Surfing in California (North)
Overview of surfing in California (North)
Northern California is not what most people think when they imagine California. A far cry from the sunny, sandy, and crowded cities south of Point Conception, the coast here is rugged, cliff strewn, cold, foggy, remote, and at times threatening. This is the beginning of the Pacific Northwest, one of the last semi unexplored and unpublished (surfing wise) coasts in the USA. There are many breaks here that are closely guarded by locals who have surfed here for decades (don’t drop in), it is assumed that if you score you won’t tell where. Locals can be gruff and rude in the lineup, but in the towns and cities you should be welcome with open arms. The coast is generally gnarly, especially in winter when massive swells march from the North Pacific into the cliffs and crannies of the land.
Most of the coast is close enough to the PCH to be pretty accessible, however there are some exceptions. The most consistent surf is found in San Francisco and Marin Counties (the best break being Ocean Beach), not because of the swells but because of wind conditions. It can be tricky to find the right shelter further north. Beginning with the infamous Lost Coast (an area too rugged to build the PCH through) in Humboldt, the coast becomes a bit more difficult to access, and the remote nature of this area can turn off many. Don’t surf alone unless you are very confident in your abilities. There are some stellar points and reefs in these northern counties that are not named anywhere, as well as a handful that are.
Travelling is best by car, driving up the highway. There are plenty of accommodation options up the whole coast for every budget. Camping spots thru resort level abodes are available.
The 18 best Surf spots in California (North)
Surf seasons and when to go
When To Go
Northern California holds a stable climate year round, with a cooler and wetter season occurring in the winter. The weather is cool year round, although summer can bring some warm sunny days. In the water a 5/4 with a hood is non negotiable year round once you get north of Sonoma County. Winter brings heavy waves and a bit more weather. Summer is much more mellow, distant south swells deliver most of the goods, but can be very inconsistent and blown out.
This is the peak surf season in Northern California when the North Pacific churns out swell after swell. Not the time for novices, these Northwest swells pack quite the punch, and a lot of the time are unsurfable at exposed breaks. Mornings are the best time to surf as the offshore should be howling. The wind usually turns onshore in the afternoon.
This time of year is generally a bit more user friendly. All size will be coming from disorganized windswell (can still get over double overhead), but the most quality surf will be arriving from the South Pacific in the form of small, long period Southwest swells. When these hit the right spot on the coast it can lead to perfect waist to head high peelers, although these conditions line up very rarely. Winds are a problem during the summer, your best bet are the glassy mornings as in the afternoons the surf is usually shredded. Best time of year for beginners.