How to Surf in North County San Diego

Beyond all the Anchorman references, traffic and suburban sprawl, San Diego remains one of California’s premier surf destinations. But because San Diego county has 70 miles of coastline, we’d like to narrow it down and focus on North County, which stretches from Del Mar to Oceanside.

To help guide you through San Diego’s top half, we chatted with former SURFING Magazine editor Zander Morton. Now, we know what you’re thinking — Zander’s from Florida, why should we trust him? Well, because he is a trustworthy dude, and has lived in the area for more than a decade. Sometimes it helps to have a transplant’s perspective! 

The good news: You’ve got so many options surfing in North County San Diego. Rip any of the area beachbreaks. Log Cardiff’s variety of mellow reefbreaks. If it’s not working? Powerful Baja tubes and shreddable Trestles are just a quick drive away. And, of course, we’ve got you covered on boards.  

The bad news: The weather doesn’t really change? IDK, this was Zander’s only gripe. Though 72 and sunny sounds pretty good to us!

Surfing North County San Diego at a Glance

Fly into: San Diego International
Drive from: Los Angeles, 80 mins; Tijuana, 40 minutes; San Clemente, 30 minutes
Ideal season: Winter months, though it can pick up south swell in the summer
Ideal swell direction: West or NW
Ideal wind direction: East, Santa Anas
Wetsuit: 3/2 in winter, spring suit to boardies in summer
Budget for a long weekend: $600 
Nearby Awayco locations: Chemistry Surfboards, Surf Ride Oceanside, Bing Surfboards, Surf Ride Cape Rey, Surf Ride Solana Beach, AJW Surfboards
San Diego Fun Fact: It’s the unofficial action sports capital of the world, with surfers (Taylor Knox, Rob Machado, Josh Kerr), snowboarders (Shaun White, Todd Richards), skaters (Nora Vasconcellos, Tony Hawk) and skiers (Chris Benchetler, KC Deane) all calling it home. 

Swamis — San Diego
Of course it's always like this. Photo: Jimmicane

Where to surf

For beginners:
The river mouth zone at Del Mar North Beach is an easy wave that has lots of mellow whitewater. For loggers, check out the reefs in Cardiff. Our partner, Bing Surfboards, has a gorgeous selection of longboards, including a 9′ Beacon and Silverspoon

For the advanced:
Any of the area beachbreaks — like Oceanside, Ponto, Stone Steps or D Street. Seaside Reef and Georges also offer plenty of rippable, consistent surf. We recommend you grab a Channel Islands Fever or JS Blak Box from Surf Ride Solana Beach

For the experts: 
Technically this is just south of North County, but the reefs in La Jolla can get very good. There’s a spot called Hospitals, which gives you an idea of what the reefs are like, but it’s fickle. The area is very tide sensitive, so use caution. Blacks Beach is also a solid bet for powerful surf.  

Bing Surfboards on Awayco
What's your favorite color? Book a log at Bing Surfboards, one of Awayco's most popular partners.

Where to stay

Your best bet would be Airbnb, and there are lots of properties. In the summer Oceanside is good, but if you can get a spot, San Elijo State Beach is an awesome campground right on the water in Cardiff. If you’ve got the whole fam are looking for a resort type experience, check out Cape Rey at Carlsbad, which even has Awayco on property.

What to pack in your carry-on

People honestly forget to bring their boardshorts. If you come in August or September, the water is warm. 

Car or no car?

You want a car. There’s a variety of waves between Blacks and Oceanside with more than 20 miles of coastline to choose from. 

Oceanside Pier
Oceanside. Photo: Jimmicane

Best place for a coffee

Ironsmith is the best coffee in San Diego. 

Best place for a post-shred beer?

Las Olas is right by Seaside reef. Pizza Port is a good setup, and there’s a lot of local breweries. In San Diego proper, try Juneshine, they’ve got good hard kombucha. 

Where to eat

Fish 101 has some awesome local seafood. It’s supported by the Hogboods, Josh Kerr and Jordy Smith. There’s one in Cardiff and another in Lucadia. 

San Diego
Swamis during a pumping winter swell. If you squint, you can see our partner store, Surf Ride Solana Beach! Photo: Jimmicane


Traffic on I-5 can be pretty bad, especially during morning commute hours. Also, May and June are historically cloudy (May Grey, June Gloom), so just keep in mind that you might not get as tan as you’d like during these months.

Recommended viewing

Watching Surfer Magazine’s San Diego Amp Sessions should fire you up. 

The surf is flat. What do I do?

There’s a ton of breweries in the Mira Mesa area, so it would be cool to take a tour. You can even hire a van to take you around. There’s a lot of good golfing and a couple of PGA courses. You’re not far from good hiking, and the San Diego Zoo is cool to check out. You’re also really close to Baja. Plenty of cheap tacos and Valle de Guadalupe has good wineries. Just remember to get off at the last US exit to get insurance for your vehicle. 

Chemistry Surfboards in Oceanside has everything from high-performance shortboards to mid-lengths on Awayco.

More to explore

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