Perhaps not as American as things like apple pie or Walmart, surfing still has its place in the hearts and minds of many who hail from the land of the free. There is nothing like harnessing the forces of Nature to do something incredible, and whether you’ve never tried surfing or have been doin’ it since you were barely out of diapers, surfing is a pretty darn incredible feat. You’re throwing yourself down the face of a wave of moving water and trying not to fall off—easier said than done—all while maneuvering a strange fiberglass board and keeping balanced. As a famous surfer once said, that’s pretty gnarly, bro. Here are 30 of the best surf spots in the USA.
30. The Wall, New Hampshire
Of all the US states that lie on either the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, New Hampshire is the one with the least amount of coastline—just 18 miles. But even with very little exposure to an ocean swell, New Hampshire’s beaches pack a decent punch for surfing. The Wall is the pick of the lot, and especially during late summer when a hurricane is barreling in off the Atlantic, waves can get pretty good here. Just remember to bring a wetsuit!
29. Salmon Creek, California
Northern California is usually not the first place that comes to mind when surfers daydream about surfing this state’s legendary beaches. That’s good news for you though, because it means a whole lot more waves to yourself. The bad news is that the water is real chilly year-round, the currents here can suck you under if you do not know what you’re doing, and it is not uncommon to see man-eating Great White sharks trawling the waters for their dinner. They prefer seals, but probably wouldn’t say no to a piece of you.
28. Yakutat, Alaska
Alaska! Really, Alaska? Yes, in fact, you can surf in Alaska. Of course, you have to be a diehard surfer to ever consider donning a wetsuit (the thickest one you have) and grabbing your longboard. Hazards of surfing in Yakutat, an isolated and gorgeous community halfway between Juneau and Anchorage, include hypothermia and potentially hitting stray ice bergs. On the other hand, the views of Mt. Elias and the surrounding snow-capped mountains are beautiful to the point of surreal and the air and water are clean as can be. It can’t hurt to dip your toe into the water and take your board for a ride or two. To see more incredible pictures of Yakutat click here.
27. The Zoo, Michigan
Somewhere in Michigan’s desolate Upper Peninsula is a place called The Zoo. It’s unclear if The Zoo is just one beach or a series of them in one place or another along the southern shores of the vast Lake Superior, but wherever it is, the waves here can get pretty awesome. Like most lakeshore breaks, The Zoo is best surfed when there’s a storm brewing and you’ve got some good surf experience under your belt, or are at least completely reckless and throw caution to the (gale-force) wind. But if you can survive the paddle out, by all accounts The Zoo is one of the best freshwater waves you can surf in the USA or anywhere else, for that matter.
26. Ocean Beach, California
Ocean Beach is where local surfers from San Francisco are most likely to go if they want to surf a wave in a pinch—you don’t even need a car, in fact, since the Muni goes all the way across the city. The water here is cold, the currents are strong, and the waves can easily go overhead, especially during the wintertime. Like most of Northern California, you do have to watch out for hungry sharks, but the reward is uncongested beaches, even when there are five foot barrels.
25. Long Beach, Washington
Long Beach, as the name would suggest, offers miles and miles of sandy breaks for anyone brave enough to withstand year-round frigid temperatures. Mostly the beaches here are sandy, so you don’t have to worry about underwater rocks that will snap your board (or you) in half. The waves here won’t get too big, but there are plenty of rip currents, so you probably don’t want to surf here unless you really know what you’re doing.
24. Klamath River, California
Way up in northern California, the Klamath River mouth is one of the best surf spots on the west coast for more experienced surfers. Why do you need to know what you’re doing here? For starters, there’s an extremely strong current, due to the confluence of the river with the driving Pacific Ocean. This means that the barrels here are to die for, but you could literally die—either from drowning, or also because the huge seal colony here, not to mention the salmon runs that happen in autumn are magnets for Great Whites (there are also migratory Gray Whales nearby, but they won’t bother you). Also, this place is deep in Klamath Indian territory, so remember that if you do come out here, respect the locals—this isn’t just a beach to them.
23. Ocean City, Maryland
This boardwalk town is a popular Maryland getaway for residents up and down the mid-Atlantic coast. During late summer it also features some pretty solid waves, especially if there are any storms brewing offshore. The jetties here help to create some decent peaks, and on a big day waves can go overhead. Better yet, the currents coming up from the south mean that you won’t freeze your buns off. But this is the East Coast—so you’re not looking at year-round surf here, just something to do between July and October.
22. Cape Kiwanda, Oregon
Cape Kiwanda is one of those surf spots that is about the scene outside of the water as much as it is about the waves you catch. While the waves here can get pretty big (up to 15’ during a heavy swell), it’s the surf shop—run by longtime local Bob Ledbetter—in nearby Pacific City (which is anything but city-sized) that is just as much of an attraction as the waves themselves. With an idyllic, laid-back vibe and a surf tournament in August that attracts plenty of big West Coast names, Cape Kiwanda is the real deal for surfing, as long as you bring a wetsuit, of course.
21. S Turns, North Carolina
Ask any die-hard surfer where the best surfing on the East Coast can be found and they are more than likely to tell you a break somewhere along North Carolina’s famed Outer Banks. With close to 300 miles of pristine sandy beaches and a front row seat directly in the path of the best swells that the Atlantic has to offer, you can surf in the Outer Banks almost year-round. S Turns is by most estimations the pick of a generous lot of beaches to surf at in North Carolina.
20. Windansea, California
Windansea is a one of San Diego’s best-kept secrets, the sort of place you do not step in the water unless you are an old pro or have a buddy who goes out there. Known as much for an unforgiving reef as it is for aggressive locals, the payoff at Windansea—assuming you do not get your butt kicked by either the local surfers or the reef itself—is a gorgeous, peaky wave that holds shape up to overhead. Especially in winter, Windansea is a gorgeous challenge for any experienced surfer.
19. Narragansett, Rhode Island
The Ocean State may be small, but it has a ton of shoreline thanks to the many inlets and rivermouths dotting the coast. Out of all of these beaches, perhaps the best is Narragansett, which is well known for being gentle on beginners. Another great reason to pay a visit to ‘Gansett is because the local brewery here, Narragansett Beer, makes some of the easiest drinking suds in the Northeast. Not to mention the legendary ‘Gansett Girls, the beer brand’s famous pinups who have landed this coastal enclave on the map. Beers, babes, and most of all, great waves: How could Narragansett not be one of the best surf spots in the USA??
18. Silver Strand, California
The beaches of Ventura County, just north of Los Angeles, are sometimes overlooked thanks to their more famous sisters to the south in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties. However, Silver Strand beach, which abuts a couple of huge jetties and is opposite the Channel Islands, can go head to head with pretty much any other break in Southern California. Powerful waves and long barrels characterize the waves here, and while the locals have been known to make things tough for visiting surfers, you can’t really blame them for wanting this world-class break to themselves.
17. Cocoa Beach, Florida
This beach would otherwise be more remarkable for its proximity to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, except that the undisputed best surfer in the world, Kelly Slater, grew up here and learned how to surf on the gentle waves here at Cocoa Beach. Yes, I’ll say that again: Kelly Slater. The guy who brought surfing into the mainstream, gave it a face that could market to the public—he learned how to surf here. So don’t stick your nose up at Cocoa Beach; if it was good enough for the world’s greatest surfer, no doubt it’s good enough for you.
16. La Jolla Shores, California
La Jolla Shores, just north of downtown San Diego, is a great place to learn how to surf without worrying about what will happen when you inevitably take off too early, or too late, and end up with a face full of whitewater. The waves here never get much bigger than two or three feet during the summer, there’s a sandy bottom here so you will not have to fret about breaking your neck, plus there are tons of good looking people getting their tan on to keep your mind on other things while you try and conquer the waves.
15. Swamis, California
Swamis is famous for its perennially hollow right-handed breaks, and especially during the winter storm season can hold up to triple overhead height better than just about any other wave in Southern California. The currents are not too bad and the wave breaks within a reasonable distance from shore, which means that the paddle out will not tire you out too much like at other beaches. Swamis is definitely a great place to go if you want to take your surfing skills to the next level.
14. Wilderness, Puerto Rico
You might not think of Puerto Rico as a major surf destination, but it’s one of the top places in the Caribbean to catch a wave—in fact, probably one of the best spots in the USA to surf. Wilderness is one of those wild places where you’ve got to be quick on your feet and smart on your board. The reef here is punishing to those who fall in, but your reward for charging a wave here and staying upright is a beautiful, beautiful ride.
13. Laguna Beach, California
Perhaps made more famous by the MTV show of the same name, Laguna Beach is a quality wave in one of the most beautiful—and ritzy—surfing spots in America. Waves here are especially solid during the winter months, when a big swell easily stacks waves over 6 feet+, and the reef at Laguna Beach is a great place to surf some beautiful left handers when the timing is right. The only thing to remember is you might want to bring your own lunch, because nothing in Laguna Beach is cheap, especially not by the beach!
12. Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Cape Cod is most notable as being a place where the rich and famous go to enjoy a week or two of relaxing sand and sun in their Walmart-sized mansions, but do not be fooled: there are some gnarly waves to be had here. One of the best beaches to get absolutely pitted on the East Coast can be found at Marconi Station—famous in its own right for being the site of the first trans-Atlantic cable message—and if the swells are right and you’ve got the guts, there are some beautiful hollow waves here to catch.
11. Hanalei Bay, Hawaii
Hanalei Bay offers an embarrassing assortment of riches to those who surf. Arguably the best area for surfing on the island of Kauai, Hanalei Bay has something for everyone, no matter what your skillset. Breaks with names such as Impossible and The Bowl are for speedy, agile surfers, while Pinetrees break has some of the most consistent walls to surf on the island. If you’re up for it, you can even do a tow-in at nearby Kings and Queens.
10. Banyans, Hawaii
Banyans is probably the most popular beach for surfing on the Big Island, and that is not an accident. It features beautifully hollow rights during the winter season and shorter, aggressive lefts during the summer. The only catch, of course, is that like many local favorites, catching a wave here if you’re not from the ‘hood will probably prove to be impossible. But you can still try!
9. Newport Beach (The Wedge), California
Not too far from high-end Laguna Beach is equally prestigious Newport Beach, which is famous for the steep and aggressive Wedge. Positioned against a jetty, the Wedge is maybe one of the best artificially-created waves that has ever been built by man. It’s steep, rolling waves have been known to break boards (and occasionally necks) and you really have to know what you’re doing out there. But for anyone with some decent sized huevos and the skills to back them up, The Wedge is one of the top spots for surfing in not only California, but the entire country.
8. San Onofre, California
San Onofre is unique for a Southern California beach because unlike anywhere else between the stretch of coast from the Mexican border up until Malibu, there is basically no one here. This is no doubt because of the nuclear power plant which was online for the better part of three decades in north San Diego County. No one wanted to be too close in case the plant here—which was crudely nicknamed after a certain pair of appendages unique to the female anatomy—had a meltdown. Fortunately, those days are over and now the plant is online. Not that a little bit of radiation ever scared away the surfers here; San Onofre has been surfed for many decades, allegedly in part because the normally frigid Pacific Ocean was never quite as cold within the vicinity of the power plant. I wonder why?
7. Haleiwa, Hawaii
This break on Oahu’s North Shore is great because it offers something for both hard-charging veterans and beginners who have less experience. The offshore break has seen some of Hawaii’s best tackle the lightning-fast waves and brave the punishingly aggressive riptide. Closer to shore, the waves that reform are much gentler and great for beginners to practice on.
6. Trestles, California
Near San Clemente, Trestles Beach is one of the best surfing beaches on the West Coast and has hosted multiple pro surfing tour events. The waves here are consistently shaped, with just the right combination of swells, wind, and current keeping things the right height and form to do some pretty crazy things on them with a surfboard. Along with the friendly locals and gorgeous mountain backdrop, Trestles is a great place to come surfing and live the California dream.
5. Waimea Bay, Hawaii
THE big wave spot on Oahu’s mythical North Shore, the only reason you should ever come out here is if you’re willing to go into the belly of the beast in search of 20 ft+ giants that will punish you if you make even the smallest mistake. The currents are super strong, the shallow reef below will tear you to shreds should you fall in, and even the shorebreak is not to be messed with. But Waimea is high on this list for a reason: for those who know what they’re doing, rarely will there ever be a wave more thrilling to ride. There is a reason that the Eddie, one of surfing’s most fabled tournaments, only happens at Waimea.
4. Jaws, Hawaii
The most intense, mind-blowing, and sheer breathtaking waves ever surfed anywhere in the USA, ever, have been surfed here. Jaws is the undisputed biggest wave you can surf in Hawaii, and also the most famous break that Maui has to offer. It is probably not a good idea to surf here unless you have years of experience surfing or are otherwise compelled to kill yourself in the most spectacular fashion possible: if you wipe out on Jaws, you can expect to have a wall of water literally the size of two houses crush you to the bottom, pummel you for hundreds of feet and toss what’s left of you onto the slippery rocks on Peahi beach. Sounds good?
3. Maverick’s, California
It doesn’t get any bigger, badder, and more intense than Maverick’s, the legendary break at Half Moon Bay near San Francisco. The combination of frigid Pacific currents, deadly rip tide, occasional shark siting, and jagged rocks should you get thrown off your board make for a menacing wave that only the best and bravest have ever conquered. Maverick’s has claimed a fair share of lives before—it’s the kind of wave that should be respected, but if you have what it takes it makes for the ride of your life.
2. Huntington Beach, California
There can only be one Surf City, USA, and it happens to be Huntington Beach, in Orange County, California. The combination of beach boardwalk, tanned fit bodies galore, a long pier, and plenty of great bars and other nightlife in the vicinity make it a great place to visit. And, oh yeah, the waves are pretty good here, too. The US Open of Surfing usually happens in Huntington Beach during the last week of July and runs into August, attracting many of the world’s best surfers and putting on a show for all who attend.
1. Pipeline, Hawaii
Arguably the most famous and coveted of all Hawaiian beaches, Pipeline has seen the world’s best surfers—not to mention the people who invented the sport—surfing its legendarily hollow waves for centuries. For its beautiful barrels, its gorgeous turquoise water, and equally treacherous reef lurking just under the surface—there can be no pleasure without pain—Pipeline is the best spot for surfing in the USA.