5 Best Surf Spots in Southern California

From Lower Trestles to San Onofre State Beach, Southern California is home to not only some great beaches, but to some of the best in the world.

SoCal natives and travelling Adventurers alike hit these beaches every year for some grade A swells. The Pacific coastline offers countless beaches of varying styles and wave types, so there’s always something for any type of surfer to enjoy.

Look no further for a guide on the best beaches to hit. We’ve got you equipped for each beach with the best types of surfboards to choose, the best swell directions, and the optimal surfing seasons and skill levels.

Check out the 5 best surf spots in Southern California:

Lower Trestles

  • Best Board: Thruster
  • Best Season: Summer
  • Best Swell Direction: Southwest
  • Ability Level: Intermediate+

“Lowers,” as it’s known, is a consistent A-frame wave that breaks over a cobblestone reef. The right is long point break-like wave. The left is shorter, faster and hollower.

Both the right and left are considered “high-performance” waves and allow surfers to attempt innovative maneuvers. It’s not uncommon to see the best surfers in the world flock to Lowers when a southwest swell lights up the reef.

Because Lowers is directly west of Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, it was off-limit to the public in the 1960s. Surfers that trespassed onto the base were routinely arrested. But after years of protests, the Marine Corp opened up Trestles to surfers in the early 1970s, and it’s been the most crowded wave in California ever since.

Rincon

  • Best Board: Thruster
  • Best Season: Winter
  • Best Swell Direction: West
  • Ability Level: Intermediate+

Santa Barbara County is home to some of the best surf spots in California and Rincon is Santa Barbara’s crown jewel. The perfectly groomed waves that wrap around Rincon Point have produced some of the best professional surfers of all time. On a good day, a surfer can catch a ride all the way from the tip of the point to the inside cove, covering a distance of 400+ yards.

But like all surf spots in Santa Barbara, Rincon goes flat in the summer because the Channel Islands block all south swell. If you’re looking for waves in Santa Barbara during the summer, you’ll have to head south the Ventura or Malibu.

Malibu

  • Best Board: A Malibu Longboard, of course!
  • Best Season: Summer
  • Best Swell Direction: South & Southwest
  • Ability Level: Beginner to Advanced

The 1960s surf scene at Malibu had a major influence on surf culture. This infamous right point break has been the subject of several movies and Beach Boy’s songs.

Sediment that drains out of the Malibu Lagoon builds a nice sand bank along the point. Like it’s northern neighbor Rincon, Malibu sometimes offers waves that peel for several hundred yards. On a big day, advanced surfers can try to shoot-the-pier; ride from one side through the pilings to the other.

Los Angeles is only a short drive from Malibu, so it’s often crowded. It’s not unusual to find four or five surfers on a single wave. If you choose to surf here, make sure to respect the locals!

Blacks

  • Best Board: Step-up
  • Best Season: Winter
  • Best Swell Direction: West & Northwest
  • Ability Level: Advanced to Expert

Located between Torrey Pines and the Scripps Pier, Blacks is one of the few big wave spots in Southern California. In the winter, the La Jolla submarine canyon funnels long period west swell into double and triple-overhead waves. If you’re not comfortable in big surf, consider heading north to nearby Cardiff Reef.

Accessing Blacks requires walking down several hundred stairs from the bluff-top parking lot to the beach below. But this long trek doesn’t stop hundreds of angry locals and UCSD students from crowding the lineup.

San Onofre State Beach

  • Best Board: Longboard or Fish
  • Best Season: Summer
  • Best Swell Direction: South through Northwest
  • Ability Level: Beginner

The waves at San Onofre are not nearly as good as the other surf spots on this list, but San Onofre is one of the best surf spots in Southern California because it is consistent and family friendly.

At San Onofre, you’ll find kids, old men and everything in between. RV vehicles line the beach and surfers enjoy spending the entire day at San Onofre; barbecuing and playing volleyball are the preferred methods of passing time between surf sessions.

The waves here are soft and mushy, making it perfect for longboarders and beginners. During a rare hurricane swell, San Onofre will get big enough to ride a shortboard.

Because San Onofre is so popular with Southern Californians, you’ll need to arrive early and get in line at the gate. There is often a line an hour before sunrise, which is what time the park opens.

More information can be found on the California State Parks website.

Do you have any other favorite surf spots in Southern California? Let us know in the comments below.

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