10 Great American Surf Cities

Whether you’re on the market for a once in a lifetime surf tour, a new lifestyle, or something to kill off a few minutes while you settle into the workplace, this list represents the best and brightest in the US. Killer waves, good atmosphere, year round surf—you’ll find a little of each sprinkled throughout the list. The best of the best from the shores of North Carolina to California; we’ve got a lotta ground to cover, so hold onto your board shorts and let’s get this shindig started.

10. Cocoa Beach, FL

Home to some of the biggest names in surf, Cocoa Beach is a tiny town in Florida with mellow waves and gorgeous beaches. Weather is pretty close to ideal, never really straying below 50 or above 90—while water temperature stays nice and warm almost year round. A fairly popular tourist locale, Cocoa beach is dotted with timeshares, hotels, and souvenir surf shops. Fun town, fun waves.

Cocoa Beach Surfing

Established: June 5, 1925

Population: 12,800 to 30,000 (tourist season)

Claim to fame:

  • Kelly Slater – 9 Time World Champion.
  • Ron Jons – The World’s Most Well Known Surf Shop

Waves: At its best, chest to overhead mellow rolling surf with the occasional barrel. Bear in mind, its still East Coast surf so things can get a little flat in the off season. Bring your longboard. If you’re there to surf, best drop by in the Winter.

Type Of Breaks: Beach

Localism: Average. Don’t be a jerk and follow the usual rules of etiquette: No snaking, paddle out away from other surfers, and wait your turn.


09. Cape Hatteras, NC

surfing cape hatteras nc

Hatteras is actually part of a 14 mile+ string of sandbars extending off the coast of North Carolina. Infamous for getting struck by hurricanes and the like, Hatteras experiences some surprisingly ride-able hollow waves that are a blast to ride and seem to roll on forever.

Established: February 17, 1909

Population: Dinky

Claim to fame:

  • Host to the Hatteras Lighthouse – the tallest lighthouse in the world. The ENTIRE lighthouse was relocated due to erosion back in the 30’s, but the entire structure has been fully functional for hundreds of years.
  • Noah Snyder

Waves: The waves aren’t always phenomenal, but given the right conditions, Hatteras can really go off. A steep continental shelf helps Atlantic Ocean waves arrive in full force with the occasional overhead barreling action that can go on for over 90 meters—making this a phenomenal East Coast surf spot. Hit the beach anytime between late Summer and Early Winter.

Type Of Breaks: Point Break over sand.

Localism: Crotchety.


08. Malibu, CA

A veritable icon in the world of surfing, Malibu’s immediate proximity to Hollywood and heavy involvement with the popularizing of surfing in the US makes it easily one of the world’s most recognizable surf retreats. It’s not the peaceful surf heaven it was back in the day, but when conditions are right, you can easily see why so many surfers eagerly crowd the lineup.surfing malibu ca

Established: March 28, 1991

Population: 13,000

Claim to fame:

  • Malibu is host to music videos, movies, reality shows, you name it. There’s always some kind of high profile activity going on in the “Bu”.
  • Surfrider Beach
  • Gidget

Waves: Long rides almost year round (cept Winter), good shape. At max height, Malibu waves are double overhead titans. Catching waves here can be chaos, as even the locals tend to treat the lineup as a free for all. Bring your people dodging skills.

Type Of Breaks: Point on sand.

Localism: Pretty minimal. The place is a pretty heavy tourist destination, so you’ll be able to get away with a big more blundering around than is typically permissible at a top level surf spot.


07. Palm Beach, FL

You have to hand it to them, the residents of Palm Beach really know how to keep their goods under lock and key. The closest convenient parking to Reef Road is a 2 mile hike away, the cops won’t hesitate to ticket you for “obstructing traffic”, and the locals are highly protective.surfing palm beach fl

Reputedly where East Coasters go to train for Hawaiian surf, if you can make it past the gauntlet of trials before you reach the beach, you’ll have the time of your life.  Nice clean water, and consistent high caliber waves.

Established: April 30, 1909

Population: 10,468

Claim to fame:

  • The best surf in Florida. Period. (Reef Road)
  • Donald Trump and a host of other obscenely rich residents.
  • Psycho Cops.

Waves: The best waves show up in the Winter and to some extent in the Fall. Ideal waves will wrap all around the jetty in a massive overhead 100 meter run. The bigger sections will barrel—so if you happen to catch this place in the middle of a hurricane, winter swell, or a strong SW wind, you’re in for a treat.

Type Of Breaks: Sandbar. Breaks like a Point

Localism: Heavy. The bigger the swell, the safer you’ll need to play it.


06. Huntington Beach, CA

surfing huntington beach ca

Reputed to play host to the world’s best wave and over 11 million visitors annually, Huntington Beach has fought long and hard for its title of Surf City USA. HB is uniquely endowed such that it experiences amazing surf year round, irrespective of tide and swell direction. The very definition of a So-Cal surf city, HB brings the surfer beach vibe to a whole new level. If you’re looking for a classic Californian surf sesh, Huntington Beach is where it’s at.

Established: February 17, 1909

Population: 192,000

Claim to fame:

  • Surf City USA. They have a little rivalry with Santa Cruz over who that title truly belongs to, so if you want to get some people mad…
  • U.S. Open of Surfing - The World Largest Surfing Contest, was in HB this year.

Waves: Intermediate level waves with the occasional barrel. Shoulder to overhead and a half. Good waves year round. Exceptional Fall.

Type Of Breaks: Beach

Localism: Other surfers won’t have any problem letting you into the lineup,  but stay away from the piers though unless you’re local.


05. La Jolla, CA

  surfing la jolla ca

La Jolla has been promoted as “Jewel city” given its phonetic similarity to “La Joya” which means The Jewel in Spanish. Ironically, a far more accurate translation can be derived from the original Native American name “Woholle” which means hole in the mountain.   Thankfully the unflattering name has little bearing on what it’s like to surf there. This area is heavily seasonal, with the best waves rolling in during the Winter. If you’re looking for hollow, technical, challenging waves, this is your venue.  

Established: March 27, 1850

Population: 42,800

Claim to fame:

  • Black’s Beach. World class surf. Crazy Nude Hobos.
  • Bill Andrews

Waves: The best waves are in the Winter, during low tide. Expect humongous barreling crushers (15 ft), 50-100 meter rides, and frosty 40-50 degree water. Bring your wetsuits.

Type Of Breaks: Beach Break.

Localism: Varies heavily by beach. The higher the quality of the break and waves, the more you’ll need to prove yourself in the water. Newbies, go to La Jolla Shores. Vets, hit up Blacks.


04. Honolulu, HI

  surfing honolulu hi

Don’t be fooled by the hordes of tourists. Like much of Hawai’i, Honolulu’s coasts are blessed with endless sets of killer waves, clear blue water, and nice warm water. As an added bonus, Waikiki beach is HUGE and generally pretty beginner friendly so you should have no problem finding your own little patch of the ocean to surf alone for hours. If you have the luxury of choosing where you start learning, THIS is where you wanna be.

Established: March 1959 (Statehood)

Population: 377,000

Claim to fame:

  • Home to one of the most sought after beaches in the world: Waikiki.
  • Temperatures are a perpetual balmy 70-90 F and the  waves can stretch on for hundreds of meters

Waves: Good shape, mellow waves, and long barreling rides. Depending on when you’re there, waves can be anything from knee high to well over overhead.

Type Of Breaks: Beach break. You’ll want to watch out for rocks and coral, though.

Localism: Varies. If you go out on big surf days, make sure you know what you’re doing. If there are flocks of other tourists out in the water, you have a little more wriggle room.


03. Encinitas, CA

surfing encinitas ca

If obsession were a town, it’s name would be Encinitas. Enter a city possessed by surfing and surf culture.  Walk through town and you won’t find a single street corner that isn’t completely dominated by surf paraphernalia, longboard themed restaurants, and legit surf talent. Not too surprising given that Encinitas is right smack in the middle of some very solid surf spots: Cardiff, Swamis, Trestles are all practically at its doorstep. Host to typical San Diego amenities like perma-sunshine, powerful waves, and beautiful women, you’ll never feel more at home.

Established: March 27, 1850

Population: 59,900

Claim to fame:

  • Encinitas seems to excel at spawning surf talent: Rob Machado, Joel Tudor, and The Ortega Bros. all call Encinitas home.
  • Swamis

Waves: Mid to PRO level. Even the bad wave at Swami’s are still a lotta fun to ride. Long rides and right hand breaks with the occasional barrel. The beach can get extremely crowded, especially during a big swell so make sure you show up early or be prepared to leg it for a spell.

Type Of Breaks: Reef Break. Careful out there.

Localism: Surprisingly, for such a surf dominated town, localism is pretty average.


02. Santa Cruz, CA

surfing santa cruz caThis is a surf town that stands out even amongst other surf towns. A very chill, laidback populace, great food, and plenty of primo waves makes this a top pick. Pleasure Point and Steamer Lane are both legendary surf spots—to say nothing of Mavericks (a stone's throw away from Santa Cruz). If you’re on the market for long clean rides, crazy consistency, and waves the size of yo mama then Santa Cruz is where it’s at. Make no mistake, surfing here ain’t all sunshine and rainbows, either—there’s the tank sized sharks, freezing cold water, and the most notoriously dangerous venue on the West Coast – Mavericks. If you came to surf, best make sure you came prepared.   Established: September 25, 1791 Population: 56,100 Claim to fame:
  • Flea, Jack O’Neill, Peter Mel, Nat Young, the list goes on.
  • Steamer Lane, and Pleasure Point – if you like stupid big waves, Santa Cruz is about to become your new best friend.
Waves: Santa Cruz’s unique placement puts it smack in the middle of a huge reef. What does that mean for you, dear surfer? It means that swells coming from any direction and size get transformed into nice ride-happy sessions year round. You’re welcome. Type Of Breaks: Beach, Point, and Reef. You name it, SC’s rockin it. Localism: Average to Heavy.


01. Haleiwa, HI

There’s a reason why the ENTIRE surf world congregates here year after year. This huge stretch of pristine sand and glassy water is blessed with phenomenally warm water temperatures, INSANE waves, and a very tight knit simple community so you can hone your craft in peace. Winters in Haleiwa are phenomenal for advanced surfers—just set after set of hollow, barreling, double and triple overhead waves. All hail the king.surfing haleiwa hi

Established: Open for speculation.

Population: 2,200

Claim to fame:

  • The Annual Pipe Masters
  • Pipeline, Sunset

Waves: If you’ve never ventured to surf outside of the continental United States, prepare to start squealing like a little girl once you hit the beaches. Unlike Santa Cruz, you won’t need a machete and a harpoon to stave off the massive patches of omnipresent seaweed and flocks of sharks. Most of the year, you won’t even need a wetsuit and, thanks to the abundance of reefs, waves are nice and consistent in shape, quality, and period. In fact this consistency even applies to the surf season. Locals get quality surf almost year round, with the exception of the Summer months—which are still pretty passable. Did we mention the triple overhead hollow pipes. As you’ve probably already gathered by now, the better the surf, the more dangerous it tends to be when you screw up. Things you’ll want to be on the lookout for: skull crushing monster waves, shallow reefs, angry locals.  

Type Of Breaks: Reef.

Localism: Extreme. Play nice, kids.

Obviously there are a bunch more great surf cities all across our great country. Narrowing it down wasn't easy. This is just a little taste. Enjoy.

Garek Hurt
Garek Hurt


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