Top 5 Beaches to Learn to Surf in Southern California for any Van or RV Nomad

What are the Top 5 best beaches in SoCal for anyone traveling in their van or RV to learn to surf?

Answer:

There are many amazing beaches in Southern California, but not every beach is perfect for learning to surf. The top five beaches in Southern California for any van or RV lifer wanting to learn how to surf are:

  1. Doheny State Beach
  2. San Onofre State Beach
  3. Bolsa Chica State Beach
  4. Surfrider Beach
  5. San Elijo State Beach

What Makes a Beach Perfect for Learning to Surf?

There are over 400+ miles of possible surfing locations along the Southern California coastline. But not all this coastline is suitable for learning how to surf.

Some surf breaks are in remote areas, on rugged shore, isolated coves, or with dangerous currents, so it is imperative to learn to surf in a safe location with gentle waves.  

Criteria

It must have met a few requirements for a beach to be considered a great place to learn to surf. The number one requirement is that the waves must be safe, gentle, rolling, and consistent.

No beginning surfer wants to venture out into scary, large, and inconsistent waves. The beach bottom must not drop off dramatically, which causes shore break. The beach bottom must be a slow, gradual descent into the ocean to produce slow, gently rolling waves.

The second requirement is the consistency of the surf itself. Not all beaches throughout the year will have consistent waves. Some beaches are north facing and will only break during the winter, while some beaches are south facing and will only break during the summer.

The best beaches for beginners are usually west-facing beaches that catch both north and south swells year-round.  This creates the consistent waves beginner surfers are looking for.

The third requirement is that the beach must be fun. Nobody wants to learn to surf at an ugly, crowded beach full of trash. To become a good surfer, you must enjoy surfing, so it is always easier to learn in an environment where you are happier. That is why it is important to learn at a beach that people enjoy going to.  

The final requirement asks one simple question; is the beach van and RV friendly? What do I mean by van and RV friendly? Is the beach a place where you can conveniently park and not be hassled by tight parking spaces, unlevel terrain, distance from the beach, and does it come with a nice view?

Nobody wants to be in their van or RV and see nothing but parked cars. The beach also must have restrooms, available water, and trash bins. These are all essential needs for any van or RV lifer. 

A bonus for a beach that is beginner-friendly is if there are local surf school and surfboard rental shops nearby. A beginner surfer usually does not own a surfboard, so it is convenient to have a surf shop nearby to rent one.

It is also hard to lug a surfboard around in a van or RV, so renting is a good option. I always recommend beginners rent a surfboard while they are learning before buying one. This will give them a better understanding of what surfboard is best for them.  

Top 5 Beaches

There are many great beaches to learn to surf at in Southern California. But only a handful of them is best for beginner surfers. These are the top five beginner surfing beaches that I recommend for any van or RV lifer looking to learn the surf.

#1 Doheny State Beach

Doheny State Beach, or what the locals call Doheny, is in Dana Point and is my number one recommended place for any van or RV lifer looking to learn to surf. The waves are very consistent, gentle, and forgiving. Although this beach is best during the summer months due to the harbor jetty, it still gets consistent waves during the year. The waves here are fun and great for beginners and longboarders.  

Doheny also has picnic tables, volleyball courts, drinking fountains, and outdoor showers. These add to the overall attraction that Doheny offers. Several surf shops are located within a mile of Doheny, where you can rent surfboards.

Conveniently located at Doheny is a campground. The campground has 121 spaces available with no hookups. There are also 33 beachfront sites, and each campsite includes a table, fire ring, and grate. Staying at this campground allows you to spend a few days dedicating yourself to learning how to surf and not be bothered by getting to the beach each day.

(25300 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point, CA)

Visit Doheny State Beach

#2 San Onofre State Beach

San Onofre State Beach is in San Clemente and is home to one of the best local surf spots in Southern California called “Old Mans.” The waves at Old Mans are long, slow, gentle, and easy to catch, making it perfect for beginners. It is a fun wave to ride during any swell and year-round.  The beach is extremely van friendly, but RVs over 25 feet are not allowed.  

In a previous post, I ranked San Onofre State Beach the number one place for any van lifer to spend the day on the beach. It is one of the few beaches in Southern California that you can drive your van right up to the sand. The beach has ample parking, restrooms, water fountains, and trash bins, all of which are key to any van lifer. The beach is also near three campgrounds.

Visit my post titled: Best SoCal Beach to Spend the Day for Van Lifers

(3 miles south of San Clemente off Basilone Road)

Visit: San Onofre State Beach

#3 Bolsa Chica State Beach

Bolsa Chica State Beach is in Huntington Beach, commonly called Surf City, USA. It is the location of some of the best surfing in California and is host to the annual US Surfing Championships. The beach is located north of Huntington Beach Pier and is 3-miles long.

What makes Bolsa Chica a great place to learn how to surf is its soft sandy bottom, consistent, and smaller waves. It has a gradual sandbar that leads out into the ocean, which makes an ideal place for forming waves. This means there are no rocks to ding your surfboard or stub your toes. A lot of longboarders surf at Bolsa Chica for this reason. Since the beach is so long, this gives beginners ample room to find a little section of waves all to their own to practice.

One of the reasons Bolsa Chica is ideal for van and RV lifers is the easy parking and access to the beach. The beach has a large parking lot that can accommodate RV’s and vans of all sizes and has restrooms, showers, and trash containers. All these make traveling to the beach much more enjoyable.  

If you are serious about learning to surf, I recommend attending Corky Carroll surf school located here. They offer surf lessons, surfboard rentals, and if you get good at surfing, they have an actual surf resort in Costa Rica. You cannot go wrong with Corky Carroll surf school.

As with any state beach, the only downside is the entrance fee of $15. If you plan on spending some time at California State Parks, I recommend buying a season pass. They are not cheap (Most Expensive $195) but will save you money in the long run. But do not let this deter you from visiting.  

Bolsa Chica State Beach also has a campground with 57 campsites with water and power.  This campground is a good place to stay so you can wake up early in the morning and go surfing, which is called dawn patrol in surf lingo. Just make sure you book a camp spot in advance since this is one of the most popular campgrounds in Southern California.  

(17851 Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach, CA)

#4 Surfrider Beach

Surfrider Beach is in Malibu, just north of the Malibu pier. Surfrider Beach encompasses a point break that attracts many surfers from around the world. Do not let this intimidate you because there is a section of this point break for beginners called First Point. First Point is the closest breaking section of the wave by the pier. Most experienced surfers are surfing the point and not this section.

What makes Surfrider Beach such a great place to learn is the waves’ style. The waves are long, consistent, gentle, and easy to ride. The area where you catch the wave is usually the same from wave to wave, making it a lot easier. This will make learning how to catch waves and get up quickly a lot easier than your standard beach break.

There are two downsides to Surfrider Beach: crowds and parking. This place can get very crowded, so my best advice is to stay at First Point where there will be fewer surfers.  Once you gain more experience, you can venture off into the actual point.  

Parking here can be challenging. You will see many RVs and vans parked along the Pacific Coast Highway. There is a parking lot at the Malibu Pier and the Adams House entrance. These are both tiny parking lots, so I highly recommend that you park on Pacific Coast Highway. Just make sure you get there early to get a good spot.  

Located right next to Surfrider Beach is Malibu Lagoon State Beach. This is a great beach to explore and visit the lagoon wildlife. I highly recommend visiting after your surf session is over. Both Surfrider Beach and Malibu Lagoon State Beach are located on the Malibu point.

Surfrider Beach is within walking distance of a few local surf shops. There are at least three surf shops within walking distance of the Malibu Pier where you can rent surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, or sign up for a class.

(23000 Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1), Malibu, CA)

#5 San Elijo State Beach

San Elijo State Beach is in Cardiff and is one of my favorite beaches in San Diego County. It is a long sandy beach that is perfect for learning to surf. The waves are consistent, gentle, and offer a bunch of little surf breaks spread out so you can find waves all to yourself. There are also multiple lookout points along the Bluff for your friends to take pictures of you while you learn.

This is also home to San Elijo Beach Campground. The campground features over 150 campsites that range from RV hookups to standard campsites. It has restrooms, shower facilities, fire pits, and trash bins. Just make sure you book in advance since the campground fills up quickly.

The only downside to this campground is the usual $15 entrance fee. However, there is plenty of on-street parking along Pacific Coast Highway outside the campground. You can also park in the community across from Pacific Coast Highway, use the crosswalk, and make your way to the beach.

(2050 S Coast Hwy 101, Cardiff, CA)

Conclusion

There are many great places to learn the surf in Southern California, but the five mentioned above are probably the best. Each one meets the requirements of offering consistent & gentle waves, easy access, beautiful scenery, and ease of use for both van and RV lifers. You will not be disappointed at any of these beaches. Good luck learning how to surf.  

References and Other Adventures:

Surfing

San Onofre State Beach

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