The USA surfing culture was born in Southern California and is alive and well today. Surfers have refined the sport to have its own lifestyle, music, language, and fashions. And since Hollywood and the surfing culture are some of the things Los Angeles is known for, it’s no surprise that plenty of surfer flicks have been produced over the years. But the heart of the sport is in the huge waves and swells of the Pacific Ocean. After all, it’s hard to hang ten on the East Coast unless a storm is brewing out at sea.
So whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned surfer, head to Los Angeles and the West Coast to discover its legendary surf spots.
Santa Monica is a small city located 15 miles west of downtown LA. It’s home to the upscale community of Pacific Palisades and the iconic Santa Monica Pier, Pacific Park, and its yellow solar-powered Ferris wheel.
The surfing at Santa Monica Beach is good for beginners. The waves are constant, easy to get to, and mostly come from groundswells to the right and left of the beach break. The south side of the beach has sandbar peaks, and the waves don’t get too large
For more challenging waves, head to Bay Street where surfing has been popular since the 1960s.
Pay parking is available at the corner of Ocean and Colorado Avenues.
A 45-minute drive from the heart of LA, Huntington Beach is one of the West Coast’s most famous surf towns. Head to the pier for top breaks from the north and south with differing swells. Legendary surfers have perfected their craft here, and World Surfing League competitions are held here.
Winter is the best time for surfing. The swells are bigger and the crowd is thinner. When the conditions are right, you can catch some classic hollow ways. Look for the spray along Pacific Highway.
All-day parking is available in the main parking lots, and the area has plenty of beachside hotels.
Located west of LA, Malibu is known for its beaches and celebrity homes. It’s also a legendary place for surfers with some of the best point breaks in the USA and the world with groundswells rolling in off a deep underwater canyon. Surfrider Beach along the Pacific Coast Highway is practically where the LA surfing culture got its start.
The winds at Malibu’s beaches are ideal and the point breaks are long and lazy. You’ll find excellent right-hand points, longboard waves, and remoter waves to the north. Make these waves and you’re a proven pro.
Manhattan Beach is a two-mile stretch that runs from Hermosa Beach to El Segundo. The whole length is surfable, and there are lots of peaks for beginners and intermediates. However, it’s a small-swell spot, so you have to be on the lookout for closeouts. The waves break parallel to the shore suddenly. They creep in at any waves over six feet and are more likely on west swells.
Manhattan is the epitome of a SoCal beach with white sands, large surfs, and sun-worshipers. You’ll find consistent 12-foot tall waves rolling in from the northwest in the fall and winter.
There’s a large parking lot, but it tends to fill up quickly, so go early.
Topanga is the closest Malibu area beach to LA. Located in the Santa Monica mountains national recreation area at the east end of the Pacific Palisades community, it has an amazing remote look for being so close to the city. It’s situated at the mouth of Topanga Creek which carves its way through the mountains to create Topanga Canyon.
Topanga Beach is popular with surfers because of its shape. The waves are constant and predictable as they wrap around the point formed by Topanga Creek. The creek backs up from behind the beach to form a lagoon.
If you like beach walks and hiking, there’s a nice walking route at low tide at the public beach on the other side. The nearby Santa Monica mountains have excellent hiking and biking trails.
The go-to for many SoCal surfers, El Porto Beach is between Manhattan Beach and Dockweiler State Beach. Surfing is in full swing here after other LA surfing spots are closed for the season. The waves are challenging and require much focus on alignment after bottom turns.
An offshore underwater canyon along with El Porto’s mid location produces some of the biggest waves in the South Bay. Swells that reach up to 5 feet are rideable, and the peaks are excellent for shortboard to longboards. In winter, you’ll find swells that are consistently bigger than other surfing spots in LA. The best swell directions run from the northwest to the west-northwest.
One thing to look out for is pollution from the nearby industrial plants. Certain tides bring heavy backwash.
One of the area’s hippest beaches, Hermosa is located between Hermosa Avenue and 33rd Street. It’s considered an iconic territory for LA surfing. Don’t expect any gnarly barrels off the point, but you’ll find medium to head-height swells and slow-rolling, gentle breaking waves known as mush by surfers. Occasionally, you’ll get a high, hollow set with a quick diagonal barrel.
Hermosa can get quite busy, but multiple peaks help share out share out the crowds. You’ll get the best break during the fall and winter when the tide is low. The waters are chillier at times than you’d expect for Southern California, and a wet suit will come in handy.
Known as an LA counterculture hotspot, Venice Beach gave rise to rock and grunge bands in the 20th century. The image has mellowed with passing generations and an influx of big money, but pretty decent waves have stayed the same and the crowd is still a bit quirky.
The waves at Venice Beach are consistently hollow but can wall up close and steep with little warning. Venice Break north of the pier has the best waves. The Breakwater is formed by rocks that accumulate sand on the ocean floor. The short, sharp performance rides are excellent for five-fin shortboard setups. Keep an eye out for rips and steep drops that can cause board breakage.
The mellow rides are good for beginners, and Venice Beach has plenty of instructors and surf rental shops. After surfing, it’s a great beach for soaking up the local scene, strolling the iconic Venice Boardwalk, and people watching for colorful characters that hang out in the area.
Redondo Beach Breakwater
Located near the border of Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach, this breakwater and jetty spot is for surfers who are advanced and use big-wave boards. The breakwater itself is in Redondo, but the waves are in Hermosa. You may recognize the area from several films including Pirates of the Caribbean, Point Break, and Gone in 60 Seconds.
Redondo Beach has reliable winter surfing with a swell direction from west to northwest with most of the surf produced by underground swells. The breaks are triple-overhead, and the strong currents cause waves that end in severe shore pound.
You’ll find ample parking near the Redondo Beach Pier and Veteran Park. The pier also has great shopping, restaurants, and fast-food stands.