In celebration of the first south swells of the year to grace the shores of California, we thought it'd be an ideal time to share a bit of insight into where to surf when faraway Antarctic storms send waves our way. While south swells can be notoriously fickle depending on the angle and consistency, there's nothing better than long days at the beach and warm-water barrels (excluding Santa Cruz) close to home.
While most of San Diego isn't ideal on a south swell, the La Jolla peninsula sticks out just far enough to draw in energy from the south. Hollow reef breaks are the norm in La Jolla, and during a big southern hemi (a term given to swell generated south of the equator), the surf can get up to triple overhead at marquee spots like Windansea and Bird Rock.
Miles of quality beachbreak can be found in this blue-collar town in north San Diego County. Facing more southerly than the rest of the nearby area, Oceanside draws in south swell better than anywhere in the county. The pier and harbor jetties break up the swell and are the marquee waves in town.
With four quality spots on a small stretch of beach, Trestles is the jewel of California surf spots. The standout spot is Lowers—a left and right peak lined by cobblestones and frequented by hordes of pros and average Joes. If the crowd at Lowers is too much, look south toward Churches or north to Uppers and Cottons. Facing more southerly than other spots in the region, Trestles fires on a south swell for most of the summer.
Quality beachbreaks broken up by short jetties make Newport Beach a hub of summertime shredding. Spots like 56th Street and Blackies offer a variety of setups for all skill levels, but the real draw on a big south swell is the Newport Wedge—a manmade beast of a wave that comes alive only during a solid south swell. While we wouldn't recommend our readers give it a go, it's highly suggested to check it out and watch the local daredevils do their thing at one of California's most exciting waves.
Access to The Ranch, located on one of California's most secluded coastlines, is via boat unless you're one of the few landowners at the exclusive community north of Santa Barbara. We won't go into too much detail, but The Ranch faces straight into the south swell window, and despite a bit of blocking from the Channel Islands, with the right conditions and a bit of luck it's possible to score world-class surf at one of the dozen or so out-of-the-way surf spots.
A lot of folks associate Santa Cruz, California (aka the real Surf City USA), with wintertime swells from the northwest, but if you look at a map, Santa Cruz sits atop Monterey Bay and faces directly south. Marquee spots include Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point, but there are a lot more great waves if you know where to look. And just because it's hot and sunny on land, don't expect warm water this far north in California; it rarely gets above 60 degrees and fullsuits are worn year round.
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