California is a surfer’s paradise. From big breaks at Mavericks near Half Moon Bay to easy paddle-outs at Lower Trestles near San Onofre State Beach, the dozens of iconic surf spots along the coast provide idyllic conditions for catching a wave. As the official sport of the Golden State, surfing even has a designated day of recognition, held annually on Sept. 20.
That time of year is no accident: September is known for sunny days and warm waters up and down California’s 840 miles of coastline.
It’s a great excuse to build a trip around surfing, or even just enjoying the beach and surf culture. Two excellent spots for watching the experts out on the waves are California’s two protected World Surfing Reserves, located in Malibu and Santa Cruz. Or, take a lesson and get out on the water yourself, in beach towns such as Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Carlsbad, and Coronado.
Plenty of California hotels embrace their surf connections, too, like The Surfrider, the retro boutique hotel that is home to the Surfline camera that monitors the conditions at the world famous First Point Malibu. (You can also borrow a house board and book a lesson.) Nomads Hotel in San Clemente, meanwhile, offers room-and-surfing packages; and Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa in Dana Point is walking distance from Doheny State Beach, which gets a name check in The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA.”
You can also join locals and legends in celebrating California Surfing Day at various spectator events—some on Sept. 20 itself, and others in the days and weeks around it. They all honor the culture, connection, and community—and even surf-loving dogs—that the sport has brought to the West Coast.
Sept. 8–16: Rip Curl WSL Finals, San Clemente
See the World Surf League Finals at the famed Lower Trestles near San Clemente. The event features showdowns between the top five surfers from both the men’s and women’s regular-season standings. Look like a contender yourself by stocking up on WSL merch.
Sept. 9–10: Surf City Days, Huntington Beach
The Orange County town known as Surf City USA takes its surf culture seriously. The weekend of festivities includes a surf contest and Dory boat races out on the water, a volleyball tournament, and food and entertainment next to Huntington Beach Pier.
Sept. 10: Surf Dog Surf-a-Thon, Del Mar
Hang 10 with man’s best friend at Del Mar Dog Beach in San Diego County, where dozens of pups angle for top honors in their weight class. Judges will score their ability to ride the waves and stay on the board, adding extra points for flair—including costumes, tricks, and tandem rides. This year also includes a “rock stars and music legends” costume contest.
Sept. 16: A Great Day in the Stoke, Huntington Beach
After a groundbreaking debut in 2022, this Huntington Beach event returns to celebrate Black surfing, both its history and its future. Come for the surf contest, free lessons, board demos, and yoga on the beach. While meant to celebrate the Black community, the gathering welcomes all BIPOC communities, allies, and aspiring surfers.
Sept. 16: Surfing for Hope Memorial Paddle-Out, Avila Beach
A time-honored surf tradition, this paddle-out in San Luis Obispo County invites well-wishers to gather on the shore in Avila Beach for a remembrance ceremony before heading to sea. On the water, paddlers will form a circle with their boards and splash in tribute to those who have lost their battle with cancer.
Save the date for Dec. 4–10, too, when Surfing for Hope will host an event in Pismo Beach. The Surfing for Hope Longboard Classic is a World Surf League qualifying series featuring top male and female longboard athletes from North America and Hawaii.
Sept. 16–17: WSA Championship Tour Event, Ventura
This family-friendly Western Surfing Association event takes place at Surfer’s Point Beach in Ventura, known as “C Street” to locals who love the right-hand waves and long rides. The inclusive divisions range from mini-groms ages 6 and under to “super legends” over 60, with several heats for adaptive athletes of all ages.
Sept. 22–24: Nissan Super Girl Pro, Oceanside
Featuring more than 60 top professional female surfers, this annual Oceanside festival is equal parts competition and entertainment. It’s the largest women’s surfing event in the world, with head-to-head battles, an adaptive surfing exhibition, and a pro-am longboard competition taking place over the course of three days. In addition to a festival village with female-focused vendors, fitness classes, and women’s e-sports tournaments, the live entertainment lineup includes free concerts from big-name musical artists (as of presstime, this year’s concert lineup was still TBD).
Sept. 23: Capitola Beach Festival, Capitola
On pretty much any day in Santa Cruz County, you can see surfers out on the waves, whether it’s at Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz or at Pleasure Point in Capitola. This annual event features a paddleboard race and an evening boat parade, plus plenty of activities in the sand, such as a three-mile fun run and a beachside concert. While you’re in the area, check out Santa Cruz’s Surfing Day itinerary, which includes a stop at the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, where you can learn about the three Hawaiian princes who helped introduce California to surfing.
Sept. 23–24: City of Newport Beach Surf Championships, Newport Beach
Go to the area between 54th and 56th streets in Newport Beach to watch skilled shredders at this annual contest. The competition features recreational amateur divisions as well, but around here—the home of the legendary bodysurfing spot The Wedge—that’s still serious stuff.