Best San Francisco Beaches for Surfing

Looking for a place to go surfing in San Francisco? There are lots of beaches to choose from, including those south of the city in both San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties and in Marin County to the north.

Surfing in San Francisco is not for the faint of heart. The water is cold -- you'll need to wear a wetsuit year-round and in the winter, booties, and hoods. Lots of these Bay Area beaches have advanced and challenging conditions, including the famous big wave surf break, Mavericks. There are a few beginner breaks for those who want to learn how to surf in and around San Francisco.

Here are the best San Francisco beaches for surfing, starting at the city in the north, south to Santa Cruz.

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Stinson Beach, Marin County

Dinuraj K/Flickr   
Stinson Beach, CA 94970, USA

High tides are best for surfing the waters off Stinson Beach, a crescent-shaped cove that's part of the larger Golden Gate National Recreation Area and a favorite spot among both locals and tourists. While conditions along this two-mile stretch of white sands often vary, the best surf tends to be closest to Stinson's lifeguard tower. It's a good beach for learning how to ride a wave, although be sure steer clear of the larger swells so advanced surfers can do their thing. 

Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced

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Bolinas Beach, Marin County

 Beactrice Murch/Flickr 
Bolinas Beach, California, USA

Located along the northern tip of Stinson Beach though best accessible by the town of Bolinas' Brighton Avenue, Bolinas tends to have better waves than Stinson due to its sheltered position at the mouth of Bolinas Lagoon. Longboarders especially love "The Patch," a break known for its consistent off-shore winds and mellow rolls. The beach's other break is known as "The Channel," which sits at the mouth of the inlet and ideal for beginners, with waves that are somewhat smaller. 

Level: Beginner and Intermediate 

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Fort Point, San Francisco

Where to go surfing in San Francisco
Blaine Harrington III / Getty Images
201 Marine Dr, San Francisco, CA 94129, USA
Phone +1 415-504-2334

Fort Point is maybe one of the most beautiful surf spots in the world. This break is just inside the ​San Francisco Bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge and next to  Fort Point National Historic Site.  On it's longest days, the wave starts right under the bridge and wraps at a 90-degree angle into the cove. This break offers a chance to surf in the shadow of this stunning landmark with views of the ​Marin Headlands, the North Bay, and the city skyline.

Being inside the bay, it's somewhat protected from the raging open ocean. In the winter, though, the tides can be very strong making it hard to paddle out. Occasional rip currents pull through the area. The break is lined with rocks so you should be cautious when wiping out--many locals wear helmets, just in case.

It's fairly easy to enter, park near the bridge, walk down to the waterfront and climb over the rocks. Be careful--these rocks are slippery.

Level: Intermediate to advanced

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Ocean Beach, San Francisco

Ocean Beach, San Francisco

TripSavvy / Melissa Zink

Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA, USA

Ocean Beach is a very long stretch of sandy beach running from the Cliff House restaurant in the north, south to the intersection of Sloat Boulevard and the Great Highway. There are four individual breaks along the beach, called Kellys, VFW, The Dunes, and Sloat.

The beach part of Ocean Beach is very popular with locals, but it's not a safe place to swim. The usual conditions there make it accessible only to very experienced surfers. The paddle-out is very difficult and there is almost always a strong rip current. 

Level: Advanced

Continue to 5 of 12 below.
05 of 12

Linda Mar, Pacifica State Beach, Pacifica

Linda Mar Surfing, Pacifica
Connie Spinardi / Getty Images

Linda Mar is a popular beach break in the cove at Pacifica State Beach. The surf is irregular, but when it is on the smaller side, it is a great place for beginner surfers. The waves get larger as you head north across the beach, so as you get better you can challenge yourself by going further north.

There are parking lots immediately adjacent to the beach with restrooms and showers, open from 6 am to 10 pm.

Level: Beginning to Intermediate

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Montara State Beach, Montara

Montara State Beach surfing
John Elk / Getty Images
Montara State Beach, Montara, CA 94019, USA

Montara State Beach is located just around the point, driving south from Pacifica on Highway 1. It's a large beach break that is only appropriate for advanced surfers. Locals sometimes call it the "mini Mavericks."

Level: Advanced

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Mavericks, Half Moon Bay

Where to Watch Mavericks Surf Contest
WireImage / Getty Images
Pillar Point, Princeton-by-the-Sea, Calif., Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, USA
Phone +1 650-728-1572

This world-renowned big wave surf spot is home to one of the most famous annual international big-wave surf contests in the world, the Titans of Mavericks.​ Surfers come from around the world to brave this massive wave. A channel on the ocean floor multiplies incoming waves to make them sometimes up to 50 feet high. The waves are extremely dangerous and should only be surfed by experienced big-wave surfers.

Level: Advanced

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Princeton Jetty, Princeton-by-the-Sea

Princeton Jetty, Princeton by the Sea
Avelienne/Flickr/CC 2.0

A good beginner ​to intermediate break just south of Princeton Harbor, off Highway 1, near Half Moon Bay. Though it's not a challenging wave, it is quite short so it doesn't allow much time for beginners to stand up.

Level: Beginner to intermediate.

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09 of 12

Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz

Steamer Lane Surfers, Santa Cruz
Mark Miller / Getty Images
Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz, CA, USA

A world-famous point break just beneath the landmark Santa Cruz Lighthouse that is home to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum (701 W. Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz).

This is a fast, and long point break that is good for experienced surfers. You have to enter jumping down from a cliff. It can be very crowded.

Level: Intermediate to advanced

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Cowell's Beach, Santa Cruz

Surfers in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Beckett Gladney / Getty Images
Cowell Beach, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA

Cowell's Beach is one of the best beginner surf breaks in the Bay Area and perhaps all of California.

The beach is inside the protected cove just beside the Santa Cruz wharf. This break is good for long boarders and is often crowded. It's very popular for beginning lessons and summer surf camps.

Level: Beginner

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Pleasure Point, Santa Cruz

Pleasure Point, Santa Cruz
Steve Proehl / Getty Images
Pleasure Point, CA 95062, USA

This popular local break on the east side of Santa Cruz is good for all levels of surfers. Pleasure Point is a classic point break that offers a long, clean ride on most days. It's a relatively consistent spot and has swells when other beaches in the area are flat. It can be very crowded so get there early and be considerate of others.

Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced

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Beginners Surf Spots + Surf Lessons Near San Francisco

Surfer heading out to surf in Santa Cruz
Martyn Goddard / Getty Images
30 Front St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060-5479, USA
Phone +1 831-427-2355

Linda Mar in Pacifica and Cowell's Beach in Santa Cruz are two of the best places for beginning surfers in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Here are some companies that offer surf lessons in the San Francisco Bay Area:

  • Adventure OutSanta Cruz - This company offers two-day beginner lessons in Santa Cruz and Pacifica.
  • Cowell's Beach Surf Shop30 Front St, Santa Cruz - This company offers surf lessons next to the legendary beginner surf break next to the Santa Cruz Harbor.
  • NorCal Surf Shop5440 Coast Highway, Pacifica - Gear rentals and surf lessons with very easy access to the Linda Mar break.
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Best Surf Beaches Near San Francisco