10 Charming Surf Towns You’ll Never Want to Leave
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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.
So here it is, our selection of surf towns you’ll never want to leave. And you don’t even need to be a surfer to fall in love with these places.
1. Taghazout, Morocco
In southwest Morocco, only 12 miles (19km) from Agadir, Taghazout is a laid-back fishing village that has taken the surfing scene by storm. You’ll find some of the world’s oldest cities and best waves in a country on the borderline, where three contrasting cultures coexist – Europeans, Africans, and the fascinating Berbers.
Nestled in the middle of a long stretch of rugged coastline, Taghazout is a surfing oasis. These shores 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 ride notorious point breaks like Anchor Point and Killer Point, often described as ‘freight trains’.
If you’re in doubt about where to go to find the best waves and conditions for your level, join one of the many surf camps in Morocco that offer lessons, guidance, accommodation, meals, and a fantastic time.
When you’re not surfing in Taghazout, treat yourself to a hammam, explore Agadir’s central market, take a camel ride in the desert, or hike to Paradise Valley and jump off the rocks in the many natural pools. Taghazout is one of the cheapest surf towns, with a cost of living as low as $400/ month!
2. Santa Cruz, California
A small coastal city north of Monterey Bay in California, Santa Cruz is a surf town with a retro vibe, one of the best places in the world to live in if you’re a surfer.
Only 70 miles (110km) 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. And go surfing in between, of course!
Santa Cruz’ 29 miles (46km) of beaches are home to some of the best surf spots in California. Pro surfers live next door to soul surfers, and you’ll find beach breaks, point breaks, and reef breaks for all levels. Here, Steamer Lane is one of the best waves in the US. And if you’re into big wave surfing, you’ll be glad to know that Mavericks is only about an hour’s drive north.
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 fastest waves. 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.
Begin by checking out the hollow lefts and rights at La Gravière and the world-famous big wave surfing spot of La Nord, two of the best surf spots in France. Beginner surfers can head to La Sud, a sheltered beginner-friendly wave, or try their hands at the consistent beach breaks at Capbreton.
Make sure you set some time aside to visit the local farmers’ market. And if you’d like a good glass of wine, head to the picturesque coastal city of Biarritz, only a 40-minute drive south.
4. Jeffreys Bay, South Africa
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 little town you see today was entirely built around surfing.
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 (1km).
There are 10 sections here, with Supertubes being the most recognizable and sought-after by the pros. The best surfing conditions at J-Bay can be found between May and September.
What else can you do at Jeffreys Bay? J-Bay is only an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth, Addo Elephant National Park, and many other exciting safari destinations.
5. Haleiwa, Oahu
Palm-fringed white sand beaches and excellent surf. That’s Hawaii in a nutshell! But far from the crowds, bustling nightlife, and upscale holiday resorts lies Haleiwa, a sleepy beach town nestled on Oahu’s North Shore.
The stretch of coast between Haleiwa and Velzyland is considered the best surfing destination in the US, and has been nicknamed the Seven Mile Miracle. Along these seven miles (11km) of coastline, there are dozens of world-class waves, including the legendary Banzai Pipeline, with waves that can reach 50ft (15m) or more. If you’re unsure where to go, join a surf camp in Oahu that will take you to the best surf spots for your level.
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.
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. Spain’s culinary capital lies only a 20-minute drive from Zarautz, the birthplace of surfing in Spain.
Furthermore, the world-class surfing spots at Mundaka and Sopelana are only an hour’s drive away. And if you don’t feel like driving, La Zurriola Beach is a popular surf spot located within the city, beginner-friendly in summer and seriously pumping in winter. You will find surf camps in San Sebastian that offer all the necessary guidance to learn to surf in this vibrant beach town or take your skills to the next level.
7. Byron Bay, Australia
This Australian beach town is the closest thing to perfection as you can get. In fact, many Aussie surfers move to Byron Bay, even though some may come from the top surf spots in Australia. The decisive factor remains the sheer splendor of the place and its famed laid-back vibes.
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.
For a complete and hassle-free experience, join a surf camp in Byron Bay and learn to surf or improve your technique the right way.
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.
8. Nosara, Costa Rica
A chic and quiet surf town, Nosara sees fewer crowds than other surf 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.
Within walking distance from town lies one of the country’s best waves, 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.
When you’re not surfing or doing yoga, you can try kitesurfing, windsurfing, stand-up paddling, or hiking in the Nosara Biological Reserve.
9. Lagos, Portugal
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 on the central coast, they are nevertheless awesome in their own right.
Check out the best surf spots in Portugal.
To the southwest of the Algarve, Lagos is an old fishing town 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.
East of town, Meia Praia is home to a popular beginner’s wave, while the beaches to the south are even more dramatic, with tall eroded cliffs, archways, and coves.
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 spots on the Algarve’s west coast are only a 30-minute drive away. What’s more, this region has the warmest water in Portugal.
10. Tofino, Canada
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! This is one of the most wave-rich spots on the planet.
The rugged, damp, woodsy scenery and rich wildlife are 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.
Do you often find yourself daydreaming about moving to a surf town? You don’t necessarily need to take the plunge right now. Join a budget surf camp in one, two or all of the above locations and test the waters first!