months at spots like Duck Pier, Nags Head, and The S-Curves.
The North Shore of Oahu is called the Seven-Mile Miracle for the numerous world-class breaks dotting the shoreline along the Kamehameha Highway from West to East — and it all begins at Haleiwa.
A learner’s paradise in summer with warm water and cruisey waves, groms can still practice on the rolling inside whitewater as intense winter swells arrive while top-tier pros and free surfers carve the heavy west sets.
This powerful and shallow right-hander made the North Shore’s finest who they are, and chances are you’ll be sitting next to a legend or two if you can paddle into the wintertime playground.
Cocoa Beach, Florida
If you’re a G.O.A.T. disciple, Kelly Slater’s hometown was already on your list of best places to surf in the US.
While Kelly may be hitting Pipeline during Cocoa Beach’s best month of December, that just means more waves for you at RC’s, Cocoa Beach Pier, and less-crowded 2nd Light Beach.
Another perk of hitting what’s generally agreed to be the best surf in the Sunshine State for both beginners and experts alike is the balmy 80-degree water that stays comfortable year-round and seeing World’s Largest Surf Shop in 52,000 sq. ft. Ron Jon Surf Shop.
San Francisco, California
Before wetsuit god Jack O’Neill moved to Santa Cruz, he perfected his gift to surfing at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, three miles of one of the best places to surf in the US for brave, experienced surfers able to manage freezing water paired with icy winds (get your boots, gloves, and hoods), Great White sharks out the back, and constant paddle battles against the strong current.
Waves range from log-loving 2 ft to 10-15 ft monsters that drop like a hammer, but the prize is a frosty version of Oahu’s big Sunset or a spitting barrel hurled left and right from this opportunity-rich beach break.
Winter is best for Northern California’s proving ground, but firing fall days offer the benefit of great waves and rare summery weather in the Outer Sunset District.
Photo: WSL/ Freesurf/ Keoki
Oahu’s winters are all about North Shore, but summer months belong to the fun breaks firing off the coast of Honolulu, longtime known as one of the best places to surf in the US.
Close to majestic Diamond Head is Canoe’s and longboarding haven Queen’s before a series of shreddable breaks like Three’s and Kaiser’s lead to the indomitable natural wave park that is Ala Moana Bowls.
Equidistant from both the Waikiki hotel scene and the Kewalo Basin responsible for athletes like Carissa Moore, Zeke Lau, and the Moniz family, it’s worth the major effort that goes into finding parking to surf here.
New Smyrna, Florida
While Cocoa Beach may be the surf capital of Florida, New Smyrna holds the title of most consistent surf break in the state, and therefore another of the best places to surf in the US.
Spanning 13 miles of beach on the south side of the Ponce Inlet, New Smyrna Beach — or, locally, NSB — is known for having good high-performance waves while the rest of the East Coast may be flat.
With droves flocking to this reliable wave magnet, it’s common and encouraged for people to drive directly on the sand, which may be a fun enough perk to keep your mind off the region’s very sharky reputation.
Rockaway, New York
New York City is home to over 8 million people within its 321 square mile limits, and Rockaway Beach in Queens is the only place within those limits where it’s legal to surf.
Even then, the rules of where you’re allowed to paddle out at this best place to surf in the US are strict: only between Beach 68th and Beach 71st streets, Beach 87th and Beach 92nd streets, and Beach 110th and Beach 111th streets.
92nd street was popularized by the Ramones in the 1970s, and the hollow takeoff from the jetty onto speedy lefts has remained popular.
If the proximity to Canada wasn’t a clue, then trust us: you’ll need a wetsuit.
This easygoing coastal hamlet north of San Diego embodies the purest SoCal vibe while offering a plethora of the best places to surf in the US.
The southernmost point of Encinitas’ gems begins with Cardiff Reef, one of the best logging rights you’ll find.
Just north is Swami’s, which produces the best waves in Encinitas on a strong NW swell.
Moonlight State Beach offers a rippable wave favored by athletes from local surf schools at D Street, as well as more longboard opportunities at its north end with Beacons and Grandview.
New Jersey Shore
Duke Kahanamoku himself stamped his approval on the Jersey Shore in 1912, and with each hurricane swell the Garden State reminds us of its value among the best places to surf in the US.
The “Indian summer” months of fall bring the best swells, and the ocean remains warm until October.
Though there offerings like Belmar and the more-challenging Manasquan Inlet are closer to NYC, a dozen breaks south of Atlantic City are worth a look south, including Ocean City and Ventnor Pier, site of clean triple-overhead barrels on a hurricane swell.
Hurricanes also offer experienced surfers the rare opportunity for waves nearby at the aptly named Flukie’s.
10 Best Places to Surf in the USA
There you have it: the 10 best places to surf across America.
Whether you’re hitting the East coast, West Coast, or the islands of Hawaii, the Beach Boys really were accurate when they paid homage to the countless best places to surf in the US.
See you out there!