Surfing is a popular water sport that involves riding ocean waves while standing on a surfboard. With over 12,000 miles of coastline, the United States offers numerous prime surfing destinations across the country. The best surf spots typically have consistent waves, sandy beach breaks, point breaks around headlands, and reef breaks over coral or rock formations.
West Coast Surfing
The West Coast boasts some of the best surfing in the U.S. due to its exposure to the Pacific Ocean. States like California, Oregon, and Hawaii are world-renowned for their epic waves.
California has over 1,100 miles of coastline with a huge diversity of surf. From the chilly waves of Northern California to the warm waters of Southern California, there are endless options.
Some of the top surf spots in California include:
- Rincon – A famous point break in Santa Barbara with long, peeling rights.
- Malibu – Sandy beach breaks good for beginners and longboarders.
- Huntington Beach – One of the most consistent beach breaks in Orange County.
- Trestles – A high performance wave in San Onofre State Beach.
- Steamer Lane – The premier surf spot in Santa Cruz with a point break.
- Mavericks – An intense big wave spot near Half Moon Bay that can reach 60+ feet!
While less famous than California, Oregon still offers excellent surfing, especially on the northern coast. Prime spots include:
- Short Sands – Popular beach break inside Oswald West State Park.
- Indian Beach – Remote surf spot with a left point break.
- Otter Rock – Consistent reef break good for longboarders.
- Cape Kiwanda – Sand bottom waves great for beginners and intermediates.
The Hawaiian Islands are considered the birthplace of surfing. With trade winds blowing over hundreds of miles of deep ocean, Hawaii gets some of the best surf in the world.
Famous waves in Hawaii include:
- Pipeline – Iconic and deadly barreling wave on Oahu’s North Shore.
- Waimea Bay – Renowned big wave break also on the North Shore.
- Honolua Bay – Beautiful left point break on Maui’s northwest coast.
- Hanalei Bay – User-friendly waves on Kauai great for all levels.
East Coast Surfing
While not as epic as the West Coast, the East Coast still offers fun surfing opportunities along the Atlantic seaboard. States like North Carolina, New Jersey, and Florida are East Coast surfing hubs.
North Carolina’s Outer Banks are a prime surf destination on the East Coast with warm water and great waves. Hot spots include:
- Cape Hatteras – Consistent beach breaks and the best surf during hurricane season.
- Wrightsville Beach – Sand bar waves work well for all abilities.
- Atlantic Beach – Known for nice breaks and a lively surf culture.
- Carolina Beach – South-facing breaks with good summer waves.
New Jersey boasts numerous surfable beaches and reef breaks, especially in the southern part of the state. Top picks are:
- Manasquan Inlet – Popular inlet break best on a south swell.
- Island Beach State Park – Miles of white sandbars and beach breaks.
- Cape May – Nice south-facing reef breaks in South Jersey.
- Sandy Hook – High quality waves but limited surf access.
Florida offers fun surfing on both the Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast. Leading spots include:
- New Smyrna Beach – World-class waves with offshore winds.
- Sebastian Inlet State Park – Right/left point breaks around jetties.
- Cocoa Beach – Small but rippable peaks near Cape Canaveral.
- Pensacola Beach – Warm water waves in the Florida panhandle.
Gulf Coast Surfing
While less known, the Gulf of Mexico also kicks out some fun surfing waves, especially during tropical storms and hurricanes. Prime Gulf surfing spots are found in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the west coast of Florida.
Texas boasts long stretches of surfable coastline along the southern bends of the Gulf. Notable spots include:
- Surfside Beach – Very beginner friendly inside town jetties.
- Bob Hall Pier – Consistent beach breaks in Corpus Christi.
- Boca Chica Beach – South facing waves that can get big.
- Port Aransas – Small but ripable waves over sandbars.
Surfing is a growing sport along the shores of Louisiana. Main spots are:
- Grand Isle – Nice beach breaks and good summer surf.
- Holly Beach – Isolated spot with fun peaks when conditions align.
- Cypremort Point State Park – Hard to access but great surf reward.
Best Surfing States by Ranking
Based on the quality and consistency of waves, here is how the best surfing states rank:
- Hawaii – World famous surf with tubes, big waves, points, and beach breaks.
- California – Surf diversity from big waves to beginner waves.
- Florida – Year-round warm water waves on both coasts.
- North Carolina – Epic waves during peak hurricane season.
- Oregon – Remote spots and great Pacific swell exposure.
- New Jersey – Plenty of options along the entire shoreline.
- Texas – Decent surf comes to life during tropical activity.
- Louisiana – A rising Gulf surfing destination.
- Alabama – Secret surf spots await discovery.
- Mississippi – Small surf scene but waves exist after big storms.
Booking an Epic Surf Trip
To experience the best surfing waves firsthand, you’ll need to book a surf trip. Here are some tips:
- Choose a destination – Decide which surf spots interest you most and research seasons and conditions.
- Pick a time of year – Determine when the swell and weather will be optimal for your destination.
- Book accommodations – Reserve lodging close to the surf breaks you want to surf. Camping and hotels are common options.
- Rent gear – Rent a surfboard once you arrive if you aren’t traveling with your own. Many surf shops offer rentals.
- Check forecasts – Scope out surf forecasts and plan your sessions around good swell activity.
- Hire lessons – Consider taking surf lessons from a qualified instructor if new to the sport. This is a great way to fast track your progression.
- Surf safely – Always surf with a partner, wear a leash, follow beach access rules, and respect locals.
With world class waves, you’re guaranteed to score epic surf on the coasts of the United States. From Hawaii to California to the Carolina shores, load up your boards and start planning your next surfari today!
Frequently Asked Questions about Surfing in the US
What states have the best surfing for beginners?
Some of the most beginner friendly states for learning to surf include Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and Southern California. Gentle beach breaks or sandbar waves are ideal for getting started.
Where are the best surf spots on the East Coast?
Top East Coast surfing destinations are in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, and Florida. Prime spots include places like Cape Hatteras, Outer Banks, Montauk, Sebastian Inlet, and Cocoa Beach.
What months are best for surfing in the US?
Peak surf season depends on location:
- West Coast – Fall/winter (Sept-March)
- East Coast – Summer/fall (June-Oct)
- Hawaii – Winter (Nov-Feb)
- Gulf Coast – Summer (June-Aug)
What kind of surfboard is best for small waves?
Longboards and funboards are ideal for small surf. The extra floatation helps you catch and ride tiny swells.
Is cold water surfing in the US doable with a wetsuit?
Yes, an appropriate wetsuit and hood/gloves allows surfing cold water down to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The thicker the wetsuit, the warmer you’ll stay.
Do I need a surf leash as a beginner?
Absolutely! A leash keeps your board attached to your ankle so it doesn’t hit others. Leashes are mandatory at most supervised beaches.