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Best surfing in San Francisco: 7 spots you need to check out

These locations offer some of the best surfing in San Francisco.
By Red Bull Editorial Team
6 min readPublished on
Despite the fact that the ocean temperature rarely reaches more than 60 degrees, Northern California's Bay Area offers some pretty fantastic surfing locations. With waves that appeal to both experienced surfers and beginner surfers alike, there's something for all skill levels when it comes to surfing in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, it's important to know a little about these locations before you go, as some are better suited to advanced surfers. Learn more about these San Francisco area surfing spots:

Best Surfing Spots for Beginners

1. Bolinas

Bolinas, located between Bolinas Lagoon and the Gulf of the Farallones, is split into two sections. For those with longboards, head to The Patch, which is on the right. It's a section of the beach where you'll find the more mellow waves that are a little too long and slow for shortboards. Fortunately, if you go to the left, you'll find The Channel, which is better suited for a shortboard. This is where the ocean and the lagoon meet, creating gentle waves that are perfect for those just learning to surf.
This beach is pretty easy to find, although locals supposedly remove the sign to keep visitors away. Parking can be a problem, though, so get here early to ensure you find a legal parking space on the street.
For those who want to surf this location, keep in mind:
  • This spot is also popular with stand-up paddlers.
  • Surfing is best here at incoming tide.
  • It's a good spot for beginners.

2. Ocean Beach

Finding a great beach to surf that offers ideal conditions for both beginners and experts alike isn't easy. However, you'll find exactly this at Ocean Beach. Consistently good waves and easy parking, thanks to the lots located along the Great Highway, make this an excellent place for visitors and locals alike. Wind in the fall makes for warm and hollow conditions, while waves can get monstrous in the winter. It's another beach with two zones, so surfers of every skill level can find a wave to ride.
A few things to note about Ocean Beach include:
  • It's perfect for beginners as well as intermediates and experts.
  • Fall and winter are the best times to surf here.
  • Waves can reach up to 15 feet high in the winter.

3. Linda Mar Beach

If you head to Pacifica, you'll find Linda Mar Beach. It's located in a large cove, which creates excellent surfing conditions for beginners. Although the weather can change quickly in this part of the Pacific Ocean, you'll usually find larger waves the further north you go. In fact, this beach is practically split into three sections: the south end, the north end, and the middle.
It seems obvious, but the waves really do split themselves this way. The north end is where the more experienced riders hang out, the middle is for intermediate surfers, and the south end has small waves that are perfect for beginners.
Important things to keep in mind about this beach are:
  • It can be clear here when it's foggy elsewhere.
  • Surfing conditions can fluctuate but are typically good for all skill levels.
  • There are restrooms with showers near the parking lot.
  • It's also known as Pacifica State Beach.

4. Princeton Jetty

Princeton Jetty isn't far from Mavericks, but don't let that scare you. The beach break here is perfect for a wide range of skill levels. The Mavericks Beach point protects it on the north side, making it ideal for surfing the south swells or the north swells. Even experienced surfers can find waves to carve up when the conditions are just right. While the waves here aren't exactly challenging, the break is quite short, making it difficult for beginners to stand up.
Anyone who's surfed here will tell you that the hike from the parking lot to the waves is a hefty one, so be prepared. Of course, they'll also tell you that it's well worth it, especially if you have a group with mixed skill levels. The north end of the beach is where the experienced surfers will be, and the easy waters at the south end are perfect for getting a feel for the motions of surfing and being on the board.
A few things to remember about this location are:
  • There's space to spread out.
  • Waves are good for beginner, intermediate, and experienced surfers.
  • It's very popular with locals.
  • Riptides are prevalent but narrow and easy to get out of.

Best Surfing Spots for Intermediate and Advanced Skill Levels

5. Mavericks Beach

World-renowned for its big-wave surfing competition, Mavericks Beach is located about 20 minutes south of San Francisco near Half Moon Bay. It's well-known for being a dangerous place to surf, and the surfers must be invited to participate in the event. The geology of the area creates ideal conditions for big waves. Just under the surface of the water is a rock formation that forces the water through a channel, which results in waves that can reach heights of up to 50 feet.
Mavericks has been surfed by professionals like Jeff Clark, Matt Warshaw, and Grant Washburn. The first woman to ever surf here was Sarah Gerhardt.
Some important things to note about this surfing location are:
  • It should be reserved for advanced surfers.
  • The ideal time to surf is December through February.
  • You'll regularly find rough, dangerous surf.

6. Fort Point

Doesn't surfing with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in the background sound appealing? Well, if you have enough experience, Fort Point is just the place. It consistently features swells of at least 4 to 6 feet high, and riding the left-hand breaks right below the bridge is an unforgettable experience that every surfer should have on their California surf spot bucket list. The views of the Marin Headlands and city skyline are incredible as well, adding another reason to put this place on your must-surf list.
The main complaint from surfers about Fort Point is in regards to the rocks. They're not only slippery because they're always wet, but they're also challenging to maneuver over when carrying a surfboard, especially if you're here around early morning or late evening to catch the good waves.
Other things to note about this location are:
  • It can be unsurfable in the winter.
  • It's good for intermediate and advanced skill levels.
  • Many people consider it to be in the top five most unusual places to surf.

7. Stinson Beach

The conditions at Marin County's Stinson Beach can vary quite a bit, making it more suited to those with at least some surfing experience. This is because each winter, sandbars are moved along the ocean floor, which ultimately changes how waves form, break, and crash. If the swell gets too big, make sure to watch out for strong currents. The largest waves are typically found near the lifeguard tower, but there are plenty of smaller waves to ride in other areas.
When you surf at Stinson Beach:
  • Try to go at high tide for the best conditions.
  • Know that waves can get up to 7 feet tall.
  • It's one of the most popular spots to surf in Northern California.
While you'll find more surf spots in Santa Cruz and further along the coast in Southern California, these locations offer some of the best surfing in San Francisco. If you're new to surfing, contact a local surf shop to find out about taking lessons and getting gear.