Santa Cruz | California

Surfing in Santa Cruz

Skill level

There’s perfect waves for beginners and pros

Group size

1 - 4 / private lessons are available

Price range

$130 - $200 per person

Season

Peak surfing is during the winter months

Duration

1 - 2 hours

Trip review

Read Rebecca's review of surfing in Santa Cruz here

Welcome to Surf City*

As the story goes, in 1885 three Hawaiian princes were visiting Santa Cruz and they requested that a local woodsman fashion them three boards out of California redwood. If it weren’t for these princes on holiday, who knows when surfing would have hit the American mainland? Most everyone can agree that this story, along with Santa Cruz’s legendary breaks, cements its standing as Surf City* in the sport’s history (despite what a judge ruled regarding Huntington Beach). It’s not just the tale of the three princes, though, give credence to the city’s status: in the 1950s, Jack O’Neill relocated from Colorado to Santa Cruz and opened the first “surf shop’ in addition to creating the first wetsuit that has made surfing possible in colder water. Thanks for that Jack.

About the actual surf, though...there’s waves, breaks, and special surf spots for everyone — including some really gnarly spots for the dedicated. Steamer Lane is the most well-known spot in the area — with four reef breaks — all of which cater to a more intermediate and advanced crowd. For beginners, Cowell’s is the best place to get your toes and board wet. Even though there’s crowds, the long waves never get old and it’s always a good time. Further afield is Pleasure Point, with breaks for all levels. For the expert or pro surfer in your group, if he or she feels like really, really pushing it, then head to Mavericks just north of Half Moon Bay...if the break scares you, don’t worry. It inspires fear and respect from just about everyone. If you’re visiting in winter there’s an invite only coldwater competition worth checking out as a spectator.

If you’re going to visit one North American spot and surf, Santa Cruz’s storied and varied breaks should put it at the top of your list.

Popular videos

Most popular packages and classes in Santa Cruz

Learn to Surf with a Private Lesson

Get all of the attention and care you need for riding some of Santa Cruz’ awesome waves. Your professional and certified instructor will make sure you’re confident in technique, familiar with the ins and outs of surf etiquette, and that you have fun! Other courses available.

Private Surfing Instruction

Looking to up your surf game in world-class water? Look no further than one-on-one surf instruction tailored entirely to your goals.

Surf with Richard Smith

Surf with a Santa Cruz legend. Richard Smith as a born and raised native of the area who knows the ins and outs of each break like the back of his hand. Spend 2 hours learning new techniques and honing existing ones. Other skill level classes are available too.

Who should go surfing in Santa Cruz?

With big breaks and forgiving breaks, there are plenty of waves for all level of rider. Even if you want to sit one out, sometimes watching the pros do their work is almost as much fun! Every serious and aspiring surfer should surf in Santa Cruz at least once.

Need to know

When is the best time to go?

The breaks and swells are at their largest during the winter months.

What about bad weather?

Inclement weather can very rarely get in the way of surfing, but, if in doubt, ask your guiding service for more information.

What's a typical itinerary?

A typical beginner’s lesson involves familiarizing yourself with your board on the beach, and then more instruction in the ocean. Some of the camps offer morning classroom instruction with seminars in the afternoon and lots of surfing in between!

What about group sizes?

Group sizes are usually between 1 - 4 people with one instructor. Also, remember that the costs can often decrease as the group grows, so it’s the perfect opportunity to surf with friends and family.

Getting there

Santa Cruz is about a 90-minute drive from San Francisco and a 30 minute drive from San Diego.

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