There’s a reason people call Santa Cruz “surf city”—Santa Cruz’s waves accommodate all levels of surfers, whether they charging big wave spots or just want to get their feet wet. While there are numerous beaches that are great for visitors and beginning surfers, there are also dangerous and local spots that surfers should be aware of before they hit the water.

  • Cowell's

    A good starting point; 109 Beach St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

    The best place to start out if you're new to the sport, Cowell's offers long, gentle waves textbook for longboarding. It's generally understood that Cowell's is the spot for beginner or novice surfers, so the scene in the water is crowded yet generally polite.

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  • Capitola Beach

    Great for beginners; San Jose Ave & Esplanade Capitola, CA 95010

    Capitola Beach is a great place to get started. Just to the left of the small rock jetty is where Capitola usually breaks, offering perfect longboard waves when conditions allow. It probably won't be as crowded as Cowell's, but there are a lot less wave to go around. There is plenty of parking down in the village, but watch out for Capitola meter maids.

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  • Steamer Lane

    Hazardous surf; West Cliff, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

    This is by far the most famous surf spot in all of Santa Cruz, but if you want to paddle out at "the Lane," you better be a damn good surfer. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being friendly), the localism factor at the Lane is an 11. When the swell is up, it's the most dangerous place to surf in Santa Cruz but it's also the best place to watch great surfing year-round.

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  • 36th and East Cliff

    A good variety; E Cliff Dr & 36th Ave Santa Cruz, CA 95062

    Located at the heart of Pleasure Point, depending on tides and swell, there are lots of waves to be ridden between The Hook and 30th Ave. The stairs at 36th Ave. is generally the central access point. There are great varieties of longboard waves and on less crowded days a good place for beginners and experts alike.

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  • Manresa State Beach

    A solid beach break; 1445 San Andreas Rd, Watsonville, California 95076

    Head south on Highway 1 towards Aptos and get off at the big sign that says "Manresa State Beach." It's a solid beach break as long as the wind stays down, and generally not as crowded as surfing spots within Santa Cruz or Capitola. It can get pretty big with a substantial north swell. Watch out for rip currents.

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  • The Hook

    Locals only?; 41st Ave. Santa Cruz, CA, 95060

    The southern tip of that charming stretch of rocky shoreline collectively known as Pleasure Point, The Hook is located down the stairs at the end of 41st Avenue. On bigger days you might get away with shortboard but it's generally big sticks out there. Be prepared for a taste of localism, not recommended for beginners.

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  • 30th and East Cliff

    Aerials and aggressive riders; E Cliff Dr & 30th Ave Santa Cruz, CA 95062

    This spot is for experienced surfers only. 30th is where the Pleasure Point elite surf. There are maybe two or three people on the planet who are allowed out there on a longboard, and they are certainly locals. It's a great spot for aerials and aggressive rides, spectators welcome.

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  • Natural Bridges

    Scenic surfing; 2531 W Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

    When the conditions are right, just south of the rock arches of Natural Bridges offers surfing conditions similar to Steamer Lane, except without the crowds and the local groms on the cliff throwing rocks at you. The only problem is the conditions aren't right that often. It's still a beautiful place to just paddle out and chill in the kelp.

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  • Moss Landing

    Killer rides outside of town; Jetty Rd, Moss Landing, CA 95039

    If you've exercised all other options and you don't mind driving half way to Monterey, Moss Landing offers miles of beach break and, near the harbor entrance, can offer up some killer rides. Usually not crowded, but definitely for more advanced surfers. Again, watch out for rip tides. It's about 20 miles south of Santa Cruz on Highway 1.

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  • Highway 1

    Road trippin'; Hwy 1, Santa Cruz, CA, 95060

    If you're interested in a bit of an adventure, just head north out of town on Highway 1 and watch out for waves. It's a great way to avoid crowds and on any given day one of dozens of 'secret' surfing spots is usually breaking. Try Waddell Creek State Beach, Ano Nuevo, or just pull over and hike to the shore anywhere you stop—you may find the perfect wave.

  • Mavericks

    Huge waves; West Point Avenue, Pillar Point, Half Moon Bay, CA, 94019

    Located about an hour north of Santa Cruz, Mavericks is California's most famous big-wave surf spot with waves that rival (and draw surfers from) Hawaii. There's a contest every year, pending conditions, with some of the best big wave surfers in the world, but you can find at least a few pros any time the swell is up.

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  • An Me

    Moss landing, HWY 1, and Mavericks??? Not Santa Crus dude – San Mateo.

    • Matt Crawford

      True. It’s noted in the description that those locations are out of town within a short drive.

    • Daniel Anderson

      Wtf are you talking about San Mateo? Check your facts breh its most def Santa Cruz not southern cali, fuck so cal

      • Danny Jose

        Daniel Anderson, WTF are you talking about? ????? San Mateo is north of Santa Cruz. It’s the county in between SC and SF on the coast. Mavericks is in San Mateo Co.

  • alferd lavitov

    I can buy surfboard accessories online in Australia. I am 24 now. I can try to skate with wooden and minimal surfboards. Mostly beginners can use wooden / short board surfboards for surfing.

  • Pluteski

    A very good guide to the local surf spots … especially the vibe, skill level, and typical board seen in the lineup, all of which are important to know for picking the right spot for you. Stocktons is another locals only spot (although it is actually not located right at Stockton’s) … even if you’re imposing enough that you’re not asked “are you lost?”, at the level of skill seen at that spot it only takes a handful in the lineup to skunk you.

    Good to see also that a couple semi secret spots didn’t make the mention. We’re pretty lucky around here to have many spots to go around if you’re willing to venture a bit, brave the sharks or risk the remote access. But take care … I once saw a surfer get extracted at Steamers by paramedic team and ladder truck after he he was knocked unconscious after going head first into the cliff (turns out he was well enough to get back in the water the next week). It took them 90 minutes to get him into the ambulance because of the slippery rocks and uncertain condition of his spine. Points north are 30 minutes or more away from nearest first responder. Even Manresa. Good to have a surf buddy out there.