Where to Find the Biggest Waves in San Diego

These are the waves that we dream of, towering beasts rushing towards the sand, tunnels so tall you can’t touch the top. They’re the reason surfing is as much a spectator sport as it is an athletic endeavor. We can dream of taking on those breaks, but we know they require nuance and skill well beyond our years.

San Diego is the home of the perfect wave, not necessarily the big wave. On average the surf in San Diego is about 3-4 feet high. That’s great. It would be a serious challenge for beginners, or people trying to learn to surf. But those who want to witness nature’s fury have to look around.

For the biggest waves, keep an eye on the weather. There are surf reports and newscasts available. At any given time it’s possible to look up a measurement of the average wave size on the closest beach.

Some beaches have consistently taller waves than others. They’re well-known surf spots, often with unique underwater features that cause the surf to rise higher on that portion of the coastline. If you’re thinking of hitting one up, it’s probably better to keep the board at home and bring a camera instead.

Anyone who is trying to learn how to surf would do well to watch the experts on these beaches, the way they move, and how they seem to interact with the water. They know how to listen to the wave and dance with it. They can read what’s going to happen next, and they know when it’s time to bail.

Know Before You Go

For locals in San Diego surfing is life. It’s how they relax in the morning and unwind after work. They consider the beaches their home away from home. So when there’s 100 people in the water fighting to catch one wave, it can become a tense situation, especially between locals and outsiders. They feel a sense of ownership when it comes to these beaches. Learn proper etiquette, take turns, and if there’s a sense that outsiders might not be welcome, find another place to surf.

San Diego Sunset

Lars Dugaiczyk / Flickr

Swami’s Surf Spot

Swami’s in Encinitas is named after an Indian monk who built a meditation center in the cliffs above the beach. Its Golden Lotus Towers, which can be seen from the sand below, represent the laid-back vibe that has come to characterize the place. 

This beach is known for its right-hand point break, courtesy of a coral reef that alters the wave patterns. They tend to form in deep waters, making the paddle out a bit of a hassle, but it’s definitely worth going out there to see how it’s done. Just don’t expect to be alone. There’s always a crowd, especially during the wintertime when the waves are highest. 

San Diego Sky

Tim Buss / Flickr

Cardiff Reef

Cardiff is one of the few places where you can actually see generations of surfers all hanging out in the ocean and on the sand. It breaks over a long reef covered in seagrass.

The result is a wave that is drawn out slowly, creating pristine peaks that can be quite difficult to maneuver during the wintertime. What’s really great about Cardiff is that it actually borders a campground, so it’s a great place to spend the afternoon in the sand, then pitch a tent in the evening and share a meal with the family.

late afternoon in san diego

peasap / Flickr


Windansea has been the hub of San Diego surf culture since the early 1900s when the city first got turned on to the sport. It’s the site of multiple competitions. It boasts its own surf club, and it’s the home of the Surf Shack, a beloved Hawaiian hut that has been torn down by the waves and rebuilt countless times. It was originally built by marines who picked up surfing after they came back from World War II. 

Surfing Windansea isn’t easy. The rocky reef break and sandstone formations make it one of the most dangerous breaks in California. But the waves are consistent any time of the year, and they can easily reach up to ten feet when there’s a swell. 

Lower Trestles

Troy Williams / Flickr

Lower Trestles

Often referred to as the “Crown Jewel” of Southern California, Lower Trestles (Lowers) is one of the best surf spots in the world. It’s a classic reef break, great for both left and right, resulting in some of the most amazing waves that have ever hit the state. When there’s a south swell, pull the phone out. Take some pictures, sit back and watch.

The waves will come rolling in, crests building higher and higher, creating epic tunnels that have to be seen to be believed. There’s nothing like it. Expect crowds. People fight to get the best waves there. Twenty or thirty people will come racing in, all of them headed for the same tunnel while a hundred more are waiting further out. Even then, the waves are so big that it’s worth trying.

Blacks Beach San Diego

Tony Webster / Flickr

Black’s Beach

Black’s Beach is hands-down the best surfing spot
in San Diego. It’s a strange place with an old architectural oddity called the
Mushroom House left abandoned below the cliffs. The only way to get there is to
hike two miles, either on an old road or a cliffside trail–both of which are
grueling. But it’s well worth the trip. The waves are consistently a foot
taller than anywhere else in the city. During the winter, they’ll wipe out
professionals, leaving them swimming for the surface. It’s definitely a beach
for advanced surfers only. 

Learn To Surf

For many, it’s not enough to sit out on the sidelines and watch. Yes, surfing is for spectators too, but there’s a reason it’s so popular. The speed, the rush, the thrill of getting in the zone and forgetting everything else around you–there’s nothing more exciting. You can be a part of that.

Surfing is not an unobtainable goal or a talent you have to be born with. There’s a science to it, and it can be learned. But the only way to do so is with the help of a good mentor who has spent years honing their instincts and learning their craft. They should be able to ride as well as they can walk.
Pacific Surf has professional Certified Surf Instructors who are also certified in CPR and as lifeguards. They keep their students safe out on the water, and they’ll teach them everything they need to know.

Contact us today with any questions that you might have, or start your journey now.

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