Surfing in Carlsbad takes you far enough north of San Diego to enjoy some of that summer south swell on classic southern California beaches.
An introduction to surfing in Carlsbad
Carlsbad might not be a star of south California, but we’d say it’s a reliable and solid option for surfers on their way along the Pacific Coast. The town doesn’t have the same charms as, say, Encinitas. Much of it is for military families out of the nearby base, but there is a latent hippy feel to Leucadia in the south. You’ll need to be prepared to travel through all of it in search of the best breaks, which tend to fire on different swell angles and work on different tides.
Talking of those breaks…there’s a good variety in these parts. The majority of the shore is taken by unremarkable but decent beach breaks. They link up as you go from Tamarack to Oceanside in the north. South of the town is a speckling of reefs and artificial jetties, which is where the true quality of surfing in Carlsbad.
Another thing that’s going for this speck on the North County map is its location. San Diego locals go through one hell of a summer drought with waves from June to August. Not so in Carlsbad, where the dominant southerly pulses from the Equator work their magic even when the mercury is high.
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Surfing in Carlsbad at a glance
What’s in this guide to surfing in Carlsbad?
A guide to Carlsbad surf spots
Keep reading for a detailed run through of all the surf spots in Carlsbad
San Diego is one of California’s most iconic surf towns – forget that, it’s one of the world’s most iconic surf towns. The breaks in the city start right on the Mexican border in the south. From there, they pass Point Loma – a patchwork of off-the-beaten-path reefs that can be great on bigger swells. Then you get into the famos SD surf spots of Ocean Beach, La Jolla and Blacks Beach. Awesome stuff and a must for all surfers at least once in their lives.
We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in San Diego right here
The quality of Blacks Beach is nothing short of iconic. A trio of separate breaks from this famous spot on the northern reaches of La Jolla in San Diego. Pick your way down the rocky path to the sand and you’ll see em. The southernmost is South Peak, a majestic left that invites big lip turns in the same way as Ulu’s and Raglan. The middle of the beach is a cruisy A-frame where the main line up usually meets. The top end of the bay has a solid right called North Peak – it’s a fast drop in into a tube that’s regularly hollow. Holds up high, very rippy, some localism, but a bucket-list ride if you can get it.
Just a mention of the name Encinitas is usually enough to excite North County surfers. This is one of the original SoCal surf towns. It’s chilled, easy going, and has breaks for all levels. The best of them are the reef at Swami’s and the long stretch of beach break in Grandview, which caters to beginners and pros with its fatter sets.
We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in Encinitas right here
Tamarack Surf Beach is the name for the southernmost portion of Carlsbad Beach itself. It’s noticeably different because here the sandbanks will align along the rivermouth to offer punchier lefts and rights. The jetties play their parts too, shaping the oncoming W swells into neat point breaks that are great on 4-6 feet.
Come off the north end of the Tamarack promenade to meet peaky beach breaks of Carlsbad Beach. They’re consistent but often lack shape. Great for all levels on different swells, though we love it on windless morning at mid or high tide when there’s 5-7 foot in the swell. That’s when the A-frames peel in, hollowing out lovely left-hand and right-hand rides through a short barrel and onto the sand.
There are two breaks at Oceanside. The first is the main beach, where the waves are similar to Carlsbad proper – think peaky A-frames with lefts and rights that are governed by the prevailing sandbanks. HIgh tide sorta’ cuts out any power, leaving whitewash mush for the groms to play on there. Further north you can meet Oceanside Harbor. It attracts a pretty unfriendly crowd but does give some mighty nice peeling rights that could be worth a little vitriol. It’s a nice spot for longboarders and shortboarders alike.
Where to stay when surfing in Carlsbad?
Carlsbad has some great hotels fringing the coast by its best surf spots. Here are a few that we love or have heard are cracking.
Beach Terrace Inn ($$$)
Just as the name implies, this one’s a corker of a spot to stay if you simply want to experience the ocean. The surf breaks are a hop away from the sunning terraces of your suite. The hotel itself, meanwhile, offers a glorious Pacific-side pool and rooms with 42-inch flat-screen TVs in a SoCal style.
Tamarack Beach Hotel ($$)
Tamarack Beach Hotel is a lovely mid-ranger with plenty of style. The obvious draw for surfers is how close you’ll be to the eponymous break of Tamarack Beach. We also imagine we’d like returning here after a session on the waves – the suites are simple but clean and there’s a flickering fireplace in the lobby. Nice touch.
Carlsbad by the Sea Hotel ($$)
Carlsbad by the Sea Hotel is stylish and modern, but also comes with a nice outdoor pool area. It’s not within walking distance of Carlsbad Beach but gets onto our selection mainly because it’s right by the freeway, which makes it easy to explore surf towns like Encinitas and San Diego on your trip.
Step-by-step guide to planning your Surfing in Carlsbad trip right now
Step one: Book flights to the Surfing in Carlsbad…Lately, we like Omio for searching flights. It’s a nice interface and has lots of airline options. We also use Skyscanner because that sometimes offers deals that even beat going direct to the carrier!
Step two: Book your surf camp Book Surf Camps is the numero uno online booking platform for fully-fledged surf-stay packages on the internet right now. Then there’s Booking.com. That has consistently unbeatable rates for hotels and a nifty map feature that lets you check EXACTLY how close your hotel is to a surf break.
Step three: Get insuranceThis is kinda’ important. Not just for surf trips but for any trips. SafetyWing is great for nomad travelers. They offer rolling contracts that cover amateur surfing.
Step four (optional): Rent a car If you’re surf camping then you might not need wheels. If you’re not then we’ll just say this: We’ve never been on a surf trip that wasn’t improved by having our own car. Use RentalCars – they’re the best.
Step five: Enjoy!
When to surf in Carlsbad?
Fall always comes up trumps for surfing in Carlsbad. It’s the best time of year because it sees a mixture of SW and NW swells, which adds variety to the compass direction to help all manner of beach breaks and points in the North County start to work. The main reasons for the autumn winning the day is the wind – it’s a regular offshore from the mountains.
The main complaint with summer surfing in Carlsbad isn’t the lack of swell. It’s the crowds. There’s loads of bodies in the lineup and that makes a hazard in itself. The swell situation isn’t all that bad, especially when you get the warm-water currents of June and July flowing in from the south (incidentally this is the first place on the Cali coast where SW really hit in earnest). Early surfs are best, before the winds get going. We’d also recommend having a car or staying right by where you want to surf. That way, you can either explore to lesser-known peaks or get in before sunrise.
The best time to surf in Carlsbad is when the summer crowds leave the North County coast and the swells starts picking up after a quiet summer. Cue Autumn. Yep, the fall brings in a lovely mix of SW, W and NW swells that can help keep everywhere from Cardiff Reef to Carlsbad Beach churning out the sets. Combine that with offshore winds, which roll down almost consistently in the mornings from the Santa Ana Mountains and it’s the best time to be paddling out. Woop.
The Pacific really shows its teeth in December, Jan and Feb. For experienced surfers looking for the bigger rides Carlsbad can muster, it’s the season of choice. Breaks like Oceanside at the harbor and pier can be sheer quality as the NW direction wraps into the bay to feed an almost endless series of right breaks. Other spots, like Carlsbad Beach itself, don’t fair so well (it’s closeout central).
There’s lots to look forward to if you come surfing in Carlsbad in the spring. March is better if you’ve surfed lots before, so you can make the most of the strong NW channel swells that help the world-class waves of Encinitas and the Oceanside Harbor get to their best. Wait for May if you’re learning to surf here. It’s all-round quieter and easier on the paddling muscles, not to mention warmer in the water. Gear wise, we think a 4/3 and a 3/2 combo with boots for March surfing should see you through.
Surf shops in Carlsbad
Carlsbad is brimming with great surf shops. You can get both pop-out boards in the warehouses and more local service if that’s what you’re after…
Offshore Surf Shop
One of the highest-rated surf shops in Carlsbad, Offshore Surf Shop is a couple of steps off the main beach. They do rentals on everything from foamies to intermediate short boards and are always ready to advise on breaks and whatnot. Good place.
Witt’s Carlsbad Pipelines
If you’re looking for a charming West Coast surf shop that’s run by locals, Witt’s Carlsbad Pipelines could be the place for you. They’re great at offering advice on suits for groms up to experts and have a huge range of surf fashion. The place is something of a gathering point for the local surf community truth be told.
Where to eat and drink in Carlsbad
Carlsbad has a couple of stand-out spots that we’ve really enjoyed visiting on previous surf trips. They include…
Go local by dropping into the Vinaka Cafe for your morning munch. The baristas are real friendly and they know their stuff to boot. The location also sits on the way to the main Carlsbad beach or the highway for access to nearby surf breaks.
Campfire has caused some serious waves on the Carlsbad dining since it first opened its doors. It’s a quirky stop with a metal-wood interior that serves up hearty fare straight from the grill. It’s filling but also creative. Always worth the dollar bills if you’re passing through on a surf trip.