Surfing in California || A Surf Travel Guide 

In the surfing world, few places pack such a high concentration of world-class and world-famous surf spots into a single coastline. From Trestles to Rincon, Blacks to Mavericks, California is undoubtedly one of the world’s best surf destinations. Here’s everything you need to know for surfing in California. 

Overview

Table of Contents

Best Time of Year 

California is unique in that it has two distinct surf destinations. In the northern hemisphere summer (April – October), south swells light up the south swell breaks. This is when spots like the The Wedge, Trestles, and Malibu turn on. In the winter (October-April), the northern hemisphere breaks turn on. That’s places like Rincon, Steamer Lane, Ventura, and Mavericks, if that’s your thing. 

San Clemente (California Surf)

Getting There 

Getting to California is easy. The largest and most used airport is LAX, which has frequent flights from all over the world. Check out Skyscanner or Kayak for the best prices. Alternatively, fly into San Diego or San Francisco. If you’re coming from Mexico, use the cross-border express for a quick and easy way into the United States. 

Getting Around

By Plane 

If you’re planning on visiting multiple cities/surf zones, flying can be a quick and easy way to get around in California. Distances are vast, so if you’re vehicle-less, fly between the major cities. There are cheap multi-daily routes between LA and San Francisco. 

By Car

Travelling California by car is by far the best way to enjoy a surf trip to California. You can rent cars for around $30-40 per day from LAX. With a car, you’ll have the freedom to travel when and where you want. Check out Discover Cars for the best rates, it’s my go-to website for car hire. 

By Public Transport 

Surprisingly, there is a lack of affordable and accessible public transport in California, especially ones that serve the main surf towns. You can try the Amtrack, although I’m not sure how accommodating they are with surfboards, or take the Greyhound bus between major cities. 

Huntington Beach (California Surf Spot)

United States Travel Information 

Flight Times 

London – LAX: 11h 15m 

Sydney – LAX: 13h 45m

New York – LAX: 06h 00m 

Visas 

All visitors to the United States need an Esta Visa to enter the country. 

Language 

English. 

Currency 

USD 

Plug Sockets 

US Plugs. 

Best Surf Destinations 

San Deigo 

San Deigo is an epic city to be a surfer, with a high density of epic surf breaks. Spots like Encinitas, Cardiff Reef, Swamis and Blacks Beach are some of the most famous, and there are perhaps another dozen spots in the area. San Deigo combines a variety of reefs, points and beachies, all of which are met with consistent Pacific swell all year long. A wicked place to kick off a Califonia road trip! 

San Clemente

San Clemente is one of the world’s best surf towns. It is very much the centre of the global surfing industry and is now the site of the WSL Finals at Trestles. With spots like T-Street offering the daily dose of wedgy beach break peaks, it is a place that breeds good surfing. San Clemente also holds the jewel in the crown of surfing in California. Trestles. 

This world-class cobblestone a-frame is the perfect high-performance playground that has sculpted the surfing of many top-level surfers including Kolohe Andino and the Colopinto brothers. However, it’s also one of the world’s most crowded surf spots. Expect thick crowds, consistency and some of the most enjoyably playful waves on Earth. The shapers arent too shabby around here either! 

Los Angeles 

Los Angeles is one of the best surfing cities in the world. With spots such as El Porto, Huntington Beach and Newport, in proximity to the sprawling metropolis, there are always waves within a short drive from downtown Los Angeles. Start by hitting the consistent pier-defined peaks of Huntington, or give The Wedge a crack on a solid south swell. Then if you’ve got enough hustle left in you, head out to take on the crowds of Malibu or San Clemente.  

Ventura

In winter, Ventura is one of the best surfing destinations in California, the famous right points here are world-class between October and April. It’s no surprise such points have groomed the surfing of Dane Reynolds and many of California’s top surfing talent over the years. 

Santa Barbara 

Another California surfing hotspot, Santa Barbara is the home of the famous Channel Islands surfboards and the queen of the coast, Rincon. Rincon is one of the most pristinely shaped pointbreaks on the planet on its day–a long and luscious right-hand hat curls and bends beautifully along a stretch of cobbles. Just don’t expect to ride a wave to yourself. 

Santa Cruz 

Santa Cruz is one of the core surf towns in California, famous for Steamer Lane, a fun right point with the iconic cliff jump entry point and its proximity to Mavericks. Expect cold water, consistent large swells and some old-school localism. 

San Francisco 

Heading even further north, you reach San Francisco. Ocean Beach is the most famous break here, a wide-open, exposed stretch of sand that almost always has waves. Expect cold water, thick rubber, big waves and sharks. Or, go for a novelty surf at Fort Point, with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge backdrop. 

T-Street (Surfing in California)

Where to Stay?

House of Trestles

It’s tricky to find affordable accommodation in California, it’s not exactly the cheapest surf destination, but there are a handful around. One such is The House of Trestles in San Clemente. I stayed here during my 2022 trip to California and while it’s nothing flashy, you can find a dorm room here for around $40 per night. Check it out here. 

Tips for Surfing in California 

Crowds 

As you’d expect for such a populated stretch of coast, where surfing isn’t so much a sport as a way of life, it’s crowded everywhere in California. Spots like Trestles and Rincon have up to 100 surfers in the water on a good day, and even when the waves are bad, you’ll need to get your hustle on. 

Localism 

Like anywhere, there is localism in California. Respect the locals wherever you go and while the most crowded spots can seem like a free-for-all, there is still somewhat of a hierarchy with top locals dominating at the better breaks. At lesser-known spots, be careful with giving locals their waves and putting such spots on social media. 

General Surf Information 

Water Temperatures 

Southern California 

  • Summer: 3-2mm, or short arm 
  • Winter: 4-3mm (maybe boots) 

Northern California 

  • Summer:  4.3mm 
  • Winter: 4.3mm, boots and hood 

Wax 

Cool water wax all year round. 

Hazards 

Crowds, Rocks, Sharks, Traffic, Petty crime

California Surf Spot Malibu

California Surf Trip Cost Breakdown

Accommodation: House of Trestles $40 per night ($280 per week)

Rental Car (1 x Week): $280 per week 

Tank of fuel: $80

Groceries: $100 per week 

Total = $740usd 

Final Words 

There’s no doubt that California is a world-class surfing destination with waves for all abilities, all years and such availability of the best surf equipment on earth. With the expectation of Australia, few places on Earth combine “liveability” and great waves as well as California. For more information on surfing in California, flick me a question in the comments, and stay tuned for more California surfing content. 

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