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The 11 Best Surf Towns in the U.S.

The 11 Best Surf Towns in the U.S.

Whether untouched by civilization or on the border of the coolest metropolises, finding the best surf spots is an adventure in itself.


6 min read

June 08, 2021

Looking for gnarly waves to shoot the curl? Don your wetsuit, break out your waxed board, and hit the righteous waves at one of the nation’s top surf towns. Why just marvel at pros in action when you can try your hand at surfing? Whether untouched by civilization or on the border of the coolest metropolises, finding the best surf spots is an adventure in itself. See you on the next wave in the best surf towns in the U.S.

These Cities Have the Best Surf Spots in the U.S.

Huntington Beach has had quite a few memorable moments in surf history over the last century or so. The city's nickname alone says it all.

1. Huntington Beach

Experience the quintessential Southern California surfing atmosphere in Huntington Beach, affectionately known as Surf City U.S.A. Renowned for its consistent waves and vibrant surfing heritage, this gem in Orange County embodies the laid-back, surf-centric lifestyle of California. With its expansive sandy shores, the area welcomes wave riders of all abilities, offering diverse spots that suit various surfing experiences.

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Newbies experience the rush of a first paddle-out at the city beach, while the pros shred at Sunset Beach. Grab your board, hit the water, and you’ll understand why The Beach Boys said to go surfin’ at the best spot on the West Coast

Long before it was a worldwide sport, surfing was a staple of Santa Barbara culture. With epic surf breaks all over the town, it's easy to see why.

2. Santa Barbara

We’re always amped to hang ten and live the dream in Santa Barbara. Most people think of it as the top destination for shopping, dining, and experiencing Spanish-infused culture—and while that’s true, the American Riviera is just as impressive when it comes to beach breaks. Millions of professionals flock to Santa Barbara every year just to get a taste of the swells. Eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater, surf legend Pat Curren, and former world champion Shaun Tomson all come here to shred. You might even see Tomson paddling it out on the S.B. breaks.

If you’ve ever wandered into a California surf shop, you’ve most likely seen a picture of Rincon, known among surfers as “The Queen of the Coast”. This iconic spot alone secured Santa Barbara a coveted place among the best surf cities in the U.S.

Because of the ideal surfing conditions, Surfer Magazine named Kill Devil Hills as one of the top ten surf towns in the United States.

3. Kill Devil Hills

Few coastal havens offer the serene escape found in Kill Devil Hills, nestled along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This slender landmass, set a distance from the mainland East Coast, provides a feeling of retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Here, the waves are unparalleled, inviting surfers to experience some of the most thrilling rides. Homes on stilts dot the landscape, with the ocean's high tides brushing against their thresholds. This town is also celebrated for hosting the most impressive surf tubes along the Eastern Seaboard. Ready for an adventure?

Although the area welcomes numerous visitors in the summer, the surfing experience transforms in the winter months. For those with a passion for surfing and a knack for braving the elements, visiting Kill Devil Hills from December to February offers a unique challenge, pitting you against the majestic power of the winter waves.

4. Encinitas

Southern California is home to the best places to surf in the U.S., but none really measure up to Encinitas. Embodying surf culture at its finest, the coastal town invites you to splash around pretty much year-round. A handful of surf icons, competitive teams, journalists, and industry insiders make it clear that this sport is not just important here—it’s a way of life.

Cardiff State Beach is one of the beaches in Encinitas where you’ll find families hanging out together both in and out of the water. Swami’s Beach is yet another surfing mecca and one of the most desirable surfing destinations in San Diego. For a pleasantly uncrowded spot, grab your board and head over to the white sand Grandview Surf Beach.

The sun shines 342 days a year in San Clemente and the SoCal metropolitan conveniences are balanced by beaches untouched by time.

5. San Clemente

Expert surfers meet their match in San Clemente. Pros like Jordy Smith and Yadin Nicol come to this coastal destination for the kind of swells you’ll only find at Trestles Beach. A favorite among tourists and locals, Trestles offers world-class waves, breaks of gold, and excellent surfing conditions.

Much like Encinitas, San Clemente is one of the best surf towns in the U.S.A. and a surfer’s paradise pretty much all year long. While it’s a little smaller and sleepier, the waves you ride here are incomparable. Care to gnar up rad waves?

6. Newport Beach

Known as an uber-cool bodysurfing destination, Newport Beach is why many consider SoCal the birthplace of the sport. This OC gem is home to The Wedge—the undisputed, righteous, and full-out king of bodysurfing spot. Ask any aficionado and they’ll tell you that this 20-foot-plus meat grinder is a dream-come-true. The tides come in strong and fast; little waves could never live up to these. The man-made Wedge jetty buffers the waves so that novices get a slice of the fun too.

Haleiwa is not only a relaxed surf town; it also has a local flair, rural atmosphere, and trendy surf stores and boutiques.

7. Haleiwa 

White sand beaches and smooth waves come to mind whenever we speak of Hawaii, and Haleiwa is where you find exactly that. Drive north from bustling Honolulu and you’ll arrive at the seven-mile, wave-filled treasure that is the North Shore. As one of the best surfing towns in the U.S., Haleiwa allows you to truly immerse yourself in the surf culture while riding killer waves. This quaint surf town blends the stereotypical tranquility of an island with a local-centric vibe—everyone is raving about this place.

Surfers have been riding the waves in Santa Cruz, California since 1885, when three Hawaiian princes brought this sport to the mainland.

8. Santa Cruz

A beach day itinerary in Santa Cruz has no shortage of surfing, thanks to the city's 34 beaches. Yes, you read that right. As the Central Coast’s top surf spot, Santa Cruz is all about short and fast waves that have everyone stoked. Steamer Lane is a legendary place to surf in the U.S. with point breaks over rock bottoms. Cowell’s Beach is yet another classic Santa Cruz surf spot, where long reef breaks ease onto the shore. 

The boardwalk at Santa Cruz is just as iconic—with vintage rides, carnival munchies, and surf culture, crowds flock here whenever the weather’s perfect. Brush up on local surf history, and learn about the greats at the Surfing Museum, too.

The south-facing Surfrider Beach in Malibu is where it started and remains one of the principal surfing beaches in the area.

9. Malibu

Eternal sunlight, glamorous parties, and celebrity sightings are what Malibu is famous for. Unsurprisingly, you won’t find a better place to catch waves than in the ‘bu. This coastal city prides itself on being one of the best surf spots in the U.S. for longboarders. You’ll have a blast splashing around the beautiful Topanga Beach—the ideal place to go for different wave sizes, ranging from small to a whopping 10-feet. Zuma Beach doesn’t disappoint either when it comes to gnarly waves. And don’t be surprised to find out that Surfrider Beach is the place to do the turtle roll. 

10. Ocean City

Is it in the pizza or the bagels? Whatever it is, New Jersey is where the country’s best surfers come from. More specifically, Ocean City is what experts claim to be one of the best places to surf in America. This coastal city is the spot to be if you want glassy head-high sets and clean swells. Ocean City has more water sports accolades than any northwestern surf establishment. Even the local high school has won over a dozen state surfing championships—they don’t mess around!

The best thing about Laguna Beach's surf scene is that every break is different, creating a wide range of waves.

11. Laguna Beach

While Laguna Beach is one of the artsier towns of the Golden State, few know that it’s also one of the most welcoming areas for up-and-coming surfers. Thalia Street Beach is arguably the best beach in Orange County, with gentle and consistent waves helping you gain confidence. And, once you get the hang of it, head to Rockpile Beach for more challenging surf—‘sea’ you on the next wave!

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