Overview of surfing in California (South)
Southern California: The part of California that most people around the world will associate with the state. This region extends from Santa Barbara county and Point Conception all the way down to the Mexican border on the edge of San Diego County. Beyond being somewhat of a cultural capital, Southern California has been the epicenter of surf culture and surf performance in the continental US ever since Duke Kahanamoku visited here in the early 20th century. From then on, the warm water, smooth waves, and welcoming culture has fostered many worldwide surfing movements. From Miki Dora and Malibu, to aerial pioneer Christian Fletcher, Southern California has always been at the forefront of surfing style (Tom Curren anyone?) and innovation (Thank George Greenough next time you surf). This coast continues to pump out top talent in both the water and the surf industry, if you surf a good break you will probably be surfing with some pros or testers for one of the world famous shapers in the area.
The coastal highway here is famous around the world for beautiful views, sunsets, and easy coastal access. This makes surf spots very easy to get to and check, but also tends to amplify the crowds. The surf breaks vary from velvety points, sucky reefs, and heavy beach breaks. All levels of surfers can surf year round here, something not always available in most of the rest of the state.
A car is the way to go here, preferably a red convertible with a surfboard in the front seat (style is important here). As mentioned above almost every spot is accessible by car off of the coast highway. Both Los Angeles and San Diego have international airports and renting a car there should be easy. Even if you are planning on staying in one area or city a car is a must, the public transportation in California is notoriously terrible. Accommodations will be expensive close to the coast and in most areas will be hotels, motels, or AirBNBs. In between the population centers of Santa Barbara, the greater Los Angeles area, and San Diego there is camping available, just make sure to reserve in advance.
The 142 best Surf spots in California (South)
Overview of surfing spots in California (South)
Surf spot overview
Throw a stone into the Pacific and you’ll probably hit a surf break here (could also be a famous spot). The breaks here are varied, but generally user friendly with a high ceiling for performance. In Santa Barbara the coast turns to facing Southwest, this stretch of coast is known for long, right hand point breaks. The Queen of the Coast is found here: Rincon Point. This is the playground for Santa Barbara’s stars, Tom Curren, Bobby Martinez, the Coffin Brothers, and many others owe much to this wonderful wave. It is also the main testing ground for Channel Islands Surfboards. As the coast continues, we eventually arrive at Malibu, one of the most famous surf spots in the world. The waves here will be crowded but pristine, and over the years have groomed some of the best longboarders in the world as well as defined what surf culture was for much of the mid 20th century. Past Los Angeles we have Trestles, a perfect, skatepark-esque cobblestone point. This wave is the center and standard for high performance surfing in the US. The locals are pros (Kolohe Andino, Jordy Smith, Filipe Toledo, Griffin Colapinto etc…) and the 9 year olds here probably surf better than you. Blacks Beach in San Diego is the premier beach break of the area. A big, burly, and powerful wave that delivers heaving barrels and heavy wipeouts. Bring a step up and your paddling chops. The one thing that might turn someone off of the whole coast is the crowds which are ubiquitous.
Surf seasons and when to go
The best time of the year to surf in California (South)
When to Go
Southern California is obscenely popular with many for its climate. It is warm to hot year round, although close to the coast it is usually quite pleasant. The Pacific will provide some much needed coolness in the evening. If you aren’t coming in summer, bring a couple sweatshirts and pants. Winter is the wetter season, but wetter is only a relative term, it is pretty arid year round.
Big swells march in from the Northwest during this season. The coast here curves around, making the northern parts thankful for point set ups that light up this time of year. Parts of Los Angeles are very sheltered from these swells from islands, it can be tricky to dial in the swell windows.. Toward San Diego the swell window opens up, and the big swells can hit here quite hard. Bring a step up for this area in winter. Winds are usually good in the mornings and parts of the coast will stay glassy all day. A 4/3 will serve you well everywhere. Booties/hood are optional in Santa Barbara.
Southern California picks up way more south swell than the rest of California. The famous beaches of Newport as well as others in the Los Angeles area love this time of year. Santa Barbara will largely be unexcited this time of year, but both San Diego and Los Angeles areas have spots that will only light up on these swells. Onshore winds are heavier than in the winter and swells are a little less consistent. A 3/2, springsuit, or boardshorts are all acceptable attire depending on the part of the coast and personal toughness, just make sure to pack your sunscreen.
California (South) surf travel guide
Find trips that fit a flexible lifestyle
Arriving and Getting Around
A car is the only way to go here. Rent one from an airport if you are flying in and then ride up and down the coast. The coastal roads are historically famous for providing easy access for surf checks and sessions.
Where to Stay
In the major metropolitan areas that make up most of the coast most accommodations will be a bit pricey. There are options everywhere that range from Airbnbs to five star resorts. Outside of the cities there is camping available. If you are coming in the summer reserve very far in advance. Any other time of the year there should be availability once you get about a month out.
Southern California is world famous as a tourist destination. Los Angeles and San Diego are two excellent places to visit as a tourist. From the piers of Venice Beach and Santa Monica to Hollywood Boulevard and Disneyland, there really is a place for anything and everything in LA. San Diego is a little more laid back, but will still provide a lively city atmosphere with a small town kind of vibe. Santa Barbara is the place for you if you want a chilled out vibe. There are a good amount of people here but they are much more spread out than other areas. Small beach towns abound in between the major metropolitan areas which provide relief from the hustle and bustle of the cities. There are many parks and trails at most just a couple hours inland even from the most densely populated areas if you want to get your hiking fix.