Surf Your Way Down the Southern California Coast on This Epic Road TripBy Spencer Spellman
Southern California is undeniably one of the world’s most iconic surf destinations. From Malibu’s south-facing coastline to Orange County’s trademarked Surf City USA and San Diego’s towering bluffs, epic surfer lineups extend down the Golden State’s shoreline.
This Southern California surfing itinerary literally begins at the Los Angeles (and Ventura) county line, at County Line Beach. County Line is a combination of everything that makes a good surf spot: beach break and point break (surfable waves that break onto a beach and a wave that breaks onto a rocky point, respectively), reasonably good conditions year-round and free parking (albeit colder water than the rest of Southern California).
What’s more, right across the street is Neptune’s Net, one of Southern California’s most classic beach dives. Opened in 1956 by NASA astronaut Eastman Jacobs, Neptune’s Net is where tourists, locals, surfers, hikers and motorcyclists line up on the weekend for freshly grilled or fried seafood and a cold beer overlooking the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and Pacific Ocean.
Continue south a few miles on the PCH to other great Los Angeles County surf breaks, including Leo Carrillo, for a right-hand point/reef break, and further south, Zuma Beach, best known for its summer swell. Make an entire beach day at nearby Paradise Cove, which has its own private beach with rentable chaise lounges and a restaurant and bar.
Finally, treat yourself post surf by driving south to Malibu Farm Pier Cafe for lunch or dinner at the end of the Malibu Pier, or enjoy weekend live music and wine flights nearby at Rosenthal Wine Bar.
While Los Angeles’ Westside beaches like Venice and Santa Monica are undeniably popular beach towns, they aren’t L.A.’s best surf spots. Nonetheless, it’s worth a stop at Venice Pier to see how the surf is and to enjoy an acai bowl or coffee at The Cow’s End Café or sunset drinks at the Venice Whaler later in the day.
Just south, however, in the South Bay is arguably one of California’s best urban surf spots, El Porto. While El Porto is by no means a world-class surf break, what surfers can expect to find is consistent swell, waves for all skill levels and a little more room to spread out than a lot of Southern California surf breaks.
We’d be remiss to talk California surf destinations and not talk Surf City USA, which is the trademarked nickname of Huntington Beach. Home to world-class surf events, such as the US Open of Surfing (since 1959), Huntington Beach is frequently ranked as one of the best surf towns in the world, including its ranking at number 10 last year by Surfer Magazine.
While Huntington Beach can get crowded with surfers, it has 10 miles of uninterrupted beaches for those willing to venture out.
Reward yourself with post-surf beers at The Dudes’ Tasting Room or Riip Beer Company, both of which are located on the PCH in Huntington Beach. Before continuing down the PCH, grab sandwiches at Subculture Extraordinary Sandwiches, considered one of Southern California’s best sandwich shops.
Don’t leave, however, without visiting Huntington Beach Pier, one of the longest piers on the West Coast, measuring 1,850 feet in length. Surfing legends, such as George Freeth and Duke Kahanamoku, helped introduce surfing here in the early 1900s.
San Clemente and San Onofre
San Clemente is also ranked as one of the world’s best surfing towns. After hitting the waves, stop into Pedro’s Tacos, a surf-themed open-air taqueria that’s been serving classic Southern California fish tacos for more than 30 years.
Continue down the PCH a few miles into San Diego County to another famous California surfing beach, San Onofre Beach, which borders Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base.
San Onofre is a popular yet classic California surfing spot, established as a state park in 1971 by President Ronald Reagan. It’s not unlikely to pull into a parking spot between a luxury 30-foot RV on one side and a run-down vintage VW Beetle on the other.
Among the surf breaks is Lower Trestles, where you may spot pro surfers catching a few waves. Most people will be just as content to surf Old Man’s (aka Surf Beach), which is typically more mellow and good for all levels of surfers.
In Encinitas, Swami’s is considered one of the best surf breaks in San Diego County, if not all of Southern California. However, the lineup can be crowded, especially during the big winter swell season. Even still, Encinitas is lined with other surf breaks, including D Street and Cardiff Reef. Alternatively, continue south 13 miles to Black’s Beach in La Jolla, known to have some of the best waves in San Diego (and for being a nude beach).
Being North County San Diego, as this is, you’re in the heart of California’s beer scene, with a plethora of great nearby breweries, including Saint Archer, Culture Brewing and The Lost Abbey’s Cardiff location.