For die-hard surfers, it’s all about the waves. For all they care, if the swell is pumping and the barrels are rolling, the surf spot could very well be in the middle of nowhere. But for those seeking to combine the thrill of the ride with the invigorating après-surf scene, a surf town is a far better choice. Even better, you don’t need to be a surfer to fall in love with these places, soak up in their free spirit vibes and fascinating local culture, which makes them a great choice for family travel and for bringing along your non-surfer girlfriend/boyfriend.
So here it is, our selection of surf cities you can move to right now that you’ll never want to leave. I’m sure most of them will have you nodding your head in approval, but there’ll be some that may just (pleasantly) surprise you!
10. Tofino, Canada
Photo by Duncan Rawlinson
On the west coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino is Canada’s surfing capital. Sure, the water can get a bit cold (let’s be honest, it can be freezing cold!), but as long as you don’t mind putting on your wetsuit, you’re in for a treat! The old fur trading and logging town of Tofino on the continent’s west coast is one of the most wave-rich spots on the planet, not to mention the great food!
Photo by Nihat Karakum
The rugged, damp, woodsy scenery and rich wildlife is nothing short of amazing. You can hike and set up camp within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, go whale watching, spot sea otters and dolphins and even go skiing and surfing on the same day. Tofino is home to some of the best skiing in the world, and it just so happens that the best waves hit the coast during winter months. During summer, almost all of Tofino’s beaches are beginner friendly.
9. Lagos, Portugal
Photo by Iker Cortabarria
Southern Portugal’s Algarve region is blessed with the widest swell window in the country. Although the waves here may not be as famous as those found in Peniche, they are nevertheless awesome in their own right.
Photo by Chris Ford
To the southwest of the Algarve, Lagos is an old fishing town with a laid-back country vibe that attracts an international crowd of surfers looking to escape the cold winters. With numerous sea-themed restaurants, picturesque 16th-century walls enclosing the old town, cobbled streets and stunning natural beauty, Lagos is most famous for its fabulous beaches and proximity to famous surfing spots. To the east of the town, Meia Praia is home to a great beginner’s beach break, while the beaches to the south are even more dramatic, with tall eroded cliffs, archways and coves.
Photo by Richard Lazzara
If you’re looking to combine the Algarve cuisine and culture with amazing surf, you can’t go wrong with Lagos. Conditions are good throughout the year, with autumn through spring bringing in the best swells. The famous surf on Algarve’s west coast are only a 30 minutes’ drive away, where waves like Arrifana Reef, Zavial and Beliche await experienced surfers. What’s more, this region has the warmest water in Portugal.
8. Nosara, Costa Rica
Photo by Chris Goldberg
A chic surf city with some awesome Zen vibes, Nosara sees fewer crowds than the other famous surfing spots in Costa Rica. This alluring coastline can easily be described in just two words: surf and yoga. And you don’t necessarily need to practice both to fall in love with the place.
Photo by Chris Goldberg
Within walking distance from town lies one of the country’s best surf break, Playa Guiones, a beach break with a sandy bottom that has gentle, beginner-friendly waves throughout most of the year. However, when big swells kick in between May and November, these powerful waves are for advanced surfers only.
There’s more to Nosara than just surfing and yoga poses on the beach. You can try kitesurfing, windsurfing, stand-up paddling and hiking near Playa Pelada. Playa Garza is home to a quaint fishing village where you can have a taste of authentic Costa Rica, and a hike through the Nosara Biological Reserve will get you close and personal with howler monkeys, iguanas and many different bird species.
7. Byron Bay, Australia
Photo by Richard Rydge
This Australian beach town is the closest thing to surf travel perfection as you can get.. In fact, many Australian surfers move to Byron Bay, even though some may come from the top surfing spots in Australia. The decisive factor remains the sheer splendor of the place and its famed laid-back vibe.
There are seven beaches at Byron Bay, and each of them comes with its own surf spots. The famous breaks at The Wreck, The Pass and Wategos attract an international crowd of surfers and are suitable for all levels. Byron Bay is all about water sports and a friendly community, so it comes as no surprise that it claims to be the world’s best surf town. While here, don’t forget to visit the local farmer’s market with bungalow cafes and old-school cinema house showing indie films.
6. San Sebastian, Spain
If food is just as important to you as the quality of the waves, then you’ll be pleased to know that San Sebastian has both! San Sebastian is Spain’s culinary capital, and is only a 20 minutes’ drive from Zarautz, the birthplace of surfing in Spain. Furthermore, the world-class surfing spots of Mundaka and Sopelana are only an hour’s drive away. And if you don’t feel like driving, La Zurriola Beach is a favorite surf spot located within the city, beginner-friendly in summer and seriously pumping in winter.
In San Sebastian, it is hard to decide which takes the center stage: the surf or the food. This romantic, elegant European coastal city is home to exciting bars, world-class restaurants serving finger-lickin’ Spanish cuisine and vibrant nightlife, excellent for couples and families looking to have fun in the waves while having a taste of the Basque Country’s authentic charm.
5. Haleiwa, Hawaii
Photo by Floyd Manzano
Palm-fringed white sand beaches and excellent surf, that’s Hawaii for you! But far from the crowds, bustling nightlife and holiday resorts lies Haleiwa, a sleepy beach town nestled along Oahu’s North Shore.
The stretch of coast between Haleiwa and Turtle Bay is considered the best surfing destination in America. In fact, the shoreline between Haleiwa and Sunset Beach is referred to as the ‘7 mile miracle’ – offering seven miles (11 km) of world-class surf breaks for all levels, including the legendary Banzai Pipeline, with waves that can reach 30ft (9 m) or more.
Photo by Jason Jacobs
In Haleiwa, the surf culture is deeply rooted in the lives of everyone, locals and tourists, surfers and non-surfers. Major development has been avoided in this quiet beach town, and locals hope to keep it that way. There’s no vibrant nightlife here, only mellow bars with live music, galleries, surf shops, eateries and an overall chilled-out atmosphere. But then again, Honolulu is only a short drive away (31 miles /50 km) if you’re up for some heavy partying.
4. Jeffreys Bay, South Africa
Photo credit: jeffreys-bay-info.co.za
Not too long ago, Jeffreys Bay was just another quiet little fishing village. Thanks to pioneer surfers who discovered the place in the early 1960s, J-Bay is now one of the most famous, if not the best surf spots on the planet. And if you’re curious about the vibes here, you should know that the town you see today was built around surfing. You get the picture, right?
Photo by Matthew and Heather
At the southern tip of the African continent, in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, the long stretch of sandy beaches at Jeffreys Bay is home to the best right-hand point break on the planet, offering rides as long as 0.6 miles (1 km) when the conditions are right. There are actually 10 sections here, with Supertubes being the most recognizable and sought-after by pro surfers. The best surfing conditions at J-Bay can be found between May and September.
What else can you do at Jeffreys Bay besides surfing? This is Africa, remember? J-Bay is only an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth, Addo Elephant National Park and many other exciting safari destinations.
3. Hossegor, France
Europe’s very own ‘California beach town’, Hossegor sits at the very heart of European surfing, with some of the world’s most powerful, hollow and fast beach breaks to be found here. The best time to surf in Hossegor is between September and November when the crowds are long gone and excellent North Atlantic swells hit the coast.
Photo by Laurent GUERIN
What can you do in Hossegor? Start by checking out the hollow lefts and rights at La Gravière and the world-famous big wave surfing spot of La Nord. Beginner surfers can head to La Sud, a sheltered beginner-friendly wave, and try their hands at the consistent beach breaks at Capbreton.
Make sure you set some time aside to visit the local farmers’ market while you’re here, and if you like mixing in surfing with a glass of wine in the evening, then head to the picturesque coastal city of Biarritz, only a 40 minutes’ drive south.
2. Santa Cruz, California
A small coastal city at the north of Monterey Bay in California, Santa Cruz is best described as a surf city with a retro vibe and one of the best places in the world to live in if you’re a surfer.
Photo by Rabin Pamela
Only 70 miles (110 km) south of San Francisco, you can eat cotton candy on the century-old Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and jump on the seaside roller coaster for $1 (on Monday and Tuesday nights). Pay a visit to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, hike through the ancient redwood groves in the Big Basin Redwood State Park and bike the scenic West Cliff Drive. Oh, and don’t forget to throw in some surfing sessions while you’re at it!
Santa Cruz’ 29-mile (46 km) stretch of beaches is home to 11 noteworthy surf spots. Pro surfers live next door to soul surfers, and you’ll find beach breaks, point breaks and reef breaks for all levels, with swell pumping from just about any direction. Here, Steamer’s Lane is often acclaimed as the best surf spot in the entire country, and if you’re into hardcore surf, then you’ll be glad to hear that Mavericks is only about an hour’s drive north.
1. Taghazout, Morocco
In southwestern Morocco, only 12 miles (19 km) from Agadir, Taghazout is a laid-back fishing village that has recently taken the surfing scene by storm. Some of the world’s oldest cities and best waves make for a fantastic combo in a country on the borderline, where very different cultures meet – Europeans, Africans and the fascinating Berbers.
Photo by Eelke
In the middle of a long stretch of rugged coastline, Taghazout is a surfing oasis. These shores generally receive long-period groundswells accompanied by offshore winds, which translates into excellent surfing conditions all year round. However, the best waves can be found between October and March, when surfers from far and wide flock to these shores to challenge notorious breaks like Anchor Point and Killer Point, often described as ‘freight trains’.
When you’re not surfing in Taghazout, treat yourself to a hammam, explore Agadir’s central market and stock up on argan oil, take a camel ride in the desert, or hike to Paradise Valley and jump off the rocks in the many natural pools. On Morocco’s Atlantic coastline, Taghazout is one of the cheapest ocean-front towns you can live in where the cost of living can be as low as $400/ month!
Do you often find yourself daydreaming about moving to a surf town? You don’t necessarily need to take the plunge right now. Choose a surf camp in one, two or all of the above locations and test the waters first!