Southern California has been synonymous with surfing ever since the 1960s when the then-underground sport surged on to the world stage thanks to popularity of surfing films (Gidget, Beach Party) and surf music (the Beach Boys). With nearly 100 miles of coastline in Los Angeles County alone, there’s a beach and a break for everyone, from the beginner to the professional. Autumn is the best time of year for surfing, when the water is warm, the ocean swells pick up and the summer hordes take off. Wintertime brings the largest waves, but bring a thicker wetsuit. Conditions change day to day and even hour to hour, so be sure to check out a surf forecast or two before heading out.
The three mile stretch of Venice Beach offers a bit of everything: a convenient location, the carnival-esque boardwalk, the sand-and-sports types, bars and restaurants galore, and some okay waves. Numerous surf schools offer lessons for beginners. Starter surfers can try their luck by the pier, where short swells break right and left along a sandbar. Experienced surfers can head north to the rock jetty for the Venice Breakwater, which sports its best waves during the winter months.
It doesn’t look like much, but it’s got it where it counts. El Porto is a great beach break with consistent surf almost year round thanks to an underwater canyon. Beginners like it as a good place to learn. Advanced surfers roll up in the winter, looking for stellar, though elusive, A-frames. Conveniently located near the 105 Freeway for easy access and near Manhattan Beach restaurants for easy eats, El Porto is a popular beach for all types. This means the metered parking lot fills up fast, so arrive early, because street parking is a challenge.
It’s a haul to get out here, about an hour drive west of Los Angeles. But worth it. Windswept sand stretches for three miles without the crowds or the development of other beaches. It hosts several surfing events each year and is also popular with kitesurfers and bodyboarders. Zuma is one of the few places for consistently good summer swells. The waves are short and fast along the beach break. It can be a tricky place to surf, so beginners should stick to the safer west side.
A point break that offers a long ride and some of the best waves year round. From the highway, head down along Topanga Beach Drive to the beach, which is a mix of sand and rocks. It’s not as crowded as other beaches, but some days the lineup for a wave is a long one. The quality of waves has created a strong following among advanced surfers. When you’re done for the day, fill up at one of the many seafood restaurants up and down PCH.
A surfing classic. A mecca. A major draw. Everyone should surf Malibu at least once...which means that on any given day, everyone probably is. The crowds, though, are half the fun, as you won’t see a more eclectic group anywhere else. Old and young, beginners and experts, locals and outsiders, celebrities, average Joes and weirdos. There are three points, with the first being the slowest. Longboarders will especially appreciate the waves here, which can produce a very long ride. The third point is the fastest and attracts the shortboarders. Too crowded? Hang out at Malibu Lagoon or the pier and wait for your chance to surf a classic.