The Ultimate West Coast Surf Trip: The Definitive Guide

There’s no doubt about it:

There’s no doubt about it: the West Coast is the prime surfing region in the US. And that’s not just hype. In this article, Adam Wright and Marcus Sanders at Surfline explain the science behind the West Coast’s incredible surf conditions. Basically, west coasts all over the world get better surf than east coasts because storms move across the globe from west to east.

So a West Coast surf trip is killer.

Okay, now what? What beaches do you hit? What bars do you hit afterward? We’ll tell you all that and more. Here, we’ve compiled the definitive guide to a great West Coast surf trip.

But first, the locations. We chose 6 of the best surf spots on the West Coast: Santa Cruz, Ventura, Malibu, Huntington Beach, Trestles, and San Diego.

Chapter 1

Avoid Common Mistakes While Planning Your Trip

We all love spontaneity, right? It’s the thrill of the unknown that keeps us coming back to surf. But with a big trip like this, you need to balance that spontaneity with some solid planning. The first thing to decide is what time of year you’ll go. Do you want warmer water, or bigger swell size? Unfortunately, you have to choose.

Check out the graphs on swell size and water temperature across the year in this post from Surfing Waves. Once you’ve chosen your time of year, it’s time to book hotels (and air travel, if you need it). Check out the links below, and make sure you book in the suggested timeframes.


Chapter 2

Packing: Bring Your Own Board, Rent, Or Buy & Sell?

This is a serious dilemma if you’re flying in. Taking your own board with you will mean that you are surfing a familiar board. However, you have to consider the baggage surcharges that airlines may charge, the potential damage that careless baggage handlers could do to your board and the hassle of traveling with a board. If you go this route, be sure you have a solid board bag. Other options are renting a board at each location, or buying a board at each location and selling it before you leave. If you want to rent equipment, we’ll give you the best board rental spots at each location when we get there.

What else should you pack? Obviously, the basics—clothes, toiletries, swimsuit, sunscreen, and towels. Don’t forget surf sunglasses. Regular sunglasses aren’t designed for the specific needs of surfers. If you need prescription vision, prescription surf sunglasses are the way to go.

You’ll need to take care of your board, too, with wax, a ding repair kit, and possibly a backup leash.

Along those lines, consider your transportation on land. For shorter trips, renting a car is the most convenient option, though it gets expensive. If you’re flying in from outside the US and taking a long trip, consider buying a used car and selling it at the end of the trip. Either way, arranging your transportation can be a bit of a headache. Make sure you do your homework.

Check out these links for packing checklists and transportation advice. We’ve got every kind of packing list, from just the essentials to bringing everything you could possibly need.


Chapter 3

Santa Cruz: Great Beaches for Beginners and Veterans Alike

This is our most northern destination. Just under an hour southwest of San Jose, Santa Cruz is a great surf spot. Are you new to surfing? Check out Cowell’s Beach. If you’re a veteran, give yourself a major challenge with Steamer Lane—not for the faint of heart! Of course, after a long day in the ocean, you’ll want to kick back and have an awesome night. We’ve gathered up the best restaurants and bars in Santa Cruz, too.


Chapter 4

Ventura: A Quiet Surf Heaven

Ventura’s beaches are best later in the year, so take that into account. Though the swell can be inconsistent, when it’s good, it’s great. It’s a little off the beaten path, so don’t expect incredible night life. On the other hand, the lack of extra stuff can help you get in a real zone. Ventura is one of the most unique surfing experiences you’ll have.


Chapter 5

Malibu: Where It All Began

This is the place where modern surf culture developed. If you’re surfing the west coast, you have to stop here! Malibu surf is best from late summer to fall, so take that into account in planning your trip. But here’s a tip: on a busy day, the main break closest to the pier can get pretty crowded. Just keep a smile on your face, don’t cut anybody in line, and you should be fine.


Chapter 6

Huntington Beach: Awesome Surf, Awesome Nightlife

Only an hour outside of downtown Los Angeles, Huntington Beach is a phenomenal surf spot. With world-class events and incredible restaurants, it’s a great stop for your West Coast tour. Check it out!


Chapter 7

San Clemente (Trestles): Best Shaped Consistent Surf in CA!

That’s right. We have a not so little secret for you: Trestles has the combination of best shaped and most consistent waves in the state. This is probably why the World Championship Tour of Surfing holds contests here. You are likely to find yourself surfing with professional s and local rippers if you go to the section called Lowers. If that is not your thing, there are also some fun, less competitive spots a short walk to the north or south. Your West Coast surf trip had better include a stop to Trestles. You won’t regret it.


Chapter 8

San Diego: Crowded, But Iconic—You Can’t Skip It!

This is it. Any farther south, and you’re in Mexico. That sounds awesome—if you planned for it. But that’s beyond our topic.

Unfortunately, many of the beaches in San Diego are crowded. But while you’re here, you may as well surf as far south as you can in the US, right? Here are some great locations in San Diego.