Surfing is fully engrained into Golden State culture—so much so that in 2018 state legislators declared it the official state sport and designated Sept. 20 California Surfing Day.
For the truly devoted, however, one 24-hour window just ahead of the autumnal equinox isn’t nearly enough. Surfers tend to treat life as one big endless summer, and they are constantly on the lookout for the best places to experience their favorite sport.
To that end, we spoke with newbie surfer Phil Calvert and pro athletes Nique Miller and Cherif Fall to get their best advice on the breaks, bites, and beach hotels to experience on your next Southern California surfing vacation.
Where to Surf
With 840 miles of coastline, you’ll never run out of places to find the perfect wave. Our surfers focused on popular breaks around Southern California and found tons of great surf as they explored.
To explore all the North County San Diego breaks, Fall says “Carlsbad was the perfect location. I could sit on the balcony, look out to beautiful waves and see dolphins swimming.”
Calvert first learned how to surf in Huntington Beach and says he’d “recommend it to any first-time surfer. Everyone was friendly and motivated me along the way.” Miller recommends going early in the morning before the wind kicks in and using a shortboard, although “the north side of the pier seems to be a bit better for proper logging [longboarding].”
Calvert also took a private lesson on Torrance Beach and calls the city of Torrance a hidden gem. “I didn’t know anything about the city and when I got there, it was culture on top of culture mixed with good people,” he says.
In Santa Barbara, Miller suggests Mesa Lane, Leadbetter Beach for some fun logging waves. and El Capitán State Beach. Further south in Santa Monica, she recommends going out for dawn patrol when the wind is lighter and there are less people at the beach. “Also, just 15 minutes north, you can hit up Malibu to surf some perfect, dreamy longboard waves.”
Outside of surfing, there are plenty of things to do in California’s popular surf towns. “My favorite location, in terms of visually and the cuteness of the town, was Hermosa Beach,” Fall says. To stay on theme, Miller recommends the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum. “I loved seeing all the old pictures and cool artifacts they had,” she says. “It was very educational and made me appreciate how far surfing has come.”
Where to Stay
A great ocean view is a welcome hotel perk for any traveler, but for surfers it offers the added benefit of scoping out the waves. California boasts many surf-centric accommodations, ranging from oceanfront properties like the Sea Sprite Hotel in Hermosa Beach or Hotel Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica to full-on themed accommodations such as Surfhouse in Encinitas and Dream Inn in Santa Cruz.
In Huntington Beach, the surfers took advantage of the proximity and amenities (including surf racks and beach cruisers) at the Kimpton Shorebreak. “The Shorebreak was the perfect location for surfing Huntington Beach,” Fall says. “I was able to check the waves at the pier from my balcony and then run across the street and jump in. And with the surf shops right there, I was always able to grab a bar of wax.”
Miller enjoyed the sophisticated Hotel Californian, located in Santa Barbara’s lively Funk Zone neighborhood. “The decor was so unique and edgy while still keeping some of its Spanish influences,” she says. “It also had a super-delicious restaurant (Goat Tree) attached to the side.” While there, Miller also took advantage of the more relaxed water activities. “The boat ride with Santa Barbara Sailing Center was unreal. The captain was so nice and knowledgeable, and I learned a lot of history of the location. I also got to see sea lions and other cool sea creatures.”
Offering surfing lessons and a live surf cam on its website, the Mission Pacific Resort served as a great home base for Phil Calvert as he explored Oceanside’s waves and food scene. “The view from the Mission Pacific Hotel was great,” he says. “It was probably the best hotel I’ve stayed at in a while.”
What to Eat
Actual wave-riding is the top priority for any surfcation, but the post-waves food may be a close second. Some of the influencers’ standout meal experiences include:
• Baja Fish Tacos at Pure Taco in Carlsbad. “They have the best fish tacos for cheap—which are great even for a quick snack,” Fall says.
• Iced lavender or an activated charcoal latte at 602 Coffee House in Huntington Beach
• Chef Amado’s guacamole at Ola Mexican Kitchen and breakfast burritos at Sancho’s Tacos in Huntington Beach
• Ramen in Torrance—check out the city’s ramen trail map
• Locally sourced Italian dishes at Colapasta Restaurant in Santa Monica. “This was the best food of the whole trip and Chef Stefano prepared all the meals himself and served them directly to us,” Miller says. “The food was on another level, and was the best Italian food I have ever eaten. He made me feel like I was a guest at his house and he was preparing me a home-cooked meal.”
• Acai bowls at Dogtown Coffee in Santa Monica
• Vegan-friendly tacos at Margo’s in Santa Monica. “I fell in love with the jackfruit pineapple tacos!” Miller says. “It was so nice to grab a light but filling meal in between surfs.”
For more surf-themed vacation ideas, check out these unique vacations, go on a coastal road trip, or pay a visit to more of California’s top surfing destinations.