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Top Surfing Spots
Courtesy of Visit Dana Point

Top Surfing Spots

From the balmy shores of San Diego to the chilly waters of Northern California, the Golden State’s coastline offers a wide and wonderful variety of waves and surf culture. Take this road trip to experience California’s iconic beaches, soak up the scene, and observe some of the world’s best surfers.

Start:Windansea Beach, La Jolla
End:Mavericks, Half Moon Bay
4 - 7Days,14Stops,616Miles
Windansea Beach, La Jolla
Sburel/Getty Images
Swami’s State Beach, Encinitas
Marcel Fuentes/Getty Images
Trestles (San Onofre State Beach), San Clemente
Jackson Hall/Shutterstock
Dana Point
Courtesy of Visit Dana Point
The Wedge, Newport Beach
Trace Rouda/Getty Images
Huntington Beach Pier, Huntington Beach
Moment/Getty Images
Venice
Ludhi85/Getty Images
Surfrider Beach, Malibu
Benedek/Getty Images
Rincon Point, Carpinteria
Courtesy of Eliot Crowley/Rincon Designs Surf Shop
Morro Bay
Michael Mike L. Baird/Getty Images
Pismo Beach Pier, Pismo Beach
Harri Jarvelainen/Getty Images
Asilomar State Beach, Pacific Grove
Chris Axe/Getty Images
Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz
Vsoldatenko/Getty Images
Mavericks, Half Moon Bay
Jeremy Borkat/Getty Images
Stop 1

Windansea Beach, La Jolla

6600 Neptune Pl, La Jolla

This classic La Jolla reef break solidified its place in wave history in 1937, when surfing pioneer Woody Brown first rode here. Since then, the famed wave has become one of the most well-known in San Diego County, and even appeared in Andy Warhol’s 1967 film, San Diego Surf. Windansea’s wave can be sizable (ranging from 2–10 feet) and conditions tend to be unpredictable. Because of its difficulty—along with its reputation for being a competitive atmosphere—it best suits skilled surfers. Beginners may feel more comfortable at the calmer La Jolla Shores.

Stop 2

Swami’s State Beach, Encinitas

1298 S Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas

Part of Swami’s State Marine Conservation Area, this classic right point break in Encinitas (honored as one of the world’s top 20 surf towns by National Geographic) gets its name from the golden, lotus-shaped towers of the Self-Realization Fellowship high on the bluffs. Swami’s is most suitable for intermediate skill levels and up. The fellowship grounds provide a nice perspective on the waves corduroying the ocean below, plus the gardens are positively gorgeous. Cruise through town on Highway 101 to get a taste of this surf-centric neighborhood—you’ll find surf shops, cafés, yoga studios, and record stores.

Stop 3

Trestles (San Onofre State Beach), San Clemente

Old Pacific Highway, San Clemente

A series of point breaks named for the railroad bridge over San Mateo Creek, Trestles proves that when it comes to waves, size isn’t everything. To get here you have to hike from the San Onofre State Beach parking lot, and you’ll be glad you did. The waves are some of the most gorgeous you’ll find anywhere—world-class waves that some have claimed are the mainland’s best. Newbies should stay on shore and learn by observing the advanced surfers, who are typically found at Lower Trestles, or look for more gentle stretches along the state beach closer to Upper Trestles.

Stop 5

The Wedge, Newport Beach

2172 E Oceanfront, Newport Beach

The Wedge should have been named “The Beast.” After all, Newport Beach’s world-famous bodysurfing and bodyboarding wave is an absolute animal. It forms during south swells when waves refract off the rock jetty, then slam into a second incoming wave, resulting in 30-foot-high mutant waves best observed from the safety of shore. Happily, though, any surfer (or bodysurfer) has plenty of other options along Newport Beach’s eight-plus miles of coastline. Despite its world-class credentials, this Orange County town offers a rather a mellow, welcoming vibe. Indeed, Echo Beach—a 2009 documentary about Newport Beach’s 1980s surf culture—can often be seen playing in a loop at surfer grub joints like TK Burgers (as in “The Kind”), across from the Newport Pier; you can watch it while enjoying a classic traditional SoCal charbroiled burger. If you need a lesson first, check out local spots like Endless Sun Surf SchoolNewport Beach Surfing Lessons, or Newport Surf Camp. And certainly, you’ll need some gear. A few blocks north of the pier, visit The Frog House, Newport’s quintessential surf shop, which is chock-a-block with used surfboards, body boards, wetsuits, and surfing DVDs.

Stop 6

Huntington Beach Pier, Huntington Beach

1 Main St, Huntington Beach

No surfing road trip would be complete without a stop in Surf City USA. The pier at Huntington State Beach is perhaps Southern California’s holiest surf shrine thanks to a pedigree that dates back a century to legends Duke Kahanamoku and George Freeth. Check out the memorabilia and the Guinness World Records’ largest surfboard at the International Surfing Museum. As the site of the Vans US Open of Surfing, Huntington Beach remains a hub for American surfing. Depending on the day, even beginners can surf where such champions as Andy Irons and Kelly Slater triumphed. On the east side of Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll find a pair of surfing superstores: Jack’s Surfboards (around since 1957) and Huntington Surf & Sport.

SPOTLIGHT

Venice

1800 Ocean Front Walk, Venice

There’s a rebellious strain to surf culture, and it’s on display here. Stroll the eclectic Venice Beach boardwalk to catch a glimpse of the free-spirited street performers and quirky locals. While you people-watch, grab a fresh-pressed juice or taco, or head straight for boho-chic Abbot Kinney Boulevard to explore one of L.A.’s best shopping districts (don’t miss a stop at Mollusk Surf Shop, a California institution).

Stop 8

Surfrider Beach, Malibu

23050 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu

If you need evidence of Surfrider Beach’s significance, consider the fact that this right cobblestone point break at Malibu Lagoon State Beach was honored as the first World Surfing Reserve by the Save the Waves Coalition. It’s no wonder. The waves are virtually perfect, the likes of Miki (Da Cat) Dora surfed here, and Surfrider played a pivotal role as surfing moved into the cultural mainstream (thank you, Gidget). Surfrider isn’t for beginners—newbies should watch from the beach—but this is a wave to aspire to.

Stop 9

Rincon Point, Carpinteria

172 Rincon Point Rd, Carpinteria

Dubbed the “Queen of the Coast” and described by surf historian Matt Warshaw as “America’s gold-standard pointbreak,” Rincon straddles the border of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, which are both filled with surf-loving communities. The waves are so good during winter swells that Surfline.com concluded, “Some spots serve as undeniable proof that our Creator was a surfer.” If you’re driving on U.S. 101 and see a crowded line-up, pull off to watch the action (which is the best way to experience this break as a beginner). And in Carpinteria, Rincon Designs (659 Linden Ave.; 805-684-2413) is worth a stop for its branded clothing and surfboards crafted by master shaper Matt Moore.

SPOTLIGHT

Asilomar State Beach, Pacific Grove

Sunset Dr, Pacific Grove

While ephemeral Ghost Tree off Pebble Beach is Monterey County’s biggest and most notorious wave, Asilomar State Beach offers a much safer and consistent option for mere mortals. Asilomar is usually pretty mellow but it can get pumping on occasion, so check conditions. And when you need to warm up and refuel, just head over to Phoebe’s Café at the Asilomar Conference Grounds for a cup of coffee.

Stop 13

Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz

700 W Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz

The cliffs overlooking this Santa Cruz spot, named for the steam boats that once chugged along the shoreline, form a natural amphitheater for catching all the action on the four breaks down below. Unless you have some serious skills you might want to stick to watching from the cliffs, where the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum commemorates local surf history. (The sport debuted on the U.S. mainland in Santa Cruz in 1885, when three Hawaiian princes rode the local waves on redwood boards.) Try a lesson with Surf School Santa Cruz, which runs group and private sessions based at the more mellow Pleasure Point or Cowell’s Beach.

Stop 14

Mavericks, Half Moon Bay

Pillar Point, Princeton-by-the-Sea, Half Moon Bay

Mavericks in Half Moon Bay may be the most famous wave anywhere on the mainland, and it comes by its renown honestly. Celebrated in books, documentaries, and the feature film Chasing Mavericks, waves here can rise to 80-foot faces when conditions are right. (In other words, do not attempt to surf here). Big wave icon Jeff Clark pioneered Mavericks (which was named for his dog) and you’ll find hoodies and other cool gear at his Mavericks Surf Company.

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Road Trip Snapshot

Learn more about the amazing locations featured in this road trip. Ready to plan your trip? Print the itinerary or map your adventure to get started.

Stop 1Windansea Beach, La Jolla
6600 Neptune Pl, La Jolla
Stop 2Swami’s State Beach, Encinitas
1298 S Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas
Stop 3Trestles (San Onofre State Beach), San Clemente
Old Pacific Highway, San Clemente
Stop 5The Wedge, Newport Beach
2172 E Oceanfront, Newport Beach
Stop 6Huntington Beach Pier, Huntington Beach
1 Main St, Huntington Beach
SPOTLIGHTVenice
1800 Ocean Front Walk, Venice
Stop 8Surfrider Beach, Malibu
23050 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu
Stop 9Rincon Point, Carpinteria
172 Rincon Point Rd, Carpinteria
SPOTLIGHTMorro Bay
362 Quintana Rd, Morro Bay
Stop 11Pismo Beach Pier, Pismo Beach
100 Pomeroy Ave, Pismo Beach
SPOTLIGHTAsilomar State Beach, Pacific Grove
Sunset Dr, Pacific Grove
Stop 13Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz
700 W Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz
Stop 14Mavericks, Half Moon Bay
Pillar Point, Princeton-by-the-Sea, Half Moon Bay

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