As much as you might like to, no one can surf all day. But don’t worry, any surfer will still be stoked after leaving the water, because San Diego is a bastion of surf culture. Legendary surfboard shapers, historic breaks, cutting-edge surfboard manufacturing, and museums—San Diego has it all. Here’s your guide to keeping the stoke alive between sessions.
Where: Neptune Place and Bonair Street
Neighborhood: La Jolla
Truly hallowed ground, Windansea Beach is one of the spots where California surfing was born. Since the 1930s, wave riders have tested themselves on the flat rock reef that produces powerful lefts and rights on any day of the year. The smooth blue faces that pop up off the horizon can be deceiving—Windansea is no beginner break. Novices are better off enjoying one of the county’s loveliest beaches (though it’s small at low tide) from the rocks, sand—or iconic, landmarked Surf Shack.
Where: 1091 W. Morena Blvd
Bird’s Surf Shed is a terrific surf shop. But as the name suggests, the boards for sale are almost an afterthought. The shop’s main location on Morena Boulevard is a museum-slash-library for hundreds of rare surfcraft spanning generations, collected by owner Eric “Bird” Huffman. Displayed on the ceiling, the boards cause everyone to crane their neck upwards when entering the cavernous store. Strike up a conversation with Bird, and he can help you unlock the feeling surfers of the past experienced. Not ready to try out one of the oddball and likely priceless boards? Watch Surfer Magazine’s video series of professional surfers trying out Bird’s boards on local waves.
Where: 312 Pier View Way
Permanent exhibits document the evolution of surfboards and fins, the science of wave forecasting, the first surf cameras, and surf wax, and also showcase Eddie Aikau’s rescue board from the Hokule’a. There’s still time to catch long-term exhibits with one of Kelly Slater’s own surfboards and another with items telling Bethany Hamilton’s story of shark attack survival that the museum calls “Far and away the most popular exhibit and compelling story that the museum has had in our 29-year history.”
Where: 4225 30th Street
Neighborhood: North Park
Sure, San Diego is home to many legendary surfboard shapers, whose wares you can find far and wide. But you can also opt to try your hand at shaping your very own board under the watchful eye of experienced professionals. Shaper Studios’ staff will teach you everything you need to shape your own custom board (but prevent you from making critical mistakes).
Where: 974 N Coast Hwy 101
A shop so nice they named it twice (as they did with the adjacent java stop Coffee Coffee). Heavy on funky, soulful, stylish, and sometimes rare finds, this North County gem perfectly embodies San Diego’s homegrown surf culture. Look for gorgeous, handmade surfboards from shapers like legendary local craftsman Gary Hanel, whose crafts are made with local waves in mind.
Where: Del Mar Fairgrounds
Neighborhood: Del Mar
Each spring the surf world descends on a convention hall brimming with all the latest hard-goods the sport depends upon: Surfboards, leashes, fins, and more. The biggest names in the sport and business (and anyone who enjoys ogling cutting-edge surf technology and wares) are invited. The zzzzt-zzzzt sound filling the hall can be traced to a live shape-off, in which surfboard shapers demonstrate their craft in competitive form.
Where: 9550 Distribution Ave.
What could be a better place to tell stories about epic waves than a renowned local brewery started by an all-star lineup of professional surfers (native San Diegan Taylor Knox and Australian Josh Kerr) and other athletes? Saint Archer’s brews have become a staple around town out of more than just hometown pride. Creative flavors like Blackberry Gose and Guave Gose are as delicious as their mainstay IPAs and ales.