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Surfing the Hidden Hot Spots of Northern California

By Tim Houghten,

Epic Swells and Hidden Hot Spots Await in Northern California

Surfing in Northern California requires a lot more flexibility of surfers because it hosts colder waters, a higher population of sharks, more unpredictable storms, and a lower amount of days suitable for surfing. This by no means should waiver your decision to experiment with surfing off the coast of Northern California because there are still epic swell locations, hidden hotspots, and beautiful beginner beaches all waiting for you to enjoy.

Best time of year to go surfing

In general, when surfing in Northern California's waters you will need at least a three to five millimeter wetsuit because water temperatures peak at a chilly 65 degrees. The best time to go surfing in Northern California is during the fall when all the tourists have left and winter storms can produce up to 20-foot swells. From September to November winds are at a low, surf is clean, and your chance of catching a sunny day is greatly increased.

Winter is the second most popular time to go surfing in Northern California's waters, but this season is reserved for only experts.

Strong storms, powerful winds, and heavy horizontal rains combine to form some of the gnarliest conditions imaginable, so only the experienced and professionals should venture out during these times. Typically spring and summer are the two worst seasons for surfing in Northern California because of crowds of tourists, junky surf, heavy fog, and polluted waters.

Best places to surf in Northern California

When conditions prove tolerable, surfing Northern California's coasts can be spectacular. There are a wide range of locations perfect for novice, advanced or professional surfers to enjoy. Patrick's Point and Harbor Wave in Humboldt County can hold up to 25 foot waves when perfect conditions arise and are two of the heaviest surfing spots. Experience is needed in these spots because of pipeline-like barrels, and strong converging left and rights.

Surfers in Northern California are always looking for consistent spots to hit up when they don't want to listen to the news to find good surf for that day. Some excellent consistent spots include North Jetty in Humboldt County, Mendocino-Westport, Mendocino County, the north side of Mackerricher, Mendocino County, and Stinson Beach, Marin County. Beginner surfers should head to spots like Doran Beach, Sonoma County, Westhaven, Humboldt County, and Bolinas, in Marin County. These beginner spots seem to be more mediocre and safe for those who have just started to learn.

How to avoid the crowds

One of the first steps to avoiding crowds when surfing in Northern California is to visit during the off-season, typically the months of September through April. Although this time of year means cooler temperatures and an icy 50-degree ocean, tourists are all but gone, storms keep families indoors, and huge surf means avid, experienced surfers are the only ones to be hitting the water.

Additionally, if you have some flexibility to your schedule, try to go surfing mid-day, in the middle of the week. Even during peak season in the summer the amount of surfers all vying for the same wave is at a low during these odd times of the day. One thing you don't want to avoid however is a having a friend by your side. Shark attacks in Northern California are a real and extremely dangerous threat because of the high population of sea lions in the area. Always make sure you have emergency first aid equipment, a cell phone to call for help if needed, and always trust your instincts before going into the water.

Things to consider before hitting the surf

Northern California has some epic swells and winter storms produce some of the craziest conditions imaginable. Surfing in Northern California can be frustrating to those who don't like to deal with unpredictability, high risk of shark attacks, and dangerous undercurrents, but if you are one of these people then avoid locations for advanced surfers and hit up beginner spots. And if one of your planned surfing days is ruined, do not hesitate to explore the inspiring natural beauty of Northern California, and try to pretend like there is more in the world than surfing!
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