(credit: wannasurf.com)

Call it Orange County, OC, or ”The OC,” this stretch of coastline is the true Mecca for California surfing. While you’ll never hear experienced surfers actually call it “the” OC, this stretch of CA coastline is the place to go for all levels of surfing. Although it can be good year round, OC is generally known as more of a Summer/Fall break region, as most of this area is open to Southern Hemisphere winter storms as well as the occasional hurricane spinning off Baja. Because of its open exposure to swells from most directions there tends to be something fun to ride somewhere.

(credit: surfingcal.com)

Huntington Beach

Located in the heart of OC along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) Huntington Beach is known as the true but unofficial Surf City of CA. From the Bolsa Chica wetlands to the north and the Santa Ana river jetties to the south, Huntington is an experience not to miss. Although the feel may be aggressive and competitive in the water around the pier, Huntington offers several miles of classic California beach break. Your chances of finding some emptier peaks are better around Bolsa Chica, the cliffs (around Golden West St.), and south of the pier (Beach Blvd, and southward). Nothing beats experiencing Huntington with a combo swell from the south-southwest and west, combined with offshore/Santa Ana winds. For a fun shopping experience for the latest surf gear try Jack’s Surfboards on PCH and Pier Avenue, among others. There are also lots of good local eateries in the same area such as the Sugar Shack Cafe on Main Street. You can find free or metered parking along PCH or on side streets.

(credit: sundancebeach.com)

Salt Creek
PCH at Ritz Carlton Drive
Dana Point, CA 92629

Salt Creek is located in a beautiful large cove in the northern end of Laguna Niguel. During a decent swell it is normally filled with locals, visitors, long boarders, boogie boarders, and occasionally the Dana High School surf team. The vibe is usually good, and somehow most often everyone seems to get along. To the left is “The Point,” nice left breaking waves but a small take- off area that can be quite competitive. Out front is “Middles” which can be quite epic at times, with shifty, punchy peaks and it offers a bit more breathing room. To the right is “Gravels” which can offer up some freight train right breaking tubes when the swell is up. There is a metered parking lot at the top of the hill. Access to this break and lot is off PCH and Ritz Carlton Drive. There is plenty of good eating and walking to be found in nearby Laguna Beach.

(credit: wannasurf.com)

Lower Trestles
aka “Lowers”
Christianitos Road at the 5 Freeway
San Clemente, CA

“Lower Trestles” is part of a stretch of several surf breaks known collectively as “Trestles.” This world famous spot is one of the best in OC if not all of California. It is the true ground zero of high energy surfing. Although it is always crowded with pros, locals, and plenty of long boarders, Trestles more than makes up for it with its beautiful setting where the San Mateo Creek empties into the ocean just off of the 5 freeway. It is really somewhat of a surfing outpost as it is situated in a mostly undeveloped stretch of old California. Trestles has something for all abilities; in order from North to South, “Cottons Point” (the location of former President Richard Nixon’s home), “Upper Trestles”, “Lowers”, “Middles”, and “Church”. These other spots do not compare to “Lowers”, but they can be fun as well and without the crowd factor.

This whole area used to be part of a Marine base, Camp Pendleton, until 1971, when it then became part of the California State park system. “Lowers” is unique as it sits on the edge of OC suburbia, and also has not been gobbled up by the Los Angeles and San Diego urban sprawl. There have been ongoing tugs of war over the years between environmentalists/surfers and developers but it still remains largely untouched. Exit at Cristianitos Road off of the 5 freeway, for parking, and prepare to hike in fully equipped with food and water as there are minimal amenities on the beach at Lowers.

(credit: san-clemente.org)

San Onofre
Basilone Road at the 5 Freeway
San Clemente, CA

Both “San O” and “Trails” are part of San Onofre State Surfing Beach. This is a classic, historic surfing spot which goes way back to the days of pulling up to the beach in your woody and hanging out all day. “San O” features mostly beginner waves and is an all around fun place to spend the day listening to The Beach Boys on your iPod. The breaks in order from north to south are “The Point” (the most challenging of the three), “Old Man’s”, and the easiest, “Dog Patch” (in the hard core surfing world, this is called a true mush burger). Exit the 5 freeway at Basilone Road north of the power plant and pay at the gate, $15.00 for day usage.

(credit: Wannasurf.com)

Basilone Road at the 5 Freeway
San Clemente, CA

Immediately to the South of the San Onofre Power Plant is “Trails,” a series of dirt trails down to the beach with camping spots just off the 5 freeway. The waves are basic beach break that are generally uncrowded and can get decent with some juice during a combo swell from the southwest and west. “Trails” is located a bit further down Basilone Road, pay at the second gate. This is an ideal spot for a day trip, but overnight camping with clean amenities are also offered.

Elizabeth Peterson is a New Englander who married a surfer guy from So Cal and now finds herself knowing when the surf’s up all the time. You can find her blogging over on Traded My BMW for a Minivan and on Facebook.