The 10 Best Spots to Surf in California

Updated on August 22, 2016

Surfing California

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
Trestles

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
Cardiff Reef

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.

Salt Creek
Salt Creek

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

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
Oceanside

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.

Questions & Answers

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        adam 6 weeks ago

        Best spots to surf in California which is very nice, when reading this I like to find a new place for my surfing activities with my friends later, it is amazing thank you already share Balisurfinglesson.com

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        Lewis 7 weeks ago

        The only spot I've surfed on this list is steamers lane and I caught it with only about 8 guys out. It was early in the morning crowd a couple of years ago and the rides were definitely world class. Seems like crowds even over the past couple years have greatly increased but I think as all surfers know the more the word gets out the bigger the crowd gets. I respect the fact that you didn't include spots that would be regarded as well kept secrets because I'm almost certain that according to your travel history you happen to come upon some hidden gems. Keep up the good work. Really enjoyed this article!

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        clara 3 months ago

        Awesome, thanks for sharing this article, I am very interested in your article. Do not be confused to choose a surfing lesson, please visit our website at Odysseysurfschool.com as your refern with your family or friends. Come join us, here we will teach you how to surf the right thing so that no unwanted things happen. So what are you waiting for?

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        Jessica novy 8 months ago

        Leaving illinois this Friday night to spend a week in so. Cal. Huntington waves on the brain. Thanks for the other destinations. Husband made handmade 9'6 wood board and is wanting to get clobbered.

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        Juliette 9 months ago

        Great post! I usually only surf from April till the end of September and I really miss it during the winter. For the ones who want to surf in Bali I would suggest Kuta beach, it is nice for beginners. I have just moved in to London from France to work for an events company that lists many trip/travel related events and I have just discovered that there were lots of surf spots in UK. I would also really love to try surfing in Iceland if as you said it is ok for intermediate level; it seems amazing.

        https://www.jorlio.com

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        gman 11 months ago

        please stay up north " stay away from gran view carrdiff all north county take your poato chip bords and hit Newport

      • profile image

        Surfer82 19 months ago

        I can see why you were hesitant to include Huntington Beach. It gets some good energy and swell most of the year, but it's inconsistent crap most of the time. And after 10am it's always blown out. I became a much better surfer when I started going elsewhere. Nothing more than close-out beach breaks in HB.

        And please don't even mention it as "Surf City" either - that's the city's marketing for tourism dollars and it's irrelevant to the actual quality of surf. The HB pier is maybe an exception, as it's the best HB spot next to Goldenwest, but even that is hard to make a Top 10 List. Swami's in Encinitas should've been included instead. That's a great right point break in SD.

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        Rick 2 years ago

        Steamer Lane is the best around in the Sf bay area!

      • the rawspirit profile image

        Robert Morgan 2 years ago from Hutchinson Island, FL - Myrtle Beach, SC - Scottsdale AZ

        Wow.... Did this article ever bring back some great memories. Growing up in SoCal I Surfed many of those awesome breaks Thanks for the great read.

      • Kristen Howe profile image

        Kristen Howe 3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Jeff, I'm an avid surfer fan, esp. of Kelly Slater. I would love to surf someday, when I visit California. Great hub!

      • Express10 profile image

        H C Palting 4 years ago from East Coast

        This is a good guide for surfers. You are NOT kidding about Trestles. San Clemente has some beautiful blue waters. Coming from the east coast, I was in love at first sight.

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        Tim Manner 4 years ago from London

        Gracias for including the Rincon! Best spot imm!

        U+1F3C4 4 life

      • Mel Carriere profile image

        Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

        Your top 10 spots is like a travelogue up the PCH. I am happy to see you included many places here in my beloved San Diego County. Nice work.

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        LocalsOnly707 4 years ago

        Thanks for not reporting The Lost Coast, you either don't know the mythical place or do know the true meanings of it which is why I don't see it. Anyways thanks! Good blog btw

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        april 5 years ago

        Hey I'm thinking of doing a surf trip through California, thanks for the tips! I'm interested to see how the surf compares to Oahu!

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        rowan 5 years ago

        meant windansea

      • profile image

        rowan 5 years ago

        winansea in la jolla

      • miamipaddler profile image

        Sara Roberts 5 years ago from Miami

        I would definitely love to make it out to California to try out some of these spots myself. Thanks for the great hub!

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        Random state guard 5 years ago

        Trestles is in San Diego county, just a FYI for ya...

      • doodlebugs profile image

        doodlebugs 6 years ago from Southwest

        Great Hub. Someday I will get back into surfing, but probably not at Mavericks!.

      • jdaviswrites profile image
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        Jeff Davis 6 years ago from California

        Per Gustav - thanks for reading. sounds like an awesome trip. all of these spots will only be better in the winter months. hopefully you get some swell and good times.

      • profile image

        Per Gustav 6 years ago

        Hey ho!

        Perfect hub hey! I'm from Brazil and this NYE I'll be traveling around california coast.. i'm renting a VW Surf Bus and make my honey moon (after getting married in Vegas).

        I'll have 18 days to surf (out of a 22 days trip) and my plans are start in San Diego and climb up the map until Humbolt, after that I'll be drunk in Napa Valley... lol

        Wich places u recommend me to go in winter times... i'm not professional surfer, but I did surfed Oz and Indo few years ago... trying to regain my slim shape after 1,5 years just working like a camel! lol

        Cheer brow! Love from Brazil... GUGA

      • jdaviswrites profile image
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        Jeff Davis 7 years ago from California

        SummerSurf - Get here quick! Thanks for reading my friend...

      • SummerSurf profile image

        SummerSurf 7 years ago

        Thanks for sharing, i hope to come to California in the next year to surf.

      • jdaviswrites profile image
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        Jeff Davis 7 years ago from California

        duffsmom - you are right about that, no waves in Montana. Thank you for the compliment...I really appreciate it. It keeps me going. I often think my writing is just random specks of things I enjoy, but hearing that others enjoy it too gives me some measurable enjoyment. So, thanks!

      • duffsmom profile image

        P. Thorpe Christiansen 7 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

        Now you've done it, made me homesick. No waves in Montana--not many people either so there are perks. Grew up in Man. Beach and miss it still. Enjoy your hubs very much--there is something about your style that is very appealing and very California--and I mean that as a compliment. Keep writing.

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        Jeff Davis 7 years ago from California

        coolbreeze - lucky you. thanks for reading....

        tylercapp - looks like you have to head back cali way for waves. if i were you id head east to indo though. thanks for the comment.

      • TylerCapp profile image

        TylerCapp 7 years ago from Los Angeles, California

        I'm in Thailand scoring zero surf. I knew this was coming though and I tried to get it out of my system while I was in San Diego but that's impossible. It's a drug and you can never have enough. Your article has made me want to surf even more than I already do. Well done btw.

      • coolbreeze profile image

        Rik Rodriguez 7 years ago from Hawaii

        Sweet I believe that I have surfed almost all of those spots.

        Back in the day

      • jdaviswrites profile image
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        Jeff Davis 7 years ago from California

        nathanaelig - Ive never surfed it myself...but I know it deserves the list. Thanks for reading.

      • nathanaelig profile image

        nathanaelig 7 years ago from Burlingame, CA

        I love surfing in Half Moon Bay!! Thanks for including it!!

      • jdaviswrites profile image
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        Jeff Davis 7 years ago from California

        Anytime, thanks for the comment. I'm love to get over to Oz to surf myself

      • FredIndy profile image

        FredIndy 7 years ago from Queensland

        Nice. I've only ever had the opportunity to surf Oz, but hoping to visit some of these beaches soon! Cheers for the info!

      • jdaviswrites profile image
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        Jeff Davis 7 years ago from California

        Oh and thanks for following. You will enjoy it here on hubpages. Everyone is super duper dandy in their own online non-real self way

      • jdaviswrites profile image
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        Jeff Davis 7 years ago from California

        Hey thanks for the comment. I hope you enjoy your trip, i'm sure you will. I grew up very close to San Clemente. If you are trying surfing for the first time...I recommend going to nearby Doheny State Beach or San Onofre; mellow waves with a mellow, more beginner crowd.

      • paulkimelecu profile image

        paulkimelecu 7 years ago from philadelphia, pa

        Neat Hub!! I am going to California on a trip and want to try surfing... Luckily I am going to San Clemente so I know I'm going to have a good time!!! Wish me luck!

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        Jeff Davis 7 years ago from California

        Shane thanks - the crowd is something to put up with all across southern california. Head further north or down into Mexico and that problem usually goes away...thanks for the comment.

      • shane_75 profile image

        shane_75 7 years ago from Murrieta, Ca

        I surf in San Diego and agree with you on Blacks. I have had some insane rides there. Trestles is crowded but stellar with the canvas you are given to ride on. Great hub!

        Shane

        Site: http://how-2-do-stuff.com

        Blog: http://www.how-2-do-stuff.com/blog/

      • jdaviswrites profile image
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        Jeff Davis 7 years ago from California

        i do like it. i just didn't want to include it in the 10 best list. the wave is inconsistent and often blown out. i really don't think it can be considered one of the better breaks in california. however, it made the list for the reasons i listed.

      • ms.huntington profile image

        ms.huntington 7 years ago from Southern California

        Nice hub! I've been itching to learn how to surf and I've been to Huntington Beach a couple of times in my life, so I'm really interested as to why you don't like it?

      • jdaviswrites profile image
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        Jeff Davis 7 years ago from California

        matt - i know how you feel, but like i said...i had to

        guiliana - thanks. its not so much a blog as it is...well, hubpages. place to create webpages with quality content, and maybe make some money as well. nevertheless, keep reading and enjoying

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        Giuliana 7 years ago

        omg! I love blogs! I didn't know you had one! I'm offically going to read it at work along with my other blog at read to distract me from work. Good luck on your adventure! And Keep us ( your readers) tuned in!

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        Matt 7 years ago

        Dear Jeffrey,

        at first I was angry when I saw the picture of Huntington beach. But once I read the hub and why you chose that particular spot I sided with you.

        I'm looking forward to reading tomorrow's hub.

      working