11 Best Surfing Beaches in California for World-Class Waves

As the birthplace and capital of the surfing culture in the US, there are countless surfing beaches in California.

The expansive coastline of California is home to some of the best surfing spots in the world, which is enough reason to go surfing in the state. In California, surfing has become a way of life for locals. You can find tons of surf shops and surfboard brands on the coast, and the state is also home to some of the most renowned board shapers all over the world.

Whether you are planning a surfing trip to the Northern part of California, the South, or Central California, the state is an undeniably great surfing spot. You can find perfect waves to cater to every surfing level or preference.

Top Surfing Beaches in California

Whether you want to watch some of the world’s top surfers, learn how to surf, or simply enjoy the sport and improve your wave-riding skills, here are must-visit surfing beaches in California.

1. Malibu, Los Angeles

Best Surfing Beaches in California

Beaches in SoCal has some of the best waves in the state. Within the 220 miles of Southern California coastline, you can find hundreds of the best beach-breaks in the state.

One of the must-visit surfing beaches in California is Malibu. It is an iconic Californian surfing destination in West Lost Angeles, which played a massive part in the surf culture in North America.

Malibu is also an excellent surfing destination for the whole family, with peeling point breaks that are perfect for all types of surfers. The waves closer to the shore are usually calmer and gentler, which is ideal for newbies. Much further in the ocean, you can experience more challenges with the bigger waves.

Malibu is the ultimate surf spot in SoCal, and the best time for a trip is during the summer. However, you should get ready for the crowd as the beach is never out of them.

2. Rincon, Santa Barbara

Best Surfing Beaches in California

Another famous surfing destination in SoCal is Rincon in Santa Barbara. While Malibu is perfect for the entire family, Rincon is a surf spot for intermediate and professional surfers.

When it comes to point breaks, Rincon is, by far, the most dangerous out of all the surfing beaches in California. Most call it the “Queen of the Coast,” and is famous for its beautiful and long right-handers along a small beachside. You can ride some of the longest waves in Rincon on a good day. Rincon barrels can go as long as 400 yards or more.

If you are planning a trip to Rincon, time it around the winter season when the beach has the best waves. Otherwise, if you visit the spot during the summer, you’ll only get flat waters.

3. Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz

Steamer Lane

Compared to SoCal, the surfing spots in Central California are less crowded, which are great options for intermediate and advanced surfers. However, there are some beginner-friendly waves too.

Around the central area of the state, Santa Cruz is home to some of the popular surfing spots. It's one of the best surf cities in the world, after all.

One of the most beautiful surfing beaches in California within the area is Steamer Lane. It's an iconic surf hub with four reef breaks for your choosing. Most of the waves you can ride in Steamer Lane are massive and powerful, which is ideal for intermediate and advanced surfers.

4. The Wedge, Newport Beach

the wedge

Another must-visit surf spot in SoCal is Newport Beach. There is a reason why surfers call it the “skate park in the ocean.”

The peninsula has an expansive stretch that delivers all sorts of breaks that caters to all kinds of surfers. The most popular surf spot in Newport Beach, however, is The Wedge, which you can find at the east edge.

Most people describe the spot as the "freak of nature" for its shallow but powerful waves that can be very unforgiving even for pro surfers. You can expect large waves in The Wedge that features wedge shapes. Hence, the name. They can peak at around 30 feet, which are not for the faint of heart.

If you are an advanced surfer looking for death-defying waves to ride, you can book a trip to The Wedge in autumn and summer. Otherwise, you will miss the big waves.

5. Huntington Beach Pier, Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach

It’s the “Surf City USA” for a reason. If you are looking for some world-class surfing beaches in California, Huntington Beach should be part of the list. It is the surfing capital in California located in the southeast of Los Angeles.

Huntington Beach is one of the most consistent surfing destinations in all of the beaches on the West Coast. You can ride the best waves in the area all year round. The beach also hosts the Vans US Open of Surfing annually.

There are tons of great waves along the famous pier that is perfect for all types of surfers. Plus, Huntington Beach carries a century-worth of surfing history.

6. Mavericks, Half Moon Bay

mavericks half moon bay

Another one of the must-visit surfing beaches in California is Mavericks in Half Moon Bay. It’s a prime surf spot well-known for its massive and one of the scariest waves you will ever see.

Mavericks was once a hidden spot, but over the years, it became a must-visit for surfers who wants to attempt its treacherous tides. It's fast and furious, especially as the water is super cold and shark-infested. Most waves you can find in here can reach 25 feet, although 60-feet and 80-feet peaks aren't that uncommon.

If you don’t want to try riding the gnarly waves, it’s still a must-visit to watch some of the world’s best surfers try to score some waves.

7. Ocean Beach, San Francisco

Surfing Spots in California - ocean beach

If your choice for a surfing trip is in the Bay Area, then you should consider going to Ocean Beach. It is the most famous surfing hub in Northern California, which most compares to the world-class Puerto Escondido of Mexico.

Ocean Beach features one of the strongest beach breaks in the world. Although the area can get crowded most times, the beach stretches to around three miles, so you can easily find a spot to surf.

However, when the waves are much bigger than usual, Ocean Beach can sometimes be crowd-free, and for a good reason. On a good day, the currents and rips can be very treacherous. It is a swell magnet and can create tides of varying sizes, from calm and small ones to giant 20-foot waves.

8. Blacks Beach, San Diego

Surfing Beaches in California - blacks beach

Torrey Pines City Beach of the Blacks Beach delivers the most powerful and tricky waves in all the beaches in San Diego. You won’t usually find beginner surfers in the area, but it has become one of the top surfing spots for advanced and pro surfers from all over the world.

Blacks Beach can be a very unforgiving surfing hub with its hollow and fast waves. It is also famous for the power and consistency of the waves.

The best season to visit the area is during the winter, where there are huge swells you can ride. However, you can still get some great waves all year round, although the place can get crowded.

9. Doheny State Beach, Dana Point

Doheny

Dana Point is the whale watching capital on the West coast and the original surf town and first-ever State Beach in California. Now, it has become one of the top surfing beaches in California.

The Doheny State Beach in Dana Point is known for its rocky bottom that creates some of the best-shaped waves, which can peak to as much as four feet. It has the best quality waves for beginner and intermediate surfers, as the beach has protection from the jetty against large and powerful swells.

10. Lower Trestles, San Clemente

Lower Trestles
Photo by Mikefairbanks Flickr)

Another surfing gem in SoCal is the Lower Trestles, which you can find on the northern edge of the state beach in San Clemente. It is part of the five reef breaks in the area, Churches, Lowers, Middles, Uppers, and Cottons.

Out of the bunch, the Lower Trestles has the best ocean break, making it one of the top surfing beaches in California. Most people call it the jewel of surfing in SoCal and can deliver two different waves, longer on the right while faster, hollower, and shorter on the left.

However, Lower Trestles can get crowded, and it's not surprising that you'll see some of the best pro surfers in the world riding the waves in the area.

The best time to make a trip to Lower Trestles is during the summer when the waves are at their best.

11. San Onofre State Beach, San Clemente

san onofre beach

If you are looking for classic surfing spots, with the 1960s vibe of RVs lining in the beachside along with people playing beach volley and doing barbeques, San Onofre is a great option.

The State Beach is well-known for its family-friendly and laid-back atmosphere. Compared to other surfing beaches in California, localism isn’t an issue when you go to San Onofre. It is especially among the top choices for beginner surfing destinations in the world.

The best time to visit this part of SoCal is during the summer season or when there are hurricane swells that create waves large enough that even experienced surfers will enjoy.

Conclusion

The expansive reach of the Californian coast means there are tons of potential surfing spots, but these are 11 of the most famous and iconic surfing beaches in California.

Are you planning a road trip around West Coast USA? Check our ultimate guide:

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Adriana a Matěj - Czech the World - travel blog

Adriana & Matěj

Travelers, sport enthusiasts and photographers behind this blog. Creating high-quality and informative guides for your travels. Read more about us here.

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