San Francisco is one of the most famous locations in the U.S. with many of its features and attractions known worldwide. The iconic Golden Gate Bridge, with its prominent location on San Francisco Bay, is a marvel of architecture and structural engineering.
The cable car system, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, Alcatraz Island, and many more locations each have their iconic reputation and place in history. The steep hills and houses of the city have been the inspiration and location of numerous films, from Steve McQueen’s car chase in Bullitt to the late, great, Robin William’s performance as Mrs.
Doubtfire. San Francisco is firmly etched into the minds and hearts of people, generation after generation.
With such a deep and culturally significant history, alongside the incredible weather and beaches, it’s no surprise that San Francisco is such a popular place to visit for citizens of the U.S. and others from the four corners of the earth.
Although ‘the home of surfing’ may be down the Pacific coast in Santa Cruz, San Francisco also has great surf and the scene is growing in popularity and quality. So, where should you surf in San Francisco? What time of year is suitable? Is there good surf for beginners? Do I need a lesson, or should I go to a surf camp?
Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more, let us help you find the perfect surfing school whether you’re a first-time rider or an experienced surfer.
Established in 2014 by Argentinian surfer Ignacio Viau, Hokali is a forward-thinking, dynamic, and modern school. With over twenty years of surfing experience, Ignacio is on a mission to share his passion and knowledge with his students. Classes are available to all ages, with one-to-one, couples, and group sessions available.
Surf packages are also offered for those wanting between three and ten lessons, allowing you to gain a deeper understanding and more confidence on the water. They provide video tutorials to aid your instruction, and surf exams to ensure you have absorbed their knowledge during the lessons.
They have a strong environmental ethos, displayed through their partnership with Sea-Trees reforestation and donations to Ocean Conservation NGOs each time a lesson is booked.
Sustainability – For every lesson booked, the school donate to Ocean Conservation NGO’s
Depth – Video tutorials, surf reports, and surfing exams
Safety – Coaches are certified in CPR and First Aid
The school is run by Zack Howard and Jamie Sterling, meaning Professional Surfer by name, Professional Surfer by nature. Zack has traveled the world since turning pro aged just fifteen years old, collecting a list of accolades longer than my arm.
His accomplishments include a third place at the World Championships in Australia in 1999 and gracing the cover of Longboard Magazine twice. His experience as a Malibu lifeguard for ten years and his Red Cross CPR, and First Aid certification ensure your safety on the water.
Jamie is also a professional surfer and big wave champion, who is famed across the globe for his daring and incredible exploits, conquering big waves up to 50-feet tall. He, too, has accrued many accolades, including being the 2011 Big Wave World Tour Champion.
He is also trained as a lifeguard to keep you safe. The school offers classes throughout California and Hawaii, with classes in San Francisco at both Pacifica and Ocean Beach. They offer private, semi-private, and group lessons, as well as guided tours.
Instructors – Two world champion surfers
Safety – Both surf pros are trained lifeguards to ensure safe surfing
Experience – Many years’ experience teaching as well as competing at world championship level across the globe
Founder Cliff Hodges is an experienced surfer and outdoor guide, having traveled the world to learn more about all aspects of outdoor life and activities. The school was established in 2004 and is accredited by the NSSIA (National Surf School and Instructors Association).
All of their coaches are qualified lifeguards trained in CPR and first aid. They offer a wide range of classes for all ages, with specialized classes for children, as well as stand-up paddleboarding.
They organize surf camps and tours across several areas, both local and further afield. The company also offers a mind-boggling range of alternative activities such as mountain biking, survival skills, animal tracking, and rock climbing.
With Adventure Out, you can learn about the waters and also trek into the intensely beautiful California countrywide, taking in views of the mountains and ocean.
Professionalism – NSSIA accredited school with highly trained instructors
Depth – An extensive choice of classes, camps, and trips
Variety – Huge range of other activities is also available
Surf Camp Pacifica is a collective of Pacifica natives that came together to offer a truly in-depth and unique surfing experience. The founders and ownership group share a combined wealth of surfing experience and local knowledge.
Coming from various backgrounds, their shared passion for surfing and the Pacifica area joins them on their mission.
Their instructors are experienced surfers, and they are certified in CPR and First Aid. They offer individual and group lessons, as well as family camps and surf camps for kids ages six to eighteen years old.
Their ISURF program is structured to provide education and technical skills to ensure a well-rounded learning experience.
Collective – Collective knowledge and experience of surfing and the local area of the ownership group
Education – Teaching about oceanography and local sea life, instilling love and respect for the water and its inhabitants
ISURF Program – In-depth knowledge of all things surfing
Located in Bolinas, the school aims to help its students to try something new whilst improving their physical abilities, building self-confidence, and embracing nature. Their instructors will focus on each students’ personal goals for a personalized coaching experience.
They will even teach you about Oceanography before you head out onto the water. With a variety of options available including private instruction, group classes, weekend mini-camps for kids, and adult boot camps.
Their instructors are CPR and First Aid certified to put you at ease and provide a safe learning environment. Their 4:1 ratio means that the instructor will always be focused on the student and ensure each member of the class receives a personalized experience.
Camps – Kids mini-camps, summer camps, and adult boot camps
4:1 Ratio – The classes will always have one instructor per four students
Location – Bolinas is one of the best places you could learn to surf
Founded by professional kiteboarder and big wave surfer, Jeff Kafka in 2004, the school offers lessons in kiteboarding and surfing. Their instructors have a wide range of knowledge across these disciplines and also stand-up paddleboarding and skateboarding.
Jeff has over thirty years’ experience surfing, whilst his Coast Guard training ensures safety is a priority. One-on-one private lessons are available with Jeff himself, who will carefully consider his student’s experience, confidence, and level of ability.
Specialized coaching for first-time surfers, with a focus on water safety, ocean awareness, technique, and surf etiquette
Experience – Jeff’s decades of experience in teaching and competition
Safety First – Trained by the Coast Guard in CPR, First Aid and water safety
Beginners – Focused, specialized coaching for first-time surfers
Founder Ian glover, aka ‘The Big Dog’, has been surfing since the age of fifteen years old. He started teaching his friends and family, which helped him realize his passion for teaching. As well as surfing instruction, he also works as a teacher, showing his caring and attentive nature, as well as his desire to improve others.
He offers individual surf lessons to all ages and abilities, as well as running his Big Dog Surf Camp for the last few years. The Summer Camp is for kids of all ages, with all the necessary equipment provided. His lessons and camps take place at various beaches throughout Marin County.
Instructor – As a teacher and instructor, Ian brings a passion for improving others
Surf Camp – Kids of all ages can learn and develop their surfing, confidence, and interpersonal skills
Experience – Ian has been teaching others to surf since he was fifteen years old
The City Surf Project was established to bring surfing to the youth of San Francisco. Their focus is to use surfing to improve the health and wellbeing of their students by engaging them with their ethos of the ‘four core pillars.’
These pillars are, Healthy Living; engaging in healthy activities and a healthy lifestyle, Personal Growth; Helping the kids step outside their comfort zone, Appreciation for Nature; environmental education, and finally Equity in Surfing; ensuring the youth of the Bay Area have access to surfing.
They host Surf Camps in the summer months for children aged eight to fourteen years. If you’re an experienced surfer, you can also volunteer, or participate, in their various camps and events that bring the community together for a great cause.
Their instructors are trained in CPR and First Aid to ensure the children’s safety when on the water.
Community – Providing opportunities for local children to surf and develop themselves
The Four Core Pillars – Education and awareness
Safety – Instructors are trained in CPR and First Aid
Located in Pacifica a surfer’s dream, founder Matt started the school in 2004. Before this, he established and ran “Elevate trucks”, a skateboarding product business. He has been teaching board sports on land and sea for almost twenty years, and he brings this experience and enthusiasm to his classes.
He offers private and semi-private lessons; all gear is included, though there is a discount to those who have their own board and wetsuit.
Furthermore, he also offers intensive coaching to more experienced surfers, looking to fine-tune their skills and pick up some hints and tips to take their surfing to the next level.
Experience – Almost twenty years’ experience coaching board sports on land and sea
Location – Pacifica is an ideal location to surf and appreciate the surrounding sights
Attentive – With focused coaching to help you raise your game, no matter your existing level
The school offers private lessons to individuals and groups, which includes all the required equipment and attire. Their instructors Justin and Olivia offer insightful, and personalized coaching to students of all ages and abilities.
They offer private and group lessons, as well as running Kids Surf Camps, focused on helping children gain confidence in the water. They will help you develop the skills to stay safe on the water and catch your first wave.
If it’s someone’s special day, they also host birthday parties and classes, though you’ll need to bring the cake! Corporate events and team-building days are also catered for.
Instructors – Justin and Olivia provide focused and attentive coaching
Kids Surf Camps– Children can gain confidence in the water in a safe and fun environment
Events – Camps, birthday parties, and corporate events.
What Time Of Year Can I Surf In San Francisco?
Surfing is available year-round in San Francisco, though Autumn has perhaps the most favorable conditions. September and October are the most popular months, as there isn’t too much fog and the waves provide great surf without the winter storms.
For those more advanced surfers, the biggest waves will hit the shoreline between January and match, with strong winds coming in from the Pacific causing challenging surf and breaks.
Where Should I Surf In The Area?
There are many infamous surfing spots around the San Francisco area, with each offering something varied and unique. Bolinas, Ocean Beach, Linda Mar Beach, Fort Point, and Stinson Beach offer varied surfing conditions and surroundings, ranging from the Bay Side across to the Western side of the city right on the Pacific coast.
It’s also not far to travel down the coast to Santa Cruz, where you can take in some of the best waves, and most popular surfing locations in the world. You can also visit the California Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and learn about some of the wildlife that populates the area, including dolphins, seals, and turtles.
Depending on your level, as well as the conditions you prefer, there will be a spot for you in San Francisco.
Is San Francisco Surf Suitable For Beginners?
San Francisco has numerous beaches and coves that are great for surfing. This includes many spots that are ideal for beginners and those wishing to improve their skills and confidence.
With small waves and less unpredictable breaks, you can be sure to find waters suitable for your level of skill and experience. Surf schools that offer specialized classes to new surfers will always ensure that they teach you in a location suitable for your level.
They will often instruct you amongst calmer waters and smaller waves to be sure that you have the skills to move to some of the more challenging surf along the coastline.