Visiting North County San Diego and looking to surf? Watch out! What might start as a vacation activity can easily turn into a lifestyle. Next thing you know you will be saying, “Meet me at Nautical Bean Coffee Company at 6AM for Dawn Patrol” (surf lingo for surfing at sunrise). We will get more into surf lingo later, first things first, what board did you pack?
If the board under your arm, or on the roof of your car, is soft and squishy, that’s called a foamboard or a foamie. We will probably try to find an uncrowded wave to give you plenty of space. Ideally a wave that breaks a little slower as we learn to catch waves and understand how the lineup works.
If you have a short board (typically a board under 7-foot in length), fantastic! You are likely thinking about surfing something a little faster and challenging, or looking for a good peak to rip.
If your board requires an 8-foot perimeter to maneuver on land and takes some effort to carry, I’m going to assume we’re longboarding this morning. Either way, it’ll be awesome, and there’s some great spots to check along the coast for a nice, cruisy day.
If the above board lengths sound are totally foreign to you, no worries. If you’re already familiar with the variety of boards out there and I happened to miss yours, don’t worry, bring it along and we can find a wave for you too. If you’re stressing about us sharing a secret spot, leave the location in the comments and we will be sure to tell our friends not to surf there.
Now that we’ve determined your wave riding machine, let’s hit the road!
Oceanside Surf Spots
Surfing in Oceanside is great all year around. From beginner to pro, there’ll be a wave and a peak for us to surf together. Depending on your craft, we can find enjoyment at the North Jetty all the way to Cassidy Street, and many places in between to park and paddle out. We’re probably going to see a bit more shortboards in Oceanside and some high-performance fish boards. Occasionally you will see a ripper on a longboard.
The Oceanside Harbor and the Oceanside Pier are the two most popular spots, and with all things popular, some waiting in the lineup is usually expected. I would say if you are not ready to compete for waves, are plenty of other breaks to look at along Oceanside’s three miles of coastline. Let’s see what looks good further south across the lagoon and head over the Carlsbad.
Carlsbad Surf Spots
As we head down the 101, cross the lagoon separating Oceanside and Carlsbad, and through the roundabout, we have now entered Carlsbad!
Carlsbad has over 7 miles of coastline (double that of Oceanside) and many surf spots to choose from. Typically the popular surf spots will be the ones easily accessible by car.
One of the more popular surf spots in Carlsbad is going to be Tamarack Beach, located at the end of Tamarack Ave off of Carlsbad Boulevard. Here there is a beach break and easy parking in the paid California State Parking lot (a bonus if you have the California Parks Pass).
Along Carlsbad Blvd we’re going to be following the coastline and should have a pretty good view of the waves. If you see a wave break along the drive that you want to explore, it’s easy to find parking and take one of the access staircases down for some fun surf. This stretch of beach usually favors a board with some volume and speed, so that fish you packed should be perfect. Let’s bring down the foamie and longboard too, as it looks fun for all of them.
As we drive past the old power plant and climb the hill, we’re going to see a lot of longboards and Sprinter vans. This is called Terramar, and it’s the place to be if we’re looking for long rides and a predictable wave offering lots of room to move and wiggle. Popular with locals around high-tide, this reef break gets a lot of action, particularly around sunrise and sunset. We manage two vacation rentals with easy access to this reef break, the oceanfront home Shore Drive and a few blocks from the beach Hacienda Terramar. In case you need a place to crash!
The next spot we’ll see as the highway turns back toward the coast is going to give us some shortboarding options and some fun waves at a location called Turnarounds. If we’re surfing near the cliffs, use caution and see what others are doing before we go. There are some well-established trails along the cliffs, so we will stick to those. Remember, going down we will be dry, but coming back up we will be wet. Ever run in the mud barefoot? I haven’t either, but I imagine it’s slippery so let’s watch others and do as they do when traversing the cliffs.
As we meander through Carlsbad, we’re going to keep seeing little turn outs and surf spots, and they all offer some variety and fun. The last easily accessible spot before Leucadia is Ponto Beach, distinguishable by the two rock jetties. There’s usually parking off the highway, or a California State Parks parking lot right before the hotel. This wave can be challenging and has some good surfers, so be mindful if you’re not confident about your level and ability. When in doubt, don’t go out. (Surfline Travel Guide)
Leucadia Surf Spots
As the highway breaks away from the coast and bends slightly inland, we’re now entering funky Leucadia. This is a great town to explore and hang around in. Maybe we can grab a donut at Leucadia Donut Shoppe as we make our way to Grandview Beach. Surfing in Leucadia takes some time. First, we will need to navigate the streets and parking to the most infamous spots, Grandview and Beacons. Both waves offer something for every level, and we’ll see the boards get a little longer, a little wider, and a little more colorful.
Encinitas Surf Spots
Encinitas has a beach for everyone. If we want to shortboard, when we first drive to Moonlight and D Street, where the beach breaks offer up some fun waves. If we can keep walking along the cliffs and we may find a space with a little less of a crowd.
The best kept secret that everyone knows about is called Swamis. There’s a parking lot there and ample street parking and depending on the day and size of the surf, we’ll see every type of surfboard ever crafted. Swamis will have something for everyone and most of the time the wave is very user friendly. As always, be mindful of your ability. (Surfline Travel Guide)
Cardiff Surf Spots
Once we pass Swamis heading south on the 101, we’ll be entering Cardiff. Cardiff is a cool beach town with great places to eat, and home to my favorite campground. To the north we’ll be able to surf Pipes, which is a great wave to explore and build up some confidence. Just after the campground is Cardiff Reef. This wave will be dominated by longboards and surfcraft meant for the long, slopey walls. The playing field is big here and we can find a lot of space to practice surfing on the inside whitewash all the way to the peak depending on your skill level.
Just after Cardiff reef we will see some sand dunes and a very picturesque area. This stretch of the beach can offer up some fun waves that’ll give us a bit more high-performance surfing and enough room to feel alone at times. Right before we enter Solana Beach we will see the last parking lot full of family vans, surf vans, trucks, cars, and maybe even something you’ve never seen before. The main break out front is Seaside Reef. This wave can become competitive when it’s good, and it’s good a lot of the time. This break has a strong crew of locals, so be respectful of them, the lineup, and know your ability before paddling out.
Solana Beach Surf Spots
As we near the end of this morning drive and head into Solana Beach, you’ll notice it takes a little more creativity to see the surf. The main beach here is Fletchers Cove, and it offers some great waves for all skill levels and is located along some beautiful bluffs. Great for a beach day and bringing the family. There are several other public access walkways in Solana Beach and they can lead you to some very fun surf, but you’ll have to find them, which is part of the adventure.
Well, by now the coffee is gone and we’ve driven the coastline in North County. What do you say we find the first spot that looks empty and paddle out?
Here are some helpful sites to help you save you money on gas while you seek out your North County San Diego surf spot.