Best Surf Beaches in California
California’s coast is dotted with great surf from warm and crowded Southern California beaches to rugged and isolated Northern California breaks. The 840 miles of Pacific coastline offer a wide variety of surf in terms of skill level, climate, crowds, and break type. California is home to both world famous breaks and local favorites.
California’s most famous breaks tend to be the gnarliest. If you’re a beginner, you’re most likely not going to be paddling out at any of these breaks (with a couple exceptions).
Beginners will want to find gentle breaks with ample whitewater and a forgiving crowd, things you’re unlikely to find at California’s better-known breaks.
Because there are countless surf spots in California (and I don’t want to blow up any locals’ spots) this article highlights the better known beaches and details the conditions, crowds, and break type.
With any break, the quality of the surf will depend on the swell and conditions, so check out the surf forecast beforehand to avoid disappointment.
Best Year-Round Point Break:
Located in Santa Cruz, Steamer Lane is one of the most famous breaks in California. Steamer Lane is a right-hand point break located beneath the cliffs of a residential neighborhood in Santa Cruz, making it easily accessible. The spot is made up of four separate peaks that vary pretty significantly from one another. Steamer Lane is at its best when big winter swells roll in.
The water temperature at Steamer Lane varies throughout the year, but is generally in the mid-50s, so a 4/3 millimeter wetsuit and booties are generally a good idea (plus a hood for colder days).
This is not a beach beginners should be paddling out at. For one, this spot works the best when the waves are bigger (overhead+). You also do not want to mess with Santa Cruz locals. Santa Cruz is notorious for its localism, and local surfers are very protective of the area’s most treasured break. If you find yourself in the area but don’t have the guts to paddle out at Steamer Lane, there are plenty of other breaks in the area that are less intimidating. During a big winter swell, it’s worth watching experienced surfers rip from the cliffs above.
Best Winter Surf
Located on the border between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, Rincon Point is another famous California break. Rincon is a right-hand point break that is at its best in the winter. If you see Rincon on a summer day, it’s hard to picture it as one of California’s best breaks (it’s nicknamed Queen of the Coast).
Rincon lends itself to being beginner to intermediate friendly on calmer days, providing long rides on waves suitable for a longboard. During big winter swells however, it’s best to leave the Queen of the Coast to more experienced surfers.
When Rincon gets enough swell to be surfable, it gets crowded. Paddling out at first light might help you avoid the crowd, but even then, you probably won’t have the waves to yourself.
The water temperature at Rincon ranges from mid 50s in the winter to mid 60s in the summer, so you can probably get away with a 3/2 mm wetsuit for most of the year.
Huntington Beach is a famous (and crowded) beach break located south of Long Beach in Orange County. The beach is exposed to north, west, and south swells, making it almost always surfable. It’s also home to the U.S. Open of Surfing, which should tell you something about the quality of waves here. Huntington Beach is even known as “Surf City USA.”
Huntington Beach is easily accessible and offers amenities including ample parking, public restrooms, and surf lessons. You can find all skill levels from beginner to advanced in the water on smaller days. The availability of board rentals and lessons makes it a good place for new surfers to paddle out. Just keep in mind, the closer you are to the pier, the more crowded it is.
If You Enjoy Hiking With Your Board
Located at the south end of Torrey Pines State Beach, Black’s Beach in San Diego is one of the area’s best waves. The beach is difficult to access and requires a bit of a hike to get to (which is also why the area is a popular nude beach).
Waves gain power as they approach Black’s Beach due to the funneling effect of an underwater canyon offshore. The surf at Black’s can get big and fast, so it is recommended that only advanced surfers paddle out here. The lineup is also known to get aggressive, and other surfers will let you if you shouldn’t be out there.
The Wedge is a unique wave located in Newport Beach, at the south end of the Balboa Peninsula. The Wedge was created when a jetty was constructed in the 1930s. The waves interact with the jetty and the steep beach to create an unpredictable, harrowing, monster of a peak.
This wave is insanely dangerous, so don’t even think about paddling out unless you are extremely experienced. Most surfers are better off being spectators from the beach than in the lineup. If you want to see exactly what I mean, just look up The Wedge on YouTube.
Mavericks is a break located 25 miles south of San Francisco, near Half Moon Bay. This is one of California’s most notorious waves, and yet another wave you probably shouldn’t surf.
The topography underwater at Mavericks helps to create a monster wave at this spot. The wave at Mavericks regularly reaches 25 feet, and sometimes reaches up to 60 feet. In the winter, Mavericks is a magnet for big wave surfers chasing behemoths. On top of being a giant wave, the water is also cold and a hangout for great white sharks..
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Finding the right beach, strapping on your shorty and paddling out into sweet swells is a feeling you can’t get enough of. Waiting for a set, popping up and the sensation of rocking a barrel through to the end is indescribable.
California has it all. If you live there and want to get out, find the right board and get to it. It’ll change your life.
Otherwise, pros will know Half Moon Bay and other awesome spots. California also hosts many wicked competitions worth checking out too.
Get stoked and get out and ride.
Frequently asked questions
Orange and San Diego Counties are famous for their surf. You can find beaches suitable for all skill levels in both areas, along with famous breaks that should be left to advanced surfers.
Dive into our Best Surf Beaches in California to learn more.
Santa Cruz is one of the biggest surf towns in Northern California and is home to some of the best point breaks in the state. Just make sure you do your research before paddling out, as there are a few spots in Santa Cruz that are only suitable for more advanced surfers.
Mondos Beach is located in Ventura County, south of Carpinteria. Mondos is a small point break that is beginner-friendly due to mellow waves and a forgiving crowd.