Best Surfing Spots in California
We wish they all Could be California Surfs!
Be it in movies, songs, or TV shows, surfing is as synonymous with California as apple pie is with America – and for good reason! Half of all major surfing competitions in the United States are held in California, which speaks to the number of great surfing locations and the quality of the waves. Indeed, California is perhaps the place where surfing first began its road to global appeal. Though Hawaiian surfers had intrigued explorer and cartographer Captain James Cook in the late 1700s, we need to travel forward in time to the early 1900s in…you guessed it, California, to really see the birth of global surfing culture.
It was around this time that Henry Huntington (keep this name in mind for later) hired George Freeth to begin performing surfing demonstrations to get the local population in Huntington Beach interested in surfing. A few years later, Huntington invited Hawaiian native, Duke Kahanamoku, to demonstrate his amazing skills on a surfboard, which is what really caused surfing to ride an entirely new wave of popularity. In 1912, surfing became highly popular in Southern California, with its eventual expansion to Sydney, Australia, in 1914.
With our little paddle through Californian surfing history complete, let’s take a look at some of the best places you can catch a wave in America’s Golden State!
We told you to keep the name Henry Huntington in mind because it was the very same man who popularized surfing in Southern California that this famous beach town is named after. Now known as the official surf city in the USA, Huntington Beach is renowned for its 10-mile stretch of paradisiacal surf-centric beaches.
Huntington Beach is famous for producing waves even when other surf areas have flat waters. This geographical marvel seems to have been designed specifically with surfing in mind, and the summer months see plenty of surfers of all levels flock in to town to try their luck against the waves. However, the more seasoned veterans often wait until winter to visit Huntington Beach as this is when the summer crowd thins out and the waves get larger.
How can we sum up Huntington Beach perfectly? With a song lyric from Jan and Dean’s 1963 hit Surf City, “They’re either out surfing, or they got a party going.”
Located just 45-minutes away from Los Angeles, Malibu is the Californian surfing destination for people who want to escape city life and just chillax. If you’re looking for a surfing trip that combines exquisite white sand beaches, super chill vibes, and even a few possible celebrity encounters, Malibu is the place for you!
With a plethora of stunning surfing spots like Topanga Beach, Malibu Lagoon State Beach (Surfrider Beach), County Line, Zuma beach, and plenty more, there’s a beach in Malibu to cater to all kinds of surfers. Almost all of Malibu’s beaches offer stunning scenery to complement the clear waters and perfect waves. Indeed, with Taponga Beach being located right next to the iconic Pacific Coast Highway, Surfrider Beach being dedicated as the first-ever World Surfing Reserve, County Line featuring in famous Beach Boy lyrics and Zuma Beach offering some of California’s most dramatic beach breaks, surfers in Malibu will be totally spoiled for choice!
The Wedge, Newport Beach
The wedge is less flashy than the last two entries on our journey through California’s most epic surfing spots, but if it’s large waves you’re after, there’s no place quite like this. Located at the southernmost tip of Balboa Peninsula, Newport Beach, the Wedge is home to waves that peak at up to 30 feet (9 meters) in height. The reason the waves here reach such colossal heights is because of a combination of natural geography and man-made structures working together.
In the 1930s, a man-made jetty was built to form the breakwater on the western side of Newport’s harbor entrance. When conditions align perfectly and the surfing gods smile down upon eager surfers, waves will come into The Wedge at just the right angle whereby a second approaching wave will reflect off the jetty and combine with the first to create a monster swell. At one point, surfers were so keen to experience these large waves that The Wedge was considered the premier surfing spot on the entire west coast of North America! Needless to say, this is a surfing spot that’s definitely more catered to experienced surfers looking for that next big challenge!
Lower Trestles, San Clemente
Lower Trestles is also famous in folklore as being the place two local boys saved President Nixon from drowning. After being saved, Nixon supposedly granted the boys a wish each. The first requested that Lower Trestles would be officially opened up to the public for legal surfing. Nixon granted that wish, and then asked the second boy what he would wish for. The second boy asked Nixon for a spot in Arlington Cemetery. Nixon commented that he could grant this wish, but was perplexed as to why a young boy would ask for something so morbid. In reply, the boy said, “Because when my dad finds out I was out surfing, he’s going to kill me!”
It’s probably best to take that story with a grain of salt, though it is a pretty fun folktale.
Cardiff Reef, San Diego
Cardiff Reef is known for its expansive sandy beaches, stunning cliffs and great surf! Since this is a reef, and a really long one at that, longboarders are in their element here. Cardiff Reef is known for producing wide waves, perfect for the types of longer rides that are best-suited to a longboard. That being said, those using shortboards can also get lucky and enjoy powerful waves during overhead swells.
For those surfers who are looking for a longer trip with plenty of outdoor activities, Cardiff Reef is an awesome option. With campgrounds just nearby, it’s easy to reconnect with nature while still being just a short distance from the waves. And speaking of nature, the waters of Cardiff Reef are home to plenty of amazing marine life, which can be seen while surfing, or even during a snorkelling trip.
Overall, Cardiff Reef is an awesome surfing spot for longer rides and because surfers can find generally great conditions almost all year round.
There you have it. Some of California’s most iconic and beautiful surf spots all summed up for you. If there was any doubt that California is one of the world’s best surfing locations, we hope we’ve put them to rest. If you’re a connoisseur of surfing culture, surfing history, great scenery, and, of course, stellar waves, you can’t get much better than this collection of fabulous beaches in sunny California!