California Surf Museum

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312 Pier View Way, Oceanside, CA 92054
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Open:
10am to 4pm Daily
The preservation & celebration of California’s surf culture takes center stage. Explore wave-riding history & art through permanent exhibits & rotating events.
Todd Sarouhan
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means if you make purchases through them, I may be compensated at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
California Surf Museum
Surf History & Culture
What to Expect
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Tips for a Swell Visit
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Exhibits / Attractions
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Tips

The California Surf Museum: Where Surf History and Culture Come Together

Surfer Sculpture at the California Surf MuseumStore at the California Surf Museum

Tucked inside an unassuming building in sunny Oceanside in North County San Diego is a museum dedicated to a beloved coastal watersport – the experience and art of surfing.

The California Surf Museum began in 1986 as a passion project for local surfers and other residents who came together to preserve the history of the sport and tell the story of its all-stars through photos, documents, and objects.

As the museum evolved, moving to newer spaces, expanding its collection, and gaining national attention, it became a hotspot for San Diego Surf Culture as well as a popular tourist attraction.

Redwood Art Surfboard Encinitas One at the California Surf Museum
Redwood Art Surfboard Encinitas One at the California Surf Museum

A Welcoming Visit for All

Surfing as a sport has always been about its community, and even in competition, surfers support each other in their pursuit of the perfect wave. I can personally say that when I’m out in the waves, while we’re all trying to catch the perfect wave, the friendly conversation amongst the surfers is just part of the experience.

This camaraderie of pros and amateurs is what defines the atmosphere of the museum, making it a place of welcome to all who want to learn more about the past, present, and future of surfing.

Local Tips
Surf Film Festivals & More
The museum hosts a number of events annually including a fundraising gala, three-day Surf Film Festival, "Legends Day", book signings, concerts and more.

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What To Expect Ahead of Your Visit

Outdoor Tiki Surf Booth at the California Surf Museum
Outdoor Tiki Surf Booth at the California Surf Museum

The art museum and part local hangout, the California Surf Museum offers a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere.

I think it’s best to take your time as you look at the exhibits, and don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a tour guide or volunteer; you never know who you may meet or what you can learn.

When you visit the museum, you can expect to take a unique trip through surf culture and its history, specifically as it relates to San Diego. If you’re interested in surf greats, San Diego’s famous surf breaks and beaches or just like learning, I think the museum is worth a visit.

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La Jolla - Surf Board Rental
La Jolla - Surf Board Rental
La Jolla is home to some of the world's best beaches for surfing, and with your Go Pass, you can enjoy this experience. Whether you are a rookie or a pro, get a full day Surf Board rental. The waters are perfect for those learning.
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What activities does the Go City San Diego pass include?

There’s a variety of activities included with the Go City San Diego pass such as: The San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, LEGOLAND, SeaWorld, Hiking Tours, Whale Watching, Museum Tours, Speed Boat Adventures & more!

For the most popular attractions and water-sport rentals as well as the biggest discounts, consider the All-Inclusive Pass.

Use our exclusive discount code GVSD5OFF to save an extra 5%!

Exhibits, Archives, & More

Surfing Books at the California Surf Museum
Surfing Books at the California Surf Museum

Not only does the California Surf Museum have interesting exhibits and an ever-growing assortment of surfboards, but it also has a fabulous gift shop for people who want a more noteworthy souvenir to take home from their visit.

The exhibits rotate from time to time, which means there is frequently something new and interesting to see. In addition, this niche museum not far from San Diego hosts lectures and book signings, giving visitors an opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the biggest names in the field.

On Exhibit

During your visit to California Surf Museum, learn more about the big names and small heroes of surfing as the sport has evolved over the years through the fascinating exhibits.

Don’t miss these displays:

Classic Balsa Surfboards at the California Surf Museum
Classic Balsa Surfboards at the California Surf Museum

Body Surfing and Handplanes

Who said you need a surfboard to ride the waves? This exhibit looks at body surfing and the origins of swim fins for greater propulsion.

Bethany Hamilitons Courageous Inspiration Exhibit at the California Surf Museum
Bethany Hamilitons Courageous Inspiration Exhibit at the California Surf Museum

Courageous Inspiration: Bethany Hamilton

Bethany is perhaps one of the most well-known surfers today, not only because she survived a brutal attack by a tiger shark, but also because of her impressive comeback and positive attitude.

The exhibit includes photos, a documentary about her experience, and the ill-fated surfboard she rode when attacked.

A fun fact about Bethany Hamilton is that she competed on the Amazing Race and of course excelled on the challenge that included the surfing simulator!

Doc Ball’s Camera

This handmade camera from the 1930s was used to take photos from the surfer’s perspective way before action cameras were available to the masses.

The Dynamic Duo, The V-Dubs Have Arrived

This exhibit is a celebration of the brother/sister athletes, Jack and Reid Van Wagoner.

An inspiration to the local surf scene, both Reid and Jack not only thrive in both the longboarding and shortboarding contest circuit, but they embody the true spirit of sportsmanship.

Inside the California Surf Museum
Inside the California Surf Museum

Expanded Timeline of Surfboards

With this exhibit you’ll get to journey through the chronicle of the history of surfing!

View the museum’s collection of over 20 surfboards including a Mark Richards twin fin, an Andy Irons thruster, and a Simon Anderson thruster.

From wooden planks to foam and fiberglass - it's the perfect intro to surfing’s historic roots.

The Morey Boogie Exhibit at the California Surf Museum
The Morey Boogie Exhibit at the California Surf Museum

Let’s Boogie! Tom Morey and the Evolution of the Boogie Board

Not only does this exhibit showcase Tom Morey, the father of the Boogie board, from inception to creation, it also follows its mother, Patti Serrano, and her marketing genius that helped build the brand, business, and sport.

View hand-illustrated instructions on “How to Skin Your Boogie” from Tom Morey. Learn how the Boogie Board’s slick bottom helped riders like Mike Stewart and Jack Lindholm dominate the scene and thrust bodyboarding into wave-riding history!

Plastic Fantastic

Dedicated to the small surfboard manufacturer from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, this exhibit and stinger board were featured on the History Channel’s American Pickers television show.

More Classic Balsa Surfboards at the California Surf Museum
More Classic Balsa Surfboards at the California Surf Museum

The Science of Surfing

Funded by a City of Oceanside Covid-19 Nonprofit Grant, The Science of Surfing combines STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) and the California Next Generation Science Standards for an exhibit that’s part ocean science and part physics to create a unique and engaging display.

Perfect for all guests, this experience will have little surfers of all ages learning how big surfers use the natural world and science to advance the sport.

Where’s the Surf? Find Swell Direction with Wave Science

This display explains the contribution of the Coastal Data Information Program, a network of buoys found along the coast that provides real-time information about ocean surface temperature, wave energy, and wave direction, and how the system benefits the surfing community.

World Surfing Champion Kelly Slater’s Surfboard

At the display, visitors will get to see Slater’s Channel Islands Al Merrick-shaped “Fred Rubble” model 5-fin board.

This is the board the 11-time world champion used on his World Surf League (WSL) pro tour.

Enriching Educational Programs

Boogie Board Exhibit at the California Surf Museum
Boogie Board Exhibit at the California Surf Museum

The California Surf Museum hosts special events such as book tours and lectures, but it can also accommodate school groups who want to learn more about surfing and what it means to California.

Educational programs may additionally cover the science and mechanics behind surfing, such as board design, hydrodynamics, and oceanography.

The museum is available for private guided group tours as well.

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The Fin Hotel, Tapestry Collection by Hilton
Amazing sofa at lobby The Fin Boutique Hotel
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Treat yourself to an intimate experience with a room at The Fin Hotel, Tapestry Collection by Hilton. Located in Oceanside, this inn balances charm & comfort.
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Street Parking
Street Parking
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Know Before You Go: Tips for a ‘Swell’ Visit

Wall of Classic Wooden Surf Boards at the California Surf Museum
Wall of Classic Wooden Surf Boards at the California Surf Museum

The CSM gives visitors a glimpse into surfing’s unique culture, art, and history. Here are a few tips I put together to make sure you have a fantastic experience!

Look for Unique Exhibits

Look for American swimmer and movie star Esther Williams’ unusual wooden paipo bodyboard from the 1930’s.

Wave Science at the California Surf Museum
Wave Science at the California Surf Museum

Special Programs

Check the calendar of events before you go to see what special programs may take place when you visit.

Outdoor patio The Fin Boutique Hotel
Outdoor patio The Fin Boutique Hotel

Where to Stay Nearby - The Fin Hotel, Tapestry Collection by Hilton

If you’ve ever thought about staying at a boutique hotel, The Fin Hotel may be for you!

The Fin Hotel delivers big on luxury, elegance, and comfort, and is located just steps away from the best restaurants and beaches in the area. While in the lobby, keep an eye out for the hotel's original tiles and Tiffany windows - dating back to 1927.

The hotel is perfect for couples, groups or families and is also just a 10-15-minute walk from the Oceanside Pier!

Entrance Sign to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Entrance Sign to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Other Nearby Attractions…at a Discount!

The museum is within walking distance of the Oceanside Pier, making it convenient to visit both the beach and the exhibits.

Consider grabbing a Go City San Diego pass to get the best prices on the top attractions and activities in the area as well. I’d personally recommend the San Diego Zoo Safari Park or renting a surfboard just south in La Jolla, both offered at a solid discount as part of the pass.

You can save a lot of money if you visit just a few attractions or rent gear so check it out for yourself. Use the discount code GVSD5OFF for even more savings!

The Surf Movie Festival

Ask about the surf movie festival hosted by the museum to see what films are in the pipeline or where you can see them when you return home.

Eat at Swamis Cafe in the Village of Carlsbad
Eat at Swamis Cafe in the Village of Carlsbad

How About One of My Favorite Food Tours?

There’s no shortage of places to eat on Oceanside and Carlsbad. One of my favorite tours is hosted in the area which I think is a perfect complement to a day at the museum.

On the Carlsbad Village: 3-Hour Local Food Tour, you’ll get to indulge in 8 of Carlsbad Village's best eateries. You’ll also get to enjoy a sampling of award-winning California wines and explore Carlsbad’s history, art, and culture like a local in this fully guided walking tour.

Rain or shine, guests will feel like a local as they eat their way around town. The tour is wheelchair accessible, so everyone in your group can join.

Be advised, this tour is geared toward small groups of 10 people, so I recommend you book ahead of time.

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Tours & Adventures
Visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
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Surf Lessons in La Jolla
Surf Lessons in La Jolla
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