A Beginner’s Guide to Surfing in Southern California

Editors Note: This post was co-written with Christy Woodrow from OrdinaryTraveler

So you’ve arrived in Southern California or you live here and you’ve decided that you want to learn how to surf.  I feel obligated to warn you that there’s a risk that your life as you currently know it will be over. Once you’ve experienced firsthand what it feels like to be  stoked, it will be the start of a lifelong journey in pursuit of that feeling and good waves.

So where do you start? The first time you get in the water can be a bit overwhelming. Getting pounded by wave after wave and trying to control a surfboard can make it seem like a miserable day.  So we decided to put together a list of some beginner friendly spots that will increase the likelihood that you will be stoked after your first lesson and eager to return the water with child like excitement.

Sunset Point

This point break is named Sunset due to the fact that it is at the intersection of the Pacific Coast Highway and Sunset Boulevard. This is hands down my favorite spot to surf when it’s good. For a beginner there might be a bit of dilemma because you do have to get over a few rocks right when you enter the water.  Other than that this is probably one of the most gentle waves you’ll find in LA. Even on a bigger day  it tends to be fairly forgiving. The only downside to this place is that it can get very crowded on a good day. If you’re a beginner it’s recommended that you surf near what is known as the first point or the lifeguard tower. One thing to keep in mind is that you want to be here at a low tide. If you intend to learn here plan on renting a surfboard and a wetsuit somewhere in Santa Monica. Check out the ZJ Boarding House on Main street for rentals.

Santa Monica/Bay Street

This is really the de facto spot that people end up for surf lessons. It’s proximity to the hotels and a number of tourist attractions make it a prime location for the surf instructors to set up shop. If it’s summer time it’s likely that you’ll see many beginners taking lessons here and  in the winter it can become quite big and challenging. If you’re in LA on summer vacation and want to learn to surf and spend the day at the beach this is a solid option.

El Porto

During the winter swells, the presence of (what is apparently an under water canyon) tends to create some very challenging surf conditions. As a beginner you might want to steer clear during the winter. In the summer it’s not uncommon to find surf camps and surf schools setup along the beach and the surrounding area of  Manhattan Beach is quite scenic.  Take a surf lesson and head to Sharkey’s for some burgers and beer.

Cardiff Reef

Cardiff Reef is a point break that produces both lefts and rights. It’s best for longboarding due to the slow and mushy waves. It’s a good spot for beginners since the shallows have a sand bottom and the surfers are generally easy going. The reefs along Cardiff can handle anything from little dribblers to double overhead sets.

Fletcher’s Cove

Fletcher’s Cove is a generally unknown right and left reef break in Solana Beach. The beach access is extremely easy to get to from the nearby parking lot. The bottom is mostly sand and the waves are mushy and slow. This spot works well with a fish or longboard.

Old Mans

Old Mans at San Onofre State Beach is a popular surf spot for beginners to AARP. It’s best for longboards due to its slow, gentle waves. You’re likely to find surfers catching rides while doing a handstand. The bottom is covered in cobblestones and sand. The vibe is super mellow and it’s a great place to hang out for the whole day. Hazards include the possible meltdown of the nearby nuclear power plant, also known as big boobs.

Terra Mar

Terra Mar in Carlsbad, also known as ‘Hole in the Wall,’ is best at low tide. The beach is set up against high cliffs, so it doesn’t work well during high tide. Keep in mind that you might be paddling out in a blanket of seaweed during the summer months. The waves are extremely gentle with good form and breaks consistently both right and left. This spot can get pretty crowded on the weekends and in the summer. Street parking only.

La Jolla Shores

La Jolla Shores is a perfect beginner wave with very little power. This beach break has a sand bottom and can get pretty crowded, so make sure you watch out for other surfers in the water.


Boneyards in Encinitas sits just north of the popular surf break known as Swamis. While Swamis is for intermediate to advanced surfers, Boneyards attracts all levels. The bottom is covered in flat rocks and sand. The reef produces left-hand waves that are great for longboarding. Depending on the tide, you can catch some of the longest rides of your life. Keep in mind it’s about a 10-20 minute walk from any parking areas.


This right and left reef break, also called Tourmo, is located on the northern end of Pacific Beach. It has great facilities with showers and restrooms, along with a big parking lot. This is a great spot to go when the surf is no good anywhere else. It tends to pick up all swell directions and is blocked from the wind by the cove.

15th Street

15th Street in Del Mar is, as the name would suggest, on 15th Street. It’s a right and left rocky reef that is good at all tides and for all surfing levels. It’s mostly flat-faced, easy waves and perfect for beginners. Parking and crowds in Del Mar can be brutal during the summer.

Mission Beach

This spot stretches between Crystal Pier and Mission Bay jetty. It’s a right and left beach break with sandy bottom and is generally less crowded than other surf spots in Southern California. It’s good for all surf levels and is best at mid to high tide.


Srinivas Rao

Srinivas is an avid surfer and personal development blogger at The Skool of Life. He's also the host and co-founder of BlogcastFM, a podcast for bloggers.


  1. 3 years ago

    Nice overview. I would only add Ocean Beach in San Diego. Usually waves over there can be pretty high. It’s also nice check out Sunset Cliffs, if you go over there.

    • 3 years ago
      Christy @ Ordinary Traveler

      I didn’t add sunset cliffs because it’s not a good spot for beginners. It’s fun for intermediate to advanced surfers though!

  2. 3 years ago

    Ooh, thanks for this – lots of good spots in San Diego for me to learn how to surf this summer. Question: any oldtimers out there? I don’t want to feel any more foolish than absolutely necessary.

    • 3 years ago
      Christy @ Ordinary Traveler

      LaVonne, definitely lots of old timers at San Onofre! You will see them pretty much everywhere in San Diego. Have fun!

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