The 10 Best Surf Spots in the World for 2020

Whether you’re looking for big waves, barrels or beginner breaks, here are ten surf destinations that every surfer needs to experience at least once.

Surfing is addictive — once you start you can’t stop. Like many, I caught the surf bug as a kid, and the more time I spent in the water, the more I dreamt of traveling to famous surf destinations across the globe. Once I graduated college, I began researching the best surf spots in the world and slowly began checking locations off my bucket list. Although my list is still a long one, my eyes have been opened to what’s out there, and I’ve learned to appreciate each destination for what it has to offer. I’ve rounded up a list of ten of the best surf spots in the world, and what you can expect to find at each. See you on the water.

Nicaragua

1. Popoyo

MOST CONSISTENT SURF
Consistent surf year round
Waves for every skill level
Town revolves around the surf
Affordable
Difficult to get to
Mid-day heat is intense
Limited public transportation

Over 300 days of offshore winds

Located on the west coast of Nicaragua, Popoyo is a dreamscape for surfers. A rocky, dirt road deposits you into the heart of a small, remote village where the lifestyle is all about the surf. While many breaks revolve around swells, storms, and tides, Popoyo is consistent year round. The spot receives over 300 days of offshore winds annually and, as a result, is often regarded as one of the best surf spots in the country. Like most of Central America, Popoyo experiences a dry season and a wet season, so plan your trip accordingly.

Popoyo surfing
From beginner to expert, Popoyo has breaks for every level of surfer

The main break

The main break in Popoyo is an A-frame that breaks over a rock shelf, offering up good options for regular and goofy footers — with the occasional tube. The Outer Reef Popoyo is a five-minute paddle from the main break and is a hollow left-slab suitable for expert surfers. While many of the breaks in Popoyo can be intimidating, Beginner Bay, on the south end of the beach, offers rolling waves well-suited for beginners and intermediate surfers.

In addition to the main spots, Popoyo has a number of other noteworthy spots lining the beach: Stoneys, La Piedrita, Playgrounds, Playa Colorado, and Plays Santa. Although I’ve never been to Popoyo, a good friend of mine regularly makes the trip and comes home with stories of perfect waves — making it the top spot on my list.

Popoyo is a perfect left with lots of power and can hold any size.

Harrison Abry, surfing coach at Surf Simply, surf school located in Nosara, Costa Rica

Popoyo - Good to Know

Skill level

Beginner to expert

Wave type

Point breaks, beach breaks, and reef breaks

Best swell direction

SW swell; NE wind

Best season

Dry season (November – April)

Where to stay

NicaWaves

Best local eats

La Finca y el Mar

Getting around

Public transportation is limited — you’ll need a car (4-wheel drive) or motorbike

Additional activities

Explore tidal pools, visit natural hot springs in Las Salinas, navigate the Chacocente Natural Reserve, horseback ride down the beach, or test your hand at spearfishing

Costa Rica

2. Nosara

BEST BEACH BREAK
Warm water
Consistent surf
Friendly locals
Crowded
Getting there is a trek

Beach breaks for all skill levels

Nosara is a village located on the North Pacific Coast of the Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste and is famous for yoga and year-round surf. Technically, Nosara is a few miles inland, so when tourists visit, they typically stay in Playa Guiones, Playa Plada, or Playa Garza, with Playa Guiones being the most popular. In 2015, a good friend of mine moved to the area to work as a surf instructor. After hearing about the epic surf and seeing his photos, I had to visit. Nosara definitely lives up to the hype. After that first visit I was back a year later to get my fill of warm water waves.

Nosara surfing
One of the best things about Nosara is that you can surf year-round

Playa Guiones and Playa Garza

Playa Guiones is a 7km stretch of beach with several different beach breaks spread along the coastline. Waves break in both directions and work on all tides, making it a fun spot any time of day. The main break offers waves suitable for beginners and experienced surfers, and the area has many surf schools if you’re looking to learn the sport or improve upon your skills. Playa Guiones can get pretty busy, but just a few miles away is my personal favorite spot: Playa Garza. Playa Garza is a reef break with a mellow inside section and a stepper section on the outside. Regardless of the break you choose, Nosara delivers.

Warm water, good waves, and friendly people…what more could you ask for?

Rebecca Parsons

Nosara - Good to Know

Skill level

Beginner to advanced

Wave type

Beach breaks; reef breaks

Best season

Dry season (November – April)

Best swell direction

W/NW swell; N/NE winds

Where to stay

Beach Dog Hostel

Best local eats

La Luna

Getting around

Walk, bike, or rent a quad or motorbike

Additional activities

Standup paddle calm rivers, explore tide pools, or go for a hike in the jungle

Bali

3. Uluwatu

MOST SCENIC
Consistent surf
Multiple breaks
Beautiful beaches & scenery
Crowded
Competitive lineup
Not suited for beginners

Experience necessary

Uluwatu is one of those destinations that perennially tops bucket lists. Located on the southwestern tip of the Bukit Peninsula, Uluwatu is known for its world-famous surf as well as the Uluwatu Temple: an 11th century Hindu temple. Due to its famous name and prime conditions, Uluwatu is one of the busiest surf spots in all of Bali and is best suited for experienced surfers. Consistent year round, Uluwatu offers hollow, performance waves during low tide and slower, mellower waves during high tide.

Surfing in Uluwatu, Bali
Uluwatu is a spot for experienced surfers that can handle big waves

The five peaks

Although generally referred to as Uluwatu, it’s actually a wide reef that is home to five different peaks: Temples, The Bombie, The Peak, Outside Corner, and Racetracks.

Temples is the farthest south and requires the longest paddle — the spot offers more size on smaller days. The Bombie is the most exposed spot and offers some of the biggest swells and waves in all of Indo. The Peak is located directly in front of the stairs and is the most consistent, offering multiple takeoff points and fast, short sections. Outside Corner offers big, open faces for only the most experienced surfers, making it a great spectacle for beachgoers. Lastly, Racetracks breaks over a shallow reef and has long, fun sections and occasional barrels. Although Bali does have some beginner-friendly spots, Uluwatu is suited for experienced surfers.

From the paddle out through the cliffs to the backdrop and its perfect peeling lefts, it’s unlike any other wave I’ve ever surfed.

Harrison Abry, surfing coach at Surf Simply, surf school located in Nosara, Costa Rica

Uluwatu - Good to Know

Skill level

Advanced to expert

Wave type

Reef break

Best season

Dry season (May – September)

Best swell direction

South swell

Where to stay

Jaya Homestay for affordable accommodation and Uluwatu Surf Villas for luxury accommodation

Best local eats

Outside Corner Café

Getting around

Motorbikes are best, but public transport is available as well

Additional activities

Visit Uluwatue Temple, yoga, explore stunning beaches, or enjoy a sunset at Single Fin

Fiji

4. Cloudbreak

BEST SPOT TO WATCH PRO SURFERS
World class
Spectator friendly (from boats)
Warm, tropical water
Expert only
Breaks over a shallow reef

Surfing the famous Cloudbreak

Located just three miles south of Namotu Island in Fiji, Cloudbreak is famous for consistently being one of the most challenging waves in the world. The spot breaks over a sharp, shallow reef and offers fast, barreling lefts. As the wave progresses, it tends to speed up, presenting shallower, more critical sections. The wave is as equally amazing as it is dangerous and, as such, it attracts pros from across the globe. If you aren’t up for surfing Cloudbreak, getting an up-close view from a boat is an incredible way to experience the wave.

Fiji Surfing
A group of surfers at the famous Cloudbreak, Fiji

Other waves nearby

Cloudbreak is beautiful from afar but surreal when viewed up-close. The spot breaks best during long-period swells rolling in from the south/southwest. When the swell comes from the south, the spot offers peeling point breaks; when the swell comes from the west, you can find heavier tubes. Cloudbreak is home to varying conditions, and waves can range in size from 2–20 feet. When the waves are small, they tend to be faster and shallower — exercise caution on the inside as the reef is extremely shallow. While Cloudbreak is the most iconic spot in the area, there are a number of other incredible waves near Namotu Island: Desperations, Tavarua Rights, Restaurants, Swimming Pools, Namotu Lefts, and Wilkes Passage.

Having surfed and traveled to over fifty countries around the world, this wave holds a special place in my heart... because of the energy and culture of this area

Zane Schweitzer, professional waterman, 15x world champ

Cloudbreak - Good to Know

Skill level

Expert

Wave type

Reef break

Best season

Dry season (April – October)

Best swell direction

S/SW swell; S/SE wind

Where to stay

Namotu Island Resort

Best local eats

Namotu Island Bar & Restaurant

Getting around

Local surf breaks are all accessible via boat

Additional activities

Standup paddle, fish, foil, kitesurf, dive, do yoga, or get a massage

South Africa

5. Jeffreys Bay

BEST POINT BREAK
Perfect rights
Works on all tides
Multiple sections
Lots of dining and accommodation options
Crowded
Locals can be territorial
Sharks!
The water is cold

One of the world’s best right point breaks

Often referred to as J-Bay, Jeffreys Bay is regarded as the surfing mecca of South Africa and home to one of the best right point breaks on the planet. Located on the western edge of South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, Jeffreys Bay is situated inside a crescent-shaped bay that shelters many of its incredible point breaks. The region was first popularized in The Endless Summer, when Bruce Brian stumbled upon Cape Saint Francis — the spot that is now lovingly referred to as Bruce’s Beauties. Although Brian deemed the spot perfect at the time, J-Bay, located just to the east, is more deserving of surfing glory.

Jeffreys Bay surfing
J-Bay is home to one of the best right point breaks in the world.

The ten sections of Jeffreys Bay

Offshore winds shape the classic point break, which offers long rides, fast walls, and barreling sections. J-Bay is sometimes thought of as one particular spot, but it’s actually home to ten different sections: Kitchen Windows, Magnatubes, Boneyards, Supertubes, Impossibles, Salad Bowls, Coins, Tubes, The Point, and Albatross. Supertubes is regarded as the crown jewel of the region, offering long, fast waves — this is where contests are typically held. The Point and Albatross offer slower, more manageable waves, well-suited for intermediate surfers and longboarders. The spot works during all tides, but tends to be best on a mid-incoming tide. While J-Bay sees waves year round, it’s best during the winter months when storms come in close to shore.

South Africa's southeastern coast boasts one of the best right point breaks on the planet.

Jay Reale, seasoned Southern California surfer

Jeffreys Bay - Good to Know

Skill level

Intermediate to expert

Wave type

Point break

Best season

Winter (May – September)

Best swell direction

SW/SSW swell; SW/W wind

Where to stay

Supertubes Bed & Breakfast

Best local eats

Tasty Table

Getting around

Cabs and airport shuttles are readily available

Additional activities

Hiking, sandboarding, enjoy a beach dune safari, or go horseback riding

Puerto Rico

6. Rincon

BEST SURF IN THE CARIBBEAN
Warm year round
Multiple breaks
Friendly locals
Crowded during high season
Rip currents and exposed rocks

Rincon’s phenomenal breaks

Often referred to as the surf capital of the Caribbean, west Puerto Rico is home to a variety of incredible beaches, the most iconic of which is Rincon. Rincon has been on the map as a premier surf spot since 1968 when the Surfing Championships were held there. Located on the northwest side of the island, southwest of Aguadilla and north of Mayaguez, Rincon is one of the most consistent spots in the Caribbean. While the locals are typically friendly and a variety of surf craft can be found in the water on any given day, be sure and respect the rules of the lineup and scan the beach for hazards before entering the water. Rincon is home to a handful of stellar breaks: Little Malibu, Tres Palmas, Maria’s, Indicators, Domes, Sandy Beach, and Antonio’s.

Surfing at Rincon, Puerto rico
Rincon has some of the most consistent waves in the Caribbean

Spots for different styles and skill levels

Little Malibu can be a fun spot for longboarding — a fast right-hander breaks over a shallow reef. Tres Palmas is a right-hand reef break and is the most famous big wave spot in the Caribbean. Maria’s is a fun spot for all skill levels that offers long rights and works best on a northwest swell. Indicators is best suited for experienced surfers as it can get big and dangerous with hollow rights and a challenging paddle out. Domes is a right hand point break with a flat rock bottom that offers fun waves for a variety of skill levels. As the name suggests, Sandy Beach has a sandy bottom with long lefts breaking along the reef. Antonio’s works best in the morning when the winds are low and offers both rights and lefts. Like most spots, if you do a little searching, you’ll find a number of fun, less crowded spots along the coast.

 

Tropical temps combined with Puerto Rico's unique culture make for a fantastic surf trip.

Jay Reale, seasoned southern California surfer

Rincon - Good to Know

Skill level

Intermediate to advanced

Wave type

Reef breaks

Best season

Dry season (December-April)

Best swell direction

NW sell; SE wind

Where to stay

Blue Boy Inn

Best local eats

Jack’s Shack

Getting around

Walk, rent a car, or taxi

Additional activities

Dive, snorkel, stand up paddle, parasail, or do yoga

Portugal

7. Nazare

HEAVIEST WAVE
World’s biggest wave
World record potential
Dangerous for both surfers and beach spectators
Cold
Inconsistent

Next level big wave surfing for experts

Nazare, Portugal, is home to one of the most iconic and biggest waves in the world. The fishing village is located in the Oeste region and Leiria District, in a historical Estremadura in Portugal. The town is one of the most popular seaside resorts on the Silver Coast.

Although it’s been popular among surfers and body boarders for decades, it wasn’t until 2011 that the spot gained popular recognition. In 2011, Garrett McNamara rode a giant wave at Nazare, earning the Guiness Book of World Records title for “largest wave ever ridden.” In 2013 he broke his own record there, and in 2017, Rodrigo Koxa took the title by riding an 80-foot wave at the same spot.

Nazare surfing
Nazare is home to some of the heaviest waves you’ll find anywhere in the world

Praia do Norte

When people think of Nazare, they think of Praia do Norte. Praia do Norte offers the biggest waves in the region, and the sets that come through are big, heavy, and powerful. While the spot is only suited for the most experienced of big wave surfers, it can be beautiful to view from the shore — exercise caution when viewing as people die on the beach each year.

Praia de Vila

Another popular spot in the area is Praia de Vila, located next to the central promenade of Nazare. At Praia de Villa, surfers will find a powerful beach break with inconsistent rights and lefts. Finally, on the south end of Nazare, next to the harbor, is Praia do Su l— the spot works well during big swells and offers fast, barreling waves. Nazare is a popular tourist destination, but as far as surfing goes, it’s only suitable for very experienced athletes.

I saw the biggest, scariest, and most impressively beautiful cold mountain waves of my life over there.

Aline Adisaka, professional Brazilian standup paddler & surfer

Nazare - Good to Know

Skill level

Expert only

Wave type

Big waves

Best season

Winter (October – March)

Best swell direction

NW swell; SE/E wind

Where to stay

Zulla Nazare Surf Village

Best local eats

Casa Pires

Getting around

Public transportation is readily available: taxi, trains, and buses

Additional activities

Day trip to Batalha, kayak along the Sitio headland, and enjoy the local seafood

Philippines

8. Siargao

BEST REEF BREAK
Affordable
Beautiful
Few crowds (if you know where to look)
Warm water
Inconsistent
Frequently

The surfing capital of the Philippines

Siargao is a teardrop shaped island located 800 kilometers southeast of Manila, the capital city. Like many of the islands in the area, Siargao is breathtakingly beautiful, but what sets it apart from the rest is its incredible surf. Siargao is home to 27km of exposed coastline and has the feel of an older Bali. Although Siargao is made up of over thirty surf breaks, the island often experiences long, flat periods, so you’ll want to watch the swell and try to time your trip accordingly.

Siargao is made up of over thirty surf breaks — but often with long flat periods

Cloud 9

The most well known spot on the island is Cloud 9 — consistently recognized as one of the top ten breaks in the world due to its big, steep waves that break in both directions. A stone’s throw from Cloud 9 is Tuason’s Point, a point break that offers a left hand barrel that can get pretty heavy.

Siargao’s other breaks

A few other spots in the area are Stimpy’s, Caridad, Cemetery, Pilar, Jacking Horse, and Daku Island. The spots that break close to shore have a tendency to get crowded, but if you hop on a boat to an outer reef, you’ll have a better chance of scoring some empty waves. While the island has potential for waves year round, your best bet is to visit General Luna during the southwest monsoon and Pilar during the northeast monsoon.

Siargao - Good to Know

Skill level

Intermediate to advanced

Wave type

Reef breaks

Best season

Dry season (March – November)

Best swell direction

E swells; SW/NE winds

Where to stay

Ocean 101 Beach Resort

Best local eats

Harana

Getting around

Habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) or boat

Additional activities

Island hopping, visit Magpupungko Rock Pools, swim in Sugba lagoon, or check out Sohoton Cove

California

9. San Clemente

BEST SURF ON USA’S MAINLAND
Good surf for all skill levels
Multiple breaks
Safe for travelers
Crowded
Locals can be territorial
Sharks frequent the lineup

San Clemente’s famous spots

Although I’ve been to a number of incredible surf spots across the globe, my home break in San Clemente will forever be my favorite. San Clemente, a seaside town in Orange County, California, was founded in the 1920s and has been on the map as a surf destination for quite some time. San Clemente is home to a number of world-famous surf spots: T-Street, Upper Trestles, Lower Trestles, and San Onofre. While traffic is a regular occurrence both on and off the water, battling the throngs of people will be well worth it once you drop into a wave at Lowers.

San Clemente surfing
San Clemente is home to several famous surf spots

The four main breaks of Trestles

Trestles is a world-renowned wave and what San Clemente is best known for. Trestles consists of four main breaks: Cotton’s, Uppers, Lowers, and Church. Lowers is the best and most popular spot and frequently hosts surf competitions; it offers an A-frame wave that breaks over a cobblestone bottom.

San Onofre

A few miles south is San Onofre, one of the dreamiest longboarding spots in the world. San Onofre, or San O, as the locals call it, includes The Point, Four Doors, Old Man’s and Dog Patch. Old Man’s is probably the most famous spot and offers long, rolling waves, perfect for hanging ten. Although San Clemente sees waves year round, my personal favorite season is fall — the water is warm, and the summertime crowds are gone.

Although I’ve been to a number of incredible surf spots, my home break in San Clemente still takes the cake as my favorite wave.

Rebecca Parsons

San Clemente - Good to Know

Skill level

Beginner to advanced

Wave type

Beach breaks; point breaks

Best season

Year round

Best swell direction

S/SW; NE/E

Where to stay

House of Trestles

Best local eats

Café del Sol

Getting around

Public transportation is lacking; you’ll need a car

Additional activities

Visit the Surfing Heritage & Culture Center, hiking, standup paddling

Oahu

10. North Shore

WORLD’S BEST SURF
Epic surf
Multiple breaks
World renowned
Competition hotspot
Seasonal
Expensive
Dangerous

The Seven Mile Miracle

Often referred to as the “Seven Mile Miracle,” the North Shore of Oahu is home to some of the best surf in the world. While it’s typically calm and flat during the summer months, the North Shore lights up during the winter, and prime waves can be found up and down the coast. On any given winter day, a number of professional surfers can be found in the lineup, making for an impressive show for those who prefer to stay on the beach. Although there are a few beginner-friendly spots, the North Shore is most famous for the massive waves that can be found at Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, or Waimea Bay.

Surfing at North Shore
Surfing at Sunset Beach on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii

Big, powerful waves that call for big skills

Pipeline is one of the most famous and most dangerous surf breaks in the world — it offers perfect, barreling waves that break over a shallow reef. Located just past Pipeline is Sunset Beach, which is known for its big, powerful waves and beautiful beach. Waimea Bay, the most famous big-wave spot on all of the North Shore, regularly receives 10–30 foot swells during the winter.

Waimea Bay hosts a number of big wave chargers and is home to the famous “Eddie Would Go” contest, in honor of legendary surfer Eddie Aikau. While many of the famous spots on the North Shore are too challenging for me personally to surf, I’ll never tire of watching the impressive waves and talent that have made the stretch of coast famous.

The stretch between Haleiwa to the west and Kahuku to the east boasts some of the most iconic surf spots in the sport, and is host to the world's best surfers every winter.

Jay Reale, seasoned Southern California surfer

North Shore - Good to Know

Skill level

Beginner-Expert

Wave type

Big waves

Best season

Winter (October – April)

Best swell direction

W/N/NWs well; trade winds

Where to stay

Backpackers Vacation Inn & Hostel

Best local eats

The Sunrise Shack

Getting around

Rent a car or take the bus

Additional activities

Snorkel, hike, standup paddle

About the author

Rebecca Parsons

Rebecca Parsons

Southern California-based surfer and redwood enthusiast

Rebecca is a seasoned writer and outdoor enthusiast. Born and raised in Orange County, she has spent countless hours exploring the California coastline. She loves surfing, standup paddling, and anything that involves water. When she’s not in the ocean, you can find her exploring the local trails or sleeping under the stars alongside her adventure pup, Koa.

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