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Where to Surf in San Francisco

Updated: Mar 28

The world hotspot for tech and innovation also holds a low-key but very present surf scene.

San Francisco has always been a diversity hotspot, especially since the 1960s when the hipster culture spread throughout the area.

The Golden City holds some of the most fierce and deadly waves in the whole world.

San Francisco Surf Guide 

Waves in San Francisco 

In San Fran, you can find everything from fun longboarding waves to massive 40-foot building-esque mountains of water.

Each area has its own tight-knit community of locals who have had their roots there for generations and continue to charge and represent the Bay Area.

While you can find some of the best beach breaks and big waves in the world, it is not for the faint of heart, as anyone who has ever been ballsy enough to surf when the waves are double overhead or more will tell you.

Surf Culture at San Francisco 

While the Bay Area isn’t world-renowned for its surf scene, people have been surfing there since the 1930s.

Once the 1960s came around, surfing began to become much more of a youthful rebel lifestyle, with young surfers flocking to Kelly’s Cove.

The likes of San Clemente, San Diego, and Laguna have always taken away the spotlight from San Francisco’s scene, which in retrospect might not have been such a bad thing for the Bay Area, as fewer surfers would venture North to score waves.

Gear Needed to Surf In San Francisco

The Bay Area offers breaks that are open to longboards and shortboards; in fact, on not-so-big days, you will find both kinds of surfers out.

The water temperature in the surrounding area is cold, ranging from 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter months, and the coldest time is in June, with the water temperature dropping as low as 48 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is recommended to use either a 4/3- or 5/4-mm wetsuit, preferably with a hood.

You will find that most locals rock booties and gloves, but that is up to each surfer.

The Best Waves in San Francisco  

Spot 1: Ocean Beach

Stretching three and a half miles along the Great Highway, which was built in 1929, Ocean Beach has various breaks that run along the beach.

This break is sometimes used as a training ground for fearless surfers who are preparing to tackle Mavericks in Half Moon Bay.

When the swells and wind are perfect, and there is size in the water, it can be both a left and right-hander with large barrels and rippable faces.

Beware, this is a shoulder burner of a wave and is one of the deadliest waves in North America. Ideal conditions are swell directions from W/NW/N and wind from E/NE, with the tide going from high to low.

Spot 2: Pedro Point

Nestled just north of Half Moon Bay, Pedro Point is an exposed reef break with both lefts and rights that come off the peak.

While on occasion it is blown out, when it is on, it offers a clean face that can bowl on the inside and occasionally can have a nug.

The ideal conditions are swells from W/NW/N and wind from the east or light wind coming from southeast.

The best size is head high to double overhead with the incoming tide.

Spot 3: Princeton Jetty

Situated at the tail end of Princeton Harbor is Princeton Jetty.

While the beach break that extends to El Granada Beach isn’t usually good, the jetty can have waves ranging from chest- to overhead-high. It works best on W/SW swells with wind blowing from E/NE.

The ideal tide is mid, either going low or going high. It is a wedgy left-hander that, when it is clean, has open running faces.

Spot 4: Sharp Park

Just before reaching the Daly City Cliffs north of Half Moon Bay sits Sharp Park.

It is a pier/beach break with both lefts and rights.

It typically works best at low tide, with swells coming from N/NW/W and wind from the east. However, it can sometimes be fickle as it is exposed to many swell directions.

Spot 5: Fort Point

Probably one of the most unique surf breaks in the world, with the Golden Gate Bridge as the backdrop. The waves come from around the rocky shore from under the bridge into the bay.

It is rare to see it firing and clean, but if it does happen, and when it does, all the local guys will be on it.

The ideal swell is W/NW, wind from the east, and a lower tide.

What To Do In San Francisco When the Waves Are Flat 

Besides the obvious tourist attractions of the Golden Gate Bridge and the famous offshore prison of Alcatraz, San Francisco offers a lively food scene with extensive fusions of cultures.

Don’t miss out on the Haight Ashbury area, as it is a lovely art area of town that brings to life the hipster culture.

If you are looking to have a nice picnic, head to Golden Gate Park. Not to mention the breathtaking beauty of mother nature near Presidio.

The Bottom Line: Surfing in the San Francisco 

The Golden City surf scene does not get the appreciation it deserves from the international surf community; with that being said, it does hold one of the most iconic waves in the world, Mavericks. 

While Mavericks is a staple in the area, it is not for leisure surfers or even highly experienced surfers, as it takes a tremendous amount of practice to surf big waves and breath holds. 

Be wary of locals, as they have built a tight-knit community of chargers, but especially watch out for sharks, as this area tends to be a hotspot for eleven different species of sharks.


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