Calling all surfing enthusiasts: with year-round nearly perfect climate, 70 miles of glorious coastline and many celebrated surf spots, San Diego offers surf enthusiasts the true Southern California dream.
As the Golden State waxes up its boards in recognition of “California Surfing Day” on Sept. 20, officially declared in 2018, now is the perfect time to start planning a San Diego surfing adventure.
Whether you’re a beginner wanting to surf for the first time or an experienced wave-shredder eager to advance to the next level, San Diego offers something for all.
Hot Surfing Spots
Opportunities to ride the waves are abundant up and down San Diego’s 33 public beaches, from Oceanside to Imperial Beach. The following are some of the most popular San Diego County surf spots, located from north to south:
- Located along San Diego’s North County coastline, Encinitas was made famous by the Beach Boys’ hit song “Surfin’ USA.” Encinitas’ Swami’s Beach is one of San Diego’s prime surf spots where big waves break off the narrow, cobblestone-strewn beach challenging experienced surfers. Stone Steps Beach, another popular Encinitas surf spot, is accessible by a staircase that leads from the cliffs to the beach. From the cliffs, spectators have great views of daredevil surfers below and the area’s magnificent scenery.
- La Jolla is known for its beautiful scenery and local surf culture dating back to the 1940s. To the north, Black’s Beach offers some of the best surf in the region for the advanced surfer, whereas La Jolla Shores to the south is an excellent place for beginners to learn the sport. Experienced surfers head to Windansea Beach, made famous by Tom Wolfe’s story “The Pump House Gang,” where they can enjoy hard surf breaks created by underwater reefs common in the area.
- For those who want to try surfing for the first time, the 2.5-mile stretch along Pacific Beach and Mission Beach offers surf action year-round, from northwest and southwest swells to changing wave shapes with the shifting sandbars. North Pacific Beach offers popular surf locations like Tourmaline and Crystal Pier, and surfers of all skill levels hit the waves near the South Mission Beach Jetty.
- Located on the Point Loma peninsula, Sunset Cliffs is recognized more for its surfing and scenery than its beaches. The jagged cliffs and rocky bottom make getting to the water a challenge, and the area attracts only the most daring surfers. Main surfing spots include Luscomb’s, a surf break in the middle of a small bay with a rock spire near the shore. Neighboring Ocean Beach offers a 1960s hippie vibe and is another popular surfing community.
Learning to Catch a Wave
Although challenging at times, learning to surf is still plenty of fun, and there are lots of good, easy places in San Diego to give it a try. For those who want to learn from experts, San Diego offers a variety of local schools and surf camps that offer group and private lessons daily.
- Located on La Jolla Shores, Surf Diva is the world’s premier women’s surf school that skews heavily female with a “girl power” attitude and bevy of expert surf instructors. The surf school is open year-round and offers surfing classes for women, men, girls and boys and overnight camps for teens.
- Pacific Surf School in Mission Beach boasts experienced, knowledgeable instructors under the guidance of surf veterans from the professional surfing circuit. Lessons take place in the gentle surf breaks off Mission Beach.
- Since 2004, the Coronado Surfing Academy has taught thousands of students of all ages and abilities the joy of surfing along Coronado Beach. The academy’s certified instructors are dedicated to providing their students with the ultimate surfing experience.
Shopping for Surf Lifestyle
If you’re going to surf, you’ll want to dress the part with the proper apparel. Sporting a bathing suit, T-shirt, board shorts or sandals with a brand name like Hurley, Burton, Roxy, Reef, O’Neill, Quicksilver or Billabong will certainly help you fit into the local surf scene. Of course, you’ll also need a sweet surf board, leash and wet suit, depending on the time of year. Surf shops line San Diego’s coast and offer equipment rentals and tons of surfing essentials for purchase.
- South Coast Surf Shop, located a half-block from the Ocean Beach Pier, has been a favorite shopping spot for surfers for more than 40 years. South Coast offers the latest in surf-inspired clothing and accessories and the best in surfboards and wetsuits. Not your average surf shop, South Coast also has on-site surfboard shapers available to assist customers.
- Hansen’s in Encinitas has been serving the surf community for more than 55 years. From surfboards and wetsuits to apparel and accessories, Hansen’s offers a wide selection of the latest surf styles and equipment.
- TNT Surf Shop in Imperial Beach has been at the forefront of the surfboard manufacturing industry since 1988. One of San Diego’s largest surfboard manufacturers, TNT’s on-site factory is dedicated to delivering customers the finest quality high performance surfboards available on the market. The boards are made at the facility allowing customers to see first-hand the production that goes into their order.
Surf History and Events
San Diego’s surf culture dates to 1916 when the first surf exhibition was held at the Del Mar Pier. Since then, the region has been home to some of the world’s greatest surfing legends whose colorful stories are inspiring and informative.
- The California Surf Museum in Oceanside honors the legends of surfing history with rotating exhibits and a wide collection of vintage boards and surf memorabilia. The museum’s gift shop offers a nice selection of souvenir apparel and books and DVDs on surfing, or with a surfing theme. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and until 8 p.m. on Thursday, and closed on major holidays.
- The 8th Annual San Diego Surf Film Festival returns May 8-11, 2019, with events and screenings occurring at various locations around San Diego. Highlights of the hometown festival include 15 of the finest international surf films, a meet the filmmakers and artists luncheon, surfing expression sessions and an opening night event featuring live art, music and local beer.
With several local icons drawing the spotlight to San Diego’s surfing scene like Carlsbad’s Rob Machado, who is ranked among the top surfers in the country, it is no surprise that surfer competitions are popular events in San Diego.
- Surfing America’s USA Surfing Championships brings together the nation’s best surfers and stand-up paddlers to compete in exciting events throughout the year. During June 12-22, the USA Surfing Championships and Team Trials includes competitions in Adult Shortboard, All Longboard, SUP Surf Championships and Team Trials, Adaptive Championships and Team Trials, held in Oceanside in San Diego’s North County.
- Man’s best friend also gets into San Diego’s surfing spirit during the annual Imperial Beach Surf Dog Competition, held August 10, in Imperial Beach. Fearless surFUR dogs show off their wave riding skills in single and tandem (dog/dog and dog/human) heats, for prizes. A canine fashion show is also featured.
Where to Stay on a Surf Vacation
While San Diego offers an abundance of great accommodations, there are a number of properties guaranteed to provide the perfect surf holiday. Whether you plan to ride the waves or take in the scene from the beach, a stay at one of the following hotels can be truly gnarly.
- With its named derived from lifeguard tower 23 positioned on Pacific Beach near the hotel, TOWER 23 captures San Diego’s vibrant beach life to the fullest. The rooms and suites offer spectacular ocean views, modern design and high-end amenities creating the perfect balance between luxury and relaxation. Guests can watch the vibrant beach scene or a beautiful sunset from the hotel’s popular JRDN restaurant and bar.
- La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club is an oceanfront resort that combines the charm of Old World Mexico with modern day luxuries. Located on a private stretch of sand along La Jolla Shores and near surf-spectacular Black’s Beach, the property offers spectacular ocean view rooms and suites, 12 championship tennis courts and elegant seaside dining at the classic Marine Room restaurant.
- Tucked in between the main surfing areas of Sunset Cliffs and Ocean Beach, The Inn at Sunset Cliffs offers a tranquil and relaxing atmosphere to chill after a hard day of hitting the waves. Originally built in the 1950s with a 2018 update, the cozy oceanfront inn creates a tranquil and relaxing atmosphere with sea breezes and waves crashing just outside your door. Two ocean view terraces allow guests to take in a spectacular sunset and gaze out over the horizon of the blue Pacific.
Happiness is calling in San Diego. For more information on San Diego’s offerings, including exciting vacation packages and valuable coupons for attractions, restaurants and more, visit the San Diego Tourism Authority’s website at www.sandiego.org.
Source: San Diego Tourism Authority