SLO Surfing- Your Ultimate Guide
San Luis Obispo is one of the most underrated surf destinations in California- but it’s not for everyone. This charming region on the Central Coast boasts good vibes, cold water, and fun, consistent surf. However, to really enjoy and belong to the SLO surfing scene, you need to have a few important, specific character traits.
You need a certain level of fearlessness (SLO is very sharky, and you pretty much just need to accept that reality before paddling out).
You need to be able to handle the cold (Of course there are MANY colder surf destinations, but the SLO surfing is still chilly!)
And most importantly, you need to check your egos at the SLO county lines, and bring good vibes only into the surf lineup. SLO, like other surf areas in California, has a bit of a dark history of localism and bad attitudes. However, over recent years, it’s gotten much better, and the more people paddling out and spreading positivity rather than archaic ideas of localism, the better. There’s no denying that we have a lot to learn from our elders, but one of my hopes for the future of surfing is that this new generation of surfers marks the death of the whole “Locals only, bro” thing.
I learned to surf and grew up here, so the SLO surf breaks are very near and dear to my heart. And I’m very excited to share them with you, starting with…
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Where is SLO?
SLO county is located on California’s central coast, just north of Santa Barbara and south of Big Sur. You can get there easily by:
- Flying into the SLO airport
- Driving from LA or San Francisco
- Taking the train from LA (the Pacific Surfliner is surfboard friendly!)
- Taking a Flixbus
Best SLO surfing spots
In terms of consistency, I’d say the surf in Slo is right up there with some of the best beaches in California for surfing. You really don’t get many flat days up here.
Here are the best surf spots in San Luis Obispo, listed in order from south to north.
Oceano doesn’t have the best waves in SLO County, but it’s a good spot to go if you want to find your own peak and surf without the crowds. You can drive onto the beach there too, which makes it a good spot to drive out, surf some fun, uncrowded waves for a while, and then have a bonfire on the beach. The beach here is super exposed, and one of the first in the area to get totally blown out. Your best bet to beat the wind is early in the morning, or in the late afternoon/early evening for a glass-off session.
2. Pismo Beach
Pismo is one of the most popular surf spots in SLO, and it’s no surprise why. The waves here are fun, the beach has bathrooms and showers, and it’s nice and spread out. Pismo is best surfed around a higher tide, as it gets pretty drained with a lower tide. There are a few good Pismo Beach surfing spots, including:
Wadsworth Avenue runs perpendicular down to the beach, and you can park at the top and walk directly down the stairs for this surf spot. It’s generally the least crowded of the three, and the inconsistent sandbars can produce some fun rights and lefts. I love surfing Wadsworth when the pier is super crowded, and it’s the best spot for a surf check. Plus, the parking is free up there.
Pismo Pier Northside
North of the Pismo Pier is probably the best surf spot in Pismo. A nice left comes through here very consistently, and it’ll probably give you the longest ride in Pismo. It does get crowded here.
Pismo Pier Southside
The south side of the Pismo Pier is less consistent, but still fun. You can also go even further down south of the pier in front of the Addie Street Surfer Parking Lot (also free… for now) and catch some fun waves on the sandbar there.
For more on Pismo surf, check out my ultimate Pismo Beach surf guide!
3. Shell Beach
Shell Beach is technically part of Pismo, but for all intensive purposes we call it Shell Beach! Shell is a great SLO surf spot when the other breaks are blown out or too big, as it’s the most sheltered. Just watch out for rocks!
4. Morro Rock
Morro Rock is beautiful, and has some of the more fun surf in SLO county. To reach it, you’ll drive around the harbor until you get to the big dirt parking lot. The easiest spot to paddle out is the channel to the left of the lineup, closer to the rock. At the main peak you can catch both lefts and rights, although the lefts are typically longer and better rides.
The thing that’s great about surfing at Morro Rock is that you don’t have to surf right at the rock. If it’s too crowded there (and it often is), you can walk down the beach and pretty much paddle out anywhere, claiming a little spot to yourself!
5. Morro Strand
To surf at Morro Strand State Beach you’ll cruise a little ways up north and make a left at the Morro Strand State beach light. You can park right on the street, and walk down and surf anywhere along this long beach break. The shape at the Strand isn’t quite as nice as the Rock, but sometimes the sandbars form some really nice waves and it’s always much less crowded.
For more information on surfing both at Morro Rock and The Strand, check out my Morro Bay surfing guide.
As far as SLO surfing goes, Cayucos is by far my favorite. This quaint little fishing town is beautiful, and home to a couple fun waves. With the right swell, you can get some decent waves right at the Cayucos Pier. If not, it’s still a decent spot for beginners to come out and ride some whitewater!
My favorite spot to surf up in Cayucos is down Studio Drive. It’s uncrowded, rugged, and beautiful. The surf here is usually decent both on a rising and falling tide- just watch out for rocks, there’s a lot at Studio Beach.
For more on surfing at Cayucos, check out my Cayucos surf guide.
7. San Simeon
Heading further north up Highway 1, you’ll pass through Cayucos and head right into San Simeon. San Simeon is best known for the historic Hearst Castle (don’t be shocked if you see a few zebras on the side of the road) and elephant seals, but it also has some great surfing beaches if you know where to look- just keep an eye out for the man in the gray suit- rumor is he loves it up here.
SLO surfing seasons
While none of the waves up here are that good, what makes SLO surfing really shine is its consistency. It’s a pretty rare day in SLO where you can’t surf anywhere– much unlike its neighbor to the south (I’m looking at you Santa Barbara!)
SLO surfing in Summer
A lot of those good South swells that make Southern California go off in the summer don’t quite reach us up in SLO. However, there are still some fun days to be had surfing in SLO in the summer. And, San Luis Obispo in the summer has some of the best beginner surfing in California. On any given summer day in Pismo, you’ll spot several surf schools in the water, and there are tons of rental options in SLO if you want to rent a board and wetsuit and practice on your own.
For intermediates & advanced surfers, the surf in SLO can be a bit of a drag at times- but there’s usually something to ride at least on a longboard. You can always head down to Jalama, or up to Big Sur where the waves are usually bigger.
SLO surfing in Fall
In the fall, SLO has the best Central California surf spots. As the north swells start to trickle in, beaches like Morro Bay and Cayucos up in the north county really start to get good.
It’s more than that though- in the fall, the water is still warm(ish), and the days are still pretty long- meaning epic glass-off sessions in September/October.
Plus, all of the kids have gone back to school, so the beaches are way less crowded. Anyone who’s tried to park in Pismo on a weekend in July, or drive from SLO to five cities between 2 and 6 pm knows what I’m talking about!
Overall, surfing in SLO in the fall is really a magical experience.
SLO surfing in Winter
In the winter, the waves are bigger, the water is colder, and the swells are way more consistent. This is a great time for intermediate-advanced surfers to surf in the region, although sometimes the surf can get a little too big and start to close out at a lot of these surf spots.
SLO surfing in Spring
The spring isn’t a great time for surfing in SLO, but it can still be decent. The water is very cold in the Spring, the winds can be bad, and the swells are often inconsistent. Even with all that said, you can still have some good days in the spring surfing in the area.
SLO surfing FAQs
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about surfing in SLO:
Is San Luis Obispo good for surfing?
Absolutely. SLO has some of the most fun (and least crowded) surf spots in California!
Is San Luis Obispo good for beginner surfers?
San Luis Obispo is great for beginner surfers, especially in the summer. Pismo Beach is a hotspot for beginner surfers in SLO, and I always recommend Sandbar Surf School if you’re looking to take a surf lesson.
Is Morro Bay a good place to surf?
Morro Bay is one of the best surf beaches in SLO.
Is Pismo Beach a good place to surf?
Yes! While the waves aren’t usually as good as up in Morro Bay, Pismo is very accessible, has bathrooms, restaurants, and tons of rental options right next to the beach.
What to pack for a San Luis Obispo surf trip
- 4/3 wetsuit
You’ll pretty much want a 4/3 wetsuit year-round, and even a 5/4 wetsuit on colder days. In the summer you can go without booties, but you’ll probably want them the rest of the year.
- Reef-safe sunscreen
Even on colder days, you’ll still want to protect your skin from the sun. I recommend Kokua, but there are many other great sunscreens for surfers.
- Changing poncho
On colder days, having a high-quality changing poncho is a necessity.
- Solar shower
Pismo has showers to rinse off after a surf, but most of the other surf beaches in SLO don’t. You can do it old school and fill up a few jugs of water to rinse off with after, or you can get a sweet solar shower to rinse yourself & your gear with after a session.
San Luis Obispo surfing guide- final thoughts
That’s a wrap on my SLO surf guide. I hope this article has provided you with some helpful information on surfing in my hometown! The surf here is so much fun, and the area is beautiful to boot.