The Californian coast is one of the most beautiful places on earth and no matter where you end up on your board, you’re guaranteed some of the best waves of your life.
Since the 1960s, surfing has been a pillar of the sunny state and whether you’re a complete beginner or a pro who has surfed all over the world, the waves in California will keep you coming back for more.
In this article, we go through some of our favorite spots in the state to soak up the blazing sun, ride the glassy breaks and feel the power of the Pacific. So, let’s dive in!
Surfing History In California
Before we start to explore the beautiful surf location of California, we’re going to take a trip down memory lane and remind ourselves how surfing became so popular in the state.
Surfing was initially first practiced by the Polynesians and called he’e’ana. It took place mostly on Hawaiian islands and this was an essential part of their culture. It was more a way of life than a hobby.
It was even considered a spiritual pastime and a way of communicating with the gods, as well as a means of artistic expression.
When the Europeans arrived in Hawaii, they were awed by the practice. Then around a century later, surfing finally hit California as we know it today. After the second world war, short, fiberglass boards were developed and this meant more people could afford them and more people could also attempt to tackle the bigger waves.
As we mentioned in the introduction, since then and since the 1960s, surfing has become a core part of the Californian culture and with countless surf spots all across the state, the popularity of the sport is still on the increase today.
1. Dana Point, Doheny Beach
We’re starting off with a spot in California which is a great place to learn to surf as well as let the pros show off a little. The crystal clear glassy breaks are at a low-key angle and reach around 3-4 feet yet the jetty guards against much bigger swells that hit the shore.
For a little history of the famous beach, back in 1954, Hobie Alter who worked out the whole process for creating foam-and-fiberglass surfboards opened the first-ever surf shop in Doheny Beach. Therefore, it was considered the first authentic Californian surf town whilst also being the first state beach.
The famous Beach Boys’ anthem, Surfin’ USA gives recognition to the beach and it’s an all-time favorite with visitors and locals alike. You will find Dana Point located in southern Orange County and it has one of only a few harbors situated along the Orange County coast.
2. Mavericks In Half Moon Bay
Located in Northern California, just outside of the Pillar Point Habor and north of Half Moon Bay, Mavericks is a popular surf spot for many. After a storm hit in the northern Pacific, waves can crest over 25 feet and top out at over 60 feet!
Therefore, we would not recommend this spot for beginners, however, it is a great place to test your limits and really challenge yourself as an advanced surfer. It offers a consistent surf and the winter allows you to paddle out.
Try hitting the waves with east offshore winds and west-northwest swells for the best surf.
A little history on the Mavericks is that famous big-wave surfer, Jeff Clark surfed the Mavericks regularly before it became popular in the ‘90s. In 1999, the Mavericks hosted its first-ever surfing contest and continues to be a favorite with those searching for the biggest waves of the state.
3. Huntington Beach Pier
Huntington Beach Pier is located in Huntington Beach at the West end of Main Street and west of the Pacific Coast Highway. One of the landmarks of this pier however is the ‘Surf City, USA’.
This is a very popular surf spot and the waves are enhanced by a natural effect caused by the edge-diffraction of open ocean swell around Catalina Island.
This means you will be guaranteed consistent surf throughout the year. The pier also helps fight off strong ocean winds allowing you to catch a longer ride and the waves range from a solid 3-12 feet meaning it’s great for pros and beginners alike. We recommend looking for offshore winds from the northeast.
Pro surfers that are linked to Huntington Beach Pier include Sahen Beschen, Laird Hamilton, Kelly Slater, and Jack O’Neil. The location also hosts the Vans US Open of Surfing which draws over 300 athletes to the beach.
4. San Onofre State Beach, San Diego
You will find San Onofre State Beach in San Clemente. This beach has a relaxing and laid-back vibe and for this reason, is home to many longboarders. San Onofre State Beach offers some of the gentler waves in the state and has a range of different wave breaks from The Point, Old man’s, Trestles Beach, and Dog Patch.
The summer months offer the best waves at this beach during the summer south swells and on the north side of the beach. Old man’s break offers rolling peaks perfect for beginners and longboarders and The Point can in comparison provide some gnarlier waves.
Red Bull’s Kolohe Andino comes from the area originally and has roots in San Clemente. The roots of the beach itself date back to the 1920s and during this era, surfing and a fishing camp were created before Camp Pendleton was established.
5. Oceanside Pier, San Diego
Staying in San Diego, this historical pier is one of the city’s greatest landmarks. Not only is it a prime surfing location, but also a perfect place for a stroll, to go fishing, or grab some dinner at the end of the pier if you’re hungry. It’s a regular spot for surfing competitions and offers consistent surf.
You can always rely on Oceanside Pier for a great beach break throughout the year and it hosts some great waves on each side of the point. Bring a longboard with you to surf at high tide as the waves can get quite mushy yet at low tide, get ready for much bigger barrels.
We find the best wind direction comes from the northeast and the best swell direction comes from the west southwest.
6. Newport Beach
Newport Beach is located in Orange County and is known for its countless surfing opportunities. It’s a great place to test your limits, especially if you head to the Wedge, which is known for a super intense backwash ride. This is a deep wave that moves at rapid speeds and breaks upon the shore.
The waves at the Wedge can reach up to 30 feet and so are not suitable for those only just starting in the sport. However, it is very popular with bodyboarders and of course a paradise for the most skilled surfers.
Other areas of Newport Beach worth checking out are 56th Street or the Santa Ana River Jetties. At Newport Beach, the best conditions often occur with a northeast offshore wind and a south-southwest swell.
Newport Beach is also a great place to replace or buy that all-important gear. Head up to Surfside Sports or The Frog House Surf Shop to buy all you need. There are also plenty of surf schools in the area and an all-around great surfing community.
7. Windansea Beach
Located in the La Jolla area in San Diego, Windansea Beach is a prime location for many surfers and thanks to the Windansea Surf Club, has gained even more attention in recent years.
The beach can offer some very unpredictable conditions and can produce waves from 2-10 feet.
The bigger waves often appear in summer months at any tide, as long as there are southwest swells. As the conditions can be unpredictable, however, it is usually only the most advanced and skilled surfers who tackle these waves.
If you are a beginner keen to explore the La Jolla Shores, however, there are plenty of calmer waves nearby. The beach offers beautiful cobalt water and a rocky shoreline with the iconic shack at Windansea.
The area, La Jolla has a rich surfing background, dating back to 1937. Early records show these reefs at Windansea contributed more to California surfing than any other coast in California. Surfing legend that all committed surfers know and love, Woody Brown was the first to jump on this reef break.
It is now the home port of many successful and famous athletes such as Chris O’Rourke, Butch Van Artsdalen, Mike Diffenderfer, Joey Cabell, Pat Curren, and Mickey Munoz.
8. Asilomar State Beach
Asilomar State Beach is located in Monteray and is a beach and reef break that offers consistent surf throughout the year. The best winds on this beach come from the southeast and waves are common from local wind swells and distant groundswells. The ideal swell direction however is from the west.
Left and right waves tend to break together and left and right-hand reef breaks offshore. For the best conditions at this beach, surf at low and mid-tide It’s also famous for being home to some of Monterey County’s best marine creatures. However, look out for rocks and the occasional shark.
Although offering consistent surf throughout the year, the cleanest waves are during winter and in January and so it is best to visit this beach for your winter surfing kick.
Like Newport Beach, Asilomar State Beach also has everything you need to get equipped. Take a wander up to ‘Hit up On The Beach Surf Shop or Route One Surfboards’ and they will be happy to help you out.
9. Rincon Point
Rincon Point nestles in between Ventura and Santa Barabra County and offers genuine surfing experiences for many surfers all around the state. It offers three incredible surfing locations in the form of the Rivermouth, The Cove, and Indicator.
You’ll find perfectly formed waves and plenty of opportunity for some of the longest rides you’ve ever experienced.
For the best conditions and to make the most out of your trip, we suggest you head out during low tide and always during the winter months. This is when the swells come from the west and northwest.
The waves at the beach break along a cobblestone point and this translates into a very long ride when you time it to match the conditions. The caveat at Rincon is that the tides can affect the surf conditions considerably and so we recommend you time your visit right to ensure you catch the best waves.
Rincon Point is another surf location that was recognized by the Beach Boys. It was name-dropped by them in their classic, anthem, ‘Surfin’ Safari’. Rincon is arguably the main surfing location in the whole of Santa Barbara and it is known as a town with some stunning Spanish architecture.
10. Malibu Lagoon State Beach, Los Angeles
Though you might associate Los Angeles with Hollywood and the world of acting, it is also home to some of the most beautiful coastlines and Malibu Lagoon State Beach is famous in the area, commonly known as ‘Surfrider Beach’.
It boasts a long and beautiful pointbreak and the beach is broken up into three sections. Each section is able to divide up the beginners from the experts as the first point is often the easiest and a lot more popular with novices and some longboarders.
The waves at Malibu Lagoon State Beach are some of the best in the world and so it is more than worth a visit if you find yourself in the sunny state. The waves are also rideable all year round, smooth, and offer some great surfing conditions.
Malibu Lagoon State Beach is one of the first places where modern surfing culture developed and the Malibu Lagoon is where the Malibu Creek meets with the Pacific Ocean. To the east, however, you will also find Malibu Pier.
The pier offers opportunities for fishing as well as restaurants and if your friend or family member is busy with the surf, excellent views of them too. At the day area, you will also find picnic tables and nature trails for family day-outs.
It’s also an excellent location for bird watching and offers visitors the chance to study a unique tidal wetland ecosystem.
We hope this article has helped you realize how many beautiful surf locations there are in California as well as give you a bit of background on the sport and hopefully made you excited for your next big trip to the sunny state.
Whether you are a beginner, or you have been surfing your whole life and have taken trips to beaches all over the world, there is a location suited for everyone’s experience in this article and we would always encourage you to just go for it!
Although we would always advise you never to tackle waves you don’t feel confident on and always make sure the conditions are right for you. So, grab your board, grab your wetsuit and sunscreen and head down the West coast for the time of your life.