Beach lovers who dream of escaping to a wonderful surf destination can choose from an abundance of locations across the globe. Be it the tropical, picturesque sandy coves of Hawaii to the lush jungles of Costa Rica and the quaint shore towns along Portugal’s coastline, there’s a special surf break out there for everyone—from beginner to lifelong shredder. Although all surfers may possess a different idea about the optimal places to paddle out, there are several beaches that are famous for their exceptional breaks, distinctive scenery, and unique role in surfing history. So when you’re planning a getaway to catch your own “perfect wave,” consider these world-class beaches.
Waikiki Beach, Hawaii
With the majestic Diamond Head State Monument as a backdrop, Waikiki beach is a legendary surf spot, as the beautiful turquoise rolling waves offer seemingly endless fun rides on longboards. It’s all about the waves in Waikiki, you can easily rent a board as soon as you step on the sand and you’ll be paddling out (and learning to cross-step) in no time at all. Experienced instructors (traditionally called “Beach Boys” here) offer lessons at Waikiki Beach Services in front of the Royal Hawaiian Resort or other locations along this notoriously busy beach. You can surf year-round in Waikiki without a wetsuit, and summer traditionally brings larger swells. The best part? Everything is close-by: hotels, restaurants, shops, and fun, casual beach bars for that refreshing after-surf tropical cocktail.
The stunning Hawaiian island of Maui (also known as the “Valley Isle”) is a premier surfing destination offering an array of great places to catch waves—surrounded by palm trees, mountains, and crystal blue water. Home to several world-class surfing events that draw tons of avid fans, Maui’s biggest waves crash at Pe’ahi (famously known for the massive “Jaws” surf break). For casual surfers or to take surfing lessons, be sure to check out Goofy Foot surf school near the bustling town of Lahaina or Maui Surfer Girls at Ukumehame Beach Park. You’ll find Maui’s beaches to be magnificent, with tropical jaw-dropping scenery.
Oahu’s North Shore, Hawaii
The island of Oahu’s famous north shore is known far and wide in the surf community for its massive winter waves, and it’s the location for several major surfing competitions that draw pros and spectators from around the world. Annually from November to March, the waves at Banzai Pipeline and other area breaks are incredible and can reach well over 35 feet high. As such, only experienced surfers should hit the water in the winter. If you plan to go, start out early because this area gets a lot of traffic when the surf is pumping. In summer, however, the waters here are usually calm and mellow—ideal for a tranquil beach day with some snorkeling or stand-up paddleboarding. Most north shore beaches offer some type of basic facilities, such as picnic tables, showers, and restrooms, but it’s best to check in advance.
Huntington Beach (Surf City, USA), California
Famously known as “Surf City, USA,” Huntington Beach is located about an hour’s drive south of Los Angeles and offers a big dose of the cool Southern California beach vibe that surfers and beachgoers crave. If you know your stuff, you can show off your expertise by paddling out by the pier near the center of town—or you can sign up for lessons at schools in the area. The ocean here is chilly, so plan to wear a wetsuit most of the year.
When you’re not hanging out on the beach, you can keep busy with a number of ocean-related activities. Check out some local surf shops to purchase your own board—and don’t miss the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum for some fascinating surf history.
Punta de Mita, Mexico
Tranquil and rustic, with expansive beaches, the lovely Punta de Mita is a truly awe-inspiring coastal region in mainland Mexico. It's home to several popular surfing beaches with sapphire water and golden sand, including La Bahia (“The Cove”), Palmitas, and La Lancha, which is considered the most consistent wave in the area. This shoreline has breaks that are optimal for both long and short-boarders, so be sure to do a bit of research before choosing your location.
La Jolla, California
Further down the California coast is the lovely, laid-back town of La Jolla, home of the famous “Windansea” surf break, a historical spot that’s steeped in surf culture. Although this wave is for experienced ocean riders only, it’s fun to admire the surf from the paved walkway that stretches above the beach, with access points tucked away in a residential neighborhood (though there are no facilities here). For those who wish to surf easier conditions, head to La Jolla Shores, an area on the northern part of town that’s beginner-friendly and features several places to rent boards and take lessons (including Surf Diva). This area is usually crowded with shops and there are plenty of amenities, food stands, and restrooms.
With over 1,000 miles of dramatic coastline, Portugal is home to several picturesque surf breaks up and down the stunning shore, providing an array of beaches that draw avid surfers all year long. From rugged and rocky ocean-scapes to wide sandy coves, Portugal is a fantastic destination for beach lovers and avid shredders. In winter, adventurous big wave pros head to Nazare, a town that’s famous for some of the largest and most powerful waves in the world. There are also a number of surf camps based throughout the country that caters to all levels, so it’s easy to find lessons on a beach that offers plenty of practice time.
Portugal's many surf towns offer something unique, and each has its own personality. One of the most well-known is Cascais, which is an easy train ride from Lisbon and can be reached within 30 minutes. Another picturesque area, Sesimbra, is also within driving distance of the city. Keep in mind the Atlantic Ocean is very chilly, so expect to wear a wetsuit even on sunny days during the summer months.
Many surfers consider Bali to be the ultimate surf destination, as this tropical locale offers exceptional surfing year-round at 60 different left-hand and right-hand breaks. Overall, the calm, relaxed ambiance attracts surfers and beach lovers from across the world. For travelers, there’s an added bonus: Prices are budget-friendly, there are plenty of affordable guesthouses and local cafes, and you’ll meet many other passionate surfers of all ages from around the world. Bali’s lovely, aquamarine surf breaks are exceptionally beautiful, yet varied, so surfers of all levels will most certainly find their own favorite places here.
Surfers know why Costa Rica is often referred to as the “happiest place on earth.” This country boasts some of the best surfing on earth with waves crashing against golden sand and isolated beaches right next to lush rainforests. On the Caribbean coast, one of the more famous surf breaks is Puerto Viejo in the southeast, with its massive waves that are best during the dry season (November to April). One of the country’s best-known spots is Witch’s Rock, a favorite for beginners and intermediates that’s best from December to March. With a variety of surf camps (including many women-only surf camps), it’s easy to find a surfing beach that’s ideal for your lifestyle and level – and there are plenty of opportunities to advance your skills.
In northern Africa, Morocco is an exceptional year-round surfing destination, as it offers varied waves along its unique coastline that faces both northwest and southwest. October to April attracts surfers of all levels from around the world, but for those who are seeking larger, more powerful swells, it is best to go in the mid-winter season. Visitors adore the laid-back surf vibe in the coastal towns and keep returning for the vast selection of tranquil surfing beaches.
A few of the well-known challenging breaks are La Source, Safi, and Anchor Point. For beginners and intermediate surfers, Essaouira and Hash point are two of the more mellow spots. There are a number of shops along the beach that rent boards. The water is cold here so a wetsuit is a must, even in warm weather,
Bondi Beach, Australia
One of the most legendary surfing beaches in Australia is the world-famous Bondi beach. Situated about 4 miles from the center of Sydney, it’s a major tourist attraction and often the first stop when visitors arrive in the city. It’s also a favorite for locals, too. With jaw-dropping views, crystal-blue waves (with lefts and rights), and a consistent swell year-round, it’s no surprise that Bondi draws passionate surfers who wish to catch waves at this iconic warm-water destination throughout the year. In addition to the surf and sand, Bondi is also famous for the lively culture, as it’s home to bars, restaurants, boutique shops, food markets, and lovely hiking trails.