The Ultimate Guide to Surfing in Malibu

by Tom Sanchez

Surfing in Malibu is an experience every surfer should have. It’s true West Coast gold, with point breaks and beaches that showcase sheer quality for much of the year..

Surfing in Malibu 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

  • Right-hand points that are AWESOME
  • This is one hella’ cool part of the Cali coast
  • Great longboard waves
  • Remoter breaks as you head north

The bad

  • Expensive
  • Lake of XXL and performance waves, maybe

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 Malibu?

An introduction to Malibu surf

Surfing in Malibu

Malibu stretches up nearly 30 miles of prime California surf coast north of LA. This is where the direction of the shoreline shifts west below the Santa Ynez Mountains, hopping from point to beach break as it goes. Think of that. It means the summer and autumn westerly and southerly swells are never wasted, so you can surf when the sun’s a-shining and the water is warm, all while enjoying some of the glassiest and mellowest waves the Golden State can muster.

Yep, surf culture runs deep in these parts. Very deep. It’s different to what you get in the OC and in San Diego, though. For one, you’re sharing wave space with A-listers and celebrities. For two, the sets are tamer than elsewhere in Cali and we often think that Malibu surfs more like a tropical reef in Sri Lanka than somewhere exposed to the Pacific Ocean.

Generally speaking the surfing in Malibu is fantastic for intermediates. There are loads of rippable spots that have open shoulders and forgiving sand and pebble bottoms. Sadly, the crowds and the water quality let it down a touch, but don’t let that put you off. We still say this is a 100% must on any Pacific Coast Highway surf adventure…

A guide to Malibu surf spots

Right-hand point in Malibu

Here, we’ll run through all of the top surf spots on the Malibu coast, running north from LA to the County Line. There’s loads to get through – as many as 9 individual places!

LA (Los Angeles)

LA is right on the doorstep of Malibu. In fact, Malibu is like the playground for LA’s rich and famous during the hotter months of the year – is that Leo DiCaprio in that seaside villa? The big city has busy breaks but it’s still pretty damn legendary when it comes to surfing in Cali. Top spots include Haggerty’s in the South County and long Hermosa Beach, but Santa Monica is only a short drive from Malibu proper. What’s more, LA’s surf tends to work best in the winter months, so you can consider coming here when the dominant swells are W or NW.

Check out our complete guide to surfing in Los Angeles right now!

Topanga State Beach

Topanga State Beach starts the surfing in Malibu in style.

A few steps off the Pacific Coast Highway and only 10 minutes’ drive from the north end of Santa Monica, the spot is a classic South California point break. Its southerly orientation sets it apart from the LA beaches, as the best swells here are from the west and south, and usually come in the summer.

That matches with the nature of the wave, which doesn’t need loads of height in the set to get rolling. It goes right off the point into a section shoulder that can be ripped up as it walls. Rides are a stunning 300 yards on the best of days. The waves closer to the beach are better for longboarders but shortboarders should head to the point without hesitation. Always crowded, but one of the best spots in Malibu.

First Point (Malibu)

Most folk call the First Point, simply, Malibu. It’s certainly the most iconic break in the town, and has been surfed since anyone can remember. Very shapely – the perfect combo of fat wally, with an open face that’s a dream for goofy-footed riders. It’s mellow as can be throughout its prime season, which brings the SUPers and the longboarders.

Just off First Point is the Third Point and Second Point. They aren’t as regular but can be good, especially if you want something a bit speedier to test out your turns and shortboard. Since time immemorial, the issue with Malibu has been water quality. It’s awful and very little seems to be changing. Keep your mouth shut!

Latigo Canyon

There’s no easy access from the PCH to the Latigo Canyon break. That keeps crowds down just as much as the lack of regular waves do – the spot is one of the least consistent in Malibu. When it’s on, it’s usually down to a decent west swell. The wave itself is a mushburger but can be good fun, especially if you’re dying to escape the crowds of First Point.

Zuma Beach

Two underwater canyons feed very powerful sets all along Zuma Beach for much of the winter and spring. Offshores are needed to tidy them up enough to take them from good to quality. When that happens, there should be lots in the water, but never so many as on Malibu First Point. The great thing about Zuma is that it doesn’t need size to keep its power. Even chest-high sets here have enough kick in them to be a challenge.

Zero

Zero is also known as NIcholas Canyon. It’s a rare left-hand point break of beneath the cliffs of the Wishtoyo Chumash Village. There is a right section but it’s shorter. The left, though, can be a lovely ride that will carry you 70-100 yards into the inside of the bay. Intermediates and up as it’s a tricky paddle out and a technical wave.

Leo Carrillo State Beach

At the end of Sequit Canyon and opposite Zero is the right-hand point at Leo Carrillo State Beach. It’s a cracking wave with some serious quality. Can only be surfed on high tide, because the reefs that create the sets need to be submerged. It comes off a cluster of rocks about 150 yards past the sand. That’s the take off zone, which leads into a sectiony wave that will quickly mellow as you reach the middle of the bay.

Staircase

Staircase is a bit of a secret beach at the far north end of Leo Carrillo State Park. You’ll need to walk the zigzagging path down from the Pacific Coast Highway. The reward is a thinner lineup and some mellow waves that work real nice on south and SW summer swells.

County Line

The last spot for surfing in Malibu before the border with Ventura County is named precisely because it’s where it is. It’s a great goodbye to this fabled surf coast, too. High tide brings the variety, with the peaky beach break that’s south of the point offering pounding sets that are often hollow when it’s large. When it is like that, though, there’s respite on the reefs out back, which will be trundling along as a mellow longboarder wave without too much energy.

On the flip side, low tide can draw in nice NW swells that wedge the point break into something similar to Luanda Bay, only without the idiots in the lineup and with a much, much softer wave face that rolls left for rides of nearly 100 yards if you catch the sweet spot. Caters to loggers just as much as shortboarders and has a pretty chilled vibe. The best waves come in late summer with some S and W in the compass direction.

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 Malibu

So, you’re going surfing in Malibu? This selection of the best hotels for wave riders has been especially curated to pick out the creme-de-la-creme of the establishments on this wave-blessed part of California shore. They are some special stays for surfers…

The Surfrider Malibu ($$)

Surf-hotel-top-pick

Overlooking Surfrider Beach on First Point, the The Surfrider Malibu is supremely located for hitting the most legendary right hander in the region. It’s also simply AMAZING. We can’t capitalize that enough. The interiors ooze stripped-down West Coast surf charm. The rooms are all rich timbers and painted woods. The furnishings are bespoke with a touch of Scandi-cool about them. But the best part? There’s FREE surfboard hire for guests. Like wowzaaaa.

Stunning Malibu Beach Front ($$)

Calling all groups: The Stunning Malibu Beach Front lives up to its name. You’ll get a real taste of what it means to vacation in this A-lister corner of the Golden State by booking this pad. There’s a crackling fire to return to after your day on the surf. The beach is right out front – like RIGHT out front. The interiors are uber-sleek. The unit can sleep up to six guests.

Calamigos Guest Ranch and Beach Club ($$$)

The Calamigos Guest Ranch and Beach Club is a surfer’s stay with a difference. The main difference? It’s not on the beach. It’s up in the lush and breezy Malibu winelands. That’s where you’ll retreat to each evening, to discover a luxurious pool and fire pits in the shade of the chpparral woods. When the waves call, you can hop in the shuttle bus and you’ll be ferried to the coast, where the hotel also owns a stunning beachfront inn for the exclusive use of guests.

When to go surfing in Malibu?

The fall is the best time to surf in much of southern California. It’s the same for surfing in Malibu if you ask us. The leftover SW in the swell direction keeps the points working while the offshore winds keep the sets glassy and good. Oh, and summer is also excellent.

Surfers paddle out in Malibu

Summer (June-August)

Summer in Malibu is a dream. Warm water (relatively) and glassy conditions make it perfect for longboarders who hate choppy conditions. The winds are also pretty rare, so you can catch some nice glassy days on First Point. More exposed breaks like Zuma won’t work as well, but the south-facing points are at close to their best. Crowds are the issue. It’s always busy with locals and escapees from LA.

Fall (September-October)

If you can only go surfing in Malibu in one season, make it the fall. California is prone to steady offshore winds from September onwards, but the swell direction also sticks to its southerly origins until well into November. It’s that combo that lets the First Point and Malibu beaches turn on the goods. Crowds are less than in summer too. Water gets cooler and chilly currents from the N can occur, so pack the 3/2 and the 4/3 wetsuit. We’d also say that fall is the top time for hiking in Malibu, if that’s what you’re doing. We did – it’s fun!

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 months see a clear change in the main oncoming swell. It goes from W to N and that means the main breaks of Malibu – First Point, Topanga – are left with little to get the action going on their points. No matter, Zuma Beach and County Line are around to save the day, though they will be all-round more challenging prospects that probably call for a shortboard, a thicker wetsuit, the booties, and more advanced surfers.

Spring (March-May)

Springtime is a mixed bag when it comes to surfing in Malibu. You get good days; you get bad days. The best of the bunch are likely to be in the later months, when there’s more W in the swell compass. The drop in crowds is the main reason to come, but that’s balanced out by the runoff from April showers, which ups the pollution in the water.

Surf shops in Malibu

You’ll hardly find a more famous array of surf shops than Malibu has up its sleeve. Here are just a few of the standouts that have you sorted on the gear front…

Zuma Jay Surf Shop

Zuma Jay Surf Shop is along the 101 between some of the best spots for surfing in Malibu as a whole. It’s beloved of locals and travelers alike. The owners have an intimate knowledge of what suits what break at what time of the year.

Malibu Surf Shack

Drop into the perennially popular Malibu Surf Shack to grab yourself a novelty hat. It’s the sort of thing you’ll keep for the grand kids to prove you actually surfed Malibu Point back in the day. They’re also one of the most popular providers of lessons and rentals in the area.

Where to eat and drink in Malibu

Malibu offers a few unique opportunities for dining right on the side of the wavy Pacific Ocean. We’ve selected just two of the places in the town where we love heading after a sesh.

Malibu Farm Pier Cafe

The Malibu Farm Pier Cafe occupies a fine location right next to the pier above one of the key surf breaks in the city. The order of the day is classic Californian fare but there’s a twist of creativity about it. Takeaway coffees can be drunk on the boardwalk to maximize your view of the surf. Or, sit inside – it’s real West Coast shack type stuff. Love it!

Paradise Cove Beach Cafe

Big portions and a prime location under the Pacific bluffs make Paradise Cove Beach Cafe an obvious brunch and lunch choice after a long surf session in Malibu. There’s an air of the Caribbean in the outdoor area. The inside is more vintage West Coast diner.


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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