Best Surf Spots in the USA

type of surf wave

The surfer’s pursuit for the perfect wave is a life long journey that can take devotees from their backyards to the furthest corners of the globe.

Surfing hot spots such as Australia, Indonesia, Panama, and Costa Rica all attract countless surfers from the USA seeking their next great ride, but while traveling to exotic locales is fine and dandy it is not necessary to ride the perfect wave.

The USA claims some of the finest surf breaks in the world, diverse breaks as pristine and challenging as any. 

So for the uninitiated, let’s better acquaint ourselves and dissect the Top 10 Surf Breaks In The USA.

Advanced Surfers | Beginning Surfers

For Advanced Surfers

Mavericks, Half Moon Bay – California

Mavericks, Half Moon Bay - California

First named in 1961 by a trio of surfers who brought along a roommate’s white-haired German Shepherd to the beach with them, it wasn’t until 1990 that this now legendary spot really hit the national spotlight.

In 1975, seventeen-year-old Jeff Clark paddled out until a particularly menacing swell at Mavericks and managed to catch a few waves in the 20ft range, and thus began the saga of Jeff Clark and Mavericks.

Years later in 1990 photographer Steve Tadin, a friend of Clark published a photo of Mavericks in Surfer Magazine and overnight the secret was out and the frenzy began. Pro surfers from all over the world flocked to this Nor-Cal hidden secret to ride the giant.

This wave was also the focus of the big-wave surfing documentary Riding Giants in which they highlight the chain of events that led up to Mavericks becoming the most menacing wave in the continental United States.

Cocoa Beach, Cocoa Beach – Florida

Cocoa Beach, Cocoa Beach - Florida

Often overlooked as having smaller waves and surf available seasonally, Florida doesn’t often get the credit it deserves as being a surfing hot spot.

Cocoa Beach is arguably most famous as being home to the world’s largest surf shop, Ron Jon Surf Shop, however, it’s also home to the greatest competition surfer the world has ever seen, Kelly Slater.

The 10-time ASP World Champion grew up riding the waves of Cocoa Beach and fine-tuning his skill, all in his pursuit to become the greatest surfer the world has ever seen.

And as Slater’s public presence grew over the years so did Cocoa Beach. A destination for all Florida surfers, Cocoa Beach is particularly best during Hurricane season when the swell picks up.

Trestles, San Diego – California

Trestles, San Diego - California

Inaccessible by car, Trestles is a haven for So-Cal surfers looking for a truly great ride. However, part of what makes Trestles so great is also the reason some surfers stay away. Trestles is arguably the most consistent ‘great ride’ in all of Southern California which naturally leads to large crowds and competition for waves.

Locals and sponsored Pros alike flock to Trestles for its consistency. Trestles is actually a collection of several breaks at San Onofre State Beach in San Diego County, running north to south.

And it is in the south at ‘Lower Trestles’ that an annual ASP surfing competition takes place bringing in all the greatest surfers in the world to try their hands at claiming glory.

Pleasure Point, Santa Cruz – California

Pleasure Point, Santa Cruz - California

Located at 30th ave and East Cliff Drive in the heart of Pleasure Point, Santa Cruz, this break is for experienced riders only. This popular spot for advanced Santa Cruz surfers is a wave for aggressive riders really looking to push themselves.

Primarily suited for shortboards its said that there are only a handful of long-board riders in the world who would dare try their hand at this break.

Satellite Beach – Florida

Satellite, Beach - Florida

Located just north of Sebastian Inlet, Satellite Beach is famous for being home to professional surfing twins Damien and C.J. Hobgood.

Damien, famous for once being the surfer who held the highest final two-wave score in competition with 19.9 out of 20 possible points, and his brother C.J. grew up on the waves of ‘Second Light,’ ‘First Light,’ and ‘Picnic Tables’ which collectively make up a hotbed of what is known as ‘Surf City’ in Florida.

Long Beach – New York

Long Beach - New York

Located mere minutes outside of the biggest metropolis in the United States, New York City, Long Beach has recently thrust itself into the surfing spotlight by playing host to an annual ASP World Tour competition in which the greatest surfers from all over the world test themselves in the waters of Long Island.

For years locals have known that their waves were the finest on all of the East Coast but now they are getting the credit they deserve for surfing waves challenging enough for any rider, amateur to pro.

Surfrider Beach, Malibu – California

Surfrider Beach, Malibu - California

The epicenter of the surfing craze in the 50s and 60s, Malibu was where it all began. A wave that every surfer must travel to at least once in his or her lifetime, Malibu is again a victim of its own success.

One of the smoothest rides found anywhere, it is often crowded with handfuls of surfers competing for every wave. All that aside, it is one of the most idyllic locations in all of the world where the backdrops to the perfect waves are the mansions of the rich and powerful of Hollywood.

Honolua Bay, Kapalua – Hawaii

Honolua Bay, Kapalua - Hawaii

Located on Maui’s northwest shore, Honolua Bay is a winter-time destination for Big Wave surfers all across the world. A powerful, hollow wave famous for especially long rides, this break also offers pristine surrounding cliffs for spectators to take in the views.

Experience is a prerequisite here as no novice is likely to exit the water unscathed if they try and ride this famed giant.

Castle Beach, Waikiki – Hawaii

Castle Beach, Waikiki - Hawaii

Located in idyllic Waikiki, Hawaii, Castles is a second reef break and is famed as being the South Shore’s most famous surf break even though it only becomes rideable when wave heights reach 10ft or higher.

Hawaii is the Mecca for all surfers wishing to test their fortitude against giant waves and Castles is on a shortlist of ‘must surf’ waves for those riders who truly wish to find what their chops are made of.

Pipeline, Haleiwa – Hawaii

Pipeline, Haleiwa - Hawaii

The Banzai Pipeline is arguably the most famous surf break on Oahu’s North Shore. A reef break located off of Ehukai Beach Park in Pupukea, this powerful wave is menacing for even the most advanced of riders.

Collectively made up of 3 reefs in increasingly deeper water no matter the swell size the reef churns out deadly powerful and heavy waves over a jagged coral reef.

It is also home to the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing made up of the Reef Hawaiian Pro, Vans World Cup of Surfing and Billabong Pipe Masters.

Each competition is revered by surfers all across the globe because in order to win you have to prove yourself on perhaps the most menacing wave in Hawaii.

For Beginning Surfers

Trying to get into surfing isn’t as difficult as you may think. Once you get past struggling to lie flat on the board, it becomes a lot less intimidating. Part of the problem is knowing where the not-so-gigantic swells are for some practice.

If always ending up in a spin-cycle, thrashing disoriented in the surf has you discouraged, just think of it this way: you’re probably at the wrong beach.

Surfing the big wave breaks of Hawaii, Tahiti and even most of NorCal isn’t the place to start, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t easy places for novice surfers to hone their skills.

Check out the beaches where you can find the mellow, easy-to-ride waves right here in the United States:

Folly Beach – South Carolina

Folly Beach - South Carolina

One of the first things you see approaching this rustic old surf town is an abandoned shack and a phone number spray-painted on its wall.

Above the phone number is a message: SURF LESSONS. I wouldn’t recommend that guy, but there are plenty of others on this island who can help you get up.

Start with the locals at their favorite watering hole: Surf Bar. Buddy up and let them suggest a wave along the island’s miles of calm breaks.

Folly Beach is known for a wave that’s just big enough for a thrill, but small enough for a beginner.

If during your stay you get your sea legs and want more of a challenge, make your way east to the Washout and knick boards with the regulars. If you’re in South Carolina, this is where you’ll want to be to develop your skills.

Santa Monica – California

Santa Monica - California

Most of the tourists in Santa Monica are too afraid to dip their Tevas in the cold Pacific. No tourists in the water means no traffic in the water, and it makes Santa Monica a perfect practice spot for beginning surfers. The waves here are relatively small and slow, and there is no dearth of instructors.

With Venice Beach and Malibu right up the road, you’ll have plenty of friends to hang ten with once you ready for something a little more bigger, faster and far more crowded.

California isn’t short of beaches, but, if you can’t even stand on your board yet, Santa Monica is where you’ll want to be. Here, you’ll be able to not only stand but coast delicately back to shore. Just the boost of confidence you’ll need to jump back in.

Manasquan (Inlet Beach) – New Jersey

Manasquan (Inlet Beach) - New Jersey

Jersey Shore? What? The Dirty Jerz isn’t just for fist-pumping and clubbing. This fun little party town also boasts great shorelines for surfing with a mellow left that rolls into the jetty and a more intense right that you’ll want to step into soon after.

There are plenty of surf schools here, and plenty of professional competitions (some say the best way to learn is to learn from example). Take notes. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll ride for money, too.

Until then, these waves will prep you for your future surfing career. Between the New Jersey Pro-Surf Contest, the Belmar Pro-Sure Competition and the ESA, they’ll be no shortage of amazing surfers to admire and learn from.

Cocoa Beach – Florida

Cocoa Beach - Florida

If you want warm water all year round, Cocoa Beach is your best bet. Tucked behind Cape Canaveral, this east coast break gives you nice, long waves all year long, and the water rarely dips below 60.

Do you believe in magic? How about learning through osmosis?

If so, Cocoa Beach is the place to absorb the surf knowledge gained by Kelly Slater. It’s where he was born and where he first thrashed about in the waves as a young boy. Now it’s the surf capitol of the east coast.

These waters breed champions, maybe all you need is a dip in the right water.

South Padre Island – Texas

South Padre Island - Texas

Ever seen a surfer wearing a cowboy hat? If not, you’ve probably never been to South Padre Island. Located at the southernmost tip of Texas, South Padre is just about as close to the tropics you can get in the United States.

You can literally swim or walk to Mexico from here.

The Land of the Hot Sun is just past the jetty that abuts into the Gulf of Mexico, creating good swells the locals go loco for. Of course, there are tourists here, too.

South Padre hosts some of the best surf camps in the US, as well as some of the best spring breaking in the Lone Star State. Plan right (or wrong), and you could find yourself surfing with fist-pumping party sharks.

Orange Beach, Alabama Point – Alabama

Orange Beach, Alabama Point - Alabama

Come on, Alabama? Yes. It’s not all Forrest Gump and football down there. There’s a vibrant surf community on the Gulf Coast, where the southern hospitality will suck you in like a warm drawling undertow.

Traveling between the party madness of Pensacola and New Orleans?

Alabama Point is a great place to stop, chill out and take some surf lessons. The swells are short with very little wind, and the ocean stays empty, making it a nice, warm spot to learn.

You won’t have to worry about the beaches being crowded here, which makes taking lessons or learning by yourself that much easier. Grab a beginner board, drive to a beginner beach and start surfing those beginner swells. Roll tide!

About the Author

Rick Coleman
Rick Coleman
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona Rick Coleman is a featured contributor who has written for a wide range of international travel publications. He loves the outdoors and has covered thousands of miles in the pursuit of his next adventure.
Rick Coleman
Rick Coleman
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona Rick Coleman is a featured contributor who has written for a wide range of international travel publications. He loves the outdoors and has covered thousands of miles in the pursuit of his next adventure.
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