Next time you road trip across the country, make sure you have your surfboard along for the ride as well! The US is home to some of the world’s best surfing destinations, and the great waves aren’t limited to one corner of the map. From the pristine sand beaches of Florida to the rugged coastline of Washington to the flat plains of Wisconsin, the US has some of the most unique surf spots waiting to be conquered.
Surfing may have originated in the Polynesian Islands, but it has quickly entered the mainstream culture and now dominates the sports scene in many states across the United States. While there is a long learning curve to surfing, nearly everyone can catch on to the basics within an hour or two. But be warned; once you’ve started, it’s hard to stop. So grab your board, or rent one, and head out to one of these destinations for some of the wildest and most unique surfing you’ve experienced yet.
Top 15 Surfing Destinations in the US
1. Paia, Hawaii
Paia Bay on Maui’s North Shore has picture perfect beaches with turquoise waters and the waves to match. The beach runs parallel to miles of reefs, which cause some great peak action for surfers. The waves that break along the beach are consistent despite times and conditions, which means you can pretty much head to the beach anytime between breakfast and dinner and ride in the waves one after another.
Baldwin’s Beach Park is the most popular beach on the North Shore, but Tavares Beach has some great waves as well. The beach is a bit more protected from the cove, which make it a better beach for beginning surfers or kids who don’t need the crippling huge waves that the other beaches see. When you’re not surfing, try wind surfing or kitesurfing.
Paia Bay is a top surfing destination for these surf sports as well, and there are plenty of rental shops in the laid back town that rent out boards by the hour.
Bucket List Item : If you’re really in the mood for something different, try out Paia Secret Beach, a clothing optional beach that is way off the beaten track. Although naked surfing is illegal in most areas, you just might be able to pull it off here (pun intended).
2. Oceanside, California
Oceanside not only has 3.5 miles of white, sandy shores, but there are several sand bars as well; this create a near perfect flow of wave after wave at pretty much any location along the beach. Oceanside also has the Oceanside Pier, which sticks out into the ocean and creates a perfect break for some excellent surfing action right in the waters right alongside the pier. The beach also has two jetties, one north of the pier and one south, where surfers can find some great waves to ride in the right wind patterns.
Tired of hitting the waves yourself? Oceanside hosts several surf competitions throughout the year. Viewers can even watch the action from up on the pier for an aerial view of the surfers below.
Where to Eat: Try Betty’s Fish House in downtown Oceanside. Located only a block from the pier, the restaurant offers beach front views of the action from its second story patio and several TVs play surf reels inside the bar area.
3. Huntington Beach, California
Huntington Beach offers significant wave action year round, but surfers really looking for a challenge will do best waiting until winter when the waves are much bigger and consistent. The water will be cold, and a wet suit is a definite must, but the breaks by the pier are worth it. For surfers looking for a more relaxed environment, wait until summer, when the waves are smaller, or head further down the beach away from the pier for calmer waves.
Huntington Beach can offer waves for every skill level and surf desire, and is the place to hit up and soak up the classic SoCal surfer culture vibe.
Place to See: While you’re in town, check out the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum. The Welcome Center has lots of surf information, maps and things to do, and is free to visit.
4. Cocoa Beach, Florida
While Florida has a bad rap as a state with mediocre surfing chances, just south of Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic Ocean gives surfers the chance to visit the Sunshine State and ride some real waves! Cocoa Beach is the picture perfect Floridian beach, with sandy beaches and sparkling waves, but with waves that get up to 10 ft in height. The beach’s best surf sections come from either side of the pier, where the waves break the best.
The bottom is sandy nearly all the way out, which means even if the waves aren’t cooperating, you’re still in for a postcard beach day.
Where to park: The beach gets crowded early, so your best bet is to avoid the public pier parking lot and head to the Cocoa Beach Surf Company parking garage instead.
5. Sheboygan, Wisconsin
Nicknamed as the "Malibu of the Midwest", this small town is home to some of the best freshwater surfing on Lake Michigan’s coast. There are over 20 different breaks along the five miles of public shoreline, which can vary between sandy beaches to rocky outcroppings. The waves aren’t as consistent as an ocean shoreline due to the lack of tides and freshwater denseness compared to saltwater, but trying freshwater surfing is a fun challenge for any surf aficionado. Just be sure to bring your wetsuit; the waves break higher during the winter months, when the air temperature hovers below freezing.
What to eat: No trip to Wisconsin is complete without cheese curds. Head just south of Sheboygan to Gibbsville Cheese Co to pick up a bag fresh from the cheese factory.
6. Waikiki Beach, Hawaii
Waikiki Beach is actually a stretch of several beaches that string along the coast one after another, including Kuhio, Queen Surf Beach, Waikiki and Fort DeRussy beach. Unlike some of the other beaches in Hawaii that are only for expert surfers, Waikiki Beach is the perfect spot for idyllic consistent surfing. The beaches’ bays, sandy bottoms, and long, steady gentle waves make it a great spot for beginners and experienced surfers alike to enjoy a long day riding wave after wave.
What to see: Make sure to stop by the large bronze statue of Duke Paoa Kahanamoku at Kuhio Beach. Nicknamed the “Father of Modern Surfing,” Kahanamoku was an Olympic God Medelists and one of the instrumental figures to introduce surfing into mainstream culture.
7. Malibu, California
Malibu is home to movie stars, millionaires, and million dollar waves. Surfrider Beach is the mecca of SoCal surfing, with gorgeous views of the shoreline and sandy beaches. While the beaches can be crowded and parking is notoriously horrible, the perfect swells created by the point make fighting the crowds well worth the reward.
The beach has a little bit of something for every skill level; calmer waves are closer to shore, while experts can challenge themselves on the larger breaks further out. Created out of 3 different points, short board riders will find better surfing at Third Point, while surfers with long boards should stick to First and Second Point.
Long boards also generally work better in the summer, when the waves are gentler and slightly calmer, while winter creates perfect higher waves best suitable for short boards.
Be Warned: For safety reasons, you can only surf in the surf only section area of the beach, while paddle boarders and swimmers are regulated toward their own section.
8. Pacific City, Oregon
If the gorgeous scenery, easy to find location, and variety of waves aren’t enough to endear you to Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, Oregon, than the free beach parking should definitely put it at the top of your best surf spots list. Right in front of the parking lot on the main portion of the beach is site of long, slow waves and consistent breaks that are perfect for the first time surfer or those looking for a relaxed day of surfing.
Surfers looking for a challenge can walk south along coast and find more intense breaks along the rocky outcroppings.
When to Visit: Plan your visit around September, when the annual Cape Kiwanda Longboard Classic is held in Pacific Beach. For 2 days you can enjoy watching some of the best surfers in the country compete in heats against each other while they take on the waves just off the beach’s coast.
9. Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
If you never thought of surfing when you thought of Nevada, think again. Lake Tahoe, located right on the border of California and Nevada, can be surfed during the winter months, when storms can bring in wind speeds of over 100 mph, and create some serious waves off the North Shore.
While the lake produces very inconsistent surfing conditions, the chance to ride 7 foot waves straight into a snow covered mountain slope shoreline is an incredible experience for any surfer. Plus you won’t be in danger of a shark attack.
What to Bring: Pack along the thickest wetsuit you have; the waves on Lake Tahoe really crest during crazy, cold storm fronts in the summer months.
10. Ocean City, New Jersey
The entire town of Ocean City, New Jersey, takes surfing pretty seriously, and it’s easy to understand why. With consistent breaks in frigid ocean temperatures, and the best breaks happening in the winter, surfing here is not for the faint of heart. Those who do surf do it because they love it, and are rewarded with breaks from the ocean’s deep water that creates 8 ft waves.
The waves mostly break off of the sandbars, although there are a few jetties that also break the swells coming in off the ocean, and where some of the best surf action can be found.
What Not to Do: If you’re looking for to enjoy a beer after a day on the waves, you’ll have to drive out of town. Ocean City is a dry town, where the selling of alcohol has been illegal for decades.
11. Montauk, New York
New York isn’t known for stellar surf spots, but just off the very southeastern tip of Long Island lies some of the best surf breaks on the American Atlantic Coast. Montauk has several state parks that offer great access to the waters, and the coastline is full of coves and points with a host of reefs just offshore that all combine to create some epic surf breaks.
The breaks are consistent no matter the swell direction, and surfers can catch rides off of sandbar, reef, and point breaks, which gives the average surfer a lot of options for just one area.
Be on the Lookout For: The Montauk Monster, a strange mythical creature that has been theorized about for years. A carcass of one was found and then mysteriously disappeared in 2008; since then there have been several sightings of similar creatures in the area.
12. Surfside Beach, Texas
Surfside Beach has consistently earned its name; the town is home to some of the best surfing in the Gulf of Mexico and especially in Texas. This is in part thanks to the deep water; Surfside’s coast is only 8 miles from truly deep water, whereas the rest of the state has a much shallower water depth and gently eases into the ocean’s deep water. The city’s extended jetty create a perfect break for the swells, and a Confederate Ship from the Civil War submerged beneath the waves has built up to create a sandbar that creates some of the best waves in the Friendship state.
Your best bet for surfing is to wait for winds from the south, when the combination of deep waters, jetty, and sandbars create consistent waves all the way to the beach.
Add Some Fun: Most of Surfside Beach allows for legal car use right on the beach. Drive your car right up onto the beach and cruise along the dunes before embarking out on the waves.
13. Fort Point, California
Southern California isn’t the only Cali destination you should hit up with your surfboard. Located right beside the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco's Fort Point is a must for any diehard surfer. Although the water is much colder than SoCal on average, the swells are consistent and the rocky outcroppings break the swells to create intense waves. Fort Point, if one of the most gorgeous places to surf, is also one of the most dangerous.
These same rocks also make it one of the most dangerous places to surf, along with the larger shark population and ships that run in and out of the bay.
Locals can also be protective, and there have been episodes of violence in the past between surfers. Despite the dangers, the ability to surf under the iconic landscape of the Golden Gate Bridge is an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
14. Westport, Washington
Westport is home to some of Washington’s most consistent surf breaks, and is the perfect oceanfront landscape for creating good surfing conditions. The Northern Pacific storms create the swells as much as the tide does, so weather can be a bit dicey but still worth the trip to the beach. Summertime surfing is best, when the water is slightly warmer and the waves build up to 9 feet in height.
There are three areas in Westport where the waves are best; the most popular site is at Westhaven State Park, with a long jetty and over 18 miles of beachfront ocean to play in. Half Moon Bay waves break off of the man made cove, creating waves that are best left to the experts. Adjacent to Half Moon Bay is a series of five smaller jetties in the harbor that work as good point breaks from which to catch some surf.
Where to Eat: After a day on the waves, be sure to fuel up at Bennett’s Fish Shack for some serious atmosphere and some of the best seafood around.
15. Blacks Beach, California
San Diego, California is home to some of the best, quintessential SoCal surfing, and Blacks Beach is no exception. The beach requires a bit of a hike to reach; you have to park up top and walk down the cliff with your board to reach the waves, but it is well worth the effort. The breaks are consistent in long, parallel lines, and the waves are almost always higher here than anywhere else in San Diego. The surf is good in both winter and summer conditions, in part due to the underwater canyons that line the shore around La Jolla’s point.
When It’s Crowded: Head further south to Mission Beach closer to downtown San Diego or up the coast to Carlsbad where you can just park by the beach. The waves aren’t nearly as consistent, but you can still get a taste of Southern California surfing without running into crowds of experienced surfers.
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