Surfing in California (Central)

Surfing guide to California (Central), ,

California (Central) has 7 main surf areas. There are 57 surf spots . Go explore!

Overview of surfing in California (Central)

Central California is one of the most scenic, picturesque stretches of coastline in the world. Highway 1 hugs the ocean for almost the entire coast, leading to beautiful views and comfortable access to surf spots. Starting just south of San Francisco with San Mateo County, central California extends south past Santa Cruz and Monterey ending at the southern edge of San Luis Obispo County. There is a huge variety of surf breaks here: soft points, heavy reefs, barreling beach breaks, and the best big wave spot in North America are all found here. There really is something for everyone. The locals might be a bit rude (especially in urban areas), but don’t drop in or bring ten of your closest friends into the lineup and you should be alright. The abundance of state and national parks in the area has served the coast well, but also increased marine wildlife populations big and small. Watch out for great white sharks, especially in the fall.

This coastline is very accessible, almost all of it directly from highway one. There might be a short walk involved across some protected cliffs, but nothing too crazy for most spots. Santa Cruz is the most well known for its surf here, and rightly so. In town you have a myriad of quality and consistent point breaks. Just outside of town you have beachbreaks, points, or heaving reefs. It is a slice of paradise for surfers (except for the crowds). To escape the crowds just drive for a bit. Big Sur in Monterey County should offer relief, or any of the spots between San Francisco and Santa Cruz not in Half Moon Bay.

As with all of California, the best way to get around is by car. Rent one from the airport you fly into and zoom off to the coast. There are plenty of cheaper motels and camping options everywhere as well as high end to very high end hotels and resorts in the city centers (Specifically Monterey and Santa Cruz areas).


The Good
Great wave variety and quality
Beautiful, scenic coast
Family friendly activities
Welcoming small towns and cities
Many national and state parks to enjoy
The Bad
Cold water
Prickly locals at times
Crowds in and around urban centers
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The 57 best Surf spots in California (Central)

Overview of surfing spots in California (Central)

Mavericks (Half Moon Bay)

Peak | Exp Surfers
200m long

Ghost Trees

Right | Exp Surfers
100m long

Hazard Canyon

Right | Exp Surfers
200m long

Steamer Lane

Peak | Exp Surfers
300m long

Mitchell’s Cove

Right | Exp Surfers
200m long

Pleasure Point

Right | Exp Surfers
300m long

Shell Beach

Peak | Exp Surfers
50m long

Leffingwell Landing

Right | Exp Surfers
200m long

Surf spot overview

Central California boasts incredible wave richness and variety. There are a ton of waves up and down this whole coast, most mentioned, but some still looking to be found. If you are not surfing in a sheltered area, the ocean will be unforgiving (not for beginners). For a mellower experience head to a south facing cove or stretch of coast. The first notable spot is Mavericks found in San Mateo County. Mavericks is the premier big wave spot in North America, bring a thick wetsuit and a gun. Further south is Santa Cruz, full of quality breaks of which Steamer Lane is the most well known. Further South is Big Sur, a length of remote waves and craggy coast. There is a variety of waves here, most involve a short walk or hike (don’t tread on local toes here). This coast is packed with waves, if you can avoid the winds you will most likely find a good break or two quite quickly if you just start driving.


Surf seasons and when to go

The best time of the year to surf in California (Central)

When to Go

Central California has a lovely climate year round. Usually not too hot, especially on the coast, and winters are quite mild. It follows the same weather patter as Northern California, wetter and colder in winter, dry and hot in the summer. Pack layers, there will be cold, foggy days even in the summer. Winter brings heavier water, summer is much more mellow in the ocean.


This is the peak season to surf in Central California. Big NW and N swells from the Pacific thunder into the coast, peeking in to the coves and crannies, lighting up the point breaks and reefs up and down the counties. Novices should not surf exposed spots this time of year. Winds are primarily offshore in the mornings during this time and turn onshore in the afternoon. Glassy days are also common. A 4/3 with a hood is the minimum at this time. Booties or a 5/4 or both is not a bad idea.


Summertime brings smaller waves, warmer days, and more crowds. Southwest and South swells travel a great distance before filling into the coast here. A lot of set ups like south swells, but they are smaller and more inconsistent than the winter ones. Windswell mixed in lights up the beachbreaks with crossed up lines. Winds are the biggest problem in the summer. Onshores start earlier than in the winter, and blow out surf quickly. Luckily on this coast there are many kelp gardens that help to combat this. A 4/3 with or without a hood should serve you well during this season.

Annual surf conditions
Air and sea temperature in California (Central)

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California (Central) surf travel guide

Find trips that fit a flexible lifestyle

Arriving and Getting Around

If you are flying in, the closest major airports are in the Bay Area. It is recommended to rent a car or van in the airport area and then cruise to highway one and work from there. The coast is quite easy to get to and visible for most of the coast.

Where to Stay

If you are on a budget don’t fret, if you want to spend money don’t worry. There is something for everyone here. Remote and cheap camping options are plentiful, often times right on the coast. Be aware that some of these spots need reservations in advanced, especially the ones directly on the water. High end resorts, hotels, and getaway rentals are easy to find in the Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo areas.

Other Activities

Even when the surf is flat there is plenty to do here. The cities are not large, but host a great selection of bars and restaurants (of all prices and quality) for a fun nightlife experience. Santa Cruz hosts the most popular boardwalk in California outside of Southern California, amusement rides and a beautiful beach await. The coast is full of quirky places, grab a coffee in small town and you’ll probably see someone interesting. The wilderness here is amazing: hiking, camping, tidepooling, and any other nature activity is highly encouraged here. The Monterey Bay aquarium is world famous, and a good option to see some amazing nature if cities are more your thing. There is a burgeoning wine scene here, not as popular as up north but the quality may surprise you. To round out the list, Hearst Castle is just in the Southern edge of Big Sur, an example of opulence and wealth fro another day. Definitely worth a visit.

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