The Complete California Surf Guide for New and Experienced Surfers
California is home to 840 miles of coastline and about 400 public beaches.
With this many options, surfers are destined to find at least one spot that works perfectly for them. For this reason, many people visit at all times of the year to experience the surf and sunshine that this state has to offer.
In the early 1900s, a man named George Freeth moved from Waikiki to Southern California. With him, he brought his passion for surfing and sparked a movement throughout the state.
By the 1950s and 60s, movies, tv shows, and songs were being made that encompassed California’s surf culture, and spread it throughout the state and the rest of the country.
You can just listen to songs like “Surfin’ U.S.A.” or “Surfer Girl” by the Beach Boys to get the feel of the culture during this time.
As you can see, California has always been rich in surf culture, and it is no different today.
In this article, we’ll go on a trip through North, Central, and South California and look at some of the best spots to surf in each.
California Surf Guide
North California Surfing
Northern California consists of the San Francisco Bay area and all of the coastline up until you hit the Oregon border. If you are headed up here, pack a warm wetsuit because this area has the coldest water in California.
Types of breaks
In Northern California, you can find many different types of breaks, but all tend to be better suited for more experienced surfers. Here, you can find beach and reef breaks that tend to be on the heavier side when they break.
Like many other regions, different breaks work best at different times. However, if you are planning a trip, your best bet is to visit anytime except summer. Fall, winter, and spring are known to produce big and consistent swells.
5 Surfing Spots in Northern California
Ocean Beach is a well known beach break in San Francisco that has multiple different peaks that surfers can choose from. On a good swell, Ocean Beach can produce perfect spitting barrels, but also powerful closeouts that arise out of nowhere. This place is known to be powerful, so only go out if the waves are suitable to your expertise.
Just down south of Ocean Beach is one of California’s greatest sights to see, Mavericks. Mavericks is a massive wave that only breaks a few times throughout the year during the winter months of November through March. Known to be one of the deadliest waves, Mavericks is reserved for surfers who are skilled in big wave surfing and have years of training under their belt. Still, if you get the chance to sit and witness the magic of this wave, take it!
This right point break works best on a west or northwest swell during a mid-tide. Since this wave works best on a bigger swell, the waves tend to be steep and hollow which are better suited for intermediate and experienced surfers. The crowd here is known to be on the heavier end so make sure you are respectful to the locals if you choose to paddle out.
Salmon Creek breaks in front of a river mouth and is best during the winter season and during west to southwest swells. When this wave turns on, it can provide large waves for experienced surfers, but beginners can still test out the waters on mushy, average days. If you plan on visiting here, from what we know, most locals are very used to seeing outsiders, but crowds can get large if the waves are good enough to draw them in.
North Jetty is an exposed beach and jetty break that is a great place for experienced surfers to test their limits. Within the months of September to February, this break provides large and powerful waves that start breaking 200-300 feet away from the shore. The crowd at North Jetty tends to be filled with local faces, so make sure to give them their choice of waves if you end up meeting them out in the lineup.
Central California Surfing
Central California begins around Ventura and Santa Barbara county, and stretches up to Santa Cruz. Just like Northern California, brace yourself for some colder water, because it averages 50-54 degrees throughout these counties.
Types of breaks
In this stretch of land, many of the breaks are produced by reefs and therefore require you to keep your eye out for lurking rocks. You also can find yourself a handful of beach breaks.
Majority of the waves of Central California work best under northwest swells, but some other breaks can pick up some speed during a summer, south swell.
5 Surfing Spots in Central California
Steamer lane consists of 4 different peaks that help space out the heaviness of the crowds. To get out into this lineup, most people choose to jump off the 30ft rock, but if you choose to go a different route, plan for a long and tiring paddle out. This wave tends to be the cleanest and most consistent during southwest swells, when this break can give way to 10ft waves. Since this area has the potential to gain so much power, the lineup usually is full of intermediate to experienced surfers.
Another break within Santa Cruz is Pleasure point which can produce peeling rights all year round. There are 3 different peaks within this one location that can be suitable for different skill-leveled surfers. The farthest peak out is called Sewers, which tends to be for more experienced surfers, while 2nd peak a little further inside can be surfed by longboarders or intermediate surfers. In between these two peaks is 1st beak where you will find a mix of shortboarders and longboarders of all skill levels.
Morro Bay is a traditional beachbreak that sits right next to a 576 foot rock. Since this beachbreak faces westward, almost every type of swell hits its sandbar, making it very consistent. The further you travel down this beach, the heavier the waves get, but also the harder they are to manage. However, if you go just to the side of the rock, you may be able to catch a slow-rolling left, if that is more your speed.
Located in Ventura, Rincon is a long right point break that is infamous amongst both shortboarders and longboarders. Rincon works best under a direct west swell, but can be surfable during almost any tide. During high tide, long-boarders may enjoy the slow rollers, while shortboards may take advantage of the lower-tides to experience more hollow waves. Although this wave tends to bring out a large crowd, there are three different breaks that you can test out until you find one that works best for you.
Pismo Beach is the perfect place to get on a surfboard for the first time. This beginner wave consistently ranges from 1-3 feet and is very welcoming to new faces. In the lineup, you will see many other beginners on foam boards willing to share their space with you!
Southern California Surfing
I may be biased because I spend most of my time here, but Southern California is one of the best places to surf. With many different waves stretched across the coastline, and warm water throughout the summer, Southern California is an ideal place to visit on a surf trip.
Types of breaks
This area consists of all types of breaks. From beach breaks, reefs, points, and jetties, Southern California has options for everyone according to their preferences
Southern California waves tend to grow in size throughout the winter months, but still remain consistent throughout the rest of the year. During the warmer months, onshore winds tend to pick up in the early afternoon, so you want to make sure you get up early to fit your session in.
5 Surfing Spots in Southern California
One of Southern California’s most popular spots is Trestles. This break consists of Uppers, Middles, Cottons, Churches, and most importantly, Lowers. Lowers is home to many local shortboarders who you can also see surfing in pro competitions. For that reason, it is often pretty difficult to get your pick of waves out here, but that is exactly what the surrounding peaks are for.
If you move just slightly south of Trestles, you will find yourself at San Onofre, hub of the longboarders. With long peeling point breaks like Old man’s, Four Doors, and the Point, the dirt lot of San Onofre fills up within minutes, and leaves a line of cars waiting outside. These waves are perfect for all skill levels, from experienced longboarders who have been coming here for years, to beginners learning how to surf for the first time.
Malibu is a right point break that thrives during the summertime. When this wave is good, crowds of longboarders will form to experience the warm water and peeling waves that will lead you all the way to shore.
This wave is over rocky bottoms, so be extra careful if you are paddling out during a low tide.
Way further down south in San Diego is Blacks. Popular amongst shortboarders, Blacks can pump anywhere from 2 to 12 ft waves all year round. If the size and power of these waves seems a bit intimidating, still take the beautiful hike down to witness the scenery of the area and skill of the surfers out in the lineup.
Named as Surf City U.S.A, there is no doubt that surf culture is all around Huntington Beach. Hosting many competitions each year, Huntington Beach can consistently provide waves for all types of surfers.
During larger swells, short boarders will gather around the pier, but just minutes down the beach, beginners can be found at Bolsa Chica State Beach.
The Bottom Line: Surfing California
California is the perfect place to test out your skill level and limits, but also to hop in the water for the first time.
Since there are so many breaks along the coastline, it is practically impossible to get bored of the waves around you.
So, with this information, visit California and enjoy the sunshine and many beaches that it has to offer.