Santa Barbara Surf: A Complete Guide
An Overview of Santa Barbara Surf
Santa Barbara is one rad surf destination in Southern California. If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of busier SoCal beaches, a Santa Barbara surf trip could be just what you need.
Santa Barbara offers plenty of fun, long rides. It’s chock full of point breaks, warm(ish) water, and opportunities to get barreled. Santa Barbara is also arguably one of the best surf towns in California.
All in all, this small coastal area hosts some of the best surfing in California… Now let’s jump into this Santa Barbara surf guide!
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Santa Barbara is a medium sized California city located a 90 minute drive north of the LAX international airport, along the scenic Highway 1. Santa Barbara county is home to about 100 miles of Pacific Coastline, so it’s no surprise there are so many good surf spots.
Best Season for Santa Barbara Surf
Santa Barbara is a winter surf destination. Due to the Channel Islands, all of the south swell is blocked from Santa Barbara’s beaches, with the exception of Jalama Beach.
Unfortunately, Santa Barbara surf is a bit nonexistent between the months of April-August.
Fall is when the Santa Barbara surf gets its first few swells, and come winter time, it really turns on.
Santa Barbara Surf Spots
This is perhaps the most famous break on this list. Rincon Point is also known as the “Jewel of the Pacific”, and with good reason.
Rincon is a right hand point break that works best with a direct west swell. With a big swell, you can catch rides here for a few hundred meters.
Rincon is located right on the Ventura/Santa Barbara county line, and is the southernmost surfbreak in Santa Barbara County.
Campus Point is a fun right hand point break that can get fast and hollow with a big swell. When it’s small, it’s a crowded, popular longboarding spot.
This break is located right on UCSB’s campus, and you have to pay to park and walk down the stairs.
Keep an eye out for rocks, especially near the takeoff area as it can get very shallow.
“Dev’s” as the locals call it, is a fun, mellow, right hand point break. To access it, park in the free dirt parking on Camino Mallorca in Isla Vista, and walk down the closest stairs to your left.
This is a great beginner break, as there are quite a few takeoff spots. The smaller, less crowded takeoff spots halfway up the beach are great for learning to surf!
More advanced surfers can paddle out to the point, and surf there. With a decent swell, all the breaks connect and you can catch rides 30 seconds+.
Watch out for rocks here, there are a few big ones that are hard to see at higher tides.
Sands Beach is located at Sands Coal Oil Point Beach. You can access Sands the same way as Devereux Beach, except you’ll walk around the point to get there.
Sands is a rocky beach break with multiple peaks. The main break is located right down the point, but you can surf anywhere down the beach if the main break is too crowded.
With a decent swell, Sands gets hollow. However, it doesn’t really hold up past 9 feet.
** Don’t bring your dogs along to Sands Beach! This is a snowy plover nesting site, so it is protected, and unfortunately our furry friends are not allowed here**
Jalama Beach is where the surf starved Santa Barbara locals and students can get their surf fix in the summertime. Located right next to Point Conception, Jalama beach picks up the swells the rest of Santa Barbara misses out on. For a more complete guide on Jalama Beach surf, check out my guide here.
Hazards of Santa Barbara Surf
Pretty much every break on this list is rocky as can be. When dismounting your board, be sure to land like a starfish to avoid painful limb vs rock encounters.
Crowds & Agro Surfers
My least favorite part about surfing in Santa Barbara is the crowds. That being said, the crowds are not nearly as bad as beaches further south. The best tips for dealing with crowds is to avoid them! Don’t surf at the main point, and try to surf a little off the shoulder to catch the waves everyone camping at the main break will miss.
At beaches like Sands, you can walk half a mile down the beach and find a little peak all to yourself, or to share with a few buddies.
Santa Barbara Surf Tips & Tricks
In a land of point breaks, my biggest tip for scoring in some fun Santa Barbara surf is to sit off the peak. Don’t get right in there and compete with 15 people at the main break. Rather, sit off about 10-15 feet to the side of the main break, and wait for those big sets that wrap around the point that everyone sitting deep inside will miss.
Another tip for success in Santa Barbara surf is to get out early. This is true of most breaks, but I’ve noticed it to be particularly true in Santa Barbara. Especially at college student breaks like Devs, Sands, and Campus Point, at 6am everyone is usually too hungover to be out surfing, and if you’re out early enough, you’ll sometimes get the best waves all to yourself!
What to Bring
Wetsuit: Santa Barbara stays fairly warm year round compared to breaks up north in SLO county like Pismo and Morro Bay. In the summers in Santa Barbara, you can get away with a springsuit. In the winters, you’ll definitely want a warm 3/2 or a 4/3.
Surfboards: In the land of point breaks, longboards are ideal for smaller days. Once it’s head high though, feel free to break out your shortboards and have at it. Higher volume boards usually tend to do better when it comes to Santa Barbara surf.
I’m 72 and lived in Santa Barbara in the 70’s. My favorite is
Rincon and the Ranch. Wow was that just like being in surf heaven, glassy right swells 6 to 8 ft. and all alone.
thank you God for just those Days..
I can’t imagine how amazing that must have been. Rincon is so crowded now! Sounds like you experienced it at its best. Awesome!
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