Surfing in Santa Cruz

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natural bridges
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What single thing best represents California’s beach lifestyle? Is it the laid-back, casual approach of the citizens? How about the gorgeous and sexy lifeguards who keep the visitors and residents safe and sound? For many people, the one iconic image that sums up the coast of California has been the view of a lone, tanned figure riding the crest of a wave. Surfing is not just a big business in California, it is also a lifestyle for many people who reside and spend a holiday here.

However, what is it that makes this apparently solo pursuit very popular? Entire communities are created and developed around surfing and surfers. There is an individual culture with its own music, fashion, and lingo. The sport, having formed in Hawaii, came in California in the early 20th century, grew in fame in consequence, and by the year 1960s, an entire counter-culture had evolved. California’s surf trend was exported all through the world through the song of the Beach Boys, The Surfaris, and Jan and Dean, while TV shows and movies portrayed the glamour and enthusiasm of the west coast surf scene.

In Santa Cruz, the sport has been established firmly since the 1930s, and the place has become identical to California surfing. Santa Cruz became the place for the world’s premier surfing museum in June 1986, documenting more than ten decades of surfing activity in the area. This small museum commemorates its silver anniversary last 2011, featuring a remarkable collection of pictures. These are showcasing the development and progress of the surfing community in Santa Cruz from the 1930s up to this time. Surf fanatics will be astonished by the exhibit of boards housed in the museum, from the early paddleboards and redwood planks all the way through the contemporary surfboards utilized by modern surfers.

Santa Cruz visitors and residents enjoy a broad selection of the best sites for surfing, catering to surfers of diverse levels of skills. Some of the most popular surfing spots in Santa Cruz are as follows:

Steamer Lane

Steamer Lane, also known as The Lane by the locals, is one of the most iconic in the whole of California. Thanks to bordering coastal bluffs, Steamer Lane is also considered one of the perfect places to see the professionals and experts do the trick. Every day, people assemble along a waterfront railing overlooking the gently sloping swells below. The waves can reach up to 18 feet – you will see some surf royalty like Darryl Flea Virotsko, champion of the most coveted Mavericks surf contest, and Sarah Gerhardt, who is the first woman to surf Mavericks. The Lane is also a perfect place for many surf contests like the O’ Neil Coldwater Classic and the Santa Cruz Longboard Surf Contest, two of the most popular and longest-running surfing competitions in the US.

Another best thing about Steamer Lane is that it provides stunning sunset views as well as the nearby Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park. Therefore, after surfing or watching the surfers, you can go to the wharf to try the clam chowder.

The Hook

There are many good reasons why Jack O’ Neill erected his abode in Pleasure Point. The slipshod, seaside area teems with renowned surf breaks like The Hood. This is an expansive and open surf area situated at 41st Avenue at East Cliff Drive. Hovering high on top of the bay, a bluff-top viewing area ruled with benches and picnic tables enables spectators to see and witness surfers catching air as well as slicing in the steep, rolling, and barreling waves. To explore the surf culture of the Pleasure Point, stroll up 41st Avenue and look through a town of surf-themed stores as well as eateries such as Freeline Surf Shop and O” Neil Surf Shop.

Pleasure Point Park

Located on seaside rock faces at 33rd and East Cliff Drive, miniature Pleasure Point Park is an ideal gathering spot for family and friends to enjoy in the vibrant surf scene of the neighborhood. Stepped seating and a wide staircase, which extends to the water, both provide primo sights of short boarders figuring the first peak the wave break close to the coast. For a typical Santa Cruz experience, you can order a breakfast burrito from neighboring Point Market.

Manresa State Beach 

Due to the wide stretch of beautiful sand, this not-so-popular surfing destination is an attractive place to hang out as well as witness surfers. The superb vantage point is from the bluff-top parking place that features all-encompassing sights of Monterey Bay and the coast. The lines of picnic tables provide a particularly scenic spot for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Down the beach, you will witness an apparently never-ending span of beautiful sand. After surfing, you can linger around a bonfire to warm yourself at any of the several fire pits which dot the beach.

Waddle Beach 

This is also one of the best surf spots in Santa Cruz. Driving down Highway 1, you are likely to scout the bright kits of windsurfers prior to reaching Waddell Beach. This is a scenic, coastal border of the Big Basin Redwood State Park. Always blustery conditions have made this place a Mecca for kiteboarders and windsurfers whose in-flight tricks daze shorebound bystanders. You will see surfers performing frontside snaps on steep curls.

Cowell Beach

This is another amazing surf destination in Santa Cruz. Cowell Beach is the spot to go when you’re in this city for a family holiday or vacation. This is also the best place to visit if you and your friends want to learn to surf. This is renowned for gentle, long waves, which are easy to catch. Also, it is great for stand-up paddleboarders and longboarders. If you want to learn how to surf, there are great schools in Cowell Beach that offers surfing lesson for a very reasonable price. On the other hand, due to this popularity, Cowell Beach does get crammed full on weekends as well as the holiday season, so make sure to plan ahead of time.

Natural Bridges

Natural Bridges is located down west cliff drive, perhaps one of the most stunning beaches in California to watch or surf. Usually, the conditions are great, and the sights are simply amazing and out of this world. This is one of the many reasons why you must visit Santa Cruz. During the month of October, if you are lucky, you will see monarch butterflies visit this place, and you can see many fluttering monarchs float gracefully in the trees. This is a must-see event in Santa Cruz aside from surfing.

30th and East Cliff

Heading over to East Cliff, you will see the 30th and East Cliff- another popular surfing spot. This spot is perfect for professionals searching for some challenges. Any newbie must surely sit this one out and take pleasure in this destination as one of the most excellent spots to see surfers. Trust me, the people surfing in 30th and East Cliff have got to know a thing and have been there for a while. The rolling waves and swells are very aggressive and ideal for seasoned surfers. Usually, you can witness tons of vacationers lining the coast to see a glimpse of the surfers.

Capitola Beach

This is the last surf destination on this list. This is located in Capitola and is indeed the best destination for beginners who want to know how to surf. The waves here are mellow. Another amazing thing about this place is that it has lots of safe as well as family-friendly shops, stores as well as restaurants; therefore it makes a good side spot for a family holiday.

Santa Cruz is a memorable and great destination to know how to surf. You can find lessons from professionals like the Club EdRichard Schmidt Surf SchoolSurf School Santa CruzCapitola Beach Company, and many others. And bear in mind: whether you are looking to cut up some rolling waves or simply looking at the amazing scenery, you must consider the surf conditions prior to going to the place you want.

List of all surf spots in Santa Cruz

Overview surf spots:

  • Wind and Sea
  • Waddell Creek
  • The Wharf
  • The Rivermouth
  • Steamer Lane
  • Pleasure Point
  • Manresa
  • Cowells
  • 38th
  • Capitola Beach
Wind and Sea
  • Wave direction: Right & Left
  • Wave Type: Reef break
  • Crowded level: Not Too Bad
  • Surf Spot Rating: 4/5
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate surfer
  • Address: Santa Cruz, CA 95062, USA
  • Bottom: Sand & Rock
  • Hazards: Rocks
Waddell Creek
  • Wave direction: Right & Left
  • Wave Type: Reef break
  • Crowded level: Busy
  • Surf Spot Rating: 3/5
  • Difficulty level: Beginners
  • Address: Waddell Beach, California 95017, USA
  • Bottom: Sand & Rock
  • Hazards: Sharks
The Wharf
  • Wave direction: Right & Left
  • Wave Type: Beach break
  • Crowded level: Can Get Busy
  • Surf Spot Rating: 3/5
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate surfer
  • Address: 21 Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA
  • Bottom: Sand
  • Hazards: Locals, Seals
The Rivermouth
  • Wave direction: Right & Left
  • Wave Type: Rivermouth
  • Crowded level: Can Get Busy
  • Surf Spot Rating: 4/5
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate surfer
  • Address: Santa Cruz, CA 95062, USA
  • Bottom: Sand
  • Hazards: Locals, Seals, Pollution
The Hook
  • Wave direction: Right
  • Wave Type: Point break
  • Crowded level: Can Get Busy
  • Surf Spot Rating: 1/5
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate surfer
  • Address: The Hook, Santa Cruz, CA 95062, USA
  • Bottom: Sand & Rock
  • Hazards: Locals
Steamer Lane
  • Wave direction: Right
  • Wave Type: Point break
  • Crowded level: Busy
  • Surf Spot Rating: 5/5
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate surfer
  • Address: 700 W Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA
  • Bottom: Sand & Rock
  • Hazards: Locals
Pleasure Point
  • Wave direction: Right
  • Wave Type: Reef break
  • Crowded level: Busy
  • Surf Spot Rating: 4/5
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate surfer
  • Address: Pleasure Point, CA 95062, USA
  • Bottom: Rocky reef
  • Hazards: None
Manresa
  • Wave direction: Right & Left
  • Wave Type: Beach break
  • Crowded level: Not Too Bad
  • Surf Spot Rating: 3/5
  • Difficulty level: Beginners
  • Address: Manresa Main State Beach, 1445 San Andreas Rd, Watsonville, CA 95076, USA
  • Bottom: Sand
  • Hazards: None
Cowells
  • Wave direction: Right
  • Wave Type: Reef break
  • Crowded level: Packed
  • Surf Spot Rating: 4/5
  • Difficulty level: Beginners
  • Address: Cowell Beach, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA
  • Bottom: Sand & Rock
  • Hazards: None
38th
  • Wave direction: Right
  • Wave Type: Point break
  • Crowded level: Can Get Busy
  • Surf Spot Rating: 4/5
  • Difficulty level: Advanced surfer
  • Address: 38th Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA, USA
  • Bottom: Sand & Rock
  • Hazards: None
Capitola Beach
  • Wave direction: Right
  • Wave Type: Rivermouht
  • Crowded level: Can Get Busy
  • Surf Spot Rating: 3/5
  • Difficulty level: Beginners
  • Address: Capitola Beach, Capitola, Santa Cruz, CA, USA
  • Bottom: Sand & Rock
  • Hazards: Seals

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