A surfer holding his surfboard at the beach when surfing in California

Surfing in California in 2023 (15 Spots + Local Tips)

Professionals and greenhorns alike flock to the golden state to experience some prime surfing in California. Some of the best surf spots in California are world-famous, but many others require some insider knowledge to get to.

As a born and raised Cali girl, I’ve hit my fair share of California waves and can’t wait to fill you in on the best beaches in California for surfing. Let’s dive in!

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15 Best Places to Go Surfing in California

San Onofre State Beach

Once you’ve surfed at this local favorite spot, you’re officially initiated into the surf culture of Southern California.

View of the beach bonfire and the surfers in the background in San Onofre
San Onofre surfers in the background of my beach bonfire

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour | Google Maps | San Onofre State Beach Website | Amenities: restrooms, showers, drinking water

San Onofre State Beach is a local SoCal surf spot that offers more than three miles of coast and several surf breaks, making it one of the top surfing destinations on the west coast.

See what all the local hype is about with a ride out on some of San O’s gentle waves. This sanctuary for surfers is located in north San Diego County with three main surf breaks: “Dogpatch, “Old Man’s,” and “The Point.”

While this is typically a local California surfing spot, out-of-towners are welcomed, as long as they adhere to surf etiquette and don’t hog all the waves. 

👉 My favorite gear: Sex Wax is my favorite surf wax that I use before every ride.

Huntington Beach

The king of all SoCal surf beaches, Huntington boasts some of the most intense waves by its pier.

View of a dog and the crowd in the background in Huntington Beach
The Huntington Dog Beach

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 45 minutes | Google Maps | Huntington Beach Website | Amenities: restrooms, showers, free street parking, nearby restaurants

No surf trip to Southern California is complete without visiting “Surf City USA.” The Huntington Beach Pier is one of the most popular places to surf in the sunshine state and even hosts a world-renowned surf competition with professional surfers each mid-summer.

One of the coolest spots in Orange County, Huntington offers year-round swell, a vibrant surf culture, and 10 miles of coast to choose the perfect surf spot. More advanced surfers enjoy the challenging waves by the pier while novice surfers try their luck on the unforgiving Pacific Ocean waves a bit farther at the Bolsa Chica State Beach or the Sunset Beach beginner spots.

🛎️ Need a place to stay? Check out the top Huntington rentals.

Newport Beach

A family favorite beach destination nestled among top SoCal surf beaches.

Aerial view of the surfers in Newport Beach
An overhead drone shot of surfers waiting for the perfect Newport wave

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 50 minutes | Google Maps | Newport Beach Website | Amenities: restrooms, showers, free street parking, nearby restaurants

Huntington’s neighboring beach, Newport Beach, is a great place to surf to avoid the heavy Huntington weekend crowds. This family favorite destination offers multiple ideal surfing spots. 

The Wedge on the northern Balboa Peninsula is the perfect spot for experienced surfers who frequently experiences 30-foot waves. The Newport Beach Pier is the best place for beginner surfers and the 54th and 56th Street jetties offer mid-size swells for intermediate surfers. Don’t miss some of the other fantastic things to do in Newport Beach while you’re there!

Seal Beach

This less-crowded Orange County beach is a hotspot for surfing, bodyboarding, and skimboarding.

View of the scenic Seal Beach from a distance at sunset

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 35 minutes | Google Maps | Seal Beach Website | Amenities: restrooms, showers, nearby restaurants

Seal Beach and surfing go hand-in-hand. The most consistent spot to catch some epic waves at Seal Beach is on the north side of the pier, where you can also find surf schools and lessons from professionals.

The south side of Seal Beach is best surfed during the winter when the swells are the biggest and the slow shore break is ideal for bodyboarding and skimboarding. You’ll find ideal breaks on either side of the pier, making Seal Beach a SoCal top choice.

Sunset Beach

An ideal place to catch the sunset while riding intense Pacific Ocean waves.

A woman watching the sunset at Sunset Beach
My friend enjoys the sunset on the beach

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 35 minutes | Google Maps | Sunset Beach Website | Amenities: public restrooms, outdoor showers, playground

Orange County’s quiet beach is perfect for beginner surfers. This friendly beach town is one of the best beaches in Southern California and is laid-back, inviting visitors to stay a while and explore the charming downtown area after a long day surfing.

Local LA surfers are friendly to newcomers and the parking is free, two major factors to consider when choosing where to surf in California. Sunset Beach is also within close proximity to other SoCal surf beaches so you can experience the best of multiple SoCal beaches. 

👉 Pro Tip: Thinksport is my go-to sunscreen when surfing under the Cali sun all day.


One of the more scenic Southern California beaches known for celebrity houses, epic surf, and rock climbing adventures.

Overlooking view of Malibu’s Point Dume Beach from the cliff
A view of Malibu’s Point Dume Beach from a clifftop

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 45 minutes | Google Maps | Malibu Website | Amenities: restrooms, showers

This surfrider beach has long been a local California favorite and is one of the top things to do in Malibu. There’s something for every level of surfer in Malibu year-round, although summer is the most popular time to catch some epic waves in Malibu.

There are four top surf beaches in Malibu. Malibu Surfrider Beach is just off the Malibu Pier and is best suited for seasoned surfers, Zuma Beach (also known as Baywatch Beach) is a more private option, and Point Dume is one of the more scenic beaches with scuba diving and rock climbing opportunities, and Topanga Beach is guaranteed to be less crowded. 

San Diego

No California surf trip is complete without testing the waters at this surfing-intensive border town.

A surfer walking on the coastline with a surfboard in San Diego at sunset
A San Diego sunset

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 2 hours | Google Maps | San Diego Website | Where to Stay in San Diego | Amenities: restrooms, showers, nearby restaurants

Where to start? San Diego is one of the top places to surf in California for both locals and out-of-towners. As one of the best things to do in San Diego, I highly suggest surfing as early as possible so you have all day free to ride some fantastic Southern California waves.

La Jolla is a world-renowned San Diego surf spot with beaches like Black’s Beach, La Jolla Shores, and Windansea to choose from. Along the northern coast, you’ll find local surfers in bulk at Trestles, Oceanside, Swami’s, and Del Mar. 

Plan your trip around the Super Girl Surf Pro in Oceanside each September to watch the top female surfers in the world battle it out wave by wave.

San Clemente

A less-visited SoCal beach that has a welcoming surf culture.

View of the sunset from San Clemente pier
Surfers next to the San Clem pier during sundown

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour | Google Maps | San Clemente Website | Amenities: public restrooms, showers, free street parking

One of my personal favorite beaches, San Clemente is a classic California surf destination. Fantastic surf breaks, board rentals, surf shops, camping right on the beach, and more can be found in this surf-forward California beach town.

Uppers have some of the more competitive waves in the area and are ideal for experienced surfers. Cotton’s Point is ideal for intermediate-level boarders and is usually the first break in the area when winds pick up. Beginners should head to San Clemente’s T Street and the San Clem Pier.

👉 My favorite gear: Capture the best of your surfing adventure with the GoPro HERO9.

Santa Cruz

Northern California’s hippie town is also one of the coolest places to hit the waves along the Pacific Coast Highway.

A surfer on the stretch of Santa Cruz coast on a sunny day
An isolated stretch of Santa Cruz coast

🗺️ Distance from Sacramento: 2 hours, 30 minutes | Google Maps | Santa Cruz Website | Amenities: restrooms, showers, beach amusement park

The hippie town of Santa Cruz offers some of the best surfing on the west coast. Make a pitstop in Santa Cruz on your epic Highway 1 California road trip to ride some Central California ocean giants.

Most Santa Cruz automobiles are strapped with a few surfboards, proof of the evident surf culture of the coastal town. Some top surf beaches in Santa Cruz include Steamer Lane, Cowell Beach, Mavericks, and Natural Bridges State Beach.

Don’t forget to stop by the Santa Cruz boardwalk amusement park, one of the coolest theme parks in California, after an eventful day of surfing. 

Asilomar State Beach

A central California surf gem with an incredible beach break and more family-centered activities.

View of the vibrant blooming flowers on the cliff in Asilomar State Beach
Alisomar experiences a vibrant spring coastal bloom

🗺️ Distance from Santa Cruz: 55 minutes | Google Maps | Asilomar State Beach Website | Amenities: free parking, drinking water, restrooms, showers

Monterey is one of the top family destinations in California. Besides delicious seafood and the ginormous Monterey Aquarium, surfing is another popular activity to do with the whole family. 

Visit Asilomar State Beach for some of the best waves in Northern California. Advanced surfers flock to Lovers Point and Del Monte Beach and novice borders head over to Marina State Beach and Moss Landing. You really can’t go wrong choosing a cool surf spot in Monterey, one of the best day trips from San Francisco!

Half Moon Bay

Jarring cliffs set the stage for this NorCal beach haven.

Scenic view of the cliffs of Half Moon Bay
The Portugal-like cliffs of Half Moon Bay

🗺️ Distance from San Francisco: 40 minutes | Google Maps | Half Moon Bay Website | Amenities: public restrooms, showers

A huge surf beach break in Half Moon Bay attracts surfers from around the globe. Montara, also known as “Little Spain,” is one of the best beaches in Central and Northern California for consistent weather year-round. 

You can find all goofy footers in the area at Ross’s Cove. Underwater eddies create reliable waves that are best suited for non-expert levels. Half Moon Bay is one of the more scenic spots to surf along California’s coast but err extra caution on a surf trip here, as sharks are frequently spotted in the waters.

🛎️ Need a Hotel? Here are the top hotels in Half Moon Bay.

Pismo State Beach

Wiggle into your wetsuit and spend all day catching the consistent waves at this Northern California surf town.

View of the rocky cliffs and beach town at Shell Beach
A calm day at Shell Beach

🗺️ Distance from Morro Bay: 30 minutes | Google Maps | Pismo State Beach Website | Amenities: restrooms, showers, drinking water, nearby restaurants 

Just south of Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach is an epic place to surf along California’s central coast. Pismo Beach offers big waves for experts and more relaxed beach breaks for beginning surfers.

The most popular surf breaks are around Pismo Beach Pier, which offers a solid breaking left, consistent swells, and one of the longest rides in the area. Shell Beach is a hidden gem along this Pacific Coast Highway town and is usually crowd-free. 

📚 Related Reading: Best Things to Do in Morro Bay


If you want to run into professional surfers out in the water, the classic beach break at Rincon is the place to do so.

A surfer riding the big wave in Santa Barbara
 Summer surfing in Santa Barbara

🗺️ Distance from Santa Barbara: 15 minutes | Google Maps | Rincon Website | Amenities: restrooms, showers

Santa Barbara is a quintessential stop along the California coast. Famously known around the world as a mecca for surfing, Santa Barbara showcases some of the best waves in both Southern California and Northern California.

Rincon is one of the last places along the coast with consistent swells and a classic California point break. 

Top surf spots at this Santa Barbara/ Carpinteria gem include The Cove, River Mouth, and the Indicator. After your morning surf sesh, explore the Spanish-style, bogenvelia-draped downtown Santa Barbara, one of the most romantic getaways in California.


San Diego waves have never been more abundant than at this border town.

A surfer walking along the coastline with his paddleboard

🗺️ Distance from San Diego: 25 minutes | Google Maps | Encinitas Website | Amenities: public restrooms, showers

Enjoy beautiful weather year-round at Encinitas, a San Diego County riding paradise. Just outside of Ocean Beach, Encinitas has an unmistakable surf culture that contributes to its allure among riders of all levels.

Engulfed by gorged beach cliffs, Encinitas is one of the best surf towns in the state with several beach break areas including Grandview, Cardiff, and Pipes. There are also several beachfront stores to rent equipment from so you don’t have to lug your board around on your car (unless that’s the classic California aesthetic you’re going for).

Enjoy top Southern California surf spots only 2 hours from Los Angeles and within minutes of Downtown San Diego. There are so many things to do in Encinitas but surfing is one of the top activities in San Diego.

Dana Point

Surf at a SoCal spot that reinvented the sport.

View of the rocky cliffs in Dana Point beach on a sunny day
Waves crashing onto the beach at Dana Point

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour | Google Maps | Dana Point Website | Amenities: restrooms, showers, free street parking, nearby restaurants

Drop in on endless waves at Dana Point, one of my favorite surfing beaches in Southern California. 7 miles of Orange County beach and epic beach breaks have been enjoyed by Cali locals since the 1950s and continues to be one of the coolest surf spots in the area.

Doheny State Beach is the site where the first mass-produced foam boards were created, changing the sport for good. No longer sinking under the weight of a heavy wood board, surfers weightlessly whipped waves and curled like the pros in Dana Point first.

Top surf locations include Strands Beach, Salt Creek, and Doheny State Beach. Novice riders can also find surfing lessons in Dana Point and try their luck in the calm waters of the state beach.

Tips for Surfing in California

Don’t Forget the Wetsuit

If you’re surfing in California during the non-summer months, you’ll likely need a wetsuit. Don’t forget to buy and bring your own wetsuit, especially if you’re surfing in the winter.

Some places like Huntington Beach have wetsuits available for rent in case you don’t have enough room in your luggage to bring your own.

Check the Surf Report Beforehand

View of the surfers riding the waves at Rincon
Surfers ride the waves at Rincon (photo: L Paul Mann / Shutterstock)

Check the forecast and conditions before you head out to hit the waves for a successful day out on the water. 

Helpful surf reports are available online for almost every beach with information on wave size and beach weather.

Avoid the Weekends

California is an overpopulated state in general, with most residents living in the south near Los Angeles and the coastal beaches. Avoid surfing on the weekends to avoid heavy crowds unless you go for sunrise.

You may be able to get away with a weekend run if visiting lesser-visited beaches like Solana Beach or Sunset Beach.

Shuffle Your Feet To Avoid a Stingray Sting

The California coast is littered with stingrays and other maritime creatures. Make sure to shuffle your feet when getting into and out of the water to avoid an unpleasant sting.

Know Your Surfboard Size

When it comes to surfboards, size does matter. The bigger the board, the easier it is to get up on. If you’re just starting out, I recommend starting on an 8+ foot surfboard for the smoothest sailing possible.

Professionals and experienced surfers usually surf on 5-6 foot boards, so don’t go for a pro-size board if you’re a newbie.

FAQs About Surfing in California

Is it hard to surf in California?

California’s Pacific Ocean can showcase some extreme waves, with most beaches rated intermediate to advanced. This includes the Huntington Beach Pier, La Jolla, and Rincon. There are some easier surf spots in California, however, like Sunset Beach and Malibu.

Can you surf all year round in California?

The best time to visit California for surfing is year-round! While you may need a wetsuit in the winter months, you can always count on incredible weather and surf swells during the other three seasons.

What time of day is best to surf in California?

The mornings are typically the best times of day to surf in California. The perfect waves and water swells arise with the early morning sun, bringing perfect waves and fewer crowds.


You made it to the end of my ultimate surfing in California guide! For more adventurous California fun, check out our top ski resorts in California guide.

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