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San Clemente Surf Guide

San Clemente stands as one of the most iconic surf cities on California’s coast.

Starting at the end of Camp Pendleton heading north, you’ll find a series of spots off the highway leading to some of the world’s most famous surf.

San Clemente Surf Guide 

History of Surfing in the San Clemente 

The foundation of San Clemente is founded in surfing and its history, being a Championship Tour stop, a shapers’ hub and home to a surfing dynasty representing the USA for decades. 

Current surfers like Kolohe Andino, Caroline Marks, the Colapinto brothers, Jett Schilling, Kade Matson, Sawyer Lindblad and Cole Houshmand are just the start of the list to come out of San Clemente surfers that are currently running the surfing show. 

Well-known names and trailblazers of their time like Phil Hoffman, Shane Beschen, Jim Hogan, Greg Long, Dino Andino, Chris McElroy and endless others have cultivated a historical heritage of surfing in this famous city since the 60s.

While we could get into the line up of legends this entire article, it might be more helpful for you to find out why such good surfers are practically factory made out of this place for yourself. Here’s a guide to help you out with the conveyor belt of waves in San Clemente:

Waves in San Clemente 

The waves in San Clemente can get all time and are known for their A-frames that roll through on a solid swell. They are consistent, strong, fast, powerful and a recipe for fun when it is above average conditions pretty much all around the San Clemente area.

Gear Needed to Surf In San Clemente 

During the winter, it stays around 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit and a 4/3 or 3/2 mm wetsuit is needed.

Booties can even be helpful against the chilling water and harsh rocks at Trestles.

In the summertime, the water is normally 68 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit and a 2mm spring suit or some boardies/bikini will suffice.

Regarding board choice, a performance shortboard will be your best bet. On mellower days, a longboard or twin fin can rip on the small but speedy waves.

You’ll definitely need a leash at most of the spots due to the crowds and consistent waves that pass through. An exception can be San Onofre beach since the crowd is more spread out and a leash is not as normalized within the locals.

The Best Places to Surf in San Clemente 

Spot 1: T Street

Sitting just south of San Clemente pier, T Street is one of the most accessible and frequented spots in town. Funny enough, it sits at the end of Esplanade Street where you can find easy parking in the neighborhood or along the street parallel to the pier.

You can walk through the bridge and head straight down the stairs to paddle out.

A classic beach break, waves roll in from the outer reef and create reeling bowls.

There’s a few peaks (Reef, Cropley’s and Beach House), but they are mostly all lefts and rights that can be picked off amongst the locals that will be there on a daily occurrence.

Even if there’s a crowd out, there’s plenty of waves to go around and snag a few good ones during a session.

It works best when a SW swell comes through but usually always stays consistent regardless.

During the winter swells or a NW swell, there’ll be some fast and punchy ones that create a nice ramp for experimenting turns, airs or whatever you’re feigning for. 

This spot is a good place for surfers of all types. Depending on the swell, it can be a safe space for beginners or a place for advanced surfers and the big names to get amped over pumping waves.

Spot 2: San Onofre State Beach

San Onofre is longboard’s paradise – a place when you’re trying to make a day out of a sunny day or fun swell. 

Just off the freeway, you can take the Basilone Road exit and most likely follow a line to the state beach where you can pay fifteen dollars for a day pass or use a California State Beach pass for the locals.

Once you’re past the line, you’ll find a long path to drive down and park right on the sand along the beach and head straight to the surf.

San Onofre has multiple breaks, the Point, Old Man’s, Four Doors and Dogpatch.

They all work on a solid south swell, but there’s usually always waves coming in, even if it’s small. 

It can be great for longboarding even if it’s 1-2 ft long running ankle peelers or can pick up the larger swells providing overhead solid carving waves. It’s a pretty all around spot that works throughout the year with both lefts and rights.

This might be one of the best beaches in California to have a beach day with friends, to hang out at the picnic tables, surf every other hour, under the shade of the beach trees, lay out on the sand and stay all day in the summertime.

Spot 3: Trails

When people say they are surfing Trails, they are most likely speaking of Trail 1 and Trail 6. 

Trail 1 provides both lefts and rights that are away from the crowds and can be fun on a log, fish or mid length. You can make your way down from the parking along the bluff by a light walk down to the beach.

It stays pretty mellow here but can be a great place for a mini beach day to unwind and catch some fun ones.

Trail 6, when it picks up the swell right, can be a hidden Hawaii wave for shortboarders.

On a smaller swell, it is a place for longboards and fun boarders to enjoy.

It is a bit tide dependent, so make sure to time it right on a lower tide. There is also a walk down, hence the name “trail” but worth your while when the sun is out and the swell is right.

Spot 4: Lower Trestles

Lowers is the quintessential wave of Southern California. The WSL Championship Tour competition stop and one of the most consistent waves, Lowers has earned an iconic name for itself.

There is a constant A-frame of lefts and rights that comes through and works best on a S or SW swell with light offshore winds, creating clean waves for carves, airs and anything one is willing to try. Even on small waves, this spot still holds power and allows for freedom on every wave. 

A very rippable place and a large crowd filled with professionals, locals, groms and all the works happening here. It’s the spot.

Spot 5: Upper Trestles

A break just north of Lowers, Uppers can be just as fun offering more punchy and short waves. More known for the rights that come in and work better on a straight W swell.

Bigger swells are a playground for advanced regular footers. Overall, it’s pretty similar to Lowers and still holds a big crowd.

What To Do In San Clemente When the Waves Are Flat 

On one of the rare occurrences there’s no waves, San Clemente has other options to spend your days.

Pedro’s or Sancho’s Tacos have some of the best mexican food one can stumble upon on the California coast. Grab a beer and some grub and hang out with your friends at one of these spots along the Pacific Coast Highway.

The San Clemente Pier area has shops and cafes that are fun to walk along and end up at the pier. Enjoy some time at one of the restaurants on the pier or lay out on the bustling beach.

There’s plenty of hiking trails like the Sea Summit Trail or the Ridgeline Trail that have beautiful views along the ocean.

The Bottom Line: Surfing San Clemente 

A crucial destination in the industry of surfing, San Clemente won’t let you down.

Whether you’re looking for waves, community, a new board, clothing or a good time – San Clemente is the place that will provide.

Make sure to check it out whether it’s a drive or a flight away.


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