One need only attempt to find a parking spot along a popular beach to see that surfing and the RV life go hand-in-hand. Each year, hundreds of avid surfers hit the road in their camper vans and motor homes with the intention of chasing down the best waves on the continent.
Below, we’ve highlighted the 30 most epic surfing destinations in North America. We’ve tried to feature something for everyone. While some surf spots are ideal for novice surfers, others are better left to the pros. Some are best surfed during the summer months, while others come alive during the winter. Despite their differences, those who love the thrill of the ocean are sure to find something exciting on our list. We’ve even included epic surf spots in the Caribbean and Central America, regions frequently considered to be part of the North American continent.
Baja Norte, Mexico
According to Surfline’s profile on it, Baja Malibu “can be THE SPOT when everything aligns.” Known for its long stretch of beach, long-period North-West swells, and serious mega peaks, Baja Malibu is ideal for surfers intermediate to pro levels. The crowds can get a bit intense here, as it’s a popular spot for American surfers looking to escape the San Diego beaches. Still, on the right day and under the right conditions, Baja Malibu is worth the effort.
Known simply as “Pipeline,” this surf spot on the North Shore of Oahu is arguably the world’s most famous. It’s also the world’s deadliest. But don’t let that scare you off. Intermediate-level surfers are a staple at Pipeline, as three- to four-foot swells remain the most common type of waves to come through. Still, when Pipeline is big, it’s big! The biggest waves can be caught during the winter, when storms from the North Pacific create massive barrel waves that hit the North Shore. Pipeline is a favorite for locals, amateurs, and pros alike, and there are three different sections to surf. The dangerous area known as First Reef is characterized by waves that break in 3-5 feet of water, but is also where Pipeline’s famous cylindrical waves are most likely to occur. Second Reef is also known for its round, barrel-shaped waves, though these one can get up to 18 feet. Finally, the biggest swells occur at Third Reef, which can be found about 100 feet offshore.
La Jolla, California
The secret to Black’s Beach’s appeal is the deep-water canyon formed by earthquakes affecting the Rose Canyon fault line. The underwater canyon intensifies the swell energy until the resulting waves create what has been described as “a perfect, hollow left.” Waves at Black’s Beach can shape up to about 15 feet, and challenging “canyon sets” of big and inconsistent waves are common. As epic as it is, Black’s Beach is probably best left to the pros.
Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
Cape Hatteras, North Carolina is home to some of the most consistent wave action found anywhere on the East Coast. This makes this Outer Banks hotspot a go-to for surfers of all ability levels. One of the major geographical features which explain Cape Hatteras’ epic surf is the continental shelf, which drops off out to sea just beyond the Cape. This ensures waves retain much of their power when they break here.
San Diego, California
Like so many other epic surfing destinations, Cortes Bank is not for the faint of heart. Located well off shore in mile-deep ocean, Cortes Bank waves break on the shallow(ish) Bishop Rock. The size, length, and speed of the breaks vary dramatically, though waves can run as far as a half-mile wide. Because Cortes Bank is located so far from land, getting good conditions here is extremely important.
San Francisco, California
The first of two San Francisco spots to make our list of epic surfing destinations is Fort Point. Fort Point breaks in the cold waters right under the Golden Gate, near the rockiest part of the coast and in a favorite hang-out spot for Great White sharks. Still, Fort Point always seems to be crowded, as surfers are drawn from all over to experience the hollow left-swinging waves. But like so many other Northern California surfing destinations, Fort Point is best left to more experienced surfers, as the Golden Gate Strait can be intense, in addition to the many other dangers lurking here.
Yet another epic surfing destination on the Hawaiian island of Oahu is Haleiwa. Located along the island’s North Shore, Haleiwa’s picture-perfect waves are the result of the reefs located just offshore, and which are cut through with deep channels. On one hand, these channels create strong rip tides and what has been described as a “conveyer belt” of waves. On the other hand, it also means a sharp smackdown for wave riders with less experience.
Surfers from all over head to Hanalei Bay in the winter for big waves characterized by powerful right turns. Located on the island of Hawaii, Hanalei was made famous by Bruce and Andy Irons, and then dozens of other elite surfers. Fortunately, one doesn’t have to be a pro to enjoy what Hanalei has to offer. Further inside Hanalei Bay, in an area known as “Pine Trees,” there are much smaller waves suitable for novices and intermediate surfers. Just be wary of the locals — Hanalei Bay is a favorite hangout for hammerheads and tiger sharks.
The North Shore of Oahu has lots of epic surf spots, but some of the biggest waves ever ridden in Hawaii have been in the spot known as Himalayas. This aptly named surfing destination is the “epitome of big wave, heavy water surfing a long way from shore.” Needless to say, this one is best left to the pros.
Honolua Bay can be fickle, but when conditions are just right, it’s absolutely epic. An extremely popular surfing spot on the island of Maui, Honolua is known for its cliffs, powerful surf, sharp volcanic rocks, and prickly local urchin population. Surfers come from all over to brave Honolua, and are usually rewarded with textbook waves and good, fun competition.
If you’re wondering how and why Maui’s “Jaws” got its name, that would be because of the jutting, rugged cliffs which characterize this epic surfing destination. They’ve chewed up a fair number of boards over the years. A 12-foot wave is small at Jaws, so not surprisingly, this one is best left to the uber-experienced. In fact, pros like Laird Hamilton and Shane Dorian are regulars here. Jaws’ big waves can be explained by the fact that waves tend to break about a half-mile from shore, thereby promising long runs and good speed.
Kill Devil Hills
Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
North Carolina has dozens of surf-worthy beaches, and one of the best of these is Kill Devil Hills. This small town beach is ideal during the summer months, when the ocean offers up a nice mix of waves suitable for surfers of all skills levels. Indeed, many would-be wave riders come to Kill Devil Hills to learn to surf. Still, there’s enough here to offer even the most experienced.
La Saladita is a surf-tourist’s dream destination. This isolated beach town draws surfers from all over, and a stay here consists of almost literally going to sleep to the sound of waves, then waking up, heading out the front door, and straight into the water. La Saladita offers novice and intermediate surfers comfy breaks that make for long rides. If the laid-back surf culture of the “town” isn’t enough to entice, then perhaps the consistent wave action and long, moon-shaped beach will do the trick.
Half Moon Bay, California
Imagine waves that routinely reach 25 feet in height, and which crash so hard they are recorded on a seismometer. This is Mavericks. Located about 35 minutes from San Francisco, Mavericks is one of the most, if not the most, dangerous breaks on Earth. Sharks, frigid temperatures, and a rocky seafloor are just a few of the thrills awaiting those brave enough to take on Mavericks. Of course, these “thrills” are also what make this surf destination so epic. Each year, Half Moon Bay hosts the Mavericks Invitational, a surfing competition that attracts the best in the world. The Invitational is epic to watch, too. It’s also worth noting that Mavericks has claimed the lives of at least two pro surfers, Sion Milosky and Mark Foo.
Long Island, New York
Most of the popular East Coast surfing destinations offer one thing: either big waves or small waves, with little variety. Montauk is an exception. This trendy surf town on Long Island offers quite the variety of surf breaks, plus a number of great beaches at which to surf. One of the most popular beaches is Ditch Plains Beach, while nearby Montauk Point offers wintertime swells that are just as epic as they are frigid.
Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Tamarindo may very well be Costa Rica’s premiere surf town, and Naranjo Beach its premiere surfing destination. Playa Naranjo is characterized by a giant rock jutting out of the water. This massive geological feature is Witch’s Rock, and despite its scary name, it helps create all kinds of fun waves appropriate for surfers of all ability levels. Surfers familiar with Witch’s Rock and Naranjo Beach suggest surfing at high tide.
New Smyrna Beach
New Smyrna, Florida
New Smyrna Beach in New Smyrna, Florida is almost always included on lists of the best surfing spots in America. The reason for this is simple: waves roll in consistently. Indeed, it’s quite possibly the most consistent break in all of Florida, making it the ideal place for leisurely surfers or beginners. A group of diehard locals has a permanent claim on the main peak along the jetty, but that’s okay, there’s plenty of room down the beach.
San Francisco, California
Surfing Ocean Beach in San Francisco is not for the faint of heart. There’s the incessant wind and the frigid cold waters, powerful rip currents and swells coming from every angle. Still, when Ocean Beach is good, it’s good. But the wind has to be blowing in just the right direction, the tide must be perfect, and the swell can be neither too big nor too small. Don’t attempt Ocean Beach unless you can count yourself among the surfing elite.
Ocean City Beach
Ocean City, New Jersey
Ocean City may be best known for its quintessential Jersey Shore vibe and its classic boardwalk, but this coastal town is also home to one of the most epic surfing destinations in North America. Ocean City Beach has waves for novice and advanced surfers alike. The waves here are about as consistent as they come, which has contributed to the fact that many of the best surfers in the world got their starts right here in New Jersey.
Popoyo is actually the name of the sleepy little surf town on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast. Fortunately for the most avid surfers, Popoyo is still relatively underrated, thanks in part to the less-than-clear route to town (oh, and those pesky travel warnings currently surrounding Nicaragua). Intermediate surfers will find plenty to keep them entertained closer to shore, where a sand-covered peaked reef creates a fun selection of rights and lefts. Meanwhile, more advanced surfers can head about 400 feet out, where an outer reef promises some really big waves.
Surfing at Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca remains a major bucket list item for avid surfers. Not only is this quintessential surfing town credited as the birthplace of the sport in Mexico, it is also home to the “Mexican Pipeline” known as La Zicatela. Get to Puerto Escondido at just the right time — during a swell or when the winds are blowing in from the south — and you’ll be greeted with some of the heaviest waves on Earth. Indeed, the sound of waves crashing here have been compared to the blowing up of hand grenades. Not surprisingly, La Zicatela is not for the newbies. Puerto Escondido’s ever-changing sandbar ensures crazy, ever-changing waves that should be reserved for the pros.
Puerto Rico’s warm waters attract surfers from all over the world, and especially from some of North America’s colder climates. Rincon, located along the island’s western shores, is a quintessential surf town with hostels, yoga studios, and surf shops. Oh, and amazing waves. There are multiple beaches in Rincon that are ideal for surfers of all ability levels. Novices will love beaches like Parking Lots and Sandy Beach, while more experienced surfers can take on bigger, more challenging waves at beaches such as Pools, Indicators, and Maria’s.
Newport, Rhode Island
Don’t be fooled by the cute and cuddly name. Ruggles is for the big timers. Located in the picturesque and incredibly upscale coastal town of Newport, Rhode Island, Ruggles is known for its big waves that routinely reach 20 feet. Even if you don’t have the guts to get in the water, head out to Ruggles during hurricane season, when the crazy and brilliant take on the really serious waves.
Melbourne Beach, Florida
Sebastian Inlet State Park is arguably the epicenter of competitive surfing on the East Coast. Known for its stunning natural beauty and amplified swells, Sebastian Inlet is extremely popular among surfers both local and otherwise. In fact, a young Kelly Slater reportedly frequented Sebastian Inlet as an up-and-coming competitive surfer. Speaking of competition, a number of annual events are held here each year, and promise an exciting time for surfers and spectators alike.
Soup Bowl — or Bathsheba Rock, as it’s officially called — can be found in the warm waters of Barbados in the Caribbean. Here, surfers will find thick right-hand reef breaks that are as fun as they are challenging. Furthermore, Soup Bowl ranks as one of legendary surfer Kelly Slater’s three favorite places to catch a wave. If that doesn’t tell you something about Soup Bowl’s overall level of epic-ness, then we don’t know what will.
Santa Cruz, California
Surfers have been riding waves at Steamer Lane since the 1940s, a fact which goes a long way in explaining why Santa Cruz is such an international surfing hot spot. Known for its rocky coastline and nearby lighthouse (which now houses the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum), Steamer Lane consists of four parts:
- The Slot
- Middle Peak
- The Point
There’s also an experts-only surfing zone called Third Reef located just beyond the Lane. Fun fact: it was at Steamer Lane that surfer Jack O’Neill both lost his eye and developed the modern surfing wetsuit and leash, the latter a result of the Lane’s rocky coast constantly chewing up boards.
Surely with a name like Surfer’s Point, it should come as no surprise that Surfer’s Point is included on our list of the most epic surfing destinations in North America. Located on the Caribbean island of Barbados, Surfer’s Point offers wave riders stunning turquoise waters and enough wave variety to satisfy both newbies and pros. While you’re watching for just the right wave, be sure to keep your eye out for the sea turtles who love to frequent Surfer’s Point, too.
Officially Malibu Lagoon State Beach, but better known as Surfrider Beach, this Southern California beach has long been known as a surfer’s paradise. Indeed, in 2010 it was dubbed the very first World Surfing Reserve. Surfers have been coming to Surfrider Beach since the 1960s to try their skill at the famous right-break that greatly influenced Southern Californian surfing style and culture. Surfrider Beach is known for its smooth-breaking, tapering waves that wave riders come from all over the world to experience.
Vancouver Island, Canada
Tofino can most definitely be called the surf capital of Canada. Okay, so there’s not much competition, but this Vancouver Island-based surfing definition is definitely epic enough to make our list. The Tofino area is ripe with breaks, some of the best being at Cox Bay. Here, swells move south westerly to north westerly, and can really gain some speed and height.
San Clemente, California
Considering San Clemente has produced more pro surfers per capita than any other town or city on Earth, it should come as no surprise that we’ve included Trestles on our list of the most epic surfing destinations in North America. Trestles is actually composed of five different breaks, all of which are known world-wide as “contest-worthy.” From north to south, surfers will find:
Those most familiar with Trestles will tell you that Lowers offers the best opportunities for wave action.