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Santa Cruz Surf Guide

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

Santa Cruz is a land of plenty. With about 30 miles of coastline and a variety of different sandbars and point breaks, there is a plethora of waves to choose from.


Santa Cruz offers waves for those just starting out and waves for some of the most high performance surfers you know. Known for its cold water and cozy beach town, Santa Cruz is a great place to catch some world class waves.


It’s important to know where to find those waves though with so much coastline in its little beach town.


We’ll break all the best spots in Santa Cruz down and where to find them.


Santa Cruz Surf Guide


What’s So Special About Surfing in Santa Cruz?

Waves in Santa Cruz

Take your pick on what kind of wave you want because Santa Cruz offers it.


From the world class point break at Steamer Lane to the more mellower waves at Cowell’s Beach.


Santa Cruz typically works best on a south swell which doesn't come in as often as most locals would like but it takes west and northwest swell pretty good too.


As far as seasons go, summer is probably the worst time of the year because of fog and spring is pretty windy but can sometimes pick up south swells.


Fall and winter are the best time of year for Santa Cruz waves.


The Surf Culture in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz’s surf culture is one of a kind.


They have an extremely deeply rooted surf culture and helped introduce surfing to the US as early as 1885 before the SoCal surf explosion in the 1950s.


It’s also where Jack O’Neil introduced the wetsuit which allowed him and other surfers to stay out in the water during the chilly winter months.


Today, Santa Cruz locals still take immense pride in their city. There’s even a Santa Cruz Surfing Museum that preserves the stories and surf artifacts of Santa Cruz.


Equipment Needed when Surfing in Santa Cruz

Most of the year Santa Cruz will require you to wear a pretty thick wetsuit, usually something in the 4/3mm thickness range.


Then a hood and booties during the winter and early spring months is probably best too.


The Best Surf Spots in Santa Cruz

Steamer Lane

Arguably Santa Cruz’s best wave, Steamer Lane attracts locals and visitors alike.


It’s a break filled to the brim with history and was where the modern surf leash and wetsuit were developed to prepare accordingly for its challenging waves.


The main break is at lighthouse point which breaks right off of the point. It’s one of the most consistent breaks in Steamer Lane but works best with a south swell.


There are quite a few different sections and reefs at Steamer Lane, all allow you to do something a little different, whether that’s an air or a barrel.


The only downside, the locals are protective of this wave so approach with respect.


Pleasure Point

On the eastside of Santa Cruz is another famous Santa Cruz wave known as Pleasure Point.


It’s the home break to some surfing icons including Peter Mel.


There are a couple of different reefs to choose from at Pleasure Point all offering something a little different.


The first of those reefs is Suicides which is a nice little right that isn’t too heavy but offers some surfable waves.


First Peak is probably the best wave for high performance surfing in pleasure Point’s arsenal.


Then Second Peak is a much slower longboarding wave.


Northwest swells are great for Pleasure Point and it really turns on in the winter. Another place with an established crowd of locals so please proceed with respect.


Cowell’s

Not too far from Steamer Lane is one of the best beginner waves in the world known as Cowell’s Beach.


It’s also a perfect wave for longboarding with its slow and gentle waves.


It’s a sandy point break that is protected from a lot of the energy that comes from Lighthouse Point.


It’s generally pretty consistent year round but does like a south or west swell.


The plus of surfing Cowell’s is that there won’t be very many locals chasing you out of the water because it’s primarily for beginners. The con of this wave is that it's perfect for beginners. Watch out for loose boards and clueless surfers.


Manresa Beach

Manresa Beach is a long beach with quite a few different peaks to choose from.


The sandbars here are usually pretty consistent and are capable of giving you something to surf.


Accessibility here is tougher than the rest of Santa Cruz so it's usually pretty uncrowded if that's what you’re looking for. It takes a west swell the best and can hold some size during the winter.


When it gets big it can get dangerously tow-in big, making it a favorite for NorCal cold water chargers. However, most of the time it’s not very big and is a great little beach break for surfers of all abilities.


The Hook

Just between Pleasure Point and Capitola is an easy going right handed point break known as The Hook.


The Hook isn’t a perfect wave but it's ideal for beginners, longboarders, and those looking to avoid the rough locals at Steamer Lane or Pleasure Point.


It breaks over a rocky kelp reef and has the potential to get overhead. In order for this to happen it needs a juicy south swell which comes in pretty rarely to Santa Cruz making it relatively inconsistent.


Another downside is the crowds which can range from clueless beginners to old Santa Cruz locals who might give you a mean look


What To Do In Santa Cruz When the Waves Are Flat

Despite pretty consistent year round surf there will still be the inevitable flat spell.


Luckily, Santa Cruz is a nice northern California beach town with plenty to do.


One of those is the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.


This boardwalk is world famous and has all sorts of things to do like games and roller coasters. Then it’s also worth checking out the Santa Cruz surfing museum above Lighthouse Point if Steamer Lane isn’t working.


You can learn all about Santa Cruz’s deep surf culture there. There’s also some beautiful coastline in Santa Cruz that’s totally worth checking out. Natural Bridges State Beach holds some picturesque rock features on a long sandy beach.


Santa Cruz Surfing

Santa Cruz is a diverse surfing town with plenty to offer. There are a variety of quality waves to be surfed and the only way to learn more is to travel out there and see it for yourself!

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