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The Best Destinations for Surf Trips – Southern California (Beginner – Advanced)

For most, it’s been a long couple of years, with the ability to travel all but removed and our choice of surf destinations subsequently drastically limited. For those of us fortunate to live near enough to a quality surf break or two that might not have been such an issue, but nonetheless being able to take to the air in search of an overseas surf trip will be something that is welcomed back with open arms. In this series, we’ll take a look at some of the best surf trip destinations around the planet for surfers of all abilities, and in this article we’ll head to one of the most well-renowned surfing destinations of the planet in Southern California.

California is as synonymous with surfing as any destination in the world. And it’s not for no reason. Miles after miles of beautiful coast, good weather, and of course a whole lot of high-quality and consistent waves make this one of the best surfing locations on the planet. It’s also pretty damn big and if you want to surf along its entire coastline you’ll be in for a fair bit of travel, but fortunately plenty of the state’s best waves are in close proximity to one another in Southern California, or as you may know it, SoCal. 

With world-class peelers like Rincon and Trestles dotting the coastline within a reasonable distance of one another, it’s little wonder that so many surfers head to Southern California for one of the trips of a lifetime. 

Getting there

There’s a city you might have heard of in Southern California called Los Angeles. It’s pretty big, it’s pretty famous, and it’s pretty close to a large number of world-class surf spots. From most parts of the world, that’s where you’ll want to head if you’re going to venture out to the aforementioned waves, and given that it services a city of around four million people and plenty of busy surrounding regions, you won’t have any problem finding a flight there from wherever you are in the world. 

From Australia it’s obviously a bit of a hike. You can expect to spend anywhere from 14 through to nearly 20 hours in the air depending on where you leave from, and will likely be looking at an expenditure upwards of $1,000. It’s not exactly Bali, but if you’ve got the money in the bank you’ll be rewarded with plenty of elite surf.

Once you’re in Los Angeles, which direction you head will depend on which waves you’re planning on surfing first. The city is located in between the two crown jewels of the region in Rincon and Trestles, with the former an hour and a half by bus to the north and the latter an hour by bus to the south. Unsurprisingly there’s no shortage of transport options; you can get a bus to either, or a train, or an expensive taxi if you really feel like it. You can hire a car, or even get a flight – though there might be a detour or two for the latter option. 

Waves

Now to the good stuff. There is no shortage of seriously good waves in this region, with some of them legitimate contenders for the best in the world, so let’s dive straight in and take a look at them.

Lower Trestles 

Let’s start at the top, not just with arguably the best wave in Southern California, but arguably the best in the world. The best section of the wider Trestles wave (which also includes an Upper Trestles to the north and a Middle Trestles to the south), you would be forgiven for thinking that Lower Trestles is artificially created, such is its perfection. The right-hander is typically the longer wave, but the rides in either direction are incredibly good, and what’s more, you can find surfable waves here most days of the year. Consistent, idyllic and invariably crowded, many surfers have the best wave of their lives here, and any surf trip to this region would be incomplete without paying it a visit.

Rincon

At the northern end of the area defined as Southern California is Rincon, another wave which can sit pretty comfortably in the category of the best on the planet. A near-perfect right-hand point break, this Californian classic can dish out rides of close to 300 metres if you can manage to make it from top to bottom, racing across the often-hollow river mouth section along the way. Once you pass that section you reach The Cove, where many choose to begin their rides given that it still offers over 100 metres of Pacific perfection. The crowds are inevitable and it’s not an ideal break for beginners, but if you can handle yourself on a board to a reasonable level, Rincon is one to tick off the bucket list.

Malibu Surfrider Beach

Now to a wave which is a little more beginner friendly, although the crowds might act as something of a deterrent to those without a lot of experience in the water. Malibu Beach is entrenched in surf culture like few other places on the planet; the peeling point break has been the go-to break for numerous pioneers of the sport over the years, and still today is the inspiration behind the name for longer boards in many parts of the world – the mal. That gives some indication of the type of rides you can expect here; this is a long, cruisy point, and is often regarded as one of, if not the, best longboard spots in the world.

Huntington Beach

A spot often referred to as Surf City, the city of Huntington Beach might have undergone some major changes in recent years, but it hasn’t established a reputation as one of the most significant surfing destinations in the world for nothing. The waves are still world-class, and even on a smaller swell you’ll find more on offer here than in most surrounding areas. Unlike the aforementioned points, this is a good old-fashioned beachie, dishing up quality rides in both directions for surfers of various levels of ability.

The Wedge

Without wanting to use too much hyperbole, The Wedge might be the most unusual wave in the world – and at times terrifying, too. Its unique characteristics developed when a 2,000-foot boulder jetty was built in the area in the 1930s; that jetty now serves as a wall off which incoming waves rebound, connect up with the wave behind, and seemingly out of nowhere double in size. The spot can produce waves of up to 30 feet, and they aren’t easy 30-foot waves, if such a thing exists. A popular spot for bodyboarders, footage of big sessions at The Wedge abounds courtesy of the incredible rides and – more often – bizarre wipe-outs which take place there. This is not for the faint-of-heart – advanced surfers need only apply, and even then it’s worth thinking twice before paddling out. 

These five waves are among the best and most famous in Southern California and indeed the world, but they alone don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what’s on offer in this area. From Blacks to Swamis and Oceanside Harbour, there is no shortage of other high-quality waves on offer. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, longboarder, shortboarder or bodyboarder, there’s something for everyone in this part of the world, so it’s no surprise that SoCal is one of the most recognised surfing locations going around.

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