When you think of California, you think of salty air from the green-tinted Pacific ocean, blue skies, and surf culture. Orange County is the quintessential surfer-dude mentality embodied in a place where waves are the dream and surfing can happen any day of the week, year-round. These iconic movie set beaches stretch for 42 miles and offer a lot of surfing for tourists and locals alike. Here, are the best surf spots for all skill levels.
Huntington Beach Pier
This tourist destination is not overblown in the least. Waves range anywhere from two to six-footers on days when Santa Ana winds kick up and bless surfers. Parking here ranges from all-day public parking that costs $15 or metered parking on the perpendicular streets off PCH. Huntington Beach is made up of a sandy bottom which makes stingrays a frequent hazard during entry. With that said, a public beach like this offers options for restrooms, volleyball courts, nearby surf schools, food options, and beach style shopping on the pedestrian-friendly Downtown Main Street.
Huntington is more than just an iconic surf location. You can’t miss the red-roofed Ruby’s Diner at the end of the pier at sunset, making this one of the most heavily photographed and admired piers in the county.
Seal Beach Cloud Break
Seal Beach is the last Orange County beach before you run into the completely different culture of LA county. Seal Beach is cushioned in between two jetties making it one of the more consistently clean beaches in Southern California.
Cloud Break boasts one of the biggest breaks in Orange County, that is, when there is the right swell. This surf spot is a little far from shore and requires a bit more paddling, experience, and ability than some of the other surf spots in the area. When making the surf zone entry, the sandy-bottomed beach is home to jellyfish and stingrays which can be dangerous if you are not paying attention.
Parking in Seal Beach lots runs $10 for the entire day and $3 for two-hour increments. Street parking is also available and you may be lucky enough to snag a spot. Since the beach is public, standard amenities include showers and bathrooms, and a playground can be found here on the sand next to the pier. Seal Beach offers a more down-home atmosphere, still reflecting its Mayberry By The Sea vibe, with unique mom and pop shops lining Old Town’s Main Street.
San Clemente – Trestles Beach
This San Clemente surfer haven is tucked away and hidden behind a rugged one-mile trek on the Trestles bridge and across the nature trail. Trestles encompasses several different surf spots, which include the Upper, Lower, and Middle surf spots.
You can park at San Onofre State Beach where it costs $15 to park for the day but offers all the amenities. Being that this surf spot is on a State Beach, you can even camp overnight for an added sense of adventure. The site also has available bathrooms, firepits, and showers. The campsite is separate from the surfing day-use beach.
This spot was closed to the public from 1942 through 1971 when the Marine Corps owned the land and was incorporated into Camp Pendleton. Since reopening, surfers seeking the perfect wave come here for the beach’s consistent year-round swell.
The Wedge at Newport Beach
When talking about Orange County waves you cannot fail to mention the Wedge in Newport Beach. The Wedge is the product of a man-made jetty developed in 1916 by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect Newport Harbor from storms. In the 1930s this spot was nicknamed the Hook, but by the 60s it was better known as the Wedge.
This spot is not for novice surfers. The beach electrifies during the summer when south swells hit and waves can reach 30 feet. Spectators and experienced surfers alike flock to the beach to take on the sharp, building-sized waves and photograph them from shore. Inexperienced surfers are discouraged from entering the water during times of high swells because the surf breaks onshore. The Wedge has a unique rule against blackballs, meaning from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May through October, no one is allowed in the water with any inflatables, surfboards or boogie boards, leaving the surf to body surfers.
This spot does not have a parking lot so parking on the street is your only hope. With that said, there are very few amenities here unless you head up to the pier where there are bathrooms, showers, stores and restaurants. The Wedge will not disappoint.
Doheny Beach Dana Point
Doheny Beach surfing brings a different kind of experience to the table; one that is rich in nostalgia. Keep in mind that the train passes through here and surfing is restricted to the area north of San Juan Creek at the North Day-Use area. When coming to this beach, park in the State Beach parking lot where it costs $15 for the day and walk down to the clean sand. Being a state beach, Doheny offers a large park, bathrooms, water fountains, picnic areas, volleyball courts, and showers.
This beach has historical standing in California for being the state’s first state beach in 1963 after years of being a state park. Doheny is a good beach for new surfers to test their skills and is a longboarder’s dream. The waves here are reliable and offer year-round novice surfing, after a rainstorm, it is important to avoid this beach because it becomes incredibly polluted. Surf zones can be rocky along the shoreline, making this spot geared towards surfers more than beachgoers.
Doheny stays true to its roots and embodies an early 60s vibe both in and out of the water. Down at the marina, you will find shops and restaurants that stay true to this site’s overall vibe. If you want to continue the adventure, there is a bike path that is a short distance to San Juan Capistrano.
Pro Tip: For unlimited parking all year long at some of the best surf spots in Orange County and beyond, purchase a California Explorer Vehicle Day Use Annual Pass. You’ll get access to nearly all California State Park properties with the Explorer.
Just Missed the List Top Surf Spots
- T-Street Beach, San Clemente
- Brooks Street, Laguna Beach
- 56th Street, Newport Beach
- Salt Creek, Dana Point
Beginner Surf Spots in Orange County
Here is a quick list of spots for beginners:
- Blackies (north side of the Newport pier)
- Bolsa Chica State Beach
- Crystal Cove State Park
- Doheny Beach State Park
- Huntington Beach Pier
- Old Man’s at San Onofre
- San Clemente Pier
Our little slice of beach paradise here in Orange County has a lot to offer both the novice and experienced surfer. While every beach has something different, it is important to note that they are all in the same ocean and under the same iconic California sun. Surf’s up!
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