Iconic surf spots in Southern California

If you are thinking about learning to surf in Los Angeles, San Diego, or other parts of Southern California, you may already know about some of the cultural significance of surfing in SoCal. Yet, here are iconic surf spots in southern California you may not know!

Let’s take a deeper look at what influences and factors gave California the surfer stereotype it embodies today… a stereotype that does hold a lot of truth.

Southern California is known for sunny skies, palm trees, and stretches of beach. In addition, surfing is very much a part of the culture in Southern California.

In the early 1900s, Hawaiian surfers began touring up the coast of Southern California and surf contests officially began in the 1920’s.

One other factor in the mid-20th century had a huge impact on what would become California surf culture: The Beach Boys which is part of the iconic surf spots in southern California 

The band The Beach Boys exploded in popularity in the 1960’s and embodied the laid back, stylish, and sunny qualities that California carries today as a surfing mecca.

Endless Summer, which became the blueprint of surf films. We are taken through the film by narrator Bruce Brown, following two California-based surfers through their surf trips around the globe, in search of “The Perfect Wave.” If the name doesn’t ring any bells, you are sure to contextualize this film’s significance in California psyche, and beyond, when you see the poster.

Surfing and skating saw a collision in the late 20th century.

There is no skate/surf style quite like that which originated in Southern California at the time in parts of Malibu San Clemente, Manhattan Beach, Huntington Beach, and down the coast in the 1970’s.

Men and women, boys and girls, were eager to replicate the feeling of surfing on land, and skating bowls and even drained swimming pools became a ritual pastime.

It was around the same time that Van’s, the skate shoe and apparel company, entered the scene and soon became prolific across California.

What defined the surfers of this generation was most notably their style, regularly still the most important and distinct element of even modern day surfing.

Some defining elements of this smooth style include high lines, beautiful, sweeping turns, and incredible speed and control. The “style masters” who defined the time require mention.

Some of the most famous surfers who dominated in the 1960’s-1970’s, perhaps the Golden Age of California surfers, include Tom Curren, Phil Edwards, Al Merrick, Hobie Alter, and Joyce Hoffman. However, the list is very long, and contains a ton more people! 

Now, on to some of SoCal’s most famous surf spots. Although people from California are probably sick and tired of hearing the same old tan, surfer stereotypes repeated over and over, there is some truth to the rumors. And, these are the iconic surf spots in southern California. 

There are many spots that give Southern California its reputation and make it a spot year round for beginners and pros to flock to. The excellent weather and sunny skies is one reason!

Read on to discover some of the most popularized surf destinations along the coast:


Malibu conjures up images of beautiful expanses of beach and the original BayWatch with David Hasselhoff.

In truth, Malibu is an iconic point break with smooth rolling waves and is home to professional shortboard and longboard contests.

There are many breaks spread throughout what would still be considered Malibu; soft, rolly waves perfect for longboarding and hanging toes, and faster, steeper breaks for excellent shortboarding.

You can also expect gorgeous pinky, red-orange sunsets. During busy seasons, like summer, Malibu can be a zoo and the crowds can get hectic, so beware — and if you catch it on a relatively less busy day, know that you’ve lucked out!

The Wedge as one of the iconic surf spots in southern California! 

The Wedge at Newport Beach is an extremely fast and powerful wave known for it’s forcefulness.

This is a break popular among bodyboarders and very experienced surfers, and those who just want to watch and enjoy the performance from the beach.

The wave sucks water up and over, revealing an extremely shallow sand bottom that can be very threatening on impact!

Doheny Beach at Dana Point

Doheny Beach is sung about in songs by the Beach Boys, like Surfin’ USA, and is known as one of the best longboarding spots in Southern California and a spot that you can surf throughout the year.


This whole area of surf breaks in San Clemente is broken up into many different breaks; probably the most well known are Upper and Lower Trestles (sometimes called Uppers and Lowers).

It is a bit of a trek to get to these spots as you have to cross a road from up above and meander down the cliff face to the shore.

Trestles is typically where many WSL (World Surf League) shortboard contests take place in SoCal/Orange County area.

It can get very crowded, and dangerous when wave heights reach a certain point.

There are breaks that are more beginner friendly than others, but in general, this spot is known to be quite territorial and frequented by many locals who mean business. Probably not the best recommendation for beginners, unless you are with someone who really knows the breaks and the conditions.

La Jolla

La Jolla, not far from San Diego city center, is another very popular spot for beginners and experienced surfers, as the waves can reach towering heights when the spot really turns on.

Sunsets in San Diego are unlike anything else — the whole sky turns vivid, electrifying orange/red and emits a glow that can only really be captured in person.

Even when compared to Hawaii and other iconic beaches around the world, San Diego still has many stunning vantage points to see an incredible show put on by the sky. Blacks Beach and Scripps are two popular surf spots in La Jolla.

So now you know a little more about what makes California so special as a surf destination, and the spots that are and were some of the most iconic in the US, if not in the world.

Next time you are driving on the PCH, or through any of these popular surf cities — check out the surfers to your left or right!


Check out this post to read about surfing in other locations such as FL!

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