Heading to California and wondering where you can find the best place to learn to surf during your vacation?
We’ve lived and traveled all over the state of California and tried out surfing for the first time ever in Orange County. After getting addicted to the water (which is totally possible, surfing is really awesome) and going to a few surfing camps and surf meetups, we’ve tested out a few different beaches around the state that are great for beginner surfers.
Along with a list of 17 great surfing spots all along the California coast (north and south), below we’ve got some tips for surfing equipment, surfing etiquette, surf lessons and the best time to surf so you can paddle out fully prepared during your California beach getaway.
Where Is The Best Place To Learn To Surf In California?
No matter where you are traveling in the state of California, there will always be beautiful beaches nearby where you can give surfing a shot. Some are definitely a better place than others for beginner surfers, but there are plenty of beaches you can learn to surf at all along the California coast.
What Makes a Beach Perfect for Learning to Surf? Factors like the wind, swells, beach breaks, terrain, and crowdedness of the beach are all important for determining whether or not you’re at a good place to learn to surf in California. But no matter where you go, if it’s your first time surfing, it is a really good idea to look into a surfing lesson.
Below are popular beaches all along the California coast (separated by south and north) where you can find great surfing conditions and great surfing lessons so you can get out on the water to have a safe and super fun time!
The Best Place To Learn To Surf In Southern California
1. Huntington Beach, Orange County
My favorite and possibly the best place to learn to surf in California is Huntington Beach in Orange County. Known as Surf City USA, Huntington Beach is the perfect place to be surrounded by everything surf related.
In addition to learning to surf and shopping for everything surf, Huntington Beach is also home to the professional surfing competition, the US Surf Open. The huge event is held every year at the end of July and beginning of August, and it is free to attend.
➡️ For a 2 Hour Private Surfing Lesson in Huntington Beach, we recommend booking your lesson here with Wavehuggers.
There are plenty of surf shops and schools in Huntington Beach where you can find lessons but if you want to book a private 2 hour lesson ahead of time, we recommend Wavehuggers. Huntington Beach doesn’t always have the easiest beginner waves (but it’s still worth it to learn in the surfing capital of the US) so a surfing lesson is a really good idea here.
Huntington Beach is located in Southern California, in between Los Angeles and San Diego. The closest airport to Huntington Beach is John Wayne Airport, and it is bordered by Newport Beach to the south and Seal Beach to the north.
You can find nearby surfing groups to join here on Meetup.
2. San Onofre, San Diego County
San Onofre is a very popular surfing beach on the edge of Orange County and San Diego County but it is typically not that crowded with beach goers because of the rocky terrain. San Onofre is great for surfing at any level but especially for beginners because of the typical smooth and consistent waves year round.
➡️ For a 2.5 Hour Private Surfing Lesson near San Onofre, California, we recommend booking your lesson here with San Diego Surf.
San Onofre is a State Beach so you won’t find the typical California beach town with shops and restaurants surrounding the beach but to the south of San Onofre you will find Oceanside which has surf schools and lessons, restaurants, shops and the California Surf Museum.
San Onofre is located in Southern California, almost directly in between Los Angeles and San Diego. The closest airport to San Onofre is the John Wayne Airport, and the beach is located closest to the cities of San Clemente and Carlsbad.
Nearby surfing groups you can join are here on Meetup.
3. La Jolla Shores Beach, San Diego County
La Jolla Shores is the best place in San Diego, California for beginners to learn to surf. The waves here are typically decent sized but slower and not quite as powerful. Marine life is very abundant in this area as well.
➡️ For a 1.5 Hour Surfing Lesson in La Jolla, San Diego, we recommend booking your lesson here with Everyday California.
There are places you can rent surfboards and go out on your own but for a surfing lesson we recommend Everyday California. Sometimes the waves can be really good in one area and not very catchable 100 yards away so a lesson is a great way to learn about the breaks and how to catch the best waves.
La Jolla is located in San Diego in Southern California. The closest airport to La Jolla is the San Diego International Airport.
You can find surfing groups to join in San Diego here on Meetup.
4. Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County
Santa Barbara is a great surf destination for beginners because of their mild tides, low currents and pretty consistent waves. It is also typically not overly crowded and the beaches are full of soft sandy terrain.
➡️ For a 1.5 Hour Surfing Lesson in Santa Barbara, California, we recommend booking your lesson here with Cal Coast Adventures.
➡️ For a 2 Hour Surfing Lesson in Santa Barbara, we recommend booking your lesson here with iSurf.
Santa Barbara is located on the northern edge of Southern California, about 2 hours from Los Angeles. The closest airport to Santa Barbara is the San Barbara Airport.
You can find a few surf groups here on Meetup.
5. Venice Beach, Los Angeles County
Venice Beach isn’t necessarily the top beginner place to learn to surf in California, it’s a pretty busy and crowded beach, but with a surfing lesson it can be a great option nearby Los Angeles and Hollywood.
➡️ For a 2 Hour Group Surfing Lesson In Venice Beach, California, we recommend booking your lesson here with Fun Surf LA.
➡️ For a 2 Hour Private Surfing Lesson with Fun Surf LA, you can book your lesson here.
Fun Surf LA offers some of the best surfing lessons in the area with both combined group lessons or private lessons. During the 2 hour group lesson you get use of a wetsuit and surfboard and will spend 20 to 30 minutes on the beach learning techniques and the rest of the time in the water. The private lesson is tailored specifically towards you and you will get to spend the entire lesson with your instructor.
Venice Beach is located in Southern California, just south of Santa Monica and west of Los Angeles. The closest airport to Venice Beach is LAX Airport.
You can find surfing groups to join here on Meetup.
6. Laguna Beach, Orange County
Laguna Beach is a beautiful Orange County coastal town full of little coves and tide pools. The most popular beach for beginner surfers in Laguna is Thalia Street Beach because of its soft, consistent and gentle waves.
➡️ For a 1.5 Hour Surfing Lesson in Laguna Beach, California, we recommend booking your lesson here with Surf And Kayak With Laguna Ethos.
Thalia Street Beach has the most rideable waves in the area so it is likely you’ll find many other surfers out there. Be sure to follow proper surfing etiquette or grab a surfing lesson if you’re not sure what to do.
Laguna Beach is located in Southern California, towards the south end of Orange County. The closest airport to Laguna is the John Wayne Airport.
The closest surfing groups to join near Laguna are here on Meetup.
7. Newport Beach, Orange County
Newport Beach is straight to the south of Huntington Beach and is typically a great place for beginners to learn to surf in Orange County, California. Unlike Huntington, the waves here tend to be smaller and more consistent (aside from The Wedge at the south end of Newport Beach), which is perfect for new surfers.
➡️ For a 2 Hour Private Surfing Lesson in Newport Beach, California, we recommend booking your lesson here with Learn To Surf.
The closer you are to the pier, the more surf shops and rentals you’ll find. If you want to book ahead of time, we recommend checking out surfing lesson from Learn To Surf. They offer a great 2 hour private lesson with all equipment included.
Newport Beach is located in Southern California, right in the heart of Orange County. The closest airport to Newport is also the John Wayne Airport.
Surfing groups to join near Newport are here on Meetup.
8. Santa Monica, Los Angeles County
The waves at Santa Monica are typically good for beginner surfing, the only downside is typically the crowds that frequent this beach. But because it is so close to Hollywood and Los Angeles, this is a great beach to go to during a city vacation.
Ride-shares are the quickest and easiest way to get to Santa Monica from Hollywood or Los Angeles, but they can be quite expensive in the city.
➡️ For an 1.5 Hour Surfing Lesson in Santa Monica, California, we recommend booking your lesson here with Kapowui Surf Lessons.
➡️ For 2 Hours of Surfing with Kapowui Surf Lessons, you can book your lesson here.
With the crowds of people, a surfing lesson is a particularly good idea at Santa Monica and we recommend looking into Kapowui Surf Lessons. They are one of the highest rated surf companies out there and have lesson options for an hour and a half to two hours.
Santa Monica is located in Southern California, just west of Hollywood and Los Angeles. The LAX Airport is the closest airport to Santa Monica.
The closest surfing groups to join are here on Meetup.
9. Oceanside Harbor Beach, Carlsbad, San Diego County
On the very north end of San Diego County, close to the border of Orange County, Oceanside Beach is a great option for beginner surfers. Paddling out on the north or south side of the pier is the surfing hot spot in Oceanside, and fortunately it is one of the best year round destinations in Southern California for surfing.
➡️ For a 2.5 Hour Private Surfing Lesson in Carlsbad, California, we recommend booking your lesson here with San Diego Surf.
Oceanside is located just north of Carlsbad in Southern California. Oceanside sits directly in the middle (1 hour each way) of both the John Wayne Airport and the San Diego International Airport.
The closest surfing groups to Oceanside are here on Meetup.
10. Bolsa Chica State Beach, Orange County
Just north of Huntington Beach, Bolsa Chica is a great first time surf spot in comparison to Huntington because of fewer crowds. Waves are typically small and soft, the ground is soft and sandy, the beach is wide and empty, and it is all together a very safe place to learn to surf.
➡️ For a 2 Hour Surfing Lesson at Bolsa Chica State Beach, we recommend booking your lesson here with Let’s Go Surf School.
Bolsa Chica is a State Beach so you won’t find shops and restaurants surrounding the beach like in other beach towns, but you can find surfing lessons with Let’s Go Surf School.
Bolsa Chica is located just north of Huntington Beach in Southern California. The closest airport is the John Wayne Airport.
The closest surfing groups to Bolsa Chica are here on Meetup.
11. Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles County
Hermosa, Manhattan and Redondo Beach are all beaches just south of LAX Airpot and more of local spots than typical busy tourist beaches. Summer is typically the best time to surf here but Hermosa has pretty consistent waves any time.
➡️ For a 2 Hour Group Surfing Lesson in the Hermosa Beach area, we recommend booking your lesson here with Wavehuggers.
Surf conditions in Hermosa can vary so your best option is to grab a surfing lesson to know when to go and where to go specifically. Tides, swells and weather conditions are all factors for knowing when and where to go in Hermosa.
Hermosa Beach is located in Southern California, just south of Santa Monica and southwest of Los Angeles. The closest airport to Hermosa is LAX airport.
The closest surfing groups to Hermosa are here on Meetup.
12. Malibu, Los Angeles County
Malibu is one of the best and most popular areas in California for intermediate surfing and although it can be great for beginners, you really need to pay attention and know the surf conditions to determine whether you should go out as a beginner.
➡️ For a Surfing Lesson in Malibu, California, we recommend booking your lesson here with Always Summer Surf School.
Again, a surfing lesson will be the best option if you’re new to the sport and are wanting to try it out in Malibu. Surfrider Beach and County Line Beach are typically the two popular beginner spots but during the Summer and Fall swells, it is possible to see waves upwards of 8 feet high.
Malibu is located in Southern California, about an hour from the city center of Los Angeles. LAX is the closest airport to Malibu.
The Best Place To Learn To Surf In Northern California
Although Northern California has cooler temperatures, both in the air and in the water, it can still be a great place to learn to surf or watch some world class big wave surfing. Marine life is also abundant up there and has some of the worlds best whale watching, particularly in Monterey.
13. Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County
Santa Cruz is the coolest surf town in Northern California and a great place to learn to surf. In addition to getting out on the water, you can also visit the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum and shop for some great surf apparel and gear at the Pacific Wave store (the creators of the famous Santa Cruz apparel).
➡️ For a 3 Hour Surfing Lesson in Santa Cruz, California, we recommend booking your lesson here with Adventure Out.
Cowell Beach is one of the popular areas for beginner surfers but surfing is very popular in this city so whichever beach you choose to go to it will likely be fairly crowded. Be sure to follow proper surf etiquette and if you’re not sure, take a surfing lesson to learn what to do, how to be safe in the water and how to stand up on the board.
Santa Cruz is located in Northern California, not far from San Jose and San Francisco. The closest large airport to Santa Cruz is the San Jose International Airport.
You can find surf groups to join in Santa Cruz here on Meetup.
14. Stinson Beach, Marin County
If you’re visiting the San Francisco or Napa Valley areas and want to spend some time at the beach, Stinson Beach is about an hour from each and it can be a good option for surfing.
This area is part of the large Red Triangle, which is an area heavily populated with particular marine life 🦈, so a lesson with experienced instructors is a great idea.
➡️ For a 2 Hour Surfing Lesson in Stinson Beach, California, we recommend booking your lesson here with Marin Outdoor Adventure.
Summer is the best time for weather in this area but it will still be fairly cold outside and cold in the water. Unlike most other surfing lessons, this one does not include the surfboard and wetsuit rental with the lesson so those would be an additional charge.
Stinson Beach is located in Northern California, across the Golden Gate Bridge to the north of San Francisco, and a little over an hour to the southwest of Napa Valley. The Oakland Airport or San Francisco Airport would be the two closest to Stinson Beach.
You can find a few surfing groups to join near Stinson here on Meetup.
15. Pacifica State Beach, San Francisco, San Mateo County
Much closer to San Francisco and the Half Moon Bay Area you can find the town of Pacifica. Pacifica State Beach and more specifically Linda Mar Beach are the most popular for beginner surfers in the Bay Area.
➡️ For a 3 Hour Beginner Surfing Lesson in Pacifica, California, we recommend booking your lesson here with Adventure Out.
During the winter months, you can find one of the worlds greatest big wave surf spots about 20 minutes south of Pacifica at Mavericks Beach.
You can find safety info and instructions on how to get to the viewing area through Mavericks Surf Company, but the break is a half mile out from shore and waves can reach 60 feet so it is only a place for highly experienced surfers.
Pacifica is located in Northern California, just south of San Francisco. The San Francisco International Airport is actually closer to Pacifica than it is to San Francisco.
You can find a few surfing groups to join near Pacifica here on Meetup.
16. Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo County
If you’re visiting Central California, Pismo Beach is one of the best and most consistent surfing spots in the area. Surf culture and surf contests are big here but waves are typically soft and gentle so it makes for a great beach for beginners to learn to surf.
➡️ For a 1.5 Hour Surfing Lesson in Pismo Beach, California, we recommend booking your lesson here with Sandbar Surf Company.
In addition to getting out in the water and shredding some waves, Pismo is also considered the Clam Capital of the World which also makes their marine life abundant, particularly with Sea Otters.
Pismo Beach is located in Northern California, just south of San Luis Obispo. The San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport is the closest airport to Pismo Beach.
17. Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo County
Also in the Central California area, Morro Bay is another one of the best spots for surfing in this part of the state. The town is also one of the cutest coastal towns in California and the surrounding nature is beautiful and fun to explore.
➡️ For a 1.5 Hour Private Surfing Lesson In Morro Bay, California, we recommend booking your lesson here with Cal Coast Adventures.
Cal Coast Adventures is one of the best places in the area to find a private surfing lesson at a good price. The wetsuit and surfboard are included with the lesson and you’ll get 90 minutes with your own personal instructor.
Morro Bay is located in Northern California, south of Big Sur and northwest of San Luis Obispo. The closest airport to Morro Bay is the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport.
Is A Surfing Lesson Worth It?
A surfing lesson is one hundred percent worth it, especially if you are brand new to the sport. Besides helping with the techniques of surfing, lessons are great for learning surfing etiquette on the water (you don’t want to make other surfers angry) and for learning surfing safety (the ocean is very powerful and can be dangerous).
How much do surfing lessons cost in California? The cost of surfing lessons will depend on the length of time, whether it is a private or group lesson, and the location of the lesson. Typically lesson times vary from 1 to 3 hours, and average surf lesson costs are between $70 to $160.
➡️ To find Surfing Lessons all over the California coast, check each location on our list of the 17 Best Places To Learn To Surf in California above.
Can I surf without a lesson? Yes you can definitely surf without a lesson but again, lessons are great for teaching you how to surf as well as etiquette and safety.
Is surfing hard to learn by yourself? Like any other sport, you can go out and surf on your own but if you want to learn how to do things the correct way, lessons are very beneficial. And how hard surfing will be on your own will also depend on how athletic and knowledgeable you are about the ocean.
Surfing is also more enjoyable when you’re out there with others and two other ways you can find new surfing buddies while in California is through Surfing Groups on Meetup (for individual locations see each of the 17 locations above) and surf sessions with various chapters of Christian Surfers.
When Is The Best Time To Learn To Surf In California?
☀️ Summer is the best time in terms of weather to learn to surf at any place in California because outside temperatures are at their hottest, which is great for that cold Pacific water, and the days are long and sunny.
🍁 But Winter, Spring and particularly Fall are typically better times to surf in terms of wave size and consistency all along the California coast as well as lower crowd levels. However, the water and outside temperatures will be a lot colder and the waves will be bigger during these seasons.
🏄♂️ For beginner surfers, late Summer and early Fall are typically best for nice sized beginner waves and less crowds after September when school resumes.
Will Surfing Get You In Shape?
If you’ve never surfed before and you spend a few hours out on the water, you will quickly realize how exhausting surfing is and how sore it will make your entire body.
Surfing is an incredible full body workout that is great for burning fat and calories and so much fun that you can spend hours doing it and never get bored.
What Are The Cons Of Surfing?
Surfing is one of the most incredible activities out there with amazing benefits like great exercise, pure joy and bright sunshine, but just like any other sport, it does have a few downsides.
🦈 Most notably, sharks are the biggest downside to surfing. But don’t think that sharks are killing machines, they are just curious and often mistaken but that doesn’t mean you will have a bad experience with them.
Fireworks and train crashes are far more likely to kill you than sharks (FloridaMuseum) so there is no need to worry or give up the thought of surfing. I’ve actually seen a couple of sharks while surfing or just out in the water and they just minded their own business and kept on swimming.
🌊 The ocean itself can be a downside to surfing because it is powerful and sometimes very dangerous. Drowning, strong riptides or currents that pull you out to sea, hitting rocky or coral ocean floors, powerful or damaging waves and so on are all important things to think about when going out to surf, especially on your own.
That’s why a lesson is a really great option if you are new to surfing for both learning skills and safety as well as surfing with others.
🤕 And like any physical activity, you can get injured while surfing. It is a very physically demanding sport so muscle or other internal injuries can occur as well as hard falls or leash tangles. I was once punched in the face with my surfboard with the force of a wave after I came up from under the water.
Surfing is one of the sports that requires the least amount of equipment. Depending on where you go in the world you may only need a surfboard, but these are the things we like to have for surfing.
🏄♂️ A wetsuit is pretty essential for surfing especially in cold California waters. It is super annoying to put on and get off, but it is worth it to avoid freezing, rashes from the board or putting sunscreen on all over your body.
🏄 Of course a surfboard is the most essential item for surfing. If it’s your first time, a long board or foam board will be the easiest to learn to surf on.
🧴Organic and reef friendly sunscreen is very important for your face while surfing. Some surfers just use zinc on their noses and cheeks to avoid getting burnt.
🚰 Making sure to have enough water to drink on shore is very important while surfing. Besides being a terribly exhaustive activity, the hot sunny temperatures and inevitable salt water ingestion will leave you pretty thirsty.
🍌 Food, food and more food. Since surfing burns calories like crazy, extreme hunger is unavoidable. Carbs will be most enticing after a surf session but we also like to make sure to have good and healthy snacks to eat.
📸 And to document the progress or excitement of surfing, take a camera out in the water with you (just be sure to have it secured) or have someone on shore snap some action shots while you surf.
Do you need a wetsuit to surf in Southern California? You don’t have to wear a wetsuit in Southern California but it is so much better with one on. Even Southern California waters are cold and the wetsuit also helps avoid rashes from the surfboard and having to put on full body sunscreen.
Can you surf without a wetsuit in California? If it’s helpful to have a wetsuit in Southern California, it’s definitely helpful to have one in locations to the north as well. During the summer, outside temperatures in Northern California on average only go as high as the mid 70s and and water temperatures to the high 60s.
As a new surfer, you don’t want to get out in the water and cause the local and advanced surfers to hate you. There are rules to surfing that you should know and follow before going out to surf.
That’s why a surfing lesson or a meetup with other surfers that are welcoming to beginners is great to learn what to do and what not to do, and have the help of other more experienced surfers.
Just because the water and the waves look nice on shore, doesn’t mean that they aren’t very powerful or the current isn’t super strong underneath the water.
That’s another reason why surf lessons or surf meetups are a really good idea when you’re new to surfing to have help with understanding the ocean, for both getting up on the board as well as ocean safety.
There are lifeguards at pretty much all major beaches in California, but surfing with others that are more experienced is just all together better for you as a beginner.
Wrap Up: The Best Place To Learn To Surf In California
Huntington Beach may be my favorite place to learn to surf in California, but fortunately no matter what part of the state you are traveling to, you can find plenty of great surfing spots all along the coast. If it’s your first time surfing (or even if its not) grab a lesson to learn surfing techniques, etiquette and safety, and have an awesome time!