As one of the world’s major surfing centers, California is home to countless cool surf shops up and down the coast. Walk into any one of them and you should expect to smell surf wax and maybe a whiff of neoprene from the wetsuit room; your steps might crunch with sand underfoot that’s been tracked in from a beach so close that you can almost hear the ocean. And of course, there should be plenty of local surfers checking out boards and talking waves.
Even if you’re unlikely to take on Mavericks, many of these surf shops have a little something for fans of surfing culture—be it swim-friendly board shorts, T-shirts, or a pair of classic Vans.
Read on to explore some of California’s classic surf shops, listed south to north.
Hansen Surfboards, Encinitas
Hansen Surfboards dates back to 1961, when it was started by South Dakota native Don Hansen, who first shaped surfboards in a shack on Oahu’s North Shore. Hansen moved to Encinitas in the 1970s, and Hansen Surfboards has grown into a 20,000-square-foot store—the largest surf shop in San Diego County—across from the break at Swami’s.
Browse the store's collection of 500 boards, including many Hansen models, as well as an assortment from such leading companies as Santa Barbara–based Channel Islands Surfboards. Even if you’ve never caught a wave, you’ll find plenty of great Hansen-branded clothing, including T-shirts featuring the company’s original logo.
Huntington Beach Surf Shops
Since the 1956 opening of Gordie Surfboards beneath the city’s landmark pier, Huntington Beach (nicknamed “Surf City USA") has been home to a remarkable 47 surf shops, as well as the headquarters for both Quiksilver and Roxy. Indeed, surfing’s equivalent of Times Square or Hollywood and Vine might be the intersection of Huntington Beach’s Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway. On one corner is Jack’s Surfboards, a surfing palace that began as a modest shop in 1957. Outside, you can pay tribute to surfing greats memorialized in a slew of granite monuments at the Surfing Walk of Fame.
Rincon Designs Surf Shop, Carpinteria
Rincon Designs Surf Shop owner and Carpinteria native Matt Moore has been a board shaper since he was a kid, and he opened his shop in 1980. The shop now occupies two storefronts in the heart of this Santa Barbara County town—one side painted a bright turquoise, with a wooden longboard next to the entrance, and the other side a Western-style facade made of planks and cobblestones. About four miles down the coast from Rincon Designs is the celebrated point wave that inspired this company’s name. Dubbed “the Queen of the Coast,” Rincon has also been called Southern California’s finest wave and “America’s gold standard pointbreak.”
E.T. Surf, Hermosa Beach
Founded in 1972 by Eddie Talbot, this Aviation Boulevard shop, a bit inland from the beach, is quite literally packed to its wooden rafters with pretty much anything surfers and non-surfers will need. Time Out Los Angeles described the shop as “two stories of controlled chaos,” but a friendly, attitude-free staff will guide you through the labyrinth. There are endless flip-flops, sneakers, board shorts, and other beach goods. But what really sets the store apart is what it offers those who ride: Skateboard decks line the walls in one section, while surfers can climb past vintage pictures on a veritable stairway to heaven to the board room of their dreams.
O’Neill Surf Shops, Santa Cruz
Home to Steamer Lane, one of the best spots in California to watch surfers, the classic beach town of Santa Cruz is also home to three O’Neill Surf Shops, founded by the late California surfing legend and wetsuit innovator Jack O’Neill. You can’t get more “core,” to put it in surfer lingo, than O’Neill, who opened his first shop here in 1959. Now the company operates other locations near the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, in downtown, and on 41st Avenue in Capitola. Shop at any of them—the selection for surfers and non-surfers alike is huge—and you’ll catch a bit of surfing history. The Capitola store even displays O’Neill’s original wetsuit top.
Mollusk Surf Shop, San Francisco
As proof of San Francisco’s depth of culture, the city can even boast of having serious surf street cred. Mollusk Surf Shop serves as a bit of a hangout for the San Francisco surfing community, and, of course, sells surfing gear—everything from longboards to wetsuits to vintage-style board shorts sewn right in San Francisco. Indeed, Mollusk isn’t only about the sport of surfing, but also about the art of surfing: The shop has books, a gallery space for art shows, and live music events (don’t miss the second-floor space that looks like a weird wooden submarine). The shop has also expanded into Southern California, with locations in Silver Lake and Venice Beach.