With year-round near-perfect climate, 70 miles of beautiful coastline and many awesome surf spots, San Diego offers surf enthusiasts the true Southern California dream.
Add a rich surf culture and history, numerous surf schools and camps, cool hotels with unique surfing amenities and plenty of shops to find the latest in surf apparel, and visitors have all the ingredients for a great surfing vacation.
Whether you’re a beginner wanting to surf for the first time or an experienced wave-shredder eager to advance to the next level, San Diego offers something for everyone.
HOT SURFING SPOTS
Opportunities to ride the waves are abundant up and down San Diego’s 33 public beaches, from Oceanside to Imperial Beach. Following are some of the most popular San Diego County surf spots, located from north to south.
Located at the northern tip of San Diego County, San Onofre State Beach is a world-renown surfing location. Its famous surf spot, Trestles, is a bit sparse and a little challenging to access, but it is well worth the trek ─ it is the surf spot for expert surfers from near and far. The waves at Trestles can be epic, but the slow, easy rollers just down the coast at Old Man’s are perfect for learners and longboard veterans. Trails, the collective name for the three miles of beach to the south, offers surf for the beginner to the intermediate.
Located within a 45-minute drive of downtown San Diego, Oceanside has three miles of gentle beach breaks but is best known for the jetties on either side of its harbor entrance. The ample sands of Pier View North and Pier View South are popular surfing spots for the novice to the intermediate surfer. Buccaneer Beach, located a couple miles south of the pier, is a popular spot for beginner surfers to practice their skills.
Set along Carlsbad State Beach are popular surf spots for the beginner to the intermediate surfer including Tamarack to the north, located near its namesake street; Warm Water Jetty, identified by its proximity to the large electric power plant, and Terramar, which lies close to a lagoon. The southernmost end of South Carlsbad State Beach (better known as Ponto) has more well-defined peaks for surfing than the faster-closing beach breaks on the main stretch.
Encinitas was made famous by the Beach Boys’ hit song “Surfin’ USA.” Encinitas’ Swami’s Beach is one of San Diego County’s prime surf spots where big waves break off the narrow, cobblestone-strewn beach challenging experienced surfers. Stone Steps Beach and Beacon’s Beach, two more popular surf spots, are accessible by staircases that lead from the cliffs to the beach. From the cliffs, spectators have great views of daredevil surfers below and the surrounding area’s magnificent scenery.
A vibrant stretch of beach in North County, Cardiff is renowned for wide open sandy beaches, gorgeous cliffs and great surfing. Cardiff starts at the river mouth, flanked by San Elijo State Beach and Cardiff State Beach, and extends north to Swami’s Point in Encinitas. Cardiff State Beach is a great place for beginners to practice catching a wave while more experienced surfers can be found at Pipes, a fun peaky surf break north of the campground.
Solana Beach’s main surf spots from north to south are great for all surfers and include Seaside, a good surf spot with an outer reef called Table Tops that breaks on big southwest swells; Fletcher Cove, with left and right beach breaks, and Seascape Beach, a secluded, white sandy beach at the south end of Solana Beach, located on the north side of the San Dieguito River mouth.
La Jolla is known for its beautiful scenery and local surf culture dating back to the 1940s. To the north, Black’s Beach offers some of the best surf in the region for the advanced surfer, whereas La Jolla Shores to the south is an excellent place for beginners to learn the sport. Experienced surfers head to Windansea Beach, made famous by Tom Wolfe’s story “The Pump House Gang,” where they can enjoy hard surf breaks created by underwater reefs common in the area.
For those who want to try surfing for the first time, the two-mile stretch along Pacific Beach and Mission Beach offers surf action year-round, from northwest and southwest swells to changing wave shapes with the shifting sandbars. North Pacific Beach offers popular surf locations like Tourmaline and Crystal Pier.
Adjacent to Mission Beach is Belmont Park, featuring the Wave House, home to San Diego’s only simulated surfing platforms with a non-stop wave. Visitors can chose either the FlowRider platform, which simulates an entry-level wave, or the FlowBarrel platform, which offers a more challenging tubing/barreling wave. Pacific and Mission beaches are also popular for a pedestrian boardwalk that runs along the sand. The area is a place to “be seen” by a youthful crowd who frequent the well-known spot and spend endless days sunbathing, in-line skating, jogging and enjoying the cool Southern California vibe.
Ocean Beach, located on the Point Loma peninsula, is an eclectic beach community known for its friendly atmosphere and a dog beach where canine companions can roam freely. Favorite surf spots for surfers of all skill levels include North Jetty, located at the north end of the beach; Avalanche Jetty, located at the beach’s center; and the north and south side of the Ocean Beach Pier.
Moving further south on the Point Loma Peninsula, Sunset Cliffs is recognized more for its surfing and scenery than its beaches. The jagged cliffs and rocky bottom make getting to the water a challenge, and the area attracts only the most daring surfers. Main surfing spots include Luscomb’s, a surf break in the middle of a small bay with a rock spire near the shore; Garbage Reef; AB’s, and New Break. Hardcore surfers head all the way to the tip of the peninsula to Dolphin Tanks, the winter break, and Ralph’s, the summer break, which are accessible only by boat.
Coronado has the widest expanse of sand of any beach in San Diego County; its coastline faces due south and the swells welcome the novice to intermediate surfer. Noted surfing spots include North Beach and Outlet.
Located south of Coronado, Silver Strand State Beach is a narrow, sandy strip of beach that runs along a seven-mile isthmus connecting Coronado and Imperial Beach. The Strand offers a gently sloping beach break with fun and forgiving surf for beginners.
Imperial Beach features some of the best sand in the nation and its sandy ocean floor, along with right and left shore breaks, makes Imperial Beach a surf locale for surfers of all skill levels.
LEARNING TO CATCH A WAVE
Although challenging at times, learning to surf is still plenty of fun, and there are plenty of good, easy places in San Diego to give it a try. For those who want to learn from experts, San Diego offers a variety of local schools and surf camps that offer group and private lessons daily.
Located on La Jolla Shores, Surf Diva is the world’s premier women’s surf school that skews heavily female with a “girl power” attitude and bevy of expert surf instructors. The surf school is open year-round and offers surfing classes for men, women, boys and girls and overnight camps for teens. surfdiva.com
Ocean Experience in Ocean Beach offers three-hour surf lessons year-round for students of all ages. Skills covered include water safety, balance training, paddling progression, the “pop up” and catching waves. oceanexperience.net
Pacific Surf School in Mission Beach boasts experienced, knowledgeable instructors under the guidance of surf veterans and a professional surfing circuit. Lessons take place in the gentle surf breaks off Mission Beach. pacificsurf.org
Located at Oceanside Harbor, San Diego Surfing Academy offers expert surf instruction in the fundamentals of surfing like paddling, board handling, wave selection and board riding. sandiegodurfingacademy.com
SHOPPING FOR THE SURFING LIFESTYLE
If you’re going to surf, or just be a spectator, you’ll want to dress the part with the proper apparel. Sporting a bathing suit, t-shirt, board shorts or sandals with a brand name like Hurley, Burton, Roxy, Reef, O’Neill, Quiksilver or Billabong will certainly help you fit into the local surf scene. Of course, you’ll also need to add a sweet surf board, leash and wet suit, depending on the time of year. Surf shops line San Diego’s coast and offer equipment rentals and tons of surfing essentials for purchase.
Located in La Jolla, the Surf Diva Surf Boutique is full of the latest in surfer girl fashions, including Surf Diva’s own line of swim and active wear that it designs, markets and sells worldwide. Surf Diva surfboards are also sold globally under the Surftech license, and the fiberglass surfboards are recognized as the most beautifully crafted boards for women in the world.
South Coast Surf Shop, located a half-block from the Ocean Beach Pier, has been a favorite shopping spot for surfers for over 26 years. South Coast offers the latest in surf-inspired clothing and accessories and the best in surfboards and wet suits. Not your average surf shop, South Coast also has on-site surfboard shapers available to assist customers.
Hansen’s in Encinitas has been serving the surf community for 45 years. From surfboards and wetsuits to apparel and accessories, and with over 6,000 sandals and 200 sunglass styles in stock, Hansen’s offers a great selection of the latest surf styles and equipment.
Whether you’re new to surfing or a lifelong pro, a custom surfboard brings out the best in your surfing ability; the best way to buy a surfboard is to custom order one just like the pros.
TNT Surf Shop in Imperial Beach has been at the forefront of the surfboard manufacturing industry since 1988. One of San Diego’s largest surfboard manufacturers, TNT’s on-site factory is dedicated to delivering customers the finest quality high performance surfboards available on the market. The boards are made at the facility allowing customers to see first-hand the production that goes into their order. tntsurf.com
At Bessel Surfboards in La Jolla, surfers don’t have to be a pro to get awesome treatment. Guests can shop for top-of-the line, hand-made surfboards, or have one custom created by surfer and master craftsman, Tim Bessel. Customers can even watch and hang out as Bessel hand-shapes their surfboard. bessellsurf.com
SAN DIEGO’S SURF HISTORY AND EVENTS
San Diego’s surf culture dates back to 1916 when the first surf exhibition was held at the Del Mar Pier. Since then, the region has been home to some of the world’s greatest surfing legends and board designers whose colorful stories are captured in area museums.
The California Surf Museum in Oceanside honors the legends of surfing history with rotating exhibits and a wide collection of vintage boards and surf memorabilia. The museum’s gift shop offers a nice selection of souvenir apparel and books and DVDs on surfing, or with a surfing theme. The museum is free the first Tuesday of the month. Regular admission costs $5 for adults and $3 for children. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, with the exception of major holidays.
The Surfing in San Diego exhibit at the San Diego Hall of Champions in Balboa Park looks at surfing from a historical viewpoint, detailing the surfers and board innovators who shaped the local surf culture. The display features a chronological pictorial history of San Diego surfers and their favorite local surf spots, as well as boards from local surfboard innovators. Other highlights include a detailed look at The Windansea Surf Club and their impact on local surf culture and the entire world of surfing beginning in the early 60’s.
With several local icons drawing the spotlight to San Diego’s surfing scene like Carlsbad’s Rob Machado, who is ranked among the top surfers in the country, and Del Mar’s Joel Tudor, who is widely considered one of the nation’s best longboarders, it is no surprise that surfer competitions are popular events in San Diego.
Many of the world’s top surfers, aged 20 years and under, convene for the Oakley Pro Junior, a stop on the Association of Surf Professionals (ASP) Junior surf circuit, held every spring at Trestles in San Onofre. Spectators can watch the amazing feats of these young surfers as they compete for championship titles and prize money.
Spectators and surfing fans can also view some of the world’s top professional surfers every September at Trestles in San Onofre, as they vie for big prize money and the highly coveted title of winning the Boost Mobile Pro presented by Hurley. One of ten stops on the Association of Surf Professionals (ASP) World Tour, which is the most sought after professional circuit in competitive surfing, the tournament draws top surfers and their followers from around the world.
Petco, a San Diego company, invites dogs of all sizes to “hang twenty” during their annual Unleashed Surf Dog Competition held each summer at Imperial Beach. This original surfing competition for man’s best friend features three heats, prizes and even a canine fashion show. All proceeds from the event are donated to charity.
WHERE TO STAY FOR THE PERFECT SURF VACATION
While San Diego offers an abundance of great accommodations, there are a number of properties that go all out for the surfing visitor. Whether you plan to ride the waves or take in the scene from the beach, a stay at one of the following hotels can provide the perfect surf holiday.
Tower23, a beachfront boutique hotel located on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach, offers seasonal hotel packages and specials for guests. Past packages have included a three night stay in a Surf pad with full ocean views, surf lessons for two, complimentary breakfast, valet parking, and more.
Situated on a private 15-acre peninsula surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and Coronado Bay, Loews Coronado Bay Resort & Spa offers the perfect blend of sun and surf. Taking full advantage of the resort’s direct access to the Silver Strand State Beach, the Coronado Surf Academy is available on-site for surfing and stand up paddle lessons.
The landmark Hotel del Coronado is located on a family-friendly white sand beach where professional staff offers surfing lessons year-round. During the summer months (June 20-September 3), children aged 8 –12 can immerse themselves in a four-hour surf camp; lunch and a surf shirt souvenir are included, and participants are guaranteed to get up on the waves!
For more information on surfing in San Diego, visit www.sandiego.org/surfing.
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