Top 5 Beginner Surf Spots in California
by: Wesley Somoza
Owner of Visit Southern California
Top Five Beaches for New Surfers
The sport of surfing is unique in the sense that you can pretty much do it at any given age. You technically are never too old nor to young to start. Granted if you are too old or young to swim independently this is not a sport for you. That being said here is a short list of the Top 5 Beaches where you can learn to surf, gain confidence in your paddle and not get beaten up too badly by the waves or the locals. In truth it hurts less to get beat up by the waves. Haha!
1. La Jolla Shores Beach
Located in the beautiful jewel of La Jolla this long stretch of beach is the perfect family retreat in Southern California. It contains a large grass area where you can hold a day of play and barbecue. The La Jolla Shores Beach contains a fun playground area for the kiddos and ample bathrooms and showers. The boardwalk leads over to the La Jolla Shores Hotel, the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club and the boat launch where you will see busy kayak companies launching from the shore on their epic kayak retreats to the La Jolla Caves.
Surfing here is great for beginners. The waves during the summer months run anywhere from 2-5 feet and crumble slowly which is great to easily paddle in and get up on. The shore bottom is soft and sandy and with the exception of the sting rays that may whip at your ankle falling into the surf here is fun and safe. I will say on summer days reaching 4-5 feet use caution if not taking a surf lesson with an instructor. During the winer months the surf gets incredibly bigger and the seas with storms get much rougher turning this beginner break into an expert break.
One warning is that although it is a sandy bottom beach breaks tend to break all over the place so no matter where you paddle in the water expect to get hit with a set of waves. One thing about a beach break you can predict is that it is totally unpredictable.
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2. Sunset Beach (Sunset & PCH)
This break is not easily accessible because it is not really much of a beach at all. It really is right point surf break only. Access is either parking right along the side of PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) or in the Gladstones Parking Lot to the right of the break. That parking fee will run you right around $10 or more which is pricey for jumping into the water and surfing.
The pros to this break is the relaxed attitude of the surfers in the water. For the most part the majority of Sunset surfers are either beginners or surfers looking to get waves without the heavy competition that other local breaks (Topanga/ Malibu) offer. The wave is extremely tide and swell dependent. During the summer months especially on a south swell sunset can offer up 2-3 foot waves or bigger. On the lower to medium tide you can catch a solid easy ride for about 30-50 yards down the line. It can be really fun to surf sunset.
The cons are the smooth right point is a breeding ground for SUPers (Stand Up Paddle Boards) and these guys are usually beginners as well so you may spend a lot of time avoiding getting ran over by a big heavy board on a wave. The only other con is the point of entry and exit from the water can get a little tricky especially when the tide rises. Use caution so you and your board don’t end up getting washed up into the rocks. Speaking of rocks Sunset is a rocky bottom so if you fall or want to take a break standing in the water just note their are plenty of sharp rocks running under your feet. And finally yes Sunset is know to be patrolled by Great White Sharks. Some big and others really big right in or near the line up. This is not to scare you away or anything cause from my knowledge their has never been a shark attack at this break ever.
3. Zuma Beach
I grew up at this beach as a kid and it is a huge stretch of sand and beach breaking waves which as discussed above is unpredictable. Whereas the waves mostly crumble at La Jolla Shores the waves here hit hard and often times fast. If learning to surf you only come here cause it is so wide open and spacious. You can ride the white water cause unless you have experience it will be hard to get up and move on these hard charging waves.
That being said it is listed as number 3 on this list cause of accessibility. Zuma has a parking lot at each lifeguard station, plenty of lifeguards on duty, multiple bathrooms and showers. After you park and get your board out it feels very inviting and relaxing at Zuma Beach. If you paddle out, turn around and grab that white water wave in you will get enough push to stand up, but unlike Sunset you will not really be riding a wave. You are riding a wave that has already broke. However getting your bearings and standing are important and Zuma will fit this bill just fine.
The cons really have to deal with just two things. Number one, the hard wave makes for not ideal conditions for a beginner and if all you do is catch white water you are not surfing you are white water rafting. The other drawback is the power of the water at Zuma often times leads to rip currents down the beach so you must use caution when entering the water here.
However the local attitude is pretty chill and you will get some water to help stand you up for sure.
4. Pacific Beach
Located in San Diego, this fun beach college town has a great beginner beach break that crumbles like La Jolla Shores. Pacific Beach is not ideal for parking your car but you will find a space for a decent price. The boardwalk is fun and the sand is hot so run and charge the water hard.
The attitude is pretty chill in the water here as it is another long stretch of beach so that surfers are all spread out a bit more. You will run into more advanced surfers at this break but that is only because they are too lazy to go to an actual good surf break and probably just want to stare at all the hot looking people on the beach.
The pros again are a nice friendly wave, sandy soft bottom and laid back attitude. Also after paddling around in the water for a few hours, Pacific Beach offers great restaurants and bars to go grab some tasty food and drinks to quench that appetite.
The cons are the parking and funny enough clean water. I have never gotten sick surfing in PB but I will tell you the water always looks murky to me. PB overall is not the cleanest area of San Diego so it makes sense that the ocean water might seem a little off. Again it is a beach break so be cautious about where you are in the water if and when a set comes through.
5. Coronado Beach
Another San Diego spot. Simply put Coronado is another soft bottom beach, crumbly wave and long stretches of ocean and beach. It is perfect for beginning surfers and the water usually stays pretty calm all summer long. Even though it is a beach break the water seems to remain pretty chill so no major waves will hit you that hard.
The cons to this beach again are parking related and the area of sand is large. So park yourself near the shore line and enjoy the surf.
I know I didn’t mention much about Orange County beaches and Laguna Niguel offer some beginner friendly spots from what I have heard. Quite honestly I have never surfed a beginner break in Orange County so I don’t have a lot of feedback on them. And finally I have friends in LA that tell me they are learning to surf at Broad Beach who is just north of Zuma Beach. This is not a wave nor a fun whit water surf spot. Avoid it!