The Ultimate Guide to Surfing in LA

by Tom Sanchez

This ultimate guide to surfing in LA ranges from the Lunada lefts to the epic points in Malibu to showcase some of the best surf on the West Coast. Period.

Los Angeles surfing 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

  • Long beach breaks for all levels
  • Cracking pier breaks
  • LA is an awesome city

The bad

  • Localism in certain spots
  • Pollution run off after heavy rains

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 LA?

An introduction to surfing in LA

Surfing in LA

Surfing in LA is the stuff of bucket lists. A colossal city – the largest in all of California, no less – the metropolis spills down from the well-to-do rises of Beverly Hills and into the Pacific Ocean. It covers a whopping 60 miles of coastline in all. In the south, that links with cool Long Beach and the surf mecca of Huntington Beach. To the north, you can come to catch some of the best point breaks on the West Coast, up with the A-listers of Malibu.

Wide sands flank most of the town. That means the vast majority of what you’ll be surfing here is beach break. But it’s not left to its own devices like in French Landes. Here, the coast has been tamed by piers and jetties, which offer the creme-de-la-creme thanks to their unique underwater sandbank alignments. Malibu’s points are also worthy of special mention, taking the concept of cruisy rights to all new and dizzying heights!

The point is there’s LOADS to get through. Los Angeles really does live up to its reputation as an American surf city extraordinaire. There’s something for all levels and all seasons, not to mention a buzzing megacity filled with iconic sights and activities whenever the lineup gets a tad to busy. Let’s take a look…

A guide to Los Angeles surf spots

A tube at Venice Beach

Laguna

It’s a flat one-hour drive from Manhattan Beach in LA to Laguna Beach in the OC. We wouldn’t recommend making it solely for the surfing. It’s good stuff, especially if you manage to hit Brooks Street when it’s long left is pumping (Kelly Slater might be around then, too!). It’s just that Laguna is more of a risk than the rest of the South Cali coast. LA itself is more consistent, for example. Or you could head further and make it to San Clemente for some seriously epic stuff (AKA Trestles!).

Check out our complete guide to surfing Laguna Beach right now

Newport Beach

Newport has a series of breaks, many of which are quite fickle but some of which are classic south Cali stuff. Works wonderful on both punchy winter swells and those summer south swells. The top spots are The Wedge (a freakish beast of a wave that actually forms off the backwash – expert level) and the peaks of Blackies; sometimes hollow, sometimes cruisy for the loggers.

Read our guide to the surfing in Newport Beach right now

Huntington Beach

One of the most famous surf towns on the West Coast and only 45 minutes’ drive from central LA – nice, eh? The top break here is the pier, which has south and north options that work on different swells. It’s always busy, but you’d deal with some crowds to surf a spot of WSL qualifying fame, right?

We’ve got a separate ultimate guide to Huntington Beach surfing

Cabrillo Point

It’s rare but there can be some great days on the Cabrillo Point at the south end of the Palos Verdes. Storm swells work their way in and create pretty nice sets that range from rippable and fast to positively cruisy, depending on the dominant compass direction. It’s a right that comes off the rocky jetty. Never crowded.

Lunada

Luanda is truly exquisite right-hand point break that can handle the hardest W swells because it focuses all the power across the right-handers into the bay. Sets can vary beautifully, with glassy walls and fat open faces next to mushburgers that’ll have you slamming the front of the board. A stunning place to surf too, just below the dusty cliffs of the Palos Verdes. There’s a caveat to Luanda Bay: The local crew are infamous for being some of the most territorial of all the surfing in LA. Slashed tyres and fist fights are often reported. Idiots.

Palos Verdes

Palos Verdes Cove is one of the premier longboarder waves in LA. The main break here is Middles. It’s a light and cruisy wave that can go both left and right but will be all about the length of the ride. Water quality is excellent thanks to the preserved kelp forests offshore. Be ready to meet the resident seals. The spot would also be great for improvers looking to practice green waves, but the crowds can be annoying. Just come in early and they’re pretty avoidable.

Haggerty’s

Haggerty’s is one of the first spots that feels the full hit of those NW winter swells. That’s the reason it works best between November and April. There are a couple of take-off points. Lower Haggerty’s is the farthest out. It’s a nice, slow drop into a mushy left hander. As the wave pushes on you get to the main peak, which is a Wild West shitshow of a wave with loads of people dropping in right on your head. Upper Hags is the hardest peak and needs at least 5 foot in the swell to even get a look it. That’s best left to those who know what they’re doing, especially as the water is over shallow-ish reef.

Torrance County Beach

Torrance County Beach starts the long array of beach breaks that cover most of the western side of LA. All of those work best in the winter months and it’s no different here. Peaky crests come and go over water that has a tendency to get choppy. If you can catch it clean with a smooth Santa Ana wind, you can score nice A-frames with fast lefts and fast rights in Torrance. Bigger days might mean a retreat down to RAT Beach, where it’s a little more sheltered from the powerful W element in the swell. Best on an approaching mid- to high-tide. Watch out for side-to-side rips. Best for intermediates.

Redondo Breakwater

The Redondo Breakwater holds up like none of the other surfing in LA. It’s a mega wave with some serious attitude. It comes in strong on W and NW swells in the winter, and can actually work on anything over 3 foot. We’d say it ain’t worth checking unless it’s at least 8 though. That’s when it warrants the effort to ditch the beach breaks to the north and south.

Why? Well…it’s one of LA’s only big-wave spots then. A furious, slabby lip will roll in off the side of the breakwater and crash left. Guaranteed barrels and hollow walls that demand a perfect bottom turn. You won’t want to be getting stuck on the inside here cos’ the shore whitewash is pounding stuff. Unfriendly crowd for an unfriendly wave. Experts only and bring the gun board.

Hermosa Beach

Hermosa Beach is the kingpin of the South County, which holds some of the most iconic territory for surfing in LA. The thing is, the spot itself isn’t the best on the menu. It’s okay. And it’s fun on medium to head-height swells. Just don’t come expecting gnarly SoCal barrels off the point. There’s enough mush to go around and lots of closeouts whenever it’s big or powerful. Multiple peaks do help to share out the crowds, but Hermosa Beach is still usually busy. On occasion you’ll score a high, hollow set that will give a diagonal barrel for a few seconds.

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach runs for almost two miles from the end of Hermosa to the beginning of El Segundo. Welcome to quintessential South County surfing in LA. The whole length of the sand is surfable. It’s got oodles of peaks for beginners and intermediates. They turn left and right and develop of the moving sandbanks below the waterline. Works in SW and NW swells, which keeps it pretty consistent all year, although winter is markedly better.

Manhattan Beach is a small-swell spot, meaning closeouts will be your biggest enemy. The creep in at anything above 6 foot but can be more likely on direct W swells. The pier magnetizes the top waves of the bunch, though they are steep take offs into pretty hollow waves on the south side of the timber. Generally good vibes!

El Porto

El Porto Beach is the go-to for many South County surfers. It holds more size and power than its compadres to the south and the north, which means barrels are often firing here when much of the other surfing in LA is closed out for the session. The waves are heavy and challenging, and require a lot of focus on alignment after your bottom turn – there’s no sit and chill in the pocket at El Porto, sorry. Suffers from bad pollution because of the surrounding industrial plants and gets heavy backwash on certain tides.

Venice Beach

Venice Beach is better known as LA’s counterculture hotspot. It’s been an incubator for grunge bands and rock artists throughout the 20th century, although the image is mellowing now thanks to continuous gentrification and an influx of big money. None of that changes the waves, which are pretty decent. Regularly hollow but also prone to walling up real steep and closing without warning, the waves are generally short and sharp performance rides that are suited to five-fin shortboard setups. You can catch some mellow things off the pier and by the breakwaters. Watch out for rips and the steep drops, which are board munchers – plenty of breakages everyday!

Santa Monica

Santa Monica is the well-to-do north part of LA where the villas of the Pacific Palisades keep watch overhead. You get a chilled crowd in the water, which is why we often say it’s a good place for surfers who don’t want the headache of aggros in the lineup. The other reason we send people here is because it’s a decent spot to learn. Wait for smaller swells and then hit the whitewash. A good secondary swell can offer neat rides on the foamy. Out back and by the pier, you’ll sometimes get fat shoulders but the ride won’t last for long. The lips come over like they do in Venice Beach and you’ll be bathed in foam before you know it. Still fun, though, especially on mid-sized winter swells of 4-5 foot. Wait for low tide.

Malibu

Malibu is absolutely legendary for surf. There are some of the best point breaks in the whole of the USA here, all fed by the groundswells that roll in off a deep underwater canyons out in the Pacific. You also get beach breaks like Zuma, along with a gorgeous surf town setting that’s all glitz and glamour.

Read our ultimate guide to surfing in Malibu, CA, right now

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

WETSUITS (Men):

  • SUMMER: Rip Curl 2mm Dawn Patrol Long Sleeve Springsuit in Camo | 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. The Dawn Patrol is a solid all-rounder and we love it in this camo.
  • SPRING/FALL: Quiksilver Syncro 3/2 | A solid 3/2 to carry you through the Cali shoulder seasons, the Syncro is one of our forever favs. It’s warm but also flexy, thanks to that pretty awesome StretchFlight x2 tech on the key panels.
  • WINTER: Rip Curl Dawn Patrol 4/3 with Chest Zip | A 4/3 is usually enough to carry you through the winter in SoCal. New seam taping and outrageous thermal stats make this one a great option, and not at a silly price point either. 

WETSUITS (Women)

  • SUMMER: Rip Curl 2mm Dawn Patrol Long Sleeve Springsuit | This is corker for the ladies – it’s got the E5 neoprene (warm and flexy) along with blind-stitched seams. 
  • SPRING/FALL: Rip Curl E Bomb 3/2Loving the colors on these new E Bomb summer+spring steamers. The tech and the style is perfect for the medium waters in south California. 

SUNSCREEN: Sun Bum Original Face Stick 30 SPFSuper important stuff. South California is sunny, you know. No matter the time of year, you’ll need at least a 30 SPF stick like this, and the Sun Bum is water resistant for 80 mins and completely paraben free.

Where to stay when surfing in LA

It’s important to choose the right spot if you want to go surfing in LA. Why? This city is massive, and you could find yourself miles and hours away from the waves. These three options ensure that won’t happen…

Inn at Venice Beach ($$)

Surf-hotel-top-pick

The Inn at Venice Beach won’t put you right by the BEST surfing in LA, but it will get you to the city’s most vibrant coastal neighborhood. There’s surf on the doorstep thanks to the Venice Beach pier. You also get to hit the alt rock bars and Muscle Beach. Inside the hotel, the rooms are all boutique charm and there’s a really nice outdoor courtyard with a hint of a Spanish hacienda about it.

The Surfrider Malibu ($$-$$$)

You could scratch staying on the LA beaches all together and go to the better surf town of Malibu up north. That’s where the uber-awesome The Surfrider Malibu awaits. It’s a lesson in how to decorate a cool surf motel-hotel. Toned down, simple but chic, the place even offers free surfboard rentals for guests. Seriously, it’s one of the top surf hotels in the state, let alone LA.

Shutters On The Beach ($$$)

If you’ve got the dosh – stay here. It’s a Santa Monica mainstay and comes with a gorgeous Neo-Victorian opulence that’ll leave you feeling like one of the railroad tycoons that rolled in c.1848. On top of that Shutters On The Beach offers supremely stunning suites with Pacific views and easy access to the superior surf breaks of Malibu just to the north.

When to surf in Los Angeles

The Californian coast move to face almost directly west. That means the surfing in LA is better on W or NW swells, mainly because there’s quite a bit of protection from the Palos Verdes headland to the south of the city proper. Upshot? Winter and fall tend to be the prime times to surf in the city, especially when the offshore Santa Ana winds are coming over from the east.

Manhattan Beach, LA

Summer (June-August)

Summer is a popular time in LA. The weather’s hot and the vibes are good. Sadly the lineups also swell, especially with out of towners and groms, which means there’s hardly a moment of solitude between Palos Verdes and Malibu. The dominant groundwell direction is from the 90-degree or SW channel. It’s not ideal for surfing in LA, we’ll be honest. For some real, punchy waves, you might be better venturing an hour or so south to Huntington Beach or even up the coast to Malibu and Santa Barbara where there’s more exposure to those waves.

Fall (September-October)

Fall ushers in the time for the main NW and W swell systems, but it also has the added bonus of Santa Ana winds, when offshores come like clockwork from the inland deserts. The result? This is unquestionably THE best season for surfing in LA. And it’s not just down to conditions – the lineups thin and the water remains warmish, so you can usually stick a 3/2 for session well into November.

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)

Winter keeps churning out those NW swells and there’s extra behind them as you move into December. That’s perfect for much of the surfing in LA, which tends to have a westerly orientation. Sets down in Luanda and Haggerty’s can be nothing short of perfect if you catch it right – not too high, no onshores. The best days are rare because of the wind, but most days are surfable. 4/3 with boots and gloves and a hood should carry you through the season.

Spring (March-May)

LA surfers will make the most of the leftover northerly swells in April, which can be a great time to mop up some nice shoulders on the piers of Santa Monica and Hermosa Beach. The bad thing about spring is the tendency for onshore winds. There’s none of that desert-fed Santa Ana stuff, which means closeouts can be common on the longer beachbreaks. 4/3 or 3/2 is good for later in the season.

Surf shops in Los Angeles

Of course there are shops to help you plan that surfing in LA. In fact, there are some of the best surf shops in the whole USA. Let’s take a look at just a few…

Rider Shack

Looking to get kitted out for your surfing in LA but don’t have LOADS to spend? Rider Shack is one of the top places to go. It’s not about crafted, shaper boards, but reliable pop outs and major brand wetties. You’ll get what you came for.

Mollusk Surf Shop

Wedged between the quirky bars of Venice, Mollusk Surf Shop likes to do things a little differently. It’s a sort of retro-stylo mashup, with surfboards that are never your run-of-the-mill pop out. Loggers will drool over the Mitsven range, while fish tail aficionados will adore the Wegeners.

Where to eat and drink in LA

LA is riddled to the hilt with top-quality eateries. We’ve chosen just two of the stand-out establishments we return too whenever we’re surfing some of the city’s key breaks.

Gum Tree

Aussie combines with American at this vibrant grill and cookhouse back from Hermosa. It’s a staple of the surfy neighborhood and offers a menu of healthy breaks – think avo toast, Greek yogurt, and egg white burrito. If it’s lunch time, you can expect hearty sarnies like curried chicken and roasted veg. Coffees are spectacular.

North End Caffe

North End Caffe is one of the mainstay spots for your morning brew on Manhattan Beach. They’re a welcoming crew that serve their grub from a salt-washed bungalow. The waves await literally a block down the road – you can see the Pacific. Sweet.


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

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