Pismo Beach Surf: A Local’s Guide
Everyone knows about the fantastic surf of Southern and Northern California. Trestles, Pleasure Point, Ocean Beach- those are all household names in the surfing sphere. And they have all have some epic surf, don’t get me wrong. Meanwhile, the Central Coast of California, nestled right in between Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, has some real special spots, that don’t get nearly the same amount of attention. One of those excellent SLO surf spots is Pismo Beach. The Pismo Beach surf is consistent, usually has something to offer for all levels, and is easy to access. Here is everything you need to know about one of my favorite California surf spots:
- Pismo Beach surf overview
- Best Pismo Beach surf spots
- Want to learn to surf in Pismo Beach?
- Best tide to Surf Pismo Beach
- Best swell to Surf Pismo Beach
- Best Pismo Beach Surf Seasons
- Plan a Pismo Beach Surf Trip!
- What Wetsuits + Boards are best for Pismo Beach Surf
- Surf spots near Pismo Beach
- Pismo Beach Surf FAQs
- Pismo Beach surf tips from a Local
Pismo Beach surf overview
Pismo State Beach is a 17 mile stretch of coastline located in SLO County, California. It encompasses Pismo, Grover, Oceano, and Shell Beach. Along this stretch of coastline, there are many wonderful surf spots, including primarily beach breaks, but with a few secret reef breaks!
While Pismo is a long expanse of coastline, when people say “Pismo Beach” they are typically referring to the area directly surrounding the Pismo Beach Pier, which includes the most popular surf breaks.
Overall, Pismo Beach mostly has sandy bottom beach breaks with lots of sandbars. There are plenty of fun little corners you can ride on either the north or south side of the pier.
The best and most crowded place to surf in Pismo is directly on the north side of the pier, almost underneath it. There is a solid left that consistently comes through here, and will actually hold some size even when the rest of the beach is closing out.
Pismo Beach is best surfed around high tide. It gets a little too drained around low tide.
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Best Pismo Beach surf spots
Pismo Pier north side
This is by far the most popular surf spot in Pismo Beach. This surf spot is located directly underneath the Pismo Pier on the north side of it.
This Pismo Beach surf break is a solid breaking left. It is super consistent, and by far the longest ride you can get surfing Pismo Beach.
With the right conditions, this wave even barrels!
As it is the best and most popular surf spot in Pismo Beach, it gets very crowded here. However, sets with up to seven solid waves are not uncommon so if you’re patient, you’ll definitely be able to catch one of these fun waves!
How to get to the Pismo Pier northside surf:
Take the Wadsworth Avenue freeway 101 exit, and park along any of the cross streets. The parking is free, and you can take a staircase down to the beach. Plus, there is a shower right next to the staircase so you can rinse yourself and your surf equipment off.
Pismo Pier south side
Usually just on the other side of the pier, there are fun, clean waves. The Southside of the Pismo Pier is usually less crowded, and is a good option for intermediate surfers who can’t quite navigate the northside lineup but still want to catch fun waves!
How to get to the Pismo Pier South Side:
If you want to surf the south side of the pier, you can take the Hinds Avenue/Price Canyon exit off the 101 freeway, and park in the free parking lot off Addie Street. This parking lot is right on the sand and across from a fun breaking sandbar.
Addie Street Sandbar
The Addie Street Sandbar is about a half mile south of the Pismo Pier. It’s exactly what it sounds like- a sandbar where the waves hold up better than the rest of the beach.
This is a super fun surfing spot in Pismo Beach.
It’s also home to the only truly free parking lot left in Pismo Beach-to get there, just google “Addie Street Parking Lot” and you’re there.
This is a fun break for surfers of all levels, so if you’re learning to surf, this is a great place to surf in Pismo!
Shell Beach surf spots
While still technically part of Pismo Beach, this beautiful coast community is one of the hidden gems of the Central Coast.
The beaches here are all very rocky, but there is some amazing surf in Shell Beach- if you know where to look.
I won’t give away the exact location of Shell Beach Surf Spots, but if you do a little exploring yourself, you’re bound to find some sweet reef breaks that hold up even when Pismo Beach is closing out, or blown out.
Grover Beach surf
Grover Beach is the portion of beach about 1 mile south of the Pismo Pier. It’s not a particularly great surf spot, but what’s cool about it is you can legally drive your car on the beach, and there aren’t many places like that left in California.
There are plenty of sandbars scattered throughout Grover Beach, so if you want to find a fun peak all to yourself, just drive down Grand Avenue, pay the $5 fee to drive on the beach, and pick a surf spot! If you’re trying to beat the crowds over at the pier, paddling out in Grover is a great way to find some space to yourself.
Oceano is the portion of beach just south of Grover, and about 2 miles south of the Pismo Pier. It’s the same deal as Grover Beach in terms of driving on the beach, except Oceano is slightly more exposed and often receives far more swell than Pismo and Grover.
If you like surfing bigger waves in isolation, you’ll definitely want to check out the surf in Oceano.
Want to learn to surf in Pismo Beach?
If you want to learn to surf in Pismo Beach, consider taking a surf lesson!
Sandbar Surf School is the absolute best surf school in Pismo Beach, run by an awesome team who loves sharing their stoke with you.
They run a great program for absolute beginner programs, and you can reach out to ask about private coaching for intermediate surfers as well.
Best tide to Surf Pismo Beach
The best tide to surf Pismo beach is medium high to low. At dead low tide, Pismo gets super drained and isn’t usually surfable.
Best swell to Surf Pismo Beach
The best swell to surf Pismo Beach is a combination of west and northwest swells with a period of at least 11 seconds. You can still find decent surf when the period is shorter, but it won’t be quite as clean.
Best Pismo Beach Surf Seasons
Pismo Beach is pretty special because it can be surfed all year round. It gets some nice, fun little swells in the summer, perfect for long boarding, or even short boarding if you’re right under the north side of the pier. Pismo’s main surf season, however is the winter time. During the winter, the average wave size is right around head high. Winter is your best bet to score some fun Pismo Beach surf. Check out this surf forecast to see the average swell size every month of the year.
With all that said, my absolute favorite time to surf in this area is during the fall- namely September- November. This is when all the summer tourists go home, the days are still long, and the water is super warm. Plus, the winter swells start to roll in- it’s pretty amazing!
Plan a Pismo Beach Surf Trip!
Pismo Beach is an awesome destination for a surf trip. The crowds aren’t nearly as bad as Southern California, and Pismo gets some pretty consistent swell.
Also, the downtown Pismo area has everything you could need for a surf trip, from rental shops, restaurants, bars, and more.
Where to stay for a Pismo Beach surf trip
There are loads of accommodation options in Pismo. Some solid picks for a surf trip include:
How many beach hotels in California can you stay in for under $100/night? Honestly, not many. This cozy motel is a 5 minutes walk from the beach, and offers all the amenities you could need on a Pismo Beach surf trip.
Seacrest is a little pricer, but if you want to travel in luxury, this is a fabulous option. One of the best parts of this hotel is the rooftop terrace with cozy fire pits 4 levels above the ocean.
What Wetsuits + Boards are best for Pismo Beach Surf
The water is fairly chilly in Pismo Beach year round. In the summer you can get away with a 3/2 on sunny days, but in winter you’ll definitely want a warm 4/3 suit and booties, maybe even a hood if you chill easily.
The type of board you should bring to Pismo Beach depends on multiple factors. These include your skill level, preference, and the wave conditions. For example, in the summertime most people take out their longboards. However, come winter, you still can ride a longboard, but due to the size and potential steepness in the waves, you may want more of a low volume, high performance board for winter Pismo Beach surf.
Pismo Beach Surf Trip Essentials
- 4/3 Wetsuit
In the summer you can definitely get away with a 3/2, but you’ll probably be more comfortable in a 4/3.
I love the Roxy 4/3 Sycro for women, and you can’t go wrong with the O’neill Psycho for men.
- Surfing Booties
While you don’t NEED surfing booties in Pismo, I don’t usually surf without them. Not only is it super nice to keep your toes from getting wet, there are sometimes a bunch of sandcrabs I don’t love stepping on and the booties are super nice for that!
You don’t need super thick booties for Pismo either, so the O’neill Heat 3mm split toe are perfect.
- Reef-Safe sunscreen
Even when it’s cloudy, you still want to protect your skin! Reef-Safe sunscreen is a necessity for any surf trip. If you’re wondering what sunscreens are reefsafe, check out my guide to the best reef safe sunscreens for surfers.
Surf spots near Pismo Beach
One of the things I love at Pismo is that if you’re not feeling the surf there, there are a ton of other surf breaks within a 60-75 minute drive, including:
Pismo Beach Surf FAQs
Is Pismo Beach good for surfing?
Pismo Beach is definitely not a world famous wave. The Pismo waves are often mushy and often closeout with overhead swells.
However, what makes Pismo so great is its consistency. Even in the summertime, when beaches hundreds of miles in either direction are flat, Pismo always has something surfable!
Plus, in the late fall and winter the waves actually get quite nice here.
Is Pismo Beach good for beginner surfing?
Pismo Beach is one of the best beaches for beginner surfers, or for anyone wanting to learn to surf! There are plenty of mellow white water waves for beginners, and it typically doesn’t get above head high, especially in the summer.
How big do the waves get at Pismo Beach?
The waves at Pismo Beach typically do not get above head high, although with big winter swells it is not uncommon for the Pismo Beach surf to get double overhead. On average though, the waves at Pismo Beach are around three feet.
What is there to do in Pismo Beach besides Surfing?
Tons! Pismo Beach is a fun, dog friendly beach with plenty to do. You can rent kayaks, go bowling, fish off the Pismo Beach Pier (no license required!), and even see hundreds of butterflies in the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove.
Pismo Beach surf tips from a Local
- Get there early. Especially in the summer, the winds and crowds tend to pick up around 11 am every day. Sunset sessions are a possibility, but not frequently. This is especially true if you’re trying to find parking. Parking in Pismo is an absolute nightmare in the summer. If you get there before 9am you should be able to find parking just fine, it starts to get difficult after that.
- Bring a positive attitude. The locals here are used to out of towners, and the overall vibe is pretty mellow in the water. Try to keep it that way!
- Watch out for rips & sharks. Great Whites are occasionally spotted here, especially from late August to early December. Depending on the swell there can be some hazardous surf at times.
Lots of helpful info in this post! I live in San Diego, so I hope to take a road trip sometime and visit Pismo Beach!
Pismo Beach looks like a wonderful place to surf! I’ve only ever tried surfing once but I’d definitely love to give it another go. I love that Pismo beach has such a laid-back attitude and is welcoming for visitors. It sounds like the ideal place for a beginner in need of some help and practice! Thanks for the great guide!
I can just imagine how busy it gets here in the summer months. I’ve heard of Pismo Beach before but have never been. Lots of great tips here for surfers!
Thanks for breaking down the surf conditions and providing your tips. Super helpful!!
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