Nothing says summer on the west coast like surfing and campervan road trips! You’ve been deprived of the waves for longer than you’d like, and you want to find a way to make up for all that last time. Well, if you’ve got a camper van or are thinking about renting one, here are some can’t miss spots for surfers to catch some Pacific waves.
While there are plenty of good spots to surf on the east coast, it’s a fact that surfing will always be associated with California summers, and for a good reason. No matter what part of the state you find yourself in, you’re only a drive away from some of the best surf towns in the country. Grab your surfboard and wetsuit, and check out this list of surf destinations!
Hot surfing spots outside of Los Angeles
If you want to lean fully into the Southern California stereotype and have some summer fun, there’s no place better to start than Malibu, California. Probably the most iconic Southern California surf town, Malibu has some of the best spots you can hope for in the contiguous 48 states. Malibu has been shaping surf culture for decades with spots in surfing movies and Beach Boys songs, and if you head there, you’ll see why. There are plenty of beginner-friendly options to be found at Zuma Beach and the often-filmed Surfrider Beach, where easy waves abound. If you’re looking for a less populated option, Zuma is the way to go. If you’re more advanced or in a group of varying skill levels, give Topanga Beach a shot.
If you act fast and have some luck, Leo Carrillo State Park is the perfect place to camp. If Leo Carrillo has filled up, you may have better luck with Malibu Creek State Park or Malibu Beach RV Park (note that this can be a pricier option depending on when you go, but you get every dollar of what you pay for).
Orange County, CA
In Orange County, you can find the challenger for the title “Surf City.” While Santa Cruz has had the nickname for almost a century, Huntington Beach has been calling itself “Surf City USA” since the ’90s, and with good reason. Huntington Beach Pier is one of the most iconic surf spots on the west coast, with some of the best surfing and best waves available. You might even see a celebrity or two if you spend some time there! Even if you miss out on celebrities, you’ll see a host of talented and experienced surfers, and should you fancy yourself one of those, this is a place you can’t pass up. Bolsa Chica State Beach is close by if you want to camp in the area.
If Huntington seems a bit overwhelming, keep going until you hit San Clemente. Just under a third of the size of Huntington, you’ll find options including San Clemente’s Pier as well as a popular spot, the Trestles. San Onofre State Beach is a great spot to stop for the night. Bonus points if you pick up a pair of Rainbow Sandals at the outlet in San Clemente. A sure way to blend in!
Ocean Beach in San Diego
This little piece of San Diego has something for every skill level. The pier is the best place to start as it has several options available to you. North of the pier has waves for everyone to enjoy, especially on a big day. If you’re more experienced, the south side will be calling your name. If this is your first big surf trip, Dog Beach is a great place to get some easy waves; just stay away from the jetty unless you’re experienced.
If you plan to work your way north, San Elijo State Beach is a great place to stop. If going south, look at Silver Strand State Beach. There’s really no wrong answer in San Diego!
Best surf spots outside of San Francisco
Santa Cruz, CA
There is a strong argument to be made here that no town in the United States is more synonymous with surfing than Santa Cruz, California. In Surf City, it would be easier for me to list spots that aren’t good for surfing than ones that are. Some of the world-famous spots here include Pleasure Point and Steamer Lane. Note that this is a crowded spot, and the water temperature is cold. This is not for the faint of heart! Your effort, however, can be rewarded with great waves and no need to worry about overheating.
If you are camping in your van, check out Henry Cowell State Park, just fifteen minutes outside Santa Cruz. Alternatively, half an hour out of the city is Sunset State Beach (which lives up to the name)!
If you’re venturing up the coast, a little town called Bolinas has two main options for you. The Patch is a bit more forgiving, but if you’re looking for some stronger breaks, you’ll want to make a stop at the Channel.
Pacifica has a spot that just might be familiar to surfers: Rockaway Beach. Rockaway has embedded itself as a part of surf culture since an iconic black and white photo in the ’80s. It has its share of big days and isn’t a place to miss if you want to experience a piece of Northern California surf history. Do your homework before you go, because there isn’t a guarantee that the waves will be in your favor, but you don’t want to miss them if a big day is in the forecast. If Rockaway isn’t kind to you, head towards Pedro Point for another surfing history gem.
If you’re planning to stop in San Francisco, Kirby Cove Campground has some fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you plan to avoid the traffic jams and hill parking, Half Moon Bay State Beach to the south will suit your needs better.
Crescent City in Northern California
If your plans including seeing the entirety of California, stopping just short of the Oregon border is a fitting way to cap off your journey. Just off Highway 101 is South Beach, one of the most popular spots in the area due to its visibility from the highway and pedigree as host of the Rhyn Noll Longboard Classic. If you want to get even closer to Oregon, a local favorite is Kellogg Beach. There’s less overall traffic at this beach as it’s mostly locals, so if you’re respectful of their beach, you might get some insight into the best ways to enjoy the waves.
There aren’t as many camping options this far north, but the Shoreline RV Campground should suit your needs.
If you’re at the end of your journey and you still want some more time on the road and in the waves, there’s one more option that might surprise you:
BSR Surf Resort in Waco, Texas
This spot should be on your bucket list! If you don’t want to put any more miles on your vehicle at this point, a good option is to rent a campervan in Las Vegas for the duration of your trip!
You might be surprised to see the place that has the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and the Dr. Pepper Museum on this list, but after cold water surfing in NorCal, this place will be a welcome last stop! Alternatively, if you start here, you have the option of booking surf lessons with a professional and not seeming like a kook to the locals. Since all the waves are manufactured, you have the option of finding a difficulty that suits you. Beginners can find easy waves and get the hang of hanging ten! For the more advanced, intermediate to expert waves are available. $30 gets you two hours, and $45 gets you a whole day’s worth of surf! If you have the time to spare, the full-day pass is the way to go.
Central Texas isn’t exactly known for its beachfront camping but stopping at Speegleville Park is probably your best option if you want to stay close. You’ll be on the south end of Waco Lake, perched near a scenic cove, so you can be close to BSR without giving up your time on the water.
As you dream about your upcoming surfing trip, please consider the places you’ll be visiting. There’s no worse way to start a trip than being unprepared and an inconvenience to those around you, also trying to enjoy the waves. Read up about the places you go and the expectations for surfing. When in doubt, ask a local or a surf shop, and you might just get a nugget of wisdom. Everyone wants to enjoy the breaks as much as you do, and with a little preparation, we can all get the sun and surf we’ve missed so much.
Bastian is the Sales & Marketing Manager here at Travellers Autobarn. He holds a Master of Commerce in Marketing and International Business Management, and 20+ years experience in campervan hire, road trips and travel.