Surfing in San Diego is on every surfer’s bucket list. Year-round, it is easy to find the best surfing in San Diego’s 70 miles of wide-open Pacific coastline.
For non-surfers, visiting San Diego is the opportunity to enjoy the fabulous SoCal relaxed surfers’ culture, watch one of many surfing competitions or indulge in the life-long dream and enroll in one of the many surfing schools.
San Diego is a fantastic spot to learn to ‘hang ten’. Some of the best surfing schools in the country are in San Diego.
For experienced surfers, finding the best surf spots in San Diego is a challenge that takes them from the beach to the beach but inevitably draws them to La Jolla, the world-famous surfers’ paradise.
If you are like me, you can just watch instead. Sit on the beach with a cocktail in your hand and enjoy the view.
The lineup of dozens of surfers on their colorful boards is breathtaking. There is such elegance and death-defying skill when they ride the waves that looked so big the sea and sky became one.
The best spots for watching the surfing ballet are Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach.
Surfing Spots in San Diego – The Ultimate List
The best time to surf in San Diego is wintertime. Summers are considered not as reliable. Nevertheless, from the pier in Imperial Beach to the Oceanside pier, there are breaks that are wonderfully surfable year-round.
If you ask any surfer to tell you what his or her best beach for surfing in San Diego is, you will get a different answer. Here is one such list. I hope it will help you to get most of your time surfing in San Diego.
Surfers love Ocean Beach, a cool surf town with a charming retro vibe, bohemian, lively and so very classic SoCal.
Surfing is consistently good in the fall and winter, with the dominant northwest swell from the Pacific. Ocean Beach is believed by some to be the best San Diego has to offer to surfers.
Surfers with intermediary skill levels should head south of the pier, where the surf is quick over rock.
Not far from the pier is a beach break great for beginners and longboards.
The main local beach is called – what else – Ocean Beach City Beach. A wide sandy beach is located on the south side of the mouth of the San Diego River.
At the end of this beach is the famous Dog Beach, one of the first California beaches where the dogs could run free. This beach is at the sheltered end of the Ocean Beach, offering protection to the northwest, keeping the swells low. It makes it a great spot for kids and beginner surfers.
Half-mile-long Ocean Beach Pier offers a spectacular view of the city.
How to get there: Take the Ocean Beach Freeway (I-8) west. Follow Sunset Cliffs Boulevard all the way to West Point Loma Blvd. It ends by the beach.
Mission Beach is very popular among beginners and intermediary surfers in San Diego. It is a wide, golden sand beach stretching along the entire Mission Bay on the Pacific side.
Mission beach is known for its inconsistency. It does not hold upon swells over eight feet, making paddling at times a nightmare.
The really best surfing time is in spring and occasionally in summer and fall. But, on rare days when the conditions are perfect, everyone comes and it gets very crowded.
Lifeguards separate surfers and swimmers for everyone’s safety and it is important to stick to the right area.
While lacking serious surf, the beach has a lively scene, with a bustling boardwalk, the famous Belmont Park rides and a giant historic roller coaster.
There are also surfing wave pools, a swimming pool, a game arcade, a mini-golf course, beach shacks, restaurants and much more.
Biking, skating, jogging, or strolling are popular on the Ocean Front Walk paved pathway, which runs along the bay, north and south.
Dogs are allowed on a leash before 9 am and after 6 pm, from April to October.
How to get there: From the I-5 freeway, take Garnet Avenue west all the way to Mission Blvd. south. There is a city bus that runs through Mission Beach.
La Jolla is known by surfers from all over the world. It is the place where they hold annual competitions and events.
La Jolla is home to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, where they invented the wetsuit. The institute is located at the spot of one of the best San Diego beach breaks, drawing power from the out-at-sea deep canyon.
Fantastic surfing conditions draw a great surfing crowd, making La Jolla a fun surf town with a great vibe.
One of San Diego’s most popular beaches, La Jolla Shores, is protected from the strong, prevailing southwest wind. It is a safe spot to learn to surf or just to enjoy it.
The beach has year-round lifeguards and good beach facilities. Most of the San Diego better surf schools operate from here. You can always see local kids practicing on their boards. Surf Divas Surf School offers year-round group and private lessons for any age and skill level.
La Jolla beaches are not for beginners. The waves break fairly far from the beach, packing quite a punch.
Beginner surfers get caught out by the power of these waves and every year someone gets injured.
Windansea is the place of surfing legends. The reef at the beach creates unparalleled surfing conditions, best taken by more experienced surfers.
The beach is located in La Jolla, at the west end of Nautilus, Westbourne, and Bonair Streets. It is not a good swimming beach but it is big enough to stretch and enjoy sunbathing and watching surfers riding the waves.
To get into the water, take the staircase going down from Neptune Place. Paddle out from there, but watch out for the rips and the local (often unfriendly) crew.
There are many other reef breaks not far from Windansea. Many are uninteresting most of the year but can awoken suddenly and dramatically when the combo of tide and swell is just right.
La Jolla Cove is one such spot. Normally a tranquil deep water spot for snorkeling, in winter it can get a powerful north swell that turns it into a huge left point.
Many less known but great breaks around La Jolla are difficult to find, very challenging to surf and should be left to serious, experienced surfers.
Marine Street Beach is a famous shorebreak perfect for bodyboarding and a kind of bodysurfing called womping.
Black’s Beach (Torrey Pines)
Another beautiful beach on the rocky coastline of La Jolla, Black’s Beach is located below the Torrey Pines Gliderport, north of La Jolla Shores. It’s also known as Torrey Pines.
Many surfers agree that Black’s Beach is San Diego’s best wave. It is reliable year-round, always among the biggest spots in town.
The waves break in long and organized lines. There is an underwater trench offshore about half a mile off the coast. Powerful ocean swells come in fast, in full force, before spending their energy in big peaks.
To reach Black’s Beach, you have to take a long hike down the cliff, and do some extra paddling to join the lineup. This spot can hold a surf well into the 10 to 12 feet.
This spot, which is known to be quite unpredictable, is not recommended for anyone without significant surfing experience. Try these waves only if you are a good surfer and excellent swimmer.
Black’s Beach is also known as a spot to see the dolphins and is a popular nude beach.
Pacific Beach – the Best Surfing in San Diego for Beginners
One of the lovely sandy beaches in San Diego’s Mission Bay, Pacific Beach is located in the charming town of Pacific Beach.
This popular part of the San Diego coastline is known for the three-mile-long boardwalk, a beach party that never ends and excellent surfing for beginners eager to learn this exciting sport. Once a quiet beach town, it is now a beloved college party town.
If you need to boost your confidence as a surfer or want to try to surf for the first time, Pacific Beach is the place to do it. The wave breaks are soft and nice so there is very little risk of injury. Pacific Beach offers the best surfing in San Diego for beginners.
The beach is very popular with families. It has plenty of parking and enough bathrooms available. There is also a small picnic area.
Not all parts of Pacific Beach are the same. The variety in conditions makes it great regardless of the reason you came.
Tourmaline Surfing Park is a surfing-only beach, popular with novice surfers. The rugged La Jolla headlands end here abruptly. Slow, soft waves attract beginners surfers, longboarders, windsurfers and kiteboarders when the wind is stronger.
North Pacific Beach, between Tourmaline Park and Crystal Pier, is a nice, calmer stretch, popular with families. There is a lifeguard on duty and plenty of facilities at the ends of Diamond and Law Streets.
From the Crystal Pier to Pacific Beach Drive, Pacific Beach offers parking at Grand Avenue and P.B. Drive and bathroom facilities. You can rent bicycles here or check one of the several biker bars.
The Surfer Magazine considers Encinitas the third-best surf town in the US. If that is not a good enough reason to drive a half-hour north from San Diego up the coastal highway, the town has a wonderful charming SoCal vibe, with retro cafes and boulevards lined with stately palm trees.
Once in the water, you can expect just about anything. “Groms’ (young, precocious surfers) head to the Grandview Beach which has a swell window that is reliably on, mostly SW to NW.
If you are looking for something harder, go to Swami’s. The waves can go easily up to 12 foot and still break. Make sure you know what you are doing, there is always a group on it.
Located at the border between San Diego and Orange Counties, Trestles Beach is located at the northernmost part of San Onofre State Beach.
The access to the beach is from San Clemente in Orange County. You can get there by driving 59 miles from San Diego via I-5 N.
Different surf spots of the beach, with very different surf conditions, are known as Uppers, Lowers, and Middles.
Many surfers, including the World Champion surfer Kelly Slater, consider Lower Trestles the world’s best surf spot. And no surprise there: Lower Trestles offers consistency, fun year-round, a classic reef/point break, easy paddle-outs, endless wave faces and much more.
Trestles is at its best on a solid south to southwest swell. When it is on, you can expect an epic session at Trestles.
The easy slow rollers down the coast at Old Man’s beach are much better for the surfing virgins or veterans on longboards.
Not only that you have to hike in from the parking lot to hit the waves, you also have to fight often more than 50 other surfers, many very experienced.
This is a great beach if you just want to watch folks ride the waves. It is quite a spectacle on a good day.
For a change of pace, you might want to find some time to visit the nearby Trestles Wetland Natural Preserve, formed by San Mateo Creek, which stagnates in summer. The park is very popular with birdwachers.
If you are a surfer or even dream of being one, you have to visit San Diego. Searching for the best surfing in San Diego will offer you more fun than you can dream of. From one beautiful sandy beach to another, from a jetty to the cove to the boardwalk, San Diego is surfers’ paradise.
Keep in mind that surfing can be dangerous. Every year, people get injured or have to be rescued at San Diego beaches.
Be honest about your skill level and know your limits. You can endanger not only yourself but those around you or those who will try to help you. Make sure you get all the information about the surf spot you want to try. Ask about the conditions and what to expect. Better safe than sorry. No reason to ruin your holiday when San Diego promises so much fun.