Set foot in any California surf town and you're pretty much guaranteed to catch a glimpse of the laid-back, beachy lifestyle. Watch the tanned faces of surfers as they carry their boards into the ocean, or while they enjoy a post-surf fish taco or açaí bowl by the beach and you'll see—the stoke level here is high. To many, this carefree, aspirational life is the epitome of the California dream.
No other activity better represents the Golden State, which is why in 2018 surfing was recognized as the official sport of California.
“I think it's fantastic,” says Izzy Tihanyi, founder of San Diego–based Surf Diva Surf School. “This is something that we've been working toward for a long time in terms of getting surfing to have more legitimacy, more recognition. To us, as surfers, we can't think of a better sport to represent California.”
In conjunction with surfing being named the state’s official sport, September 20 is now California Surfing Day. There are many ways to celebrate this new annual holiday, from attending the weekend group surf at Oceanside’s “Stop. Drop. Surf O’side” event to learning how to surf to embarking on a surfing road trip.
“I love surfing in California because of the diversity of our coastline—we have everything from Southern California's arid sea bluffs to Northern California's big wave spots beneath cypress trees and redwoods,” says California-based surfer Anna Ehrgott. “We have popular world-class waves and miles of hiking trails to waves that don't have road access.”
To get a clear sense of California’s vibrant surfing culture, visit one of these six meccas known for their distinctive vibes. And if you’re looking for the best places to catch a wave (or to watch experienced surfers do their thing), consider a trip to one of these 11 surfing hot spots.
Even though September 20 is the official day to celebrate California’s popular sport, surfing is a year-round phenomenon. Up and down the coast, you’ll discover beach towns that are home to countless cool surf shops and iconic brands, from Victoria Skim Boards in Laguna Beach to the pioneering O'Neill in Santa Cruz. And even in the middle of the Central Valley, California’s agricultural hub, surfing has a strong presence—the WSL Surf Ranch, home to Kelly Slater Wave Co.’s “perfect” wave, hosts professional surfing events on a property 40 miles south of Fresno. If you're looking for something a little different, explore one of these unique surfing vacations.
For even more surf inspiration, check out these two Southern California surfers who build boards out of mushrooms in San Clemente, or watch Olympic skier Jonny Moseley try skiing, wakeboarding, and surfing in one day.