NorCal Surf Spots: San Francisco and San Mateo Counties

My coastal playground for surfing runs alongside a peninsula stretching from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. From north to south, here’s a tour.

Fort Point Big

Fort Point is a punchy left, the only left point break I know of in the Bay Area, so being a goofy-foot I’d love to try it someday. But right now it’s above my skill level, what with the extreme currents under the Golden Gate bridge and many partially submerged rocks in the takeoff zone. Sadly, it also has a rep for being competitive with lots of aggro locals in the lineup.

Ocean Beach runs for about four miles beside the City of San Francisco. I’ve surfed it just a few times, and only on smaller days. Since it’s near the mouth of San Francisco Bay, there are always strong sideshore currents. On bigger days, the waves can be board-breaking heavy; only strong, advanced surfers need apply, and even they may be denied. Summer days often serve up small waves more friendly for the average surfer, but it’s an urban beach, with graffiti on the walls and trash on the sand. Surfers who live in the City find it in easy reach, but I’d rather surf one of the many beautiful spots to the south.

Linda Mar Big

Linda Mar, a.k.a. Pacifica State Beach, is probably the most popular surfing beach in the area. It’s typically crowded, almost no matter the conditions, which are often less than ideal. But many of the surfers are beginners, and Linda Mar usually has some nice runs of whitewater to play in over a mostly sand bottom. And it has a full suite of amenities, including a paved parking lot, beachside Taco Bell, showers, restrooms and a women’s changing area. Unfortunately it’s often closed out in my experience, and I’ve had many days where I caught nada there. Lindy can be rough too, especially on the inexperienced who don’t know their limits and underestimate the ocean’s power. A surfing buddy once opined that there are three types of surfers at Linda Mar: those who have been injured, those who will be injured, and those who move on to another break. Full disclosure: as a member of the first and last groups, I may be a bit negatively biased.

Montara

Montara is one of the loveliest beaches in the area, with crumbling cliffs bordering golden sand and a view of nearby Montara Mountain. On small days, this is the break I choose over Ocean Beach, hands down. But that beauty also holds danger: the shorebreak can be tricky to negotiate, and the ripcurrents recently proved deadly to a couple of non-surfers.

The Jetty Big

The Jetty is more formally known as Surfer’s Beach, but I don’t know anyone who calls it that. Located at the north end of Half Moon Bay, just around the corner from big-wave magnet Mavericks, it’s protected from the northwest winds that often blow out the other breaks in the area. With its gradually-sloped, mostly sand bottom, the Jetty is popular with surf schools and beginners.

Half Moon Bay

The Half Moon Bay State Beaches stretch for four miles along the curve of the Bay and feature several breaks including Dunes and Kelly Ave (officially Francis State Beach). Often waves that are tiny at the Jetty increase in size the farther south you travel, but the State Beaches are also more exposed to the wind. Wildlife abounds on this scenic stretch of coastline, and crowds are somewhat reduced by the $10 daily parking fee.

The Lonely Coast is my name for the remote-feeling, rugged region between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz, where the ocean is bordered by farms and open land. There are many surf spots along the coast road, some guarded by State Park booths demanding money to park, others known only to locals and accessed by steep dirt paths. I’ve only recently begun to explore it, and have scored some great empty waves.

Father south are the well-known breaks of Santa Cruz. So many choices for surf and such beautiful coastline; I’m truly lucky to live in NorCal.

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