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10 Best Surfing Spots In California That You CAN’T Miss 🌊

Surf’s up!

Today we’re revealing some of the best surfing spots in all of California.

These spots vary in difficulty from beginner to intermediate and all the way up to professional level.

Is YOUR favorite surfing spot on the list? 🌊

🚨Remember, safety first. If you’re not confident in your abilities then take some lessons and don’t just jump in. And don’t forget your surfing etiquette so you don’t get on the wrong side of the local surfers (some can be pretty territorial).

1. Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz

Difficulty Level: Intermediate to Professional

Steamer Lane is a legendary spot in Santa Cruz, known for its challenging waves that demand respect. 

Located right off West Cliff Drive, it’s easy to find and offers stunning views of the Northern California coast. 

santa cruz lighthouse field state beach

Why do surfers flock here? 

The waves are consistent, offering four distinct surf zones that cater to those ready to step up their game. 

The zones are:

  • Middle Peak
  • The Point
  • Slot
  • Indicator

It’s a place rich in surfing history, often seen as a rite of passage in the surfing world. 

The best times to visit are during the winter months when the swells are just right and January is particularly good.

Remember, the waters here can get crowded, and local etiquette is a big deal, so always show respect in the lineup. 

Safety is key, so if you’re new to the waves, it’s a good idea to watch and learn from the sidelines before diving in.

2. Newport Beach

Difficulty Level: Beginners to Professionals

Newport Beach in Orange County is a surf spot with a vibe that caters to everyone, from those just starting out to seasoned pros looking for a challenge.

Located with easy access via the Pacific Coast Highway, it’s not just the surf that draws crowds but the luxurious surroundings too. 

the wedge newport beach

Newport is famous for its variety, including the legendary Wedge, known for its powerful, shore-breaking waves perfect for adrenaline seekers. 

The area boasts consistent conditions, making it a year-round surfing destination. 

Beginners should check out more forgiving spots like Newport pier when the waves are smaller, before tackling the Wedge. 

Local shops are on hand for gear and tips. 

Always respect the locals and heed any safety advice, as conditions can change rapidly.

3. Trestles

Difficulty Level: Intermediate to Professional

Trestles, near San Clemente, is a world-renowned surf spot that has become a pilgrimage site for surfers globally. 

This spot is a bit of a trek from the nearest parking, requiring a walk along a trail under the freeway, but the waves you’ll find are worth every step. 

trestles california surfing wave

Trestles is famous for its consistent, high-quality waves that offer a variety of sections for different skill levels, with Lower Trestles being the best place for the most consistent waves.

It’s a hotspot during surf competitions, so you might even catch some of the sport’s best in action. 

The best times to visit are during the summer and fall when the swells align perfectly. 

Keep in mind, it’s popular, so expect some company in the water. 

Respect is key in the lineup here, as is awareness of the marine environment you’re sharing.

4. Surfrider Beach, Malibu

Difficulty Level: Beginners to Intermediate

Surfrider Beach is a true icon in the surfing world, located off the Pacific Coast Highway by the historic Malibu Pier. 

This spot is perfect for those looking to catch long, rolling waves that make for smooth rides. 

It’s especially great for beginners and intermediate surfers, with its gentle breaks offering a great opportunity to improve your surfing skills. 

surfrider beach malibu aerial

The beach’s fame means it can get crowded, especially on good surf days, so early mornings are your best bet for catching waves with fewer people. 

Surfrider beach has played a huge role in California’s surfing culture and history, making it a must-visit for anyone wanting to experience the soul of California surfing. 

While the vibe is laid-back, remember to follow local surfing etiquette and keep an eye on the tides. 

The best times to surf here are during the summer and fall when the southwest swells come in.

In particular, August and September are the best months.

5. Zuma Beach, Malibu

Difficulty Level: Beginners to Intermediate

Zuma Beach, in Malibu, stands out for its expansive sandy shores and consistently clean waves, making it a prime location for surfers at the beginner to intermediate level. 

Easily accessible from the Pacific Coast Highway, it offers ample parking and a more relaxed atmosphere compared to the more crowded Surfrider Beach. 

zuma beach malibu

The waves here are generally more forgiving, with the best surf spots found towards the northern end of the beach. 

It’s a fantastic place for those looking to practice their skills without the pressure of a highly competitive lineup.

The beach is also patrolled by lifeguards, which adds a layer of safety for new surfers navigating their first waves. 

Zuma’s best surf conditions are typically during the winter months with December being a particularly good month.

Just remember, while Zuma’s vibe is welcoming, always respect the locals and adhere to surfing etiquette.

6. Mavericks, Half Moon Bay

Difficulty Level: Professional

Mavericks in Half Moon Bay is legendary, known for its towering waves that challenge even the most seasoned surfers. 

Located about a half-hour drive from San Francisco, this spot is NOT for the faint of heart. 

Mavericks is famous worldwide for its winter swells that can rise to 60 feet, offering some of the most intense surfing conditions on the planet. 

The best time to hit Mavericks is between November and March, when the North Pacific storms send massive swells towards the California coast. 

Safety is paramount here; the waves are powerful and the water cold, requiring not just skill but also specialized equipment and knowledge of the area. 

Mavericks has a rich history in the big wave surfing scene, hosting prestigious competitions that draw the global surfing elite. 

If you’re not up for the challenge, it’s still a breathtaking place to watch some of the best surfers tackle these monstrous waves from the safety of the shore.

7. Huntington Beach Pier

Difficulty Level: Beginners to Professionals

Huntington Beach Pier is the heart of Surf City USA, a title that tells you everything you need to know about this iconic spot. 

Located in Orange County, it’s easily accessible and a magnet for surfers of all levels.

huntington beach pier surfing

The pier itself acts as a natural divider, creating various surf conditions along the beach that cater to different skill levels. 

For beginners, the south side of the pier offers more manageable waves, while the north side presents a challenge with its faster and more competitive breaks. 

Huntington Beach is renowned for its consistent waves year-round, thanks to the deep ocean swells that hit this part of the coast. 

It’s not just about the surf; the area is steeped in surfing culture, hosting the annual US Open of Surfing, which attracts surfers and spectators from around the globe. 

Safety is a top priority, with lifeguards on duty and clear signage about surfing zones. 

8. Rincon Point

Difficulty Level: Intermediate to Professional

Rincon Point, often called the “Queen of the Coast,” is a premier surfing destination located at the border of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. 

It’s a spot with a rich surfing history and is revered for its long, perfectly shaped waves that make it a paradise for surfers. 

The point break here splits into three main sections: The Cove, Rivermouth, and Indicator, each offering rides that can seem almost endless on the right day. 

Rincon is best during the winter months when the northwest swells roll in, transforming it into a playground for intermediate and professional surfers. 

Access is straightforward, with parking available along the Rincon Point Road, but it can fill up quickly on good surf days. 

This spot is not only a test of skill but also a chance to glide on waves in one of the most beautiful settings California has to offer. 

As always, respect for the local surf community and awareness of the environment are paramount. 

9. Swami’s

Difficulty Level: Intermediate to Professional

Swami’s Beach in Encinitas is a gem in the Southern California surfing scene, known for its challenging waves and vibrant surf culture. 

Tucked away at the end of South Coast Highway 101, there’s a beautiful park sitting atop the bluff offering panoramic views.

swamis beach at sunset

Swami’s is a spot that surfers flock to for the promise of excellent right-hand point breaks. 

The waves here are best from fall to spring, with winter being the best time. This is when swells from the northwest create the perfect conditions for surfing. 

Swami’s is not just about the surf; it’s also about the community and the laid-back vibe that defines the Southern California surf culture. 

The lineup can get crowded, especially on good surf days, so it’s important to know your abilities and show respect to fellow surfers. 

With its combination of challenging waves, beautiful scenery, and a tight-knit surfing community, Swami’s Beach is a must-visit for any serious surfer passing through California. 

Just remember, the reef bottom here means the waves can pack a punch, so it’s best suited for those with a good amount of experience under their belt.

10. Windansea Beach, La Jolla

Difficulty Level: Intermediate to Professional

Windansea Beach, located in the picturesque town of La Jolla, San Diego, is a surfing destination known for its beauty and challenging waves. 

The beach is easily accessible from La Jolla Boulevard and has a unique vibe, thanks to its historic surf shack that harks back to the 1940s. 

Windansea is famous for its powerful surf and rocky shoreline, making it suitable for more experienced surfers. 

The waves here are known for their fast breaks and can get quite big, especially during the winter months when the swells are just right. 

Windansea requires a good deal of respect for the ocean’s power, as the waves and currents can be unforgiving. 

The local surf community is tight-knit are proud of their iconic spot, so make sure you’re practising good surfing etiquette. 

Beyond surfing, Windansea Beach is a stunning place to enjoy sunsets and take in the natural beauty of the California coast.

Speaking of sunsets… -> 40+ UNFORGETTABLE sunset spots in California.

Sophie Davis

Born and raised in the Bay area of California, Sophie is a California native. She joined our team in 2023 to create travel guides on California.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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