Northern California Surf Spots

Northern California has a reputation for rainy, grey days, strong
winds and, at times, an unforgiving 30-foot swell. The waters are a
feeding ground for sharks due to the high population of sea lions
that inhabit the area. Shark sightings are not uncommon and attacks,
although rare, are possible. When conditions are bad, they can be
really bad, but when they are good, it’s pure heaven, which keeps
surfers flocking to these waters despite the obstacles.

Wave quality and size vary from beach to beach. From Marin County to the
south and Humboldt to the north, there are many options to choose from, and all skill levels are represented. Intermediate, advanced and expert-level surfers will not be disappointed. As you make you way up the North Pacific coast on Highway 1, if the water gets too cold or the swells too rough, the pure beauty of this remote, natural and untouched region will make it well worth the trip.

Water temperatures remain in the 50’s most of the year, can reach the 60’s in September and October, and drop to the 40’s in January and February. Three- to five-millimeter wetsuits are recommended, with full gear.

Find a surf school in Northern California.

Humboldt County Surf Spots and Breaks

South Beach – Humboldt County

Surf Location Right off Highway 1
Best Swell Direction West, Southwest
Best Tide Medium to High
Best Wind Direction Northeast
Best Surf Season Spring
Wave Quality Long, flat stretch of beach break, good for beginners. Surf gets bigger further down the beach. Greg Noll has an annual longboarding contest here, so that has to say something about it. Fun mushy longboarding wave that is best on a higher tide, because it can be impossible to get out at low tide with a solid swell.
The Surfers Crowded on the weekends, empty during the week
Boards Longboard, funboard
Paddle Out Moderate to difficult
Skill Level Beginner to Advanced
Bottom Sand
Watch Out For… Sharks
Water Condition Clean
 

Patrick’s Point – Humboldt County

Surf Location Exit 101 at Patrick’s Point Drive and enter at the park
Best Swell Direction Big long-period West for the Point, Northwest for Agate
Best Tide High for Patrick’s Point, low for Agate Beach
Best Wind Direction Southeast
Best Surf Season Winter and Fall
Wave Quality When this place turns on it is one of the best Northern California surf spots there is. Not quite the same as Mavericks, but can hold waves up to 25 feet. The left off the point can get really good, and there is an inside right that gets hollow. Beware of the shorebreak getting in and out.
The Surfers Can get crowded at Agate, not as much at the Point. If the waves are big, you will generally always find surfers.
Boards 7’10” to 10’6” gun for bigger days, funboard for smaller days at the Point and a shortboard for small Agate
Paddle Out Pretty far at the Point, not as far at Agate, fairly easy because of a deep channel, but pretty far out.
Skill Level Intermediate to Advanced
Bottom Rock at the Point, sand and a few boulders at Agate
Watch Out For… Several shark sightings, but no attacks...yet, violent shorebreak when its big.
Water Condition Clean
 

Westhaven – Humboldt County

Surf Location Exit 101 at Westhaven Drive or Trinidad and continue along Scenic Drive
Best Swell Direction Big Northwest
Best Tide Medium to Low
Best Wind Direction North or Northest. Protected from Northwest winds.
Best Surf Season Fall and Spring
Wave Quality Moonstone Beach is good for beginners. All the spots are mediocre and rely on north wind and bigger swell to be ride-able. A fun break to surf with friends on a nice sunny day.
The Surfers When conditions are right, very crowded at Trinidad. Less crowded south of Moonstone.
Boards Longboard and funboard
Paddle Out Easy to moderate. Moonstone can be tougher.
Skill Level Beginner to Intermediate
Bottom Sand and rock
Watch Out For… Sharks, there have been a few attacks
Water Condition Clean
 

Harbor Entrance – Humboldt County

Surf Location Take Samoa Boulevard (Route 255) from Eureka or Arcata, drive to the ocean at Samoa
Best Swell Direction Huge West or Northwest
Best Tide Low
Best Wind Direction Southeast
Best Surf Season Fall and Winter
Wave Quality One of the heaviest surf spots in Northern California, without solid Hawaiian surfing experience, think twice before entering. A peak going left and right with pipeline-like barrels. Lately guys have been towing in at the outer breaks.
The Surfers Consistent stream of locals - keep a low profile
Boards Gun, PWC (personal watercraft), tow board
Paddle Out Moderate to tough
Skill Level Advanced
Bottom Sand
Watch Out For… Big sharks, hostile locals, rough currents
Water Condition Semi-clean
 

North Jetty – Humboldt County

Surf Location Take Samoa Boulevard (Route 225) from Eureka or Arcata and continue to Samoa
Best Swell Direction West and Northwest
Best Tide Medium to Low
Best Wind Direction Southeast
Best Surf Season Fall and Winter
Wave Quality Best wave for this area, consistent high quality
The Surfers Can be crowded, hostile locals
Boards Shortboard and gun
Paddle Out Can be a dry hair paddle out if you stick to the deep channel.
Skill Level Intermediate to Advanced
Bottom Sand and jetty
Watch Out For… Locals mainly, sharks, there was an attack in 1993.
Water Condition Semi-clean
 

Shelter Cove – Humboldt County

Surf Location Take U.S. Highway 101 to the Redway-Shelter Cove exit then drive through Redway and enter onto Briceland Road, at the north end of town. You will have to walk to all of the surf spots.
Best Swell Direction West
Best Tide Incoming
Best Wind Direction East
Best Surf Season Autumn
Wave Quality Inside There are multiple waves at Shelter Cove, Deadman’s being the most popular. Long right breaking walls with speedy sections. Third Reef needs a larger swell and a lower tide, but has perfect peeling rights and lefts. No Pass is a left peeling reef break. Steep, speedy faces with hollow sections. Gale Point is a right point break south of No Pass. High tide works best here and can make for some incredible conditions.
The Surfers A few locals are usually around, can be nice or nasty.
Boards Shortboard and longboard; wear 5/4/3 mm hooded fullsuit with booties depending on the northwest winds
Paddle Out Mild to moderate
Skill Level Beginner in summer, intermediate to advanced autumn through spring
Bottom Rock
Watch Out For… Sharks
Water Condition Clean
 

Mendocino County Surf Spots and Breaks


Mendocino - Westport

Surf Location Blues Beach, at the end of a short dirt spur leading west from Highway 1 near milepost 75.40, at the bottom of the hill
Best Swell Direction West
Best Tide Medium
Best Wind Direction East
Best Surf Season Summer and Early Fall
Wave Quality Decent beachbreaks, surfable when small and clean. Blues Beach is the most popular surf spot, and is a fun beachbreak with lots of room for everyone. Breaks are visible from Highway 1.
The Surfers Some at Blues, no crowds elsewhere
Boards Shortboard and funboard
Paddle Out Easy to moderate
Skill Level Intermediate
Bottom Sand and rock
Watch Out For… High population of sharks
Water Condition Clean
 

MacKerricher – Mendocino County

Surf Location Pudding Creek. About two blocks north of Elm Street, you'll see the brown coastal access sign, Virgin Creek. Immediately south of the northern "Fort Bragg City Limit" sign, there's a wide dirt parking lot on the east side of Highway 1. Park in it, cross the road and walk along the trail to the water. MacKerricher State Park.
Best Swell Direction Northwests
Best Tide Generally medium high to medium low
Best Wind Direction Southeast
Best Surf Season Summer and Early Autumn
Wave Quality Small, clean, windless days are good. The bottom drops off significantly from the shoreline, thus inducing some brutal shorepound, undertows and currents. The farther north you go, the shallower and more gradual the bottom gets, so the best waves are found to the north.
The Surfers Virgin Creek attracts locals, not crowded
Boards Shortboard or funboard
Paddle Out Mild to moderate
Skill Level Intermediate
Bottom Sand and rock, with the exception of Laguna Point
Watch Out For… Sharks
Water Condition Clean
 

Mendocino Township – Mendocino County

Surf Location For Smuggler's, take trail down from the vista point south of the Big River bridge; for Big River, park in the lot behind the church and take the staircase to the beach; for Caspar Creek, exit Highway 1 onto Point Cabrillo Drive and drive down to the sandy beach below Caspar.
Best Swell Direction West
Best Tide Smuggler’s Cove, low; Big River, high; Caspar Creek, medium
Best Wind Direction East, Northeast
Best Surf Season Winter for Smuggler's and Caspar Creek; early fall for Big River
Wave Quality There are several alright surf spots in this region. The first is Smuggler’s Cove, which is an outside rock reed that needs a large swell just to even show. When it does it is a thick and mushy wave going left and right. Big River can produce some nice beachbreaks and is good for all skill levels. Caspar Creek is a good beginner spot but needs a big swell to work.
The Surfers Not crowded at Smuggler’s; diverse crowd at Big River and Caspar Creek
Boards Longboard and funboard
Paddle Out Mild to moderate
Skill Level Intermediate at Smuggler's; beginner at Big River and Caspar Creek
Bottom Rock at Smuggler's; sand at Big River and Caspar Creek
Watch Out For… Sharks
Water Condition Clean to moderately clean
 

Sonoma County Surf Spots and Breaks


Point Arena – Sonoma County

Surf Location From Highway 1, head west onto Port Road
Best Swell Direction Northeast to East
Best Tide Medium
Best Wind Direction Northeast to East
Best Surf Season Fall
Wave Quality There are two possible waves here. The main one is the right that can get pretty epic. It’s a ledgy fast wave that can get pretty hollow. There is a left as well off the same peak, but watch out for the various hazards on the inside.
The Surfers Hostile, keep a low profile
Boards Gun for the point, mid-size shortboard for the left
Paddle Out Moderate at left, tougher at point
Skill Level Advanced
Bottom Rock
Watch Out For… Sharks, sharp bottom on low tide, locals, rusty objects in the shallows.
Water Condition Clean
 

Black Point Beach – Sonoma County

Surf Location Pull into the small parking lot at Highway 1 milepost 50.8, there is a $3 fee collection chute, walk west for about a quarter-mile
Best Swell Direction Small Northwest, West or Southwest
Best Tide Medium
Best Wind Direction East, Southeast, South
Best Surf Season Summer and early fall, or winter during small swell and southeast wind
Wave Quality Surfable side is offshore during southeast wind and often gets good with smaller swells during the winter. It can hold some size, but getting out is difficult. Can and does get hollow, especially during southeast wind.
The Surfers No local scene
Boards Shortboard or funboard
Paddle Out Mild to moderate
Skill Level Intermediate
Bottom Sand
Watch Out For… Sharks
Water Condition Clean
 

Russian Rivermouth – Sonoma County

Surf Location At the sign on Highway 1 signaling toward Goat Rock, turn west onto State Park Road and drive to its end. Walk to the mouth.
Best Swell Direction West, Southwest
Best Tide Incoming
Best Wind Direction East, Northeat
Best Surf Season Late Summer / Early Fall
Wave Quality When on, typically a fast right barrel, shallow with lots of currents. Does not work well on large swells, so check it out when it’s a nice clean smaller sized swell.
The Surfers Some grumpy locals
Boards Shortboard
Paddle Out Easy to moderate
Skill Level Intermediate to Advanced
Bottom Sand
Watch Out For… Sharks, many are here feeding on the sea lions
Water Condition Clean to moderately murky
 

Salmon Creek – Sonoma County

Surf Location For Bean Avenue, turn onto Bean Avenue off Highway 1 and drive to its end. For Salmon Creek proper, pull into the paved North Salmon Creek Beach parking lot off Highway 1, one mile north of Bodega Bay. Take one of the trails down to the sand.
Best Swell Direction Whatever’s peaky
Best Tide High
Best Wind Direction East
Best Surf Season Fall
Wave Quality One of the heaviest beachbreaks in the region. The hardest part can be just making it out in the first place. But if you are accustomed to big heavy beachbreaks, then this surf spot can be really fun, and get you in a few barrels.
The Surfers Not crowded
Boards Shortboard, funboard, gun
Paddle Out Intermediate to tough
Skill Level Intermediate to Advanced
Bottom Sand
Watch Out For… Sharks
Water Condition Clean to moderately clean
 

Doran Beach – Sonoma County

Surf Location Exit Highway 1 onto Doran Beach Road
Best Swell Direction South, or long-period West and Northwest
Best Tide Higher
Best Wind Direction North
Best Surf Season Spring
Wave Quality This is a great beginner surf spot most of the time. When everywhere else is big, this place can be really fun because of how sheltered it is. But don’t be fooled, with the right swell and conditions it can get really hollow and powerful here, breaking over a shallow sand bar.
The Surfers Not crowded
Boards Shortboard, skimboard, or bodyboard
Paddle Out Easy
Skill Level Beginner to Intermediate
Bottom Sand
Watch Out For… Possible sharks in the area.
Water Condition Clean to moderately clean
 

Marin County Surf Spots and Breaks


Point Reyes (north) - Marin County

Surf Location Take Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from Highway 1, just south of Point Reyes Station
Best Swell Direction West, Northwest
Best Tide Variable
Best Wind Direction East, Southeast
Best Surf Season Summer and Early Autumn
Wave Quality Can catch a lot of swell and produce quality waves when conditions are right. Sand drops off abruptly, which can produce strong rip currents and occasional shore pounding.
The Surfers Present only if there is a good sandbar available
Boards Midsize shortboard
Paddle Out Moderate to tough
Skill Level Advanced to Intermediate
Bottom Sand
Watch Out For… Sharks
Water Condition Clean
 

Bolinas Jetty – Marin County

Surf Location Through the town of Bolinas for the west jetty: take Olema-Bolinas Road from Highway 1 and turn left onto Wharf Road. For the east jetty, take Highway 1 and turn onto Calle del Arroyo, which becomes Sea Drift Road, and follow it to the end.
Best Swell Direction South
Best Tide Low
Best Wind Direction North
Best Surf Season Summer and Spring
Wave Quality Chances of clean, shapely surf are slim because of uneven bottom contours, strong rip currents and severe undertow. The beach drops off abruptly, so the shorepound is rough and unpredictable. Go here to witness the amazing force of the ocean, but think twice before surfing.
The Surfers Crowded on good days, few on other days
Boards Funboard
Paddle Out Mild
Skill Level Beginner to Intermediate
Bottom Sand
Watch Out For… Hungry sharks, inexperienced surfers, rips
Water Condition Moderately clean
 

Stinson Beach – Marin County

Surf Location Take Highway 1 from 101, follow the signs
Best Swell Direction Southwest
Best Tide Any
Best Wind Direction Northwest
Best Surf Season Fall and Spring
Wave Quality Consistently provides fun peaks, a forgiving beachbreak. One of the better surf spots around for beginners.
The Surfers Crowded with beginners
Boards Funboard or log
Paddle Out Easy
Skill Level Beginner
Bottom Sand
Watch Out For… Sharks, one attack in the early 2000.
Water Condition Clean to moderately clean
 

Fort Cronkite / Rodeo Beach - Marin County

Surf Location At the end of Rodeo Canyon and located on the Cronkite Army base, Cronkite/Rodeo
Best Swell Direction West, Northwest, South
Best Tide Low
Best Wind Direction Northeast
Best Surf Season All year long
Wave Quality Inconsistent, can produce well-shaped and hollow waves. The big wave surf spot located offshore from here, Potato Patch, dissipates some of the swell energy during the biggest days, making ridable waves at almost any size, but it does get heavy and dangerous.
The Surfers Crowded with both locals and beginners
Boards Shortboard, longboard, hybrid or sponge
Paddle Out Mild to moderate
Skill Level Beginner to Advanced in summer, Intermediate to Advanced in winter
Bottom Sand
Watch Out For… Sharks and, during big swells, huge pieces of driftwood and lumber
Water Condition Moderately clean
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