The best surf spots in Big Sur

March 15, 2019 | Surfing
Big Sur: explore the best surf spots of the Central Coast of California | Photo: Shutterstock

Though not an official county, Big Sur is a stunning region of the Central Coast of California that goes from Carmel-by-the-Sea to San Simeon.

The designation "Big Sur" derives from the Spanish "El Sur Grande," and means "The Big South." The nickname was given by former Monterey settlers who arrived in the area in the late 18th century.

In the past, two giant ranches owned Big Sur. Today, and despite modern times, the region still displays signs of wilderness. It also marks the southern limit of coast redwood trees.

With a dramatic and mountainous 90-mile coastline, Big Sur has been called the "longest and most scenic stretch of undeveloped coastline in the United States."

As a national treasure, it is also home to "one of the best drives on Earth," with multiple vista points that will impress for its glorious sights.

In fact, Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), a segment of California State Route 1, via Cabrillo Highway, cuts through one of the most beautiful meetings of land and sea.

Around 4.5 million tourists visit Big Sur every year. If you're a surfer, this is a surf trip you shouldn't miss. It's the perfect place to unplug, chill out, and relax.

Unlike many surf spots in Southern California, which can get ultra crowded, Big Sur offers a unique experience that will enable you to reconnect with the sport's original spirit.

Big Sur: a secluded surfing paradise | Photo: Shutterstock

Uncrowded Surf Breaks

There are plenty of hidden, uncrowded and spectacular surf breaks for you to explore right off the side of the road. The trick here is to pull the car over and analyze the surfing opportunities.

There also a few dangerous spots that should be avoided during powerful swells, especially if you're all by yourself and surfing in places where rocks get in the way.

Not all surf spots in Big Sur can be easily accessed. Farther north, near Carmel-by-the-Sea, there aren't many surfable breaks because it's a stretch of coast where the ocean often meets walls of rock.

Due to the westerly swells that hit the shoreline regularly, waves can get big and powerful and close out.

The best time of the year to surf Big Sur is fall. Between September and November, you'll find smooth, silky waves breaking in relatively warm waters.

Andrew Molera Beach: a sheltered beach break | Photo: Shutterstock

Andrew Molera State Park | 36.281018, -121.857413

Andrew Molera is a sheltered beach break for intermediate wave riders located south of the Big Sur River mouth.

It can get tricky in low tide thanks to the rocks that pop up out of nothing. However, with the right southwest swell, it delivers consistent head-to-overhead waves.

The best time of the day to surf this spot is in the morning when there's usually no wind or a light breeze. Expect crystal clear waters, and beware of the strong currents.

Sand Dollar Beach: a popular surfing spot in Big Surf | Photo: Shutterstock

Sand Dollar Beach | 35.922535, -121.468633

Sand Dollar Beach is an u-shaped bay and one of the most popular stretches of sand in Big Sur. It is located on the edge of the Santa Lucia Mountains, and it can be a longboarder's dream spot.

Protected by the wind, and surrounded by pelicans and seagulls, it offers white sands and multiple amenities, including restrooms, showers, and parking.

If you're into longboarding, head to the north end of the beach; whenever the surf gets rough, grab a shortboard and walk south toward the rocky section of the cove.

Willow Creek: a dangerous surf spot with lots of kelp beds and rocks | Photo: Shutterstock

Willow Creek | 35.893457, -121.461759

Located below a picnic area, Willow Creek features a small beach with a mix of sand and small rocks.

Despite being known for great white sightings, the spot pumps an exciting left-hand wave. Exiting the water can be tricky and dangerous because of the kelp beds and rocks that populate the area.

San Carpoforo: a beautiful beach with long waves | Photo: Shutterstock

San Carpoforo | 35.753355, -121.316374

Hidden on the base of the San Carpoforo Valley and north of Ragged Point, the spot pumps its waves in front of the local river mouth.

With low winds and a punchy westerly swell, San Carpoforo delivers an intense and relatively long wave riding experience.

San Simeon: there's surf near the local pier | Photo: Creative Commons

San Simeon | 35.643026, -121.188510

San Simeon is a small town in the San Luis Obispo County known for the famous Hearst Castle.

The local surf spot is strategically located south of San Simeon Point, in a highly sheltered zone.

Despite its inconsistent surf, it may produce an epic barreling right-hand wave when wind and swell conditions align perfectly.

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