The sport of surfing traveled from Hawaii to the stretching coast of California over 100 years ago. Since that time nearly all aspects of surfing including the riders, surfboard design, and the industry have changed drastically. Though there is one aspect that hasn't changed much at all, and that is the best places to surf. There are hundreds of them, from northern to southern California, and everything in between along the Golden State coast. In no particular order, here is my list of the top 10 best surf spots in California.
Trestles, San Clemente
This gem of Southern California lies at the San Clemente city limits at the mouth of San Mateo Creek. Trestles is a long stretch of beach, encompassing Uppers and Lowers, and home to a variety of wave features; lefts, rights, sandbars, and a beach break. Its also home to big events in the sport like ASP World Tour events and the NSSA Nationals. Trestles has it all. However, don't be surprised to see 200 guys jostling for the same wave on a Monday morning...do people not work around here?
Rincon, Santa Barbara
Rincon is located just off Highway 101 on the border of the Ventura and Santa Barbara County line in Central California. On a good day this long right point-break will leave you with rubber legs. It is divided into 3 breaks: the Cove, Rivermouth, and Indicators. Over the years Rincon has been the surf spot responsible for much of surfing's progression, as well as spitting out such well-known rippers like Tom Curran and Bobby Martinez.
Cardiff Reef, San Diego
One of the more popular places to surf in San Diego County since the 1940's. Its the flat rock bottom just beneath the surface that creates some juicy waves. They have a nice peak that all types of surfers enjoy year-round.
Mavericks, Half Moon Bay
Mavericks is a famous cold water break in Northern California. This right point break is most popular in the winter when big wave riders come from around the world to test their limits and ride giants. Warning: Mavericks is not the best place to paddle out for visiting beginners. Spirited locals are not afraid to let themselves be heard...often by means of slashing your car tires.
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Salt Creek, Dana Point
Orange County locals began calling Salt Creek their favorite surf spot back in the 1960s when it cost 50 cents per day to park in the dirt lot. Things have changed since then; it's now 1 dollar an hour to park, and it's a paved lot, but the Point, Middles, Gravels, and ROTP (rights of the point) still hold a consistent and clean wave. If the waves are no good, there are always plenty of OC housewives to play frisbee with.
Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz
Notorious for its cold water and world-class rides. Today the lineup is increasingly crowded but on a big day the crowd thins down to only the bravest souls. Its the surf spot that Jack O'Neill once called home and where he came to develop the wetsuit—thanks Jack. If you're not in the water, the cliffs just above the point provide a perfect vantage point.
Huntington, Huntington Beach
Personally, I don't want to put this on the list of best places to surf in California, but I have to. After all folks, it is "Surf City USA." Huntington boasts what some call "the perfect wave," as well as strong roots in the surfing history of California. Not to mention, it is home to the annual world surfing championships. With beautiful babes in bikinis, dudes throwing pigskins and shakas, surf industry giants, freaks, geeks, and everything else in between... nothing says California like Huntington Beach.
Blacks Beach, San Diego
Just below the bluffs of Torrey Pines you will find Blacks Beach, full of nudist and heavily stacked...waves. Due to an underwater canyon, Blacks is the proud owner of San Diego's most powerful waves. A surf spot which is not recommended for any beginner surfer. Even the goat trail down to the beach is dangerous so be wary.
Oceanside Pier, Oceanside
Even in the summer, this Southern California spot boasts consistent and fun waves. It is a peaceful and sublime place, with families taking evening walks along the pier while listening to the soothing sound of ricocheting bombs and heavy artillery coming from nearby Camp Pendelton, the busiest Marine base in the United States.
Malibu, Los Angeles
When you hear Malibu what images come to mind? Coconut rum? Gidget? Mudslides? Celebrity beach homes? David Hasselhoff? For many southern California surfers, it is an epic wave. Malibu is typically a slower/smaller break, perfect for longboarders and adventurous AARP members. On big south swells, the First, Second, and Third point can all connect to form a long right hander...really long. The only downside: weekends with thousands of Utah's finest Keaune Reeves stunt doubles.
These are my personal choices for the top 10 best places to surf in California. For whatever reason; either the wave, the people, the history, or the location, they each hold a special place in the sport of surfing in California.