Are the best surf spots in the US located on the East Coast or West Coast? This long-standing debate reminds me of Notorious B.I.G (representing the East Coast in NY) vs. Tupac Shakur (holding down the West Coast in LA). Just like there are Biggie fans and Tupac fans, there are West Coast and East Coast surfing fanatics.
Still, a Google search hints more people prefer West Coast surfing, and there are a few noteworthy reasons why. First, East Coast waves aren’t as easy to catch or ride as West Coast waves. Secondly, waters are generally warmer on the West Coast, making it more accessible and comfortable for year-round surfing . Florida is the hot state for surfing on the East Coast, and California, namely Southern Cali, is home to the West Coast’s favorite surf spots.
Instead of taking sides, we are counting down the top-rated surf spots on the East and West Coast. Let’s start with the eastern side of the country!
Best East Coast Surf Spots
#1. Cocoa Beach Pier, Florida
Welcome to Kelly Slater’s hometown and a glorious spot for avid surfers. Cocoa Beach is separated from Florida’s mainland by the Banana River, and there is plenty of space for beginner and professional surfers alike. Explore the famous Pier, soak up some sun on the wide-open beaches, and then enjoy surfing the warm and reliable swells in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Pier is a famous hot spot for world-wide surfing competitions. Waves break on almost every type of swell, and north swells tend to reach up to chest or head in height.
The average annual water temperature is around 75°F, which is warm, even compared to the West Coast.
Florida is easily the best state for surfing on the East Coast, some other great beaches for surfing include:
- New Smyrna Beach
- Sebastian Inlet
- Ponce Inlet
- The Ghetto Pier
- Daytona Beach
#2. Montauk, Long Island, New York
Known to locals as “The End,” Montauk sits at the southeastern tip of Long Island. This quiet fishing town blows up every summer when it turns into a popular coastal escape for city dwellers. The surfers aren’t as laid back in these parts, you’ll find yourself fighting for parking with surfers sipping lattes in their Range Rovers and Tesla SUVs.
The beach break at Ditch Plains beach, to the east of downtown, is a good spot for beginners. Turtles is another popular surf spot in the area. Because it gets so crowded here, your best bet is to come on a weekday as opposed to the weekend.
The waves are raw and intense, as swells are sucked in from the east, west, and south. There are reef and point options in the vicinity, so at least you can skip out on hitting sandbar tubes.
Don’t forget your wetsuit! The average water temperature is 55°F, but can dip as cold as 35°F in the winter. Brrr!
#3. Kitty Hawk, Outer Banks, North Carolina
This surfing paradise has been coined the East Coast’s “blue-ribbon surf destination.” The surf here is especially sweet in late summer and early fall, as tropical weather patterns keep the Atlantic waters ripping and churning.
Kitty Hawk has the most reliable surf in the area, although there are other surf spots nearby, including Kill Devil Hills and Cape Hatteras.
Average water temperatures range between 77 and 82°F in the summer, and 52 to 61°F in the winter. Ocean waters can reach lower temperatures after periods of heavy rain or on-shore winds. But if you have a solid wetsuit, you can surf here almost all year.
#4. Manasquan, New Jersey
Due to the jetty and sandbar at this beach, you’ll find the longest and most hollow waves around. As a result, only expert surfers should attempt to surf here during large swells. This is a popular spot for locals and tourists, so it can get crowded on days with nice weather.
The average water temperatures peak between 72 and 75°F in the summer. In the winter, water temperatures dip down to 34 to 39°F.
Best West Coast Surf Spots
#1. San Diego, California
San Diego has a lot of surfer-approved beaches, albeit, some are better than others. Water temperatures average around 75°F, but reach as cool as 50-60°F in the winter. With a wetsuit, you can comfortably surf in SD all year.
Some of the best beaches for surfing in San Diego include:
Black’s Beach is a great spot for more experienced surfers. It is known to produce some of the best waves around. Come prepared to hike down a cliff to reach the beach. Don’t sweat the cliff; if you are fit enough to ride waves, it shouldn’t be a big deal.
La Jolla Shores Beach is a great surf spot for beginners. The waves here are reliable, and suited to surfers of all levels.
Windansea, located south of downtown La Jolla, is largely dominated by locals. Only the most experienced surfers should trust themselves to navigate the waves as they vary with the tides. This is a favorite surf spot in the winter.
Pacific Beach is super laid back and home to a younger crowd than La Jolla. There are endless things to do around the beach, from grabbing coffee at a local co-op to dancing the night away at a beachside bar. You’re sure to work up an appetite riding waves, so make sure to hit up one of the local Mexican taco shops after. It’s hard to find better Mexican food anywhere else in the US.
#2. Orange County, California
Orange County offers a lot of great surf spots and is just a short drive up the freeway from San Diego. Orange County, known as “The OC,” is a serious surfing hot spot, and for good reason. The coast takes in swells from most directions, meaning there are always fun waves to ride. Waters range between 64 and 72°F in the summer, and 55 to 61°F in the winter.
Some of the best beaches for surfing in the OC include:
Huntington Beach sits on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), and is the unofficial surf spot of CA. The Pier is often populated with fierce and competitive surfers, but the coastline stretches out for miles. If you move away from the Pier you can find some quieter spots to surf.
San Onofre is a classic surf spot located on the outskirts of Orange County, just outside of San Diego. Thanks to its smaller waves, it is perfect for beginners.
Lower Trestles is part of a larger stretch of surf breaks that are collectively called “Trestles.” Located in an undeveloped area, between Orange County and San Diego, it is beautiful, serene, and largely untouched. It can get crowded here though, so plan accordingly.
#3. Zuma Beach, Los Angeles
Zuma beach is located at the north end of Malibu. It offers clear waters and great waves. Beginners and intermediate surfers tend to have the best luck with these waves. Ocean waters in Los Angeles range around 58°F in the winter, and 68°F in the summer.
#4. Devil’s Punchbowl State Park, Otter Rock, Oregon
As you work your way up the West Coast, the waters get colder and the surf less ideal, but if you remember your wet suit, the waters at Devil’s Punchbowl State Park can still offer a lot of fun. Ocean waters in Oregon average 50°F in the winter, and 56°F in the summer.
This large beach is known to locals as “Waikiki of Oregon.” If you grew up in Oregon, this is probably where you learned how to surf. Just don’t get caught here during a storm, when the water aggressively whirls around, as if in a Devil’s Punchbowl, and slams against the surrounding rocks.
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