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Where to Surf in San Diego

Best Places to go for a Surf Sesh

If you're already a devoted surfer, you'll find a variety of different waves and conditions along San Diego's 70 miles of open ocean coastline to beckon you to paddle out. If you're a beginner, San Diego is an ideal place to learn to hang ten. You can also simply take in San Diego's surf culture at one of the yearly surf competitions and events. There's even one for "surFUR" four-legged shredders to raise funds for the San Diego Humane Society.

Where to Catch a Wave

Here are some great areas for San Diego surfing:

North Coastal

Trestles

Trestles is a world-famous river-mouth point break at the border of San Diego and Orange counties. You've got to earn your waves at Trestles, with a long hike in from the parking lot and, when the surf is pumping, fierce competition from 50+ other surfers in the lineup, many of them experts and even professionals. Trestles works best on a good south to southwest swell, and when it's on, a session at Trestles can be epic. By comparison, the slow, easy rollers just down the coast at Old Man's are perfect for learning virgins or longboarding veterans.

Oceanside

Oceanside has miles of gentle beach break, but it's best known for the jetties on either side of its harbor entrance. On the steepest of south swells that pass the rest of the coast by, Oceanside Harbor and Del Mar Beach (on the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base) can get big and hollow.

Swami's

Swami's, so named for the Self-Realization Fellowship complex on the bluff above this Encinitas beach, is another San Diego-area classic, with a well-defined peak and (often) a crowd beyond its capacity. Swami's makes just enough of a bend in the coast to pick up a little extra swell energy, so it's generally a bit bigger and better than its neighboring breaks.

Cardiff-By-The-Sea

Cardiff is a beautiful stretch of beach with reefs toward either end, and fronted by bluffs at its northern expanse. Seaside Reef and Tabletops to the south and Cardiff Reef and Pipes to the north serve up a variety of fun waves. Seaside, the most high-performance spot, is best on southwest swells and ideal for aerials when the energy is right. At these excellent breaks, such pros as Rob Machado and Taylor Knox honed their art.

Del Mar

Del Mar is among the most reliable surf zones in San Diego, with good exposure to all swell directions and a good mix of sand-bottom beach break and patchy reefs. Even in the height of summer, the crowd spreads out from the San Dieguito river mouth (just west of the Del Mar Racetrack and Fairgrounds) all the way south to Torrey Pines State Beach, and it's easy to find a wave to call your own.

La Jolla

Black's Beach

Black's Beach is arguably San Diego's best wave. It's good year-round, always one of the biggest spots in town, and breaks in long, organized lines. A submarine trench offshore comes within a half-mile of the coast and raw ocean swells come marching in fast and forceful before expending their energy in big hollow peaks. Black's requires a long hike down the cliff and a lot of extra paddling effort to get into the lineup. It can hold rideable surf well into the 10'-12' realm, but at that size it's nearly impossible to break through the inside whitewater.

La Jolla Shores

La Jolla Shores is one of San Diego's best and most popular beaches. Somewhat protected from the prevailing southwest wind, it's a safe, gentle spot to learn or enjoy surfing. There are year-round lifeguard services, good facilities and decent parking. Most of the formal surf schools operate here for this reason, and a lot of local kids practice their basics at the Shores before graduating to bigger and better breaks. Surf Diva Surf School provides year-round private and group lessons for all ages.

Windansea

There are numerous reef breaks around La Jolla, most of them lying dormant for the better part of the year only to awaken dramatically on the right combination of swell and tide. La Jolla Cove, for example, is a tranquil deep-water snorkeling beach, but once or twice each winter, a powerful north swell turns the area off the cove into a big left point. Although far from secret, the lesser-known breaks around La Jolla and Bird Rock are difficult to find, challenging to surf and better left to serious surfers to discover on their own. Windansea bears mentioning because it's probably San Diego's most consistent, most surfable break. Of course, it's also one of the most crowded and localized. Marine Street Beach is a notorious shorebreak ideal for bodyboarding and the special brand of bodysurfing known as womping.

Pacific, Mission and Ocean Beaches

The long, sandy shore comprising Pacific, Mission and Ocean beaches offers mostly middling surf (with exceptions including Tourmaline, South Mission and the O.B. Pier). But because of its close proximity and easy access for the majority of San Diego's population, surfers manage to make the most of it. As with all the other popular beaches in town, lifeguards divide swimmers from surfers in the busy summer months, and it's important to make sure you're where you belong. What the surf might lack, the beach scene more than makes up for, and the P.B.- M.B. boardwalk is always bustling with activity.

Point Loma Peninsula

Sunset Cliffs

Point Loma is fringed by rock reefs and the surf is often groomed by offshore kelp. Sunset Cliffs comprises a series of point breaks that can work at varying degrees of quality under various degrees of swell size and direction. Surfing Sunset Cliffs means scrambling up and down the bluffs and paddling in and out from the rocks, but out at the tip, at a spot called Dolphin Tanks, ambitious surfers access the lineup by boat.

South Bay

Coronado

The best break on Coronado is Outlet, a punchy shorebreak by the Naval Air Station North Island that faces due south and picks up the summer hurricane swells from Baja that tend to miss the rest of the coast.

Imperial Beach

Beyond Outlet, Coronado and the rest of the coast southward to Imperial Beach consists of gently sloping beach break with fun and forgiving surf, the exception being the tumultuous offshore sand bars at the mouth of the Tijuana River.

For Beginners

The string of great surf breaks along San Diego's 70-plus miles of coastline may be a blessing for seasoned shredders, but there are plenty of spots here that are perfectly suited to first-timers, too. In fact, when you visit San Diego, you can take a lesson (or two) and leave with a whole new sport in your quiver (although plenty of practice is recommended, and is lots of fun to boot!). Plan ahead by checking out our roundup of the best places in San Diego to learn how to surf, plus where to get set up with everything you'll need, from expert instruction to boards to wetsuits – a must in San Diego's cool Pacific waters during much of the year.

For Spectators

To experience competitive surfing at its best, plan your visit to coincide with one of the World Surfing League contests at Trestles (usually in May and September), or the Super Girl Surf Pro in Oceanside each September, featuring the top female pro surfers in the world. Oceanside also hosts the World Bodysurfing Championships in August.

Pro surfers Rob Machado, Brad Gerlach and Taylor Knox hail from the San Diego area. And whether you're out in the water or watching from shore, with all the professional and amateur talent in town, there's a good chance you'll witness some mind-blowing action anywhere at any time — but especially at spots like Trestles, Black's and Windansea. Even on the stormiest of days, you can find kite surfers putting on their own air show north of Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach or, on the calmest, longboarders out in force, making the most of it.

Families will enjoy the Imperial Beach Surf Dog Competition, which generally happens in July. Here you'll see fearless surFUR dogs show off their wave-riding skills. This event raises funds for the San Diego Humane Society and is always great fun.

Ready to surf San Diego-style? San Diego surf businesses have everything you need, whether you're a beginning surfer or a seasoned pro. From lessons to longboards, it's a breeze to find surf resources nearby.

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