The Top 7 California Beaches for Learning to Surf


When it comes to surfing, not all breaks are created equal, and the difference between them is of the utmost importance to the beginner surfer. Hitting a beach with conditions beyond your skills can result in injury or death, so it’s important to make sure you aren’t getting in over your head when you first drag your shiny new board out into the water. If you’re thinking about taking up this action sport, the following beaches are going to provide the most ideal conditions for ensuring your safety and success out on the water.

Doheny State Beach, Dana Point, California
Located about a mile north of the I-5 and three miles from Mission San Juan Capitstrano, this popular beach is a good place for new surfers to get their feet wet. The long, relatively small waves that roll in here give beginners a chance to find their bearings and their rhythm as they learn to embrace the often-temperamental Pacific. The way the water breaks against Dana Point Harbor gives Doheny’s waves their kinder, gentler nature.

Sunset Cliffs, San Diego, California
One of the only reef breaks in this list, this area—which encompasses Garbage, South Garbage, No Surf and a couple of other spots—will provide an introduction to reef-like conditions, including the long paddle out, and the care one must take in bailing out into rock or coral. This one is good for beginners, because it only breaks when it is big everywhere else, and it offers a nice rolling swell that only rarely gets heavy.

First Point at Surfrider Beach, Malibu, California
For an immersive experience in the Pacific, check out one of Malibu’s premiere surf spots. Right off Pacific Coast Highway, close to Malibu Pier, First Point boasts gentle waist-high waves and good conditions for longboarding.

San Onofre State Beach, San Clemente, California
Making its reputation on its multiple surf breaks and the frequency of informal luaus on its shores, this Southern California spot provides slow-breaking peaks and a gracious cast of locals willing to keep an eye on unwieldy new surfers still getting their sea legs.

Tamarack, Carlsbad, California
This entire stretch of coastline from the soon-to-be water desalinization plant up to Tamarack State Beach offers mostly sandy beach break conditions. The waves are generally pretty small, well-formed and breaking close to shore, making it ideal for the tentative beginner that still wants to keep his or her feet on the bottom.

Pacifica State Beach, Pacifica, California
The surf spot in Pacifica is one of the most populated coves in the Bay Area. It’s usually packed with kooks on foam boards because it’s sheltered from Northern California’s somewhat unpredictable surf. While it may take a while to wait for a set big enough to ride to roll in, and you are going to have to dodge other beginners and groms, it is worth it for a safe place to try your hand at an often dangerous sport.

Cowell’s, Santa Cruz, California
Lauded as one of the world’s best beginner surf spots, Cowell’s, located between the municipal wharf and the lighthouse, is situated in a protected cove, which shelters it from strong winds and calms the surface of the water. A long sandbar keeps things mellow during medium and low tides. Ideal for longboarders, this Central Coast haven is an unforgettable place to ride your first waves.

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