California’s Huntington Beach and Santa Cruz battle for that special title of “Surf City, U.S.A.” but are those two lovely towns really proper cities?
Because if we're talking cities, we mean metropolises. Cities with some girth. And, of course, if you’re a surfer, these cities must have waves.
But if you were to transplant, or at least stay awhile in a city with some waves, what are the best ones to pick from? Let us give you a handful of our top choices.
Sydney, AustraliaQuality of Life: If constant sunshine, First World infrastructure, a fashionable city and a bubbly population of Good Time Charley’s are your idea of good “Quality of Life,” then, yeah, you’re going to dig Sydney. This vibrant big city offers up stunning coastlines with an eager surfing community to boot.
Quality of Surf: Right in the City: So-so. But a quick little drive north or south: Potentially epic. For instance, Maroubra is a 20 minute-drive away and gets really good, while the northern beaches are an hour from Sydney’s CBD, with Cronulla a mere 45 minutes away, too. Again, Bondi takes a little getting used to.
Downside: It’s pretty pricey for beers at a bar or a good meal in a restaurant (even coming off the American dollar). Australia also isn’t really known for remarkable local cuisine (unless gas station meat pies are your thing).
San Sebastian, Spain
Quality of Life: Cruisey like an afternoon siesta … or hot and spicy like a pulsating Spanish nightclub. A simply striking Old World city that straddles a couple gorgeous beaches (one, hosting some particularly fun surf), San Sebastian is one of the dreamiest cities in Spain. These days, it’s also fairly affordable. After a surf at one of the misty points south, you can nosh on tapas with fellow travelers in bars that empty onto the steps of ancient cathedrals.
Quality of Surf: Not too shabby. There are a few fun beachbreaks smack dab in the city and then tons of breaks down the coast toward Bilbao. One, being the infamous lefthander, Mundaka. Then, a short hop north across the border (about an hour) are the thundering, countless sandbars of Hossegor, France. South of that and even closer to San Sebastian are tamer waves in Biarritz, France.
Downside: The whole light-breakfasts, 4 p.m. lunches and 10 p.m. dinner-thing takes a while to get used to.
Honolulu, Hawaii (USA)Quality of Life: Honolulu, or simply “Town” as it’s called by locals is a smiley, happy, shining city by the sea. A multi-cultural metropolis sandwiched between electric turquoise waters and emerald, rainbow-filled mountains, you often find yourself asking aloud, “Does anyone here work?” Because the beachparks always seemed to be filled with families BBQing and having fun. While Waikiki gets all the tourist glory, there’s a blossoming creative scene in Chinatown and other hoods within Honolulu. Indeed, this city has something for everyone.
Quality of Surf: In the summer months, pretty damn good with reef breaks in Ala Moana, Waikiki and Diamond Head offering consistent, rippable waves of all kinds. Then of course, when wintertime rolls around, the North Shore is less than an hour away and that place never ceases to amaze. HNL is also a great base for strike missions to Tahiti or the South Pacific, too (by the way).
Downside: Honestly, not much. Owning a home on Oahu is pretty dreary (prices are through the roof) and car theft can be an issue. Just try not to own a Honda Civic, thieves love that car.
Cape Town, South AfricaQuality of Life: Simply delicious. If you’re moving over from the States, Australia or Europe, you’ll find prices in Cape Town to be pretty darn low. The weather is astounding and crisp with fairly minor winters and Cape Town’s scenery continually drops the jaw. With vineyards inland, picturesque beach coves around every bluff and, of course, the mighty Table Mountain and Cape of Good Hope national parks, there’s no shortage of things to do and see.
Quality of Surf: World-class. With two oceans to choose from on either side of the cape (both copping different swells), there’s consistent beachbreaks, reefbreaks, pointbreaks and slabs-galore. Just make sure you've got a trusty (and thick) fullsuit and booties.
Downside: While great strides have been made to improve the security situation across the country since the 2010 World Cup, the crime rate is still pretty high compared to similar cities of its size. Using caution at night and basic common sense is one big step to never encountering a problem, though. Also, always tip the parking attendant.
Rio de Janeiro, BrazilQuality of Life: Cariocas (locals of Rio) sure know how to live. And if the expression “Life’s a beach,” ever applied to anywhere, it’d be here. Clothing? Optional. Dancing? Required. Indeed, absolutely everyone in Rio is active, and love, life and music all happens on this sexy city’s boardwalks. Arguably the most aesthetically gorgeous setting for a city on the planet, it’s Rio’s even warmer people that make you never want to leave its clutches.
Quality of Surf: Better than you’d think. Rio de Janeiro is actually one of the more consistent zones for swell in Brazil, so you’re pretty much praying that the sandbars have their acts together. Barra da Tijuca, Ipanema, Copacabana, and western beaches like Prainha all have fun, rippable banks. If you’ve got some extra cash, keep an eye on cheap tickets leaving for the island of Fernando de Noronha in the north. That place is a Bucket List-trip.
Downside: While Rio doesn’t quite retain that City of God rep anymore (do watch that film), violent crime can and does happen around the city, so exercise caution at night and don’t give anyone an excuse to mug you. As in, don’t walk around a rough neighborhood with your head glued to your Instagram.