A surfer in a full wetsuit rides a glassy wave breaking from the right.

Surfers at Santa Cruz’s famous Steamer Lane. Photo © John E. Robertson, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

With great weather year-round, lots of ocean access, and a bounty of beaches, the California coast has a plethora of recreational opportunities.


After Hawaiians introduced surfing to California, it became an essential part of the state’s culture. California offers up waves for every level of surfer. Iconic surf breaks like San Diego’s Black’s Beach, San Onofre State Beach’s Trestles, Santa Barbara’s Rincon, and Santa Cruz’s Steamer Lane make surfers from around the world drool with anticipation. Beginners can attempt their first waves at the gentle peeling waves of Santa Cruz’s Cowell’s Beach or Malibu’s Surfriders Beach.

Stand Up Paddleboarding

California’s many bays, inlets, and protected areas offer the perfect places to get started paddleboarding, which is the coast’s fastest growing sport. Hit the water at Orange County’s Dana Point Harbor, the Central Coast’s Cayucos Beach, Santa Cruz Harbor, and Mendocino’s Big River.

Scuba Diving and Snorkeling

The best way to see the multitude of sea life, kelp forests, and reefs off the California shoreline is to put on some snorkeling or scuba gear. The clear waters and swaying kelp forests of the Monterey Peninsula make it one of the biggest dive destinations in the state. Santa Catalina Island offers pristine underwater habitats for the adventurous, while San Diego’s La Jolla Cove provides easy access to the undersea world.


To get away from the crowds, strap on a backpack and head to the state’s more remote areas. The North Coast’s Lost Coast Trail is a three-day backpacking trip along a 24-mile stretch of rugged coastline. Big Sur’s Ventana Wilderness offers multi-day excursions to hot springs and peaks with fabulous coast views. Get away from it all at backcountry camps on Santa Cruz Island and Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park.

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Coastal California.