San Diego’s connections to its history of surfing culture can be seen in many different landmarks and important beaches that remain popular to this day. These sites showcase how surfing is much more than just a pastime in California and how it’s had a significant and long-lasting cultural impact.
North San Diego County and Oceanside
Surfing is popular all throughout San Diego County. The large beaches in coastal towns like Carlsbad and Encinitas draw plenty of surfers each year, but perhaps nowhere is as notable for surfing as Oceanside.
Oceanside is a huge center for surfing in San Diego. Tamarack Surf Beach is one of the most popular surfing destinations, and dozens of famous surfers have called the area their home.
Oceanside is also home to the California Surf Museum, which is a great place to visit if you want to learn more about the area’s extensive history with surfing.
Did You Know?
There are more than 78 beaches, and almost every single one is an amazing place to soak up the sun and ride some waves.
Cardiff Reef is another well-known surfing spot located on the southern end of Encinitas. It is especially popular for longboarding, with plenty of long righthander waves and a level reef.
Cardiff has been a notable spot for surfers since the 1950s, and there are still many surfing legends that frequent the area to this day. Famous local surfers like longboarder and competitive grappler Joel Tudor and Makaha Invitational 1959 champion Linda Benson commonly surf at Cardiff.
Cardiff Reef also includes a somewhat controversial statue of a surfer known locally as the Cardiff Kook. Long-time surfers are quick to point out how the statue fails to capture the real spirit and form of a surfer, and it’s become somewhat of a local joke, gaining popularity as a result of its much-debated nature. While the statue may not accurately reflect surfing, it is an example of just how passionate San Diegans are about their favorite sport.
The Beaches of La Jolla
Another notable surfing location is La Jolla, specifically the La Jolla reefs. These reefs have been hubs for surfers for decades, and they maintain their popularity to this day. From La Jolla Cove to Seal Rock to Windansea, La Jolla has beaches suitable for any level of surfer.
Windansea’s history with surfing dates all the way back to 1946, when the iconic palm frond surf shack was constructed. It has been destroyed by storms many times throughout the years, but each time it has been rebuilt in a testament to the importance of the shack to San Diego’s surfing culture. The shack was designated as a historical landmark in 1998, and it’s an ever-popular destination for San Diegan surfers who want to experience a part of surfing history.
The Windansea Surf Club helped to popularize surfing in the area after its foundation in 1962. The club competed in many surfing contests and now holds contests of its own, as well as various charitable events and community outreach programs.
The Bird Rock neighborhood is on the southern end of La Jolla. Like the rest of La Jolla, it is a notable surfing location, complete with its own surf shop and surfboard rentals. The coast here is rockier than in some of the other La Jolla beaches, and while this may deter sunbathers, it rarely deters surfers from getting out into the ocean.
Bird Rock is also a popular spot for diving, as the seafloor here is one of the largest and most diverse reefs in the area.
Black’s Beach is a more secluded beach in La Jolla. It became a prime surfing spot in the 1960s, after the property was sold by the Black family. It was discovered by a group consisting of the longtime surfers John Light, Don Roncy, Joe Trotter, and Peter Lusic, who spread the news of their discovery throughout the local surfing community.
If you’re planning a family vacation, be warned that Black’s Beach has a clothing-optional section that stretches for about a mile and a half. It’s also a bit harder to get to than some more accessible beaches with its rocky cliffs and steep climb, though many surfers attest that the climb is well worth it.
Point Loma is well known for its oceanfront college, but it’s also a great spot for surfing. It contains many surfing breaks, the largest of which is Little Waimea. Despite its name, Little Waimea is actually one of the biggest breaks in all of San Diego.
There are many sheer cliffs along the beach of Point Loma, but the waters are still great for surfing. There are many smaller breaks that stretch from the southern end of Point Loma to Dog Beach in Ocean Beach, which include New Break, Donuts, Ralphs, Dolphin Tanks, and Chasms.