Overview of surfing in Santa Cruz County - South
The Southern half of Santa Cruz County reaches from the northern border of the city of Santa Cruz down to the edge of Monterey County. This area is primarily made up of what the locals call “Town”, or the city of Santa Cruz. There are many breaks here, but the most predominant and well known are right hand points. The epicenter of Northern California surfing, this area churns out top talent (Nat Young), hefty crowds, and grumpy locals. However you can head a bit South to escape the worst of it and surf a couple uncrowded beach breaks. There is something for everyone here skill level-wise, from the most advanced to those just learning how to pop up. Culturally Santa Cruz is absolutely unique, wacky, and lovable. There is no other place quite like it and it is definitely worth a visit. Great food, groovy vibes, and a very laid back attitude (outside of the water) will welcome you this iconic stretch of coast.
The coastline here turns East forming the edge of the Monterey Bay before turning back South. This turn in the coastline creates the amazing right hand points that Santa Cruz is famous for. There is actually two spots that just out creating this phenomenon. The edge of Santa Cruz west side and then the city of Capitola just Southeast. The first creates Steamer Lane, the best high performance wave in Northern California, as well as the secondary and tertiary breaks as the cliff line and waves continue down the point. Capitola creates The Hook, which turns into Pleasure Point. In between these amazing breaks are a few quality reefs and a rivermouth that very rarely breaks. Further South as the coast turns back to facing West, there are a couple decent beach breaks. The waves here can get heavy even though they are turning along the coastline, especially in winter.
Access to Surf Spots
All of these spots are ultra easy to access because they are within a very populated area. Park on the many roads next to the spot and just walk out (or cliff hop off). At the state beaches further South there can be a fee to park at times and if there are people in the lineup a quick walk will free you from that burden.
Santa Cruz County is a great area for moderate climate year round. Rains come in the winter and summers bring dry heat. Mornings are cold year round as the marine layer from the Pacific fills in almost every night. Bring layers whenever you are visiting, more than you would think. Take look at legendary local Jack O’Neill’s wardrobe (a bunch of heavy coats) for an idea of what to pack. A good thing to remember is that the wetsuit was invented here, pack a good one.
Winter is the best time of year for bigger, consistent surf. It will definitely be cold and the offshore winds will be howling which puts a 5/4 into the conversation of what to wear. The swells this time of year generate from the Northern Pacific, pulsing down massive waves that thunder into the coast. If it is an El Nino year you are in for a treat. If you prefer sizes smaller than double overhead, find a smaller cove that will most likely contain a lovely point break.
Summer brings warmer temperatures, smaller swells, and more difficult winds. The swells this time of year are small and long period, but still bring in some great waves to the points as well as beach breaks. When crossed up with local windswell a frames are common. Onshore winds start earlier in the day this time of year, around late morning, so get on it early. A 4/3 should be fine here this time of year, and 3/2’s are not unheard of.
Santa Cruz is just a bit removed from airports, this area is best accessible by car. Land in one of the major bay area airports if you are flying in and rent a car there. Cruise down highway one for a scenic drive (and potentially surf) or take the inland route for more direct passage. There is a small airport on the Northern edge of Monterey County that you can land in if you have the requisite amount of money (a lot).
The city of Santa Cruz has tons of options for every budget. There is everything from 5 star hotels to seedy motels if that’s your thing. BNB’s are common and easy to find. Because it contains a massive university, short term rentals are all over the place if you are are looking to stay for more than a month. A bit south of Town there are some camping options along the state beaches at Manresa (as well as some decent surf).
Santa Cruz has a huge amount of recreational activities available and other than the nightlife scene almost all are very family friendly. Starting in Town there is a wonderful, growing restaurant scene. The city is filled with trendy cafe’s, cheap eats for college students, and a diverse mix of quality restaurants. The Boardwalk is the place to be in the summer. There are a ton of rides accompanied by your usual carnival stands and games, all right on a beautiful beach. While here you have to visit the massive coastal redwood groves, just a short drive inland, and hike (or take a small walk) through the area. There is also the infamous Mystery Spot, a place where gravity gets weird (no really it’s quite trippy). South of town there are some wonderful state beaches perfect for relaxing away from the crowds.