11 Best Beginner Surf Spots in California

California has some of the best surf in the world, including numerous amazing surf spots that cater to beginner surfers. This guide focuses on the top 11 beginner surf spots in California, perfect for those looking to catch their first waves, or if you’ve taken a lesson or two, and are still learning the ropes.

I’ll explore important factors to consider when choosing a surf spot, time of year, beach town vibe, water temperature, and what to do in each of the best surf spots in California for beginners besides surfing!

I grew up in California, and have spent years surfing and exploring up and down the coast. I’ve also been a surf instructor for 7 years, and know exactly the types of surf conditions that beginners need.

This guide also includes a breakdown of exactly how to plan your California surf trip. Let’s jump in!

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Are you learning to surf? Take a look at my surf tips for beginners!

The 11 best places for surfing in California for beginners

1. Cowell Beach, Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz surf/ beginner surf spots in california
  • Water Temp: 57-65°F (14-18°C)
  • Location: Santa Cruz
  • Best time of year for beginners to surf here: Late spring to early fall

Right in the heart of Santa Cruz, Cowell’s is one of the most perfect spots for beginner surfers in California. The surf break is super gentle, with rolling waves and a sandy bottom. The break is famous for its long, easy rides, making it a popular choice for surf schools and first-time surfers. It’s also really nice because unlike a lot of other beginner surf breaks in California, you won’t just be catching white water waves here- you can actually catch green waves pretty easily at Cowell’s. 

I recommend booking a surf lesson as a beginner surfer wanting to learn at Cowell’s. Your instructor can show you exactly where to paddle out, and walk you through all the basics of surfing so you have the best chance at catching and riding as many waves as possible.

While it can get crowded, the atmosphere at this break is super friendly, and it really does cater to beginners. 

When I was first learning to surf, I remember taking a surf trip up to Santa Cruz in the summer. It really did a lot for my surfing, because I was able to catch nice, long peeling waves and get lots of practice.

Santa Cruz itself is a vibrant, surf-centric town with plenty of activities, shops, and restaurants to explore after a day in the water. You can visit some of the many surf shops, check out downtown Santa Cruz, and explore the wharf. Santa Cruz is one of my favorite California surf towns too because it delivers a really nice blend of city activities and nature activities. 

In addition to exploring downtown, within a short drive you can be hiking in redwood forests, exploring the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot, wine tasting in the Santa Cruz mountains, or go whale watching in neighboring Monterey Bay. 

Interested in other places to surf in Santa Cruz? Take a look at my Santa Cruz surf guide.

Where to stay for a Santa Cruz surf trip

Dream Inn Santa Cruz

This dreamy, surf inspired hotel has gorgeous ocean views, and is super close to Cowell’s Beach.

2. Doheny State Beach, Dana Point

Doheny surf/ best beginner surf spots in California
  • Water Temp: 60-72°F (16-22°C)
  • Location: Dana Point
  • Best time of year for beginners to surf here: Summer and early fall

Dana Point’s Doheny State Beach is a stunning location offering long, slow waves that are ideal for beginner surfers. The bottom is a mix of rocky reef and sand, so you will want to be mindful. However, in the summer the waves here are super mellow and offer some of the best surfing in California for beginners.

Although popular with surf schools, the beach is expansive enough to accommodate everyone. The charming town of Dana Point offers a laid-back, coastal vibe with local shops, eateries, and nearby parks. It definitely has more of that classic SoCal feel, and it’s a bit more built up. The surrounding land area is fantastic for shopping, and exploring restaurants, and cafes. 

On the other hand, there is a ton of marine life in Dana Point, and it’s also a fantastic place for whale watching

The best surf hotel for beginners in Doheny State Beach

Double Tree Suites by Hilton Doheny Beach

This beautiful hotel is pristinely located right across from Doheny Beach. The hotel has gorgeous ocean views, a surf theme, and a pool.

3. Bolsa Chica State Beach, Huntington Beach- Best Beginner Surf Spot in Southern California

  • Water Temp: 60-72°F (16-22°C)
  • Location: Huntington Beach
  • Best time of year for beginners to surf here: Summer and early fall

Located in the heart of Surf City USA, Bolsa Chica State Beach is a beginner’s paradise. Its consistent, manageable waves break over a sandy bottom, providing a safe and comfortable environment for learning. Bolsa Chica State Beach is also located a few miles north of the Huntington Pier, and the slightly more aggressive surf spots, which makes a great place to surf in California for beginners who might be a bit anxious about surfing around really experienced surfers. 

Crowds are typical, but the wide, sandy beach ensures there’s room for everyone. Bolsa Chica also has a reputation of being a good surf spot for beginners, so you’ll see plenty of other beginners there, and be able to find several surf schools there as well, and it’s super easy to book a surf lesson in Bolsa Chica.

After a day of surfing, you can enjoy the bustling atmosphere of Huntington Beach, with its lively pier, shops, and restaurants. One of my favorite things to do in Huntington Beach is to bike down the boardwalk to the pier, and check out all the sweet surf shops by the pier. 

There are also a few other great places to surf in the area- check out my Huntington Beach surf guide!

The best surf hotel for beginners in Bolsa Chica State Beach

Kimpton Shorebreak Huntington Beach Resort

This surf hotel is located right on the waterfront in Huntington Beach. It’s very close to the Huntington pier, and main downtown area- perfect for shopping, sightseeing, and hitting the nearby cafes and restaurants.

The hotel itself is lovely- it’s surf-inspired in honor of its Surf City location, has its own restaurant, and open air patio with fire pits for you to cozy up besides after a long surf.

4. Malibu Surfrider Beach

  • Water Temp: 60-72°F (16-22°C)
  • Location: Los Angeles County, Southern California
  • Best time of year for beginners to surf here: Late spring to early fall

Malibu Surfrider Beach is an iconic location for surfers of all levels. The first point at Malibu offers slow-breaking waves and a sandy bottom, making it a great spot for beginners to learn. Malibu is a really amazing surf spot in California for beginners, and the quickest way to learn there is book a private surf lesson

The idyllic surroundings and beautiful coastline make it a must-visit destination. 

The town of Malibu is known for its upscale, yet laid-back atmosphere, with plenty of options for dining and shopping.

In addition to surfing, and shopping, there is also a TON to do in Malibu.You can do a Malibu wine hike, take a scenic electric mountain biking tour, try stand up paddle boarding, and more.  

The best surf hotel in Malibu

The Surfrider Malibu

The Surfrider Malibu is one of the best surf hotels in California. This luxury hotel is located right across from Malibu Surfrider, has an exclusive rooftop bar, gorgeous, bohemian, surf themed decor, flatscreen TVs, bathrooms, and of course- a room with a view.

5. Linda Mar Beach, Pacifica

  • Water Temp: 55-63°F (13-17°C)
  • Location: San Mateo County, Northern California
  • Best time of year for beginners to surf here: Late spring to early fall

Linda Mar Beach, also known as Pacifica Beach, is a mile long stretch of sheltered, sandy beach.

Linda Mar is located in a little cove, and therefore is sheltered from a lot of the wind and  swells that hit nearby beaches, making it a good spot for beginner and intermediate surfers to learn. This little beach is located right off of Highway One, making it a perfect detour on your Big Sur/  Highway One road trip. 

The quaint little town is surrounded by natural beauty, and has a ton of nearby hiking trails with stunning coastal views. There are plenty of surf shops nearby where you can rent wetsuits and surfboards, and book surf lessons

The best surf hotel for beginners in Linda Mar Beach

Pacifica Beach Hotel

Pacifica Beach Hotel overlooks the Linda Mar surf spot, has beautiful rooms with built-in spa baths, a private terrace, a bar, swimming pool, and amazing views.

6.Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo County

Morro rock surfing/
  • Water Temp: 57-63°F (14-17°C)
  • Location: Central California
  • Best time of year for beginners to surf here: Late spring to early fall

Morro Bay is a quaint little fishing town in SLO County. Right in Morro Bay, you’ll find one of the best beginner surf spots in California- Morro Rock. At the rock, waves come in over a sandy bottom, and in the summer, the swell is typically pretty small and good for beginners. 

If you’re a beginner surfing in Morro Bay, be sure to stay decently far north of Morro Rock. This is because there is a channel that sucks out to the outside, and there are a lot of rocks. 

If you’re planning on learning to surf in Morro Bay, I highly recommend booking a surf lesson, or planning on staying in the white water. When the surf is small, Morro Bay is super fun, and a good surf spot for beginners in California.

The town itself has a super  laid-back atmosphere, and there are tons of local shops, restaurants, and activities to do in the bay.

I grew up in SLO county, and Morro Bay is to this day, one of my favorite places for surfing in California.

Besides surfing, there is so much to do in Morro Bay. My favorite free thing to do in Morro Bay is to go for a walk along the waterfront, watching the fisherman, and the boats coming and going in the bay. There are also almost always tons of sea otters frolicking in the bay you can watch. You can also rent a kayak and go kayaking in the harbor, try salt water taffy from Carousel Taffy, go to the Morro Bay Maritime Museum, or go hiking in the surrounding area.

Wondering when to go? Morro Bay is a great place for beginners to surf in September, June, and July.

Take a look at my Morro Bay surf guide!

The best surf hotel for beginner surfers in Morro Bay

Estero Inn

Overlooking the harbor, Estero Inn is one of the best hotels for a surf trip to Morro Bay. It’s located just minutes away from the Morro Rock surf spot, and surrounded by all the shops and restaurants in the heart of downtown Morro Bay.

7. Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo County

Pismo surfing
  • Water Temp: 57-63°F (14-17°C)
  • Location: Central California
  • Best time of year for beginners to surf here: Late spring to early fall

Pismo Beach is hands down one of the best beginner surf spots in California. The beach is sandy, super long, and has tons of surf schools you can book classes with. There are also several amazing surf shops in Pismo Beach to explore.

In the summer, the surf in Pismo Beach is pretty small, and amazing for beginners. You can catch long, smooth white water rides, and even paddle to the outside to catch green waves on smaller days. 

I recommend parking in the free Addie Street Parking Lot, and surfing directly in front of the parking lot as a beginner. More experienced surfers typically surf closer to the pier here, so you’ll want to keep away from the pier until you’re more confident in the water, and really understand how to navigate the surfing lineup.

If you’re looking to book a surf lesson in Pismo, I recommend none other than Sandbar Surf School– they’re hands down the best.

Pismo also retains some of that small town beach charm- it’s not quite as developed as some of the SoCal surf towns. Although, word is definitely getting out, and things are starting to develop.

When you’re not surfing in Pismo, you can go hiking, go to the Monarch Butterfly Preserve, try clam chowder from Splash Cafe (it’s super famous), go wine tasting, and even drive on the beach over in nearby Grover/Oceano.

If you get hungry post-surf, I recommend getting some tacos from Papi’s right in Pismo, or head over to Chacho’s in Oceano for the best burrito you’ve ever had- on a fresh, homemade tortilla no less!

Check out my guide to the best surf spots in SLO county!

Where to stay in Pismo Beach

 Inn at the Pier

Inn at the Pier is an awesome, ocean front hotel in Pismo Beach on the cliffs overlooking the water. The hotel has a very nice rooftop pool, bar, and jacuzzi, and the rooms are all very modern and well-equipped. You can even do a morning surf check from your bedroom window!

8. Mondos Beach, Ventura

Overexposed photo of the waves in Mondos Beach Ventura, one of the best beginner surfing beaches in California
Image by SteffsStuff
  • Water Temp: 60-72°F (16-22°C)
  • Location: Ventura County, Southern California
  • Best time of year for beginners to surf here: Late spring to early fall

Mondos is a tiny little beach in Ventura, located right off of Highway One. The beach is sandy with a few rocks, and has no amenities. It’s pretty much good for two things: surfing, and enjoying an uncrowded beach. 

The waves at Mondos are small, gentle, and typically much less crowded than other Ventura or Santa Barbara surf spots. Keep in mind,  there isn’t much here besides the beach, so you’ll have to either bring surfing equipment or rent it from a surf shop in downtown Ventura.

You can also book a surf lesson, and they’ll handle and bring all the equipment for you. 

Where to stay to surf at Mondos

Cliffhouse Inn on the Ocean

Cliffhouse Inn has a nice pool, every room has ocean views, and it’s in a lovely, quiet, and peaceful location.

9. Stinson Beach, Marin County

  • Water Temp: 55-63°F (13-17°C)
  • Location: Marin County, Northern California
  • Best time of year for beginners to surf here: Summer

Stinson Beach is a picturesque surf spot with a wide, sandy beach and consistent waves. In the summer, the break is quite gentle, and one of the best beginner surf spots in Northern California. The bottom of the surf break is sandy, and super forgiving for beginner surfers.

I highly recommend booking a surf lesson, so your experienced instructor can show you the ropes, where to surf, and will also bring all the equipment for you- you’ll definitely need a wetsuit! 

While it can get busy on weekends in the summer, the beach is pretty big and can definitely handle a crowd.

The charming town of Stinson Beach offers a laid-back atmosphere, perfect for a relaxing surf getaway. Nearby, visitors can also explore the scenic beauty of Mount Tamalpais State Park and Muir Woods National Monument.

The best surf hotel for beginners in Stinson Beach

Pacifica Beach Hotel

Pacifica Beach Hotel is also the best place to stay if you want to surf at Stinson Beach.

10.Tourmaline Surfing Park, Pacific Beach

  • Water Temp: 60-72°F (16-22°C)
  • Location: San Diego County, Southern California
  • Best time of year for beginners to surf here: Summer and early fall

Tourmaline Surfing Park, located in Pacific Beach, San Diego, is a favorite among beginner surfers. It’s located all the way on the north end of Pacific Beach, and is simply perfect for learning to surf and longboarding.

You can easily rent a surfboard and wetsuit from PB Surf Shop or Pacific Surf School and head down to the beach, or you can book a surf lesson and have an experienced surf instructor show you the ropes. 

I’ve surfed Tourmaline a few times, and it’s a really fun, cruisy wave. It does get a little crowded but the vibe is typically super mellow and friendly- lots of beginners in the water and people looking to share the stoke!

Pacific Beach is a super lively, fun, and youthful surf town. There is a TON of nightlife here in Pacific Beach– this is the place to be if you want to learn to surf in California, and have a fun night out on the town while you’re at it.

Read my Pacific Beach surf guide for more on surfing in this area.

The best surf hotel for beginner surfers in Tourmaline

Ocean Park Inn

Ocean Park Inn is a lovely surf hotel has a pool, hot tub, ocean views, and more, jest steps away from Tourmaline.


  • Water Temp: 55-63°F (13-17°C)
  • Location: Marin County
  • Best time of year for beginners to surf here: Late spring to early fall

Bolinas is a hidden gem on the Northern California coast, and one of the best beginner surf spots in the Bay area. The gentle waves and rarely-crowded surf conditions provide an ideal setting for learning and practicing. 

The small, secluded town of Bolinas is known for its artsy, bohemian vibe and tight-knit community. While limited in accommodations and amenities, it’s a perfect escape for those seeking a peaceful surf vacation.

The neighboring town of Stinson Beach offers more options for dining and shopping, while nearby Point Reyes National Seashore provides stunning natural beauty and outdoor activities.

Beginner Surfing California FAQs

Where can beginners surf in SoCal?

Doheny State Beach, Zuma Beach, Mondos, Bolsa chica State Beach, Tourmaline Surfing Park, and Scripps are all great beginner surf spots in SoCal.

Is Zuma Beach good for beginner surfers?

Yes! Zuma Beach is excellent for beginner surfers.

Can beginners surf 3 foot waves?

Beginners can certainly surf 3 foot waves. However, it depends on the way the wave is breaking. If it’s a soft wave, 3 feet is fine. If it’s breaking heavier, or over shallow water, even a wave as small as 3 feet might be a bit intense for beginner surfers.

However, all of the waves on this list should be fine for beginner surfers in California if they’re 3 feet.

Is Pismo Beach good for beginner surfers?

Pismo is great for beginner surfers. I grew up surfing here, and teach surf lessons here too- the vibe is super friendly to beginners, and there is plenty of room on the beach to learn.

Can beginners surf in Santa Cruz?

Yes! Especially in the summer, and especially at Cowell Beach, Santa Cruz is a good California surf spot for beginners. Just stay away from more advanced surf breaks like Steamer Lane where the waves are more intense, and the locals can be more aggressive.

How to choose from the best beginner surf spots in California

Do you want to learn to surf in a big or small beach town?

When planning your surf trip to the best beginner surf spots in California, one important factor to consider, in addition to the waves, is what type of vibe are you looking for in the town. Are you looking for more of a city experience, where you can explore tons of restaurants, do a lot of shopping, and visit bars? Or would you rather stay somewhere with a little more open spaces and fewer people? If you’re curious about California surf towns, check out my guide to the best California surf towns.

What water temperature do you want to learn in?

This one is big. Learning how to surf is tough enough, and trying to squeeze into a wetsuit and deal with cold water makes it even harder. However, if you’re used to swimming in cold water, wearing a wetsuit, then maybe you wouldn’t mind learning to surf somewhere further north in California. 

If you’re totally not keen on surfing in cold water, you should pick somewhere further south to learn in California, like in the San Diego area.

What do you want to do besides surfing?

Unless you’re planning on surfing your entire trip (I don’t blame you!) You’ll also want to think about what exactly there is to do in the surf town you visit. Do you also want to go hiking? Do you want to go fishing? Do you want to go wine tasting? 

How to plan a beginner surf trip to California

If you’ve decided where you want to go, it’s time to plan your surf trip to California! Once I’ve decided where I want to go, here are the steps I take to plan my surf trip:

1. Book your flights 

Unless you’re driving in, or already live in California, the first thing you’ll want to do is book your flight. I recommend flying into either SFO in San Francisco, or LAX in Los Angeles. There are the two biggest airports in California, and you’ll likely get the best flight deal flying into one of these. 

To find the cheapest flights, I recommend checking on Orbitz or Skyscanner. Then, once you’ve found the cheapest flight, I recommend booking it directly with the airline. This will get you the lowest price, and if there are any issues with your flight, it’s wayyyy easier to make changes if you booked directly with the airline than with a third party.

2. Book transport to the beach town

Next up is getting from the airport to your surf town! I highly recommend booking a rental car. California is HUGE, and unfortunately, has pretty bad public transportation. The easiest, and most convenient way to get around in CA is to book a rental car. 

3. Book accommodations

Then, book your accommodations. I always book my hotels on booking.com. They have the lowest prices, biggest collection of hotels to choose from, and an interface that makes it super easy to book hotels, make changes, cancellations, etc. 

4.Book surf lessons

Once everything is planned out, it’s a good idea to book surf lessons in advance. I recommend simply searching “best surf schools in xxx area” on google, and booking with the highest rated. 

Above, I’ve also linked to a few reputable surf schools for some of the best beginner surf spots in California.

5. Rent a board for the duration of your stay

If you’re not keen on booking surf lessons, or don’t need them, you can simply show up at the beach, head to the nearest surf shop, and rent a board for the duration of your trip. Keep in mind, you’ll most likely need a wetsuit too. 

6. Pack for your trip to learn to surf in California

Finally, it’s time to pack for your beginner surf trip to California! Be sure to bring a nice beach towel, plenty of reef safe sunscreen, a wetsuit if you have one, swimsuit/board shorts to wear under your wetsuit, and a little spare surf wax. 

7. Enjoy your trip! 

Have a blast surfing at these excellent beginner surf spots in California! California’s diverse coastline offers a range of surf spots perfect for beginners. Whether you prefer a bustling beach city like Huntington Beach, or a laid-back coastal town, there’s a beginner surf spot in California for you. 

Happy surfing!

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