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Big Sur Surfing Guide- An Epic California Surf Trip

Big Sur California is a famous 90 mile stretch of rugged California coastline. It’s known for breathtaking views, redwoods, waterfalls, and of course, surfing.

Big Sur surfing is unique from other surf spots in California. It’s extremely isolated, and the surf and beaches are particularly rugged and wild. 

What this means for surfers is uncrowded breaks, big waves, and consistent swells. 

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How to get to Big Sur

Big Sur Surfing

Big Sur is a stretch of land located adjacent to the beach, and Highway One runs right through it. 

From the south, Big Sur is located about 200 miles north of Santa Barbara, and 100 miles north of San Luis Obispo

From the north, Big Sur is located just south of Monterey. 

The best way to experience Big Sur is by driving through in your car, rental car, or rental campervan. 

I recommend driving north to south, so that the ocean views will be best- however I’ve done the drive south to north plenty of times and can confirm it’s equally mesmerizing.

2023 Update:

There was a huge landslide in the southern section of Big Sur, just north of Ragged Point. This means, if you’re coming from the south, you won’t be able to go much further than just past Ragged Point, sadly. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to open any time soon either, so if you want go surfing in Big Sur, you’ll have to enter from the north.

The Big Sur surf spots

With that much open exposed coastline, it’s no surprise that there are a plethora of surfing spots in Big Sur. Here are some of the well-known spots:

Sand Dollar Beach

Big Sur surfing

Sand Dollar Beach is one of the most consistent surf breaks in Central California. 

One of the things I love about a Big Sur surf trip is that you can pretty much always score at Sand Dollar. 

Are the waves great?

Well, they’re usually pretty big and fat, but you can get some fun, long rides in. 

When there’s some swell, the waves break SUPER far out and the paddle-out can be a major pain, but it’s worth the effort. 

If you’re planning on surfing Sand Dollar, it’s super easy to get to, and the parking lot has some nice facilities including a bathroom and some tables. 

You have to pay a fee to drive into the parking lot, the other option is to park on the side of the road for free.

Willow Creek 

Located just south of Sand Dollar, Willow Creek is a surf break that is better for more intermediate-level surfers who prefer a faster, hollower wave.

This surf spot is known for a fast breaking left, kelp beds, rocks, and the occasional White Shark sighting.

Andrew Molera State Park

Located further north in Big Sur, Andrew Molera is an exposed beach break with fairly inconsistent surf. 

With smaller swells, this beach can be decent for intermediates, but you should always be mindful of powerful rip currents. 

When it’s working, Andrew Molera can produce a fairly steep right.

Best season to surf Big Sur

The best season for surfing Big Sur depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re living in south swell starved Santa Barbara, then the summer time in Big Sur can offer some welcome waves. 

If you’re looking to surf bigger waves, the winter is where it’s at. 

Personally, my favorite season to surf Big Sur is in the early fall. That’s when the swells are fun and clean, but not too big or stormy. Plus, that’s when the weather is pleasant and the water isn’t too cold. 

Where to stay for Big Sur surf

Big Sur surfing

Where to stay for a Big Sur surf trip greatly depends on the type of trip you’re into, whether it’s sleeping in your car/van, tent camping, or more of a luxury trip where you stay in a little cabin or guest house. 

For sleeping in your car/tent camping:

There is tons of free camping in Big Sur if you know where to look, so this is a great budget option. I wrote a whole post on it here in my Big Sur road trip guide

Big Sur is a pretty remote area, so the limited accommodations there are usually fairly expensive, which is why I prefer to wilderness camp for free in Big Sur!

The best cabins and inns for Big Sur surfing

If you’d prefer to book a place, there are some really nice places to stay in Big Sur! Including:

Ragged Point Inn is a great place to stay located at the southern point of Big Sur. The resort is beautiful, with ocean views, a restaurant, and it’s in a highly convenient location.

The rooms are absolutely lovely, and many have beautiful ocean views. 

Big Sur Lodge is a fantastic accommodation option for anyone looking to stay at a rustic cabin during their big sur surf trip.

The lodge has a pool, restaurant, and bar, and each room is cozily fitted with all of the amenities you could need.

Where to eat after surfing Big Sur

In my opinion, the best way to fill up after a Big Sur surf session is to bring a little travel grill and cooler and cook up a meal. Nothing quite beats a camping meal after a session in Big Sur. 

If you’re not looking to cook your own food, there are plenty of great restaurants in Big Sur listed here.

What to bring on a Big Sur surf trip

Whether you’re tent camping, car camping, or glamping, here are the Big Sur surf trip essentials:

1. Surfboard(s)

Obviously, you can’t have a Big Sur surf trip without your boards! There aren’t rental places in Big Sur, so you’ll have to bring your quiver along.

2. Wetsuit

The water in Big Sur is pretty chilly, so I recommend bringing a 4/3 wetsuit, even to use in the summertime.

3. Booties

In the summer on sunny days you might be able to get away without them, but you’ll definitely want them the rest of the year.

4. Hood

Cold water is pretty damaging to your eardrums, and one of the best ways to protect them is to wear a hood. You’ll appreciate the extra warmth as well.

5. Portable Solar Shower

Unless you’re glamping, there isn’t anywhere to shower off the saltwater. It’s HUGELY convenient to have a portable solar shower, and you can also use it to spray down your gear to prolong its life.

Big Sur surfing hazards

Unfortunately, uncrowded, rugged surf is not without its risks, and the Big Sur surfing certainly has its fair share of hazards, including:

  • Sharks

Central California is incredibly sharky, and Big Sur is no exception. 

  • Rips

The power of the ocean here is no joke- be cautious of rips and strong surf, and as always, never paddle out in surf conditions that are above your capabilities.

  • Rocks

Willow Creek and Andrew Molera are both pretty rocky beaches, so be weary of that.

Tips and Tricks for a Big Sur surf trip

1. Fuel up whenever you have the chance

Gas stations are few and far between in Big Sur, and the last thing you want to happen is to find yourself in a bind without any gas. Even if you still have a half tank left, it’s definitely a good idea to fill up whenever you get the chance. 

You can also grab gas in Ragged Point if need be- this is convenient if you’re coming from the south.

2. 4WD is recommended

If you plan to do any wilderness camping, you’ll likely want a high clearance, 4WD vehicle.

Big Sur surfing guide- final thoughts

That’s a wrap on my Big Sur Surf Guide! This is a super special place, and if you’re planning a surf trip here, I hope this guide has helped you out. 

If you have anything you’d like to add or ask, drop a comment! 

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