The Best Santa Cruz Surfing Locations

Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz, California | Photo by Claudia Lorusso on Unsplash
Deanna Morgado

The coastal town of Santa Cruz is laden with sandy beaches and breaking waves. In other words, it’s a surfer’s dream. Lovingly nicknamed “surf city,” the waves in town have something for all levels. From gentle waves to dangerous crashing swells, Santa Cruz has surfing hot spots made for every surfer.

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Four Mile

This cleverly named spot lies just four miles (6.4 kilometers) outside of town. Four Mile is surrounded by a protective gathering of bluffs and cliffs, walling it off from harsh winds; this means that even if you’re a beginner, you’ll be able to catch some waves that are perfect for your skill level. And for all of you surf pros and experts out there, don’t worry because Four Mile is still able to get those high-crashing swells we know you love.

Novice surfers should probably plant it in the sand at 30th and East Cliff. The aggressive swells and waves here make for great aerial tricks and rides, and some good old-fashioned showboating. Many people line the shore to watch those take on the waves at this spot, so if you end up needing to take a knee from the surf, you’re not alone. 30th and East Cliff is the place for perfecting your surf skills.

Pleasure Point

Pleasure Point, Santa Cruz, CA, United States

Pleasure Point is probably one of the most well-known and liked surf spots in Santa Cruz. It’s a favorite for its varietal waves—pros and first-timers flock here, boards in hand. All that surf perfection draws a lot of crowds though, so surf etiquette is certainly in high-demand at Pleasure Point.

Steamer Lane

Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CA, USA

When many people think of surfing in Santa Cruz, Steamer Lane is what typically comes to mind. This classic surf spot has incredibly intense and picturesque waves you’ll have to see to believe. A major consideration though is its intensity. When the swell is up, Steamer Lane does, indeed, become Santa Cruz’s most dangerous place to surf; novices, beware. But it is an excellent spot for some of the best surfing—whether that means you’re out in the swell or watching from the shore. Indeed, Steamer Lane says “surf” so perfectly that there’s even a surfing museum near the beach.

Cowell Beach

Cowell Ranch Beach Access, Half Moon Bay, CA, USA

There are plenty of surf spots for the pros to head out to and dive right in. At Cowell’s though, first-timers can take a moment to breathe before getting in the surf. This spot is known for its gentle and long waves, so it’s also great for longboarders. Cowell’s is also the location where many surf schools choose to teach their eager students how to surf.

The Hook

Not too far from the favorable Pleasure Point is where many locals and surf experts can be found. To reach The Hook, you just need to descend a flight of stairs at the end of Pleasure Point, and you’re there. This spot got its name from the collection of kelp that gets “hooked” around buoys and skags in the water. Surfers love coming to The Hook for its perfect swells. The waters can get a little crowded, mostly with locals, but once you’re out there, it’s absolutely worth it.

Privates Beach

This locale may seem unattainable due to its name, but Privates Beach is open for public use. The long and easygoing waves are perfect for novices and those looking for a little bit of seclusion. Imagine Private’s Beach as a lesser-known Cowell’s—a wonderful spot for beginners to ride the waves at their own pace.

Natural Bridges

Natural Bridges State Beach, West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CA, USA

Probably one of the most scenic places for surfing in Santa Cruz, Natural Bridges offers some of the best surf you can imagine for all levels. The only trick is timing the surf right, as it can be quite finicky. When the timing is right though, the surf is spectacular. Even when the conditions aren’t completely favorable, Natural Bridges is still a breathtaking place just to paddle out and float.

Manresa State Beach

Just a quick drive outside Santa Cruz is the must-see Manresa State Beach in Watsonville. The beauty of this spot is how much less crowded it is compared to those within the heart of Santa Cruz. What’s even better at Manresa is that you’ll find some of the best swells around.

Highway 1

Bixby Bridge, Highway 1, USA

To mix it up a bit, strap your board to your ride and head along Highway 1 through Santa Cruz. Not only is this one of the most beautiful drives you’ll take, but as long as you keep an eye on the waves, you can also catch sight of some amazing surf. All you need to do is pull over into one of the Highway’s multiple turnouts, hop out, and head to the sand. Not knowing what kind of surf spot you’ll come across next is half the fun.

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