The 20 Best Places to Go Surfing in the United States

Day dreams
Melinda Podor / Getty Images

You don’t need to fly to a tropical island to catch some awesome waves. As a newly-added Olympic sport, surfing is attracting more attention than ever before, and newbies and experts are hanging ten across the United States in popular surf breaks, as well as lesser-known beaches and under-the-radar locations.

When you visit a surf town, it’s always smart and courteous to stop by the local surf shops and talk to the owners and other customers about the area's surf scene and etiquette. Ideally, you should follow their recommendations before jumping into the water.

Here is a selection of the top surfing destinations across the country:

01 of 20


Families Spend Thanksgiving Day On The Beach In Delaware
Mark Makela / Getty Images

Coastal Delaware may be an unassuming surf destination, but it offers plenty of fun waves along the shore of several cute towns, including Rehoboth Beach, Dewey, Fenwick Island, and Bethany Beach. Due to the waves crashing close to the shore, Dewey beach is also a global skim boarding hotspot and happens to be the east coast capital for the sport. Rehoboth Beach Surf Boarding School, Dewey Beach Surf & Sport, and Bethany Surf shop are convenient spots for lessons and rentals in the area with experienced instructors. Each of these towns offers golden, sandy beaches and several cafes, bars, and independent shops. If you’re planning a visit, check out the popular “Summer Vibes” festival for some beach fun every August.

Continue to 2 of 20 below.
02 of 20

Atlantic City, New Jersey

Boat on Atlantic City beach
OGphoto / Getty Images

When world-famous surfer and Olympic Gold medalist Duke Kahanamoku, often referred to as “the father of surfing,” visited the mainland United States in the early 1900s, he rode his longboard off the coast of Atlantic City, near the iconic Steel Pier. The beaches here are wide and beautiful—and locals catch waves year-round (especially during winter swells). Beginners can take lessons at AC surf school or with Stacy Surf and Paddle in the nearby town of Margate. Surf shops on the Atlantic City boardwalk include Jersey Devil Surf and Flying Point Surf Shop, near the Hard Rock Hotel and Ocean Casinos.

Continue to 3 of 20 below.
03 of 20

The Rockaways, New York

USA, New York State, Rockaway Beach, Woman carrying surfboard on beach
Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Located a short distance from Manhattan (and commutable on the A Train), The Rockaways in Queens, New York, attracts new and experienced surfers from across the globe. After a devastating hit by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, this legendary beach area was restored and evolved into a major east coast surfing hub with a strong year-round surfing community. Be sure to come prepared in winter with a wet suit (or you can rent one), while summer brings much warmer water temperatures. Afterward, explore the town as there’s plenty of cafes, boutiques, and restaurants steps from the sand. Lessons are found near the beach, and Sierra Surf School is the longest-running surf school in the area.

Continue to 4 of 20 below.
04 of 20

Cocoa Beach, Florida

Rear View Of People With Surfboards Walking At Beach Against Blue Sky On Sunny Day
Steve Burns / EyeEm / Getty Images

Situated about 45 minutes from Orlando on Florida’s “Space Coast,” Cocoa Beach is a renowned surf town that’s home to two of the world’s best surfers (Caroline Marks and Kelly Slater) and a favorite for surfers of all levels. If you’re an experienced surfer, to “first peak” or “second peak” breaks. If you need a few pointers, sign up for lessons at Cocoa Beach Surf Company and Ron Jon Surf Shop, where you can also purchase and rent all of your gear for an awesome day on the beach. Best of all, this family-friend town has lots of activities for everyone. When you’re not in the water, you can stroll the famous Cocoa Beach Pier (and watch surfing, too) or explore the quaint Historic Cocoa Village and its shops, cafes, and galleries.

Continue to 5 of 20 below.
05 of 20

Oahu's North Shore, Hawaii

USA, Hawaii, Surfer at Waimea Bay
John Seaton Callahan / Getty Images

The north shore of Oahu, Hawaii is not only a dreamy destination; it’s home to several world-class surfing competitions each year—and it is hands-down one of the most legendary places for huge winter waves. Each winter (from November to March), the massively large waves at several North Shore beaches—including Banzai Pipeline and other area breaks—draw thousands of spectators and reach over 40-feet high. Even if you aren’t an expert surfer, the waves are worth admiring from the safety of the beach. Visitors who wish to enjoy the north shore during this time of year should be prepared for a lot of traffic! If you’re planning to go, keep in mind that some of these beaches have parking lots and offer limited food options and some basic facilities (picnic areas, showers, and restrooms).

Continue to 6 of 20 below.
06 of 20

Maui, Hawaii

Surfers in Lipoa Point Maui

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

With golden sands and swaying palm trees, the gorgeous islands of Hawaiian are considered the top locations for great surfing, and Maui is no different. Home to the crashing waves of “Jaws” (Pe’ahi) surf break (where many surfing contests are held), the island is a prime destination for surfing enthusiasts of all ages and levels. There are plenty of places that offer excellent surfing around the entire island, but beginners should head to Lahaina, Maui’s busiest town, as there are several surfing schools, and waves are the friendliest for beginners. One favorite is Goofy Foot Surf School. Nearby is Maui Surfer Girls, a highly-rated surfing school that offers classes for adults and kids, along with a surf camp (and lessons are open to everyone, not just for girls and women).

Continue to 7 of 20 below.
07 of 20

Waikiki Beach, Hawaii

Surfing on Waikiki Beach
Howard Kingsnorth / Getty Images

Against the backdrop of the iconic Diamond Head Monument, Waikiki Beach is a world-class surfing destination that draws surfers from all over the world. The long, rolling waves here are ideal for surfers of all levels, and it’s an especially beginner-friendly place to learn because you can catch extremely long, smooth rides, and the water is warm. Best of all, you’ll have a glorious view of this exquisite beach and surrounding hotels and resorts as you surf the famous beaks of Canoes, Queens, Sandbar, and others. And great news! You don’t need to bring a board or even a rash guard to Waikiki—everything is waiting for you on the beach. A top surf school, located on the sand in front of the Royal Hawaiian (and features legendary "beach boy" instructors), is Waikiki Beach Services.

Continue to 8 of 20 below.
08 of 20

Kauai, Hawaii

Green valleys and mountains in Kauai

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Kauai, also known as Hawaii’s “Garden Isle, with its aquamarine water and lush green scenery along the dramatic coastline, is an optimal place for some world-class surfing, much like the other Hawaiian Islands. Although there are many glorious surfing spots here, a favorite beach for beginners and experienced surfers is Poipu Beach, a pleasant location on the island’s sunny side. On the other side of the island is the famous Hanalei Bay, often called the “Crown Jewel of the north shore.” It’s ideal for beginners in the summer, but winter brings larger swells and heavier waves best suited for experts. Check out Kauai Surf School and Poipu Beach Surf School for private and group lessons during your vacation.

Continue to 9 of 20 below.
09 of 20

Huntington Beach, California

Silhouette Pier On Beach Against Sky During Sunset
Ines Heinkel / EyeEm / Getty Images

 Surf City, USA (also known as Huntington Beach) is a top Southern California destination for all things surfing. It’s also home to the must-visit Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum, featuring a small yet impactful collection of surfing exhibits and rare, ocean-related displays. Expert surfers should paddle out by the pier, located in the center of this vibrant town, while groms (“newbies”) can sign up for lessons at several schools in the area where you can also rent or purchase your own board and gear, including Toes on the Nose. There are seven surf breaks here, so you’ll find something for every level of surfer.

Continue to 10 of 20 below.
10 of 20

Coastal Maine

Surfer walking along the beach in Maine during a winter snow storm
Cavan Images / Getty Images

The cold waters of the northeastern United States may appear to be an unlikely locale to find exciting surfing beaches. Still, this wild and dramatic coastline draws passionate surfers of all ages who catch waves throughout the year. Towns such as York and Portland attract surfers who enjoy the winter swells, secluded beaches, and rustic coastal scenery. For a chance to check out some milder waves, it’s best to head to Higgins beach. If you’re visiting Maine during the winter months, don’t forget your wetsuit, hood, and booties—a necessity for cold-water surfing. For rentals, and to purchase your own board, check out Liquid Dreams surf shop and for lessons, go to Surf Camp Maine and Maine Surfers Union.

Continue to 11 of 20 below.
11 of 20

La Jolla, California

Surfers carrying surf board, walking along beach
Corey Jenkins / Getty Images

If you’re looking for SoCal surf culture, the gorgeous coastal town of La Jolla is known across the world for its “Windansea” surf break, a famous wave for seasoned surfers only. It’s a real treat to view the action in the water from the cliffside walkway overlooking the sand. For friendlier and easier surf conditions, it’s best to drive north to La Jolla Shores, a few miles away, as that’s considered especially beginner-friendly. This busy beach has so much to offer out of the water as well—there are boutiques, restaurants, cafes, showers, and restrooms. If you have time, stay late and watch the stunning sunset, too! You can rent gear and take lessons at several surf shops, including Surf Diva.

Continue to 12 of 20 below.
12 of 20

Santa Monica, California

Female surfer running with surfboard
Pete Saloutos / Getty Images

Another legendary SoCal spot is Santa Monica, California, one of the hottest beach destinations in the Los Angeles area. This surfing beach has been known to attract surfers of all levels and has hosted many surfing competitions over the years. It’s also an ideal place to step on a board for the first time, as you’ll immediately get immersed in that SoCal surf culture. Check out Poseidon Surf and Paddle for surfing lessons, where you can rent and purchase gear for all your needs. Afterward, you can check out the Santa Monica Pier or bike to nearby Venice Beach, which is also home to a world-famous skate park, and the stunning Venice canals, where you can explore the town’s unique neighborhood.

Continue to 13 of 20 below.
13 of 20

Outer Banks, North Carolina

Sandy beach and Atlantic Ocean at sunrise, Outer Banks, North Carolina, USA
Rob Huber / Getty Images

The picturesque outer banks of North Carolina are a 200-mile chain of small, scenic barrier islands. With several dreamy beaches and optimal surf spots, this fantastic East Coast surfing destination appeals to beginners and pros alike. There are several great beach towns along the Outer Banks, and each has its own personality and vibe (with plenty of things to do, too). Although surfing conditions change here frequently depending on the season, a few of the more well-known beaches with relatively consistent surfing spots include Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, Avon and Duck. Adults and kids can sign up for lessons at Hatteras Island Surf and Sail.

Continue to 14 of 20 below.
14 of 20

South Padre Island, Texas

Follow the Light
WadeDunkin / Getty Images

South Padre Island in Texas is an all-time favorite place to catch a wave in the Lone Star state and has many long-time fans who return year after year for some beach time fun. Located on the Gulf Coast, about three hours south of Corpus Christi, this waterfront destination features consistent waves year-round (due to a shorter and deeper ocean shelf) and is known for some larger breaks. Beginner to advanced levels can step onto boards here, too, as there are more than enough gentle swells and heavy breaks for all—and the vibe is friendly. Plus, there are many fun activities in this beach town after you get out of the water. Check out Surf Vive for lessons and rentals.

Continue to 15 of 20 below.
15 of 20

Santa Cruz, California

Santa Cruz, CA

Getty Images

Surfing is synonymous with the rugged, sunny California coast, and Santa Cruz is the heart of surf culture in the central part of the state. This gorgeous surf town with lovely sandy beaches attracts passionate surfers of all ages who enjoy the larger breaks as much as the smaller, beginner-friendly swells. Cowell’s Island is a key spot for beginners with several surf schools, while the experts should check out Four Mile and Steamer Lane. In addition to the fabulous beach scene, Santa Cruz offers much to see and do, with several eateries and shops as well as a busy boardwalk, amusement park, and a wharf along the Monterey Bay. For lessons, check out Club Ed Surf School and Cowell’s Beach Surf Shop.

Continue to 16 of 20 below.
16 of 20

Jacksonville, Florida

Woman with surfboard in Jacksonville, FL

Getty Images / Diane Macdonald

Almost surrounded by water, Florida is home to many optimal surf spots—and Jacksonville is one of the most popular. Featuring mellow waves and sandbars, the beaches at 6th Street North and 13th Street South are ideal for beginners, while the more advanced surfers might want to paddle out near the pier, which is usually more crowded with experienced boarders. If you’re seeking larger waves, the winter season is ideal. Several surf shops close to these beaches offer board rentals and supply equipment, including the highly-rated Sunrise Surf Shop.  

Continue to 17 of 20 below.
17 of 20

Folly Beach, South Carolina

Surfer riding a wave in Folly Beach, SC

Getty Images / alex grichenko

In South Carolina, the lovely Folly Beach draws surfers who enjoy a laid-back vibe and a pumping surf break. Located just south of Charleston, Folly Beach is a favorite local getaway on the Atlantic Ocean—with a pier, several parks, and an abundance of shops, restaurants, and great family fun. New and experienced surfers here can enjoy several waves in the area year-round, as the temperatures here are relatively mild. If you’re seeking lessons, there are a number of surf shops to choose from, including Oceans Surf Shop and McKevlin’s Surf Shop.

Continue to 18 of 20 below.
18 of 20

Rye Beach, New Hampshire

beautiful coastline with beach in Rye, New Hampshire
travelview / Getty Images

Located a short drive from Portsmith, Rye, New Hampshire is located on the state’s 17-mile coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. It’s home to an avid surfing community year-round, despite the brutal, cold winters in this part of the United States. Rye on the Rocks is the area’s most noteworthy break and best for surfers with experience, while beginners are most comfortable at local beach breaks with mellower waves. You’ll need a wetsuit throughout most of the year, and you can rent boards, gear and sign up for private or group lessons at the popular Summer Sessions Surf Shop, which has its own coffee shop and café.

Continue to 19 of 20 below.
19 of 20

Otter Rock, Oregon

Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint at Devils Punch Bowl, Otter Rock, Oregon
Michael-Tatman / Getty Images

Often referred to as the “Waikiki of Oregon,” this family-friendly surf destination on the Pacific coast is a well-known beginner spot and offers a welcoming vibe for all ages who wish to learn the basics. Situated over 100 miles from Eugene and Portland, this beach is located in the Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area and usually very busy in the warmer months. Protected from harsh winds, this beach is surrounded by jaw-dropping scenery and has a secluded feel (although there are restrooms nearby). Due to the cold water, surfers here need to be fully outfitted, including boots and gloves. Lessons and equipment are available at Otter Rock Surf Shop.

Continue to 20 of 20 below.
20 of 20

New Buffalo, Michigan

Surfers on Lake Michigan

Getty Images / Jonathan Kirn

Yes, you may be surprised, but you can surf rad waves in the Midwest! About an hour’s drive from Chicago, New Buffalo, Michigan is a hip spot for beach lovers of all kinds, especially surfers, bodyboarders, and skimboarders. Summer draws the largest crowds (including beginner surfers of all ages) to this charming town situated at the Galien River on the west coast of Michigan. It features a large harbor and plenty of shops, restaurants, and activities for families. The largest, more powerful swells happen in the winter, but you can still catch some waves in winter and early fall without dealing (too much) with cold weather. For lessons and rentals, visit the Third Coast Surf Shop.