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San Diego is home to great weather, endless coastlines, and a wide variety of surf breaks made for every skill level imaginable. Whether you are just starting to learn how to surf or are making the trip to San Diego specifically for its intense breaks, there is a beach and a season for you.
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Best for: Advanced surfers
Best season: Year-round
Oceanside is perfect for experienced surfers regardless of the season, and thanks to its consistent surf, it has a reputation for being one of the best surfing beaches in San Diego. This location is blessed with southern and northwestern swells due to the beach’s shifting sandbars, and curling rights and lefts make frequent appearances during the summer. But thrillseekers wait until winter to hit the longest and most exhilarating of the waves. The most tumultuous surf surrounds Oceanside Pier, so be careful—and consider checking Surfline San Diego before heading out—because the currents have been known to sweep surfers under the pier when the waters get rough.
Aside from boasting interesting wave patterns, Oceanside is also renowned for being a great place to see San Diego Harbor’s famous timber jetties, so make sure to bring a camera along.
When you finish surfing, head inland to check out the community of surfer-owned eateries and refuel after riding the waves.
Best for: Intermediate/advanced surfers
Best season: Winter
Swami’s was once a hippie hot spot, but today, it offers some of the best surfing in the San Diego region—when the season’s right. Unlike Oceanside, conditions at Swami’s can be tranquil enough to accommodate beginners who are looking to upgrade their skills in a challenging duel against the ocean. For a calmer experience, head toward the shallow reefs and try to hit the quieter breaks along the shore, but leave the barrels to the more experienced surfers.
The Encinitas beach has grown in popularity over the years and can sometimes be difficult to navigate. But if you can get through the crowds of locals and experience the walls, you’ll understand why it’s considered to be among the city’s top point breaks.
Need to grab a new board in order to feel confident tackling these swells? Head over to Hansen Surfboards—one of the coolest surf shops in San Diego—to peruse the selection before paddling out to find inner peace.
Best for: Expert/pro surfers
Black’s Beach is one of the most intense surf spots in San Diego. Tucked along the cliffs of Torrey Pines in La Jolla, this remote destination is known for its incessantly crashing waves and incredibly powerful breaks created by the offshore trench lurking beneath the surface.
Since it takes some effort to reach this alcove, Black’s Beach is often a bit quieter than the rest of the surfing beaches in San Diego. Hiking down to the shore takes about 20 minutes (and you are likely to encounter nudists once you get there), so pack accordingly and be prepared for the trek.
Best for: Beginner/intermediate surfers
La Jolla Shores is known for its gentle, slow-moving waves, so it is the perfect place to take some surf lessons in San Diego. Get comfortable with your board, learn the basics, and gain confidence here before pushing yourself to try more difficult waters. Since the waves are ideal all year, there is no longer an excuse to put off learning how to surf.
Pacific Beach is unique in that it has two different regions that appeal to surfers of different skill levels. Tourmaline Surfing Park is located along the southern end of Pacific Beach and is known for its soft waves and perfect-for-beginners surf. Since the parking lot is located here, it’s super easy to find and is a good place to start if you haven’t surfed in a while.
Once you feel comfortable, head up to PB Point, where the more experienced longboarders hang out. Try these slightly larger waves on for size, and relax on the beach with the rest of the college students if it gets to be too much.
Best for: Beginner surfers
Best season: Fall
Whether you are here to surf or to take pictures of the surfers at the South Mission Jetty, this location is the place to be. Like La Jolla Shores, Mission Beach has calmer waters, so join all the beginner surfers in the San Diego area for a day on the water.
But skilled surfers shouldn’t give up hope; locals love this spot during the winter because the swells get significantly larger.
Best for: Beginner/intermediate surfers
Best season: Summer
With tide pools just south of the Ocean Beach Pier, a sandy beach at the south end of the San Diego River, and a wide expanse for experimenting with other watersports, Ocean Beach is a great place to ease yourself into surfing. Take a walk along the nearly half-mile-long pier before diving into the waters for a relaxed surfing session.
Make sure to avoid the Sunset Cliffs area unless you are an incredibly experienced surfer—snobby locals are quite protective of these swells and are quick to judge outsiders, so it’s best to keep to friendlier waters to avoid the pirates altogether. Ocean Beach is significantly more pleasant and has a lot to offer beginners and somewhat experienced surfers alike. After you finish, round out your day by heading over to Ironside Fish and Oyster for some much-needed grub and hitting up the Casbah to catch a show.
Looking for a new challenge? Try the waves of Los Angeles and put your surfing skills to the test.
Rachael Medina is the staff writer and content manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests of Humboldt C…
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