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Where to Learn How to Surf in San Diego

Top spots and schools to get onboard with California’s official sport

It’s no secret that with its 70 miles of coastline, inviting Pacific waters and tantalizing variety of waves, San Diego is one of the best places to surf on the planet. (Just ask the Beach Boys, who name-drop San Diego County surf spots five times in “Surfin’ USA.”) But while a few local breaks are best left to the experts, there are still plenty of spots around the region that are perfect for beginners to try out our state’s official sport. And all of these beaches boast nearby outfitters who have everything you need to get out on the water. 

Here’s our guide to the best places for first-time surfers to find the ride of a lifetime.

La Jolla Shores

With its gently sloping sand, semi-protected waters and plentiful surf outfitters, La Jolla Shores has long ranked as San Diego's top spot for upstart surfers. It also happens to be home to one of the most renowned surf schools on Earth: Surf Diva, founded in 1996 by twin sisters Coco and Izzy Tihanyi as the first all-female surf school. Surf Diva now welcomes aspiring surfers of any gender, and offers classes, camps, board rentals and more. (The company also runs a popular surf shop and boutique along nearby Avenida de la Playa.) Everyday California is another great Shores-area outfitter for surfers-to-be, offering expert instruction (both group and private), camps and its own shop on Avenida de la Playa.

Pacific Beach

Stretching along the sparkling San Diego coast just south of La Jolla, the sands of Pacific Beach (aka "P.B.") encompass several ideal spots for first-time surfers. The famed Tourmaline Surf Park is a haven for learners and longboarders, and Law Street Beach near Crystal Pier also beckons with generally forgiving waves. And while the beaches on the south side of the pier can get a bit more crowded, they likewise are a good option for learners. Pacific Surf School is perfectly situated to get you into the waves in P.B.,with its "Stoked" series of private, semi-private and group lessons as well as camps.

Mission Beach

With its bustling beach boardwalk and such classic attractions as Belmont Park, Mission Beach is just a fun place to spend a day at the ocean. But its sandy beaches and generally mild, rolling waves (at least until you reach the jetty at South Mission — an experts-only break) also make Mission Beach ideal for learning to surf. The stretch of sand near the parking lot south of Belmont Park is especially popular. Pacific Surf School can get you set up for a memorable first-time surf experience here; you also can try San Diego Surf School, whose offerings include a 90-minute lesson with a 1:1 instructor ratio.

Ocean Beach

Affectionately known as O.B., this funky and beloved beach neighborhood — boasting a lively mix of restaurants, surf shops, taco joints and boutiques along the main drag, Newport Avenue — embraces the last stretch of uninterrupted sand before the coastline gives way to rocky Sunset Cliffs. The nearby amenities, strong lifeguard presence and typically mild waves (although it can get big here in the winter) make Ocean Beach another excellent pick for riding those first waves and catching some serious stoke. Both Pacific Surf School and San Diego Surf School can get you set up to surf here. Or try a neighborhood-based outfitter such as Ocean Beach Surf School.

Coronado

The oceanfront "Crown City," just a 15-minute ferry ride or quick bridge jaunt from Downtown San Diego, boasts an expanse of glittering sand fit for royalty, and it's a great place to get acquainted with the waves. Coronado's most famous place to stay and play, the Hotel del Coronado, even has its own surfing school, the Del Surf Academy, which offers regular group and private lessons as well as surf photography packages to capture all the stoke. And a bit further down the Silver Strand, the Loews Coronado Bay Resort partners with the Coronado Surfing Academy to offer lessons and rentals just off the strand's soft sands.

Moonlight State Beach

If you're ready to venture a bit outside the city, San Diego's North Coastal region boasts a string of beautiful beaches with world-class waves. One of the best for beginners is Moonlight, tucked into a picture-perfect cove in the city of Encinitas (about 25 miles north of San Diego). Not only is this a classic SoCal beach destination — complete with snack bar, restrooms, lifeguards and plentiful nearby restaurants — but its sandy shoreline has welcomed generations of first-time surfers. For lessons and board rentals, try Leucadia Surf School, which is based in the neighborhood and offers private and group lessons for beginners (as well as a "paddle-out lesson" for intermediates), right on the beach at Moonlight.


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