The Ultimate Guide to Surfing in Encinitas

by Tom Sanchez

Come surfing in Encinitas to experience one of the most amazing surf towns on the South Cali coast.

Surfing in Encinitas at a glance

We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

The good

  • This is a super-cool surf town
  • Swamis is a legendary break
  • Easy-going place without uber-aggro Cali lineups

The bad

  • Not fantastic at picking up summer swells
  • Sometimes crowds from San Diego

This guide is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in California and surfing on the West Coast

What’s in this guide to Surfing in Encinitas?

An introduction to Encinitas surf

Surfing in Encinitas

Encinitas is a name you NEED to know if you’re putting together that dream surf trip up the West Coast. Whether it’s near your start point in the south or your grand finale after coming down from the north, it won’t disappoint. The gift is true SoCal character – laid back, easy going, forever salty.

The waves are pretty solid stuff. Swamis is the showstopper. It’s a reef that really gets pounding on strong swells. Throw in the slabby breaks at Blacks Beach and the fun string of beach breaks on Moonlight State Beach and you start to get a picture of the sheer variety that’s on the menu.

Really, though, the waves are just a part of the story here. You’ll retire to happening surf hostels or cool Californian mansions overlooking the Pacific, share cold cervezas with other surfers in the bluff-top bars, and see some epic sunsets. It’s simply a fantastic place to be.

This guide runs through all the ins and outs of surfing in Encinitas. It goes surf spot to surf spot to give you the lowdown on where’s best, and also has a guide to the finest surfing seasons in this corner of the Golden State.

A guide to Encinitas surf spots

Keep reading for a detailed run through of all the top spots for surfing in Encinitas…

San Diego

We’d put San Diego up there with the must-visit surf cities of the world. It’s got warm weather all year (although the water’s not so balmy!) and breaks for every level of rider. Yes, there’s a touch of localism at the most popular spots. But you don’t even have to hit them to feel the quality of this one. You can surf Ocean Beach, La Jolla and Blacks to see some of the very best surfing this side of Hawaii.

We’ve got a complete guide to the surfing in San Diego with all the top spots in that epic SoCal city…

Blacks Beach

Blacks Beach is pretty darn legendary on the south Cali surf circuit. It’s one of the best quality beach breaks in that hallowed surf territory that lies between San Diego and LA. The waves are big and beefy. They get their power from the underwater canyons that skirt the La Jolla head.

Three separate spots often tend to work at the same time, from South Peak (a left that’s rippable and fast, like Raglan in NZ) to Middle Peak, where the A-frames are pure Cali gold. There’s a crowd but they’re not as spiky as elsewhere on the San Diego coast. Rips and currents will be the biggest enemy, Watch out because getting caught out here isn’t pretty.

Del Mar

Del Mar is just a touch to the south of Encinitas, closer to the outer suburbs of San Diego. For that reason, it can get more crowded. But there are lots of peaks here, most of which tend to work best on SW-W swell directions. The southernmost part of the stretch is a low-lying rock shelf that will give fun and cruisy rides on medium swells.

Most of the surfing in Del Mar goes on down Main Beach. It’s SoCal sand-bottomed that’s 100% at the mercy of the banks, but usually turns on the good come fall. North Del Mar is considered a separate spot that works off the nearby river mouth. It’s rippy, challenging, and goes best on strong NW swell systems in winter.

Solana Beach

A long stretch of beachfront that runs under the dusty SoCal bluffs, Solana has a handful of decent spots that are rarely uber crowded. The best of them are on the north side of the district. That’s the home of the Tabletop reef, which usually picks up the SW swells to give mellow logger waves. Parking at Seaside.

Cardiff Reef

A left and right exist at the Cardiff Reef to the south of Encinitas. Both are nice waves but the star attraction is the logger right – we’d say it’s one of the best longboard waves on this section of shoreline between San Diego and LA. Chilled crowd too.

Swamis

Swamis (also called Swami’s) is the best spot for surfing in Encinitas. At least that’s true if you’re looking for a harder break. This one peaks on the reefs that ring the headland to the south of town, close to the famous Encinitas New Age center. They need strong NW swells to go, but when it happens it’s a stunning wave, with rippable sections on a fat shoulder that mimics something out of NZ.

Moonlight

Moonlight State Beach is the most accessible and welcoming break in Encinitas. It’s long and has countless peaks, all of which tend to be best on W-NW swells at chest height. They rides won’t make you a WSL pro, but they’re solid stuff, with glassy conditions prevailing on any easterly offshores or south easterly crossshores. Moonlight, which is also known as D-Street, is the go-to place for the local school surf teams. It’s also perfect for beginners and intermediates after something chilled. Bigger days will see it too heavy to ride, so take your fun when it’s there.

Beacons

Beacons is a cruisy wave on the north end of Moonlight State Beach. It’s another corker of a longboard peak with the occasional day when the lip flattens and the face opens to give a nice rippable wall that’s fun in the extreme.

Grandview

Grandview is the reliable go-to wave on the Encinitas shore. It pokes out a little more into the Pacific so extends the swell window into an almost-180 degree pocket of SW to NW. Winter is bigger but fall is best, when the waves fatten out and invite shortboarders to rip the turns. Smaller days are crumbly, but there’s usually an ankle burner or a fun beginner wave to keep you going.

surfing in Encinitas

What we’d take on a south California surf trip…

WETSUITS (Men):

  • SUMMER: XCEL Comp 2mm Short Sleeve Springsuit | A high-performance spring suit for men that has the Channel Flex tech we LOVE from Xcel. Perfect for longer sunset and sunrise sessions in SoCal between June and August. 
  • SPRING/FALL: Men’s Xcel Comp 3/2  FA19 | A solid 3/2 to carry you through the Cali shoulder seasons, the Comp is one of our forever favs. It’s got Plush Thermolite insulation and is super stretchy. 
  • WINTER: Vissla 7 Seas 4​/3 Chest Zip Wetsuit | The 7 Seas is one of the top all-rounders. We like it for SoCal because the 4/3 feels like a 3/2 and you often don’t need to go the whole hog here. Solid and versatile suit for whatever San Clemente can muster in winter. 

WETSUITS (Women)

  • SUMMER: Rip Curl 2mm Dawn Patrol Long Sleeve Springsuit | By June and July the south swells will have brought some warmth to the SoCal waters and there’s a three-month window when you can usually get away with a shorty. This is corker for the ladies – it’s got the E5 neoprene (warm and flexy) along with blind-stitched seams. 
  • SPRING/FALL: Sisstrevolution 3​/2 7 Seas Print Back Zip Wetsuit | Sisstrevolution are making some awesome suits right now, and this 7 Seas is no different. Good tech and looks fantastic too. 

BOARDS:

  • LibTech Nude Bowl | The dream of a one-trick quiver, this versatile board offers some extra volume but also a real party on the rails. For us, there’s not much that can beat it at the intermediate level. 

SUNSCREEN: Salt & Stone SPF 30 Lip Balm | Super important stuff – take this to SoCal and reapply like every 20 minutes. Summer surfing here can burn!

Where to stay when surfing in Encinitas

Surf hotels? In Encinitas? You bet. There are some of the top surfer stays in the SoCal region here, and we CANNOT wait to return…

Surfhouse ($$)

Surf-hotel-top-pick

Surfhouse is the perfect place to bed down when you’re hitting Encinitas for the waves. It’s got a retro 50s feel and rooms with wave-inspired art and classic copies of Surfer Magazine at hand. The breaks are right out front and bike rentals are complimentary.

L’Auberge Del Mar Resort and Spa ($$$)

L’Auberge Del Mar Resort and Spa is a deluxe surf option that’s always going to impress. The location right by the beaches of Del Mar is amazing for intermediate surfers. The outdoor pool and the sunning terraces take it ot the next level. Treat yoself!

Moonlight Beach Motel ($-$$)

Moonlight Beach Motel is just up 2nd Street, a stone’s throw from the top winter surf breaks in Encinitas. It’s got simple and affordable rooms with balconies that gaze straight over the Pacific.

When to surf in Encinitas

Autumn is the best time to surf in Encinitas. September onwards has a good mix of SW, W and NW swells. Add in the offshore Santa Anas winds and it’s pretty optimistic reading for fans of glassy barrels and cruisy beach breaks.

Encinitas surf beach

Summer (June-August)

Encinitas follows the same seasonal pattern as the rest of southern California. That means hot summers, as water temperatures peak at 70 F. You will need to keep an eye on that, because upwelling conditions can cause the ocean water to drop to <50 without warning, and you’ll need to swap wetsuit choice accordingly. Wave wise, the SW swells are in full force. You’ll get your money’s worth on the beaches of Del Mar and from wrap-arounds near the La Jolla heads. Don’t expect any XXL stuff. Winter is the Beach Boys sorta’ surf season in SoCal – cruisy, forgiving but uber fun.

Fall (September-October)

Peak time in southern Cali. There’s no better season to be in the waves. Seriously, it’s awesome. You get a mix of SW and NW swells, with the occasional big hitter creeping down from the Arctic. A 3/2 wetty usually covers things and there are WAY less people around to clog up key breaks like Swami’s and Moonlight State Beach. The best thing about fall surfing in Encinitas has to be the offshore credential. That comes from the winds that blow down from the Santa Ana Mountains, adding a laminate quality to the sets that’s nowhere else on Earth!

Did you know that surfers are three times more likely to develop melanoma than non surfers? Yikes…

A good block is totally essential!

We’ve got the complete lowdown on the best surfer’s sunscreens on the market right now, focussing on the creme-de-la-creme. AKA: Zinc-infused blocks that are easy to pack and apply.

Winter (December-February)

Hardcore surfers on the hunt for the beefy slabs of Blacks Beach and the fast barrels of Swami’s won’t be disappointed with winter surfing in Encinitas. This time of year is fed by the strong NW swell channels. They’re powered by major storm surges in the Arctic Circle, so have the joules to really get things cooking on the SoCal shore. Onshore winds are the issue, and the cold waters, which can warrant a 4/3, boots and a hood.

Spring (March-May)

The payoff for moving back to the glory that is the SoCal summer is the rather transitory period of April and May. It’s not a bad time to surf in Encinitas. It’s just less predictable than its compadre at the other side of the warmer months. There’s still some big power in breaks like Swami’s in the early part of the season. That can give fast, zippy rides but also heavy closeouts at Blacks, not to mention big rips. It’s a period better suited to experienced folk.

Surf shops in Encinitas

Encinitas has been something of a breeding ground for famous names on the US surf circuit. It’s no different when it comes to shops. There are going to be outlets you already know of here, along with some lovely local stores…

Hansen Surfboards

Founded by the legendary shaper and surf pioneer Dan Hansen way back in the heyday of West Coast surfing in the 1960s, Hansen Surfboards is one of the famous outlets that now make their home in Encinitas. They deliver all over the US but have a fantastic store right here in town.

Encinitas Surfboards

Encinitas Surfboards has been serving the people of this cool SoCal surf town since 1975. They’ve got the whole shebang, from boards to board shorts to wax and apres wear. They’re also lovely people! Drop in to say hi.

Where to eat and drink in Encinitas

You certainly won’t go hungry in Encinitas. This town has all the quirky coffee joints that you’d expect of suburban San Diego, along with the pizzazz of some Tex-Mex spice to boot…

Better Buzz Coffee Encinitas

Buzz Coffee Encinitas

We include Better Buzz Coffee Encinitas because we say this: They have some of the finest vanilla flavoured ice coffees this side of Seattle. Big words; stunning brews. Drop in for a a pick-me-up before you hit the surf.

The Taco Stand

Taco Stand Encinitas

Like Mexican? DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT MISSING THIS. It’s one of the most epic, most taste-bud-tingling taco stops we found in Cali. The roller wheat taco shells come in an abundance of fillings, from avo and shrimp to angus steak. More than anything, it’s the staff though – they are friendly as friendly can be.

Encinitas Ale House

Surf-turf burgers and craft beers from all around the globe abound in this hearty tavern. One of our favorite spots for a few bevvies (too many?) after surfing in Encinitas.


We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

This guide is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in California and surfing on the West Coast

You may also like

Leave a Comment