Realistically, the best time to surf in San Diego could be any season. However, if forced to choose – Winter (December-February) is the best time to surf in San Diego.
In this post, I’ll break down surfing in San Diego by season. Winter, Summer, Autumn, Spring. After reading, you’ll know what to expect from the waves, water temperature, and best places to surf in San Diego for each season of the year.
Whether you are a local or planning your strike mission to San Diego, I’ll help you choose the best time to surf in San Diego.
Table of Contents
Best Time to Surf in San Diego by Season
As promised, consider this your guide to surfing San Diego by season.
Winter (Best Time to Surf in San Diego)
December-February. While cold, winter is the best time to surf in San Diego. W + NW swells pound the coast creating consistently large surf. In fact, it’s common for the largest and heaviest waves to grace San Diego during this time of year. Despite being large, conditions generally remain clean – at least during the morning window. Furthermore, crowds are usually lighter with kids back in school and beginners avoiding the large waves and cold-water temps.
Ocean Temperature: Winter water temperatures in San Diego are easily the coldest of the year hovering between 58-60 °F. A thicker 4/3 wetsuit will be your best friend to keep you warm. You may even want to pick up a pair of surf booties for those extended sessions. Our guide to stay warm in the surf will help you choose what to wear. Many visitors might wonder can you surf in San Diego in December due to the cold? Yes, you absolutely can with the right gear.
Best Places to Surf in San Diego in Winter
Generally, more Southerly breaks in San Diego pick up winter swell from the North best.
Black’s Beach: The crown jewel of San Diego is good in all seasons but especially lights up during winter. The subterranean canyon funnels the largest waves in all of San Diego to this region during winter.
La Jolla Reef Breaks: All of the reef breaks in La Jolla are well positioned for a NW swell. This area of coastline sticks out a little more allowing for consistent swell. Popular choices include Hospitals and Windansea.
Sunset Cliffs: One of San Diego’s most Southerly breaks that really shines during winter. Also, worth noting the best time to surf Sunset Cliffs is a low tide. High tide is swamped out.
Summary: Winter is the best window to score large waves consistently with a lesser crowd. The best time to surf in San Diego period.
September-November. Just a hair below winter as the best time to surf in San Diego, Autumn also is one of the best times to surf in San Diego. Reason being, this is a transitional time between Summer and Winter when peaky NW + SW swells are in the water. These peaky crossed up combos are particular good for beach breaks this time of year. Finally, Autumn is particularly special due to the offshore Santa Ana winds that frequently blow from the East this time of year.
Ocean Temperature: Autumn water temperatures in San Diego quite diverse. At times, it’s possible to see the warmest ocean temps of the year in September while November is the start of 4/3 wetsuit season. Autumn water temps average between 61 and 65°F.
Best Places to Surf San Diego in Autumn
Generally, any beach break is good this time of year. Below are some of my favorites.
Black’s Beach: Again, this top San Diego surf spot makes the list. It’s a beach break and the best time to surf in San Diego at Black’s makes no difference what time of year it is.
Pacific Beach: While rare, the occasional crossed up swell with offshore wind sets up PB for excellent surf.
June-August. It was a tossup between Spring and Summer to choose the #3 best time to surf in San Diego. Ultimately, I chose summer for two main reasons: warm water and South swells. While SW swells are much more inconsistent than their NW counterparts, they do pack punch when they arrive to San Diego. In between swells, the surf is generally smaller on average, but you can wear boardshorts, bikinis and have fun cruising around in warm water on your longboard. One other downside of surfing San Diego in Summer however is crowds and lots of beginner surfers!
With that said, Summer is also a great time to book a surf lesson with me!
Ocean Temperature: Summer water temperatures in San Diego are heavenly! This is your one window of the year where you can get away with wearing boardshorts. It’s a small window and some summers the water temp doesn’t get as high as others. You have to take advantage of it when you can. Summer water temps average between 66 and 72°F. The air is hot and the sun is strong too so lather up on sunscreen.
Best Places to Surf San Diego in Summer
South facing regions pick up the S swells the best. Most of these surf spots are in North County San Diego. Below are some of my favorites.
Ponto Jetties: Ponto is my favorite South facing break in North County and absolutely lights up during the summer. The jetties offer multiple peaks to take off for fast, fun waves.
Oceanside Harbor: Another excellent South facing break in North County. In fact, the farther North you go in San Diego during summer, the waves generally get bigger. This bodes well for Oceanside, the Northernmost county of San Diego.
Imperial Beach: The one exception to the rule. IB is the Southernmost surf spot in San Diego. However, this beach break is a magnet for SW swells.
March-May. While Spring holds the last spot on my list as the best time of year to surf in San Diego, that certainly doesn’t mean you should avoid it. In fact, Spring surfing in San Diego can be downright fun. This is another transitional time between seasons similar to Autumn meaning expect combo NW + SW swells with peaky conditions. NW swells tend to stick around into late Spring bringing solid surf. However, onshore window is also more common. The May grey mornings don’t help for dawn patrol either.
Ocean Temperature: Spring water temperatures in San Diego start off cool following Winter before warming up as Summer approaches. I would probably still wear a 4/3 wetsuit in early Spring before delayering to a 3/2 in late Spring. Spring water temps average between 61 and 66°F.
Best Places to Surf San Diego in Spring
Powerful combo swells that favor NW allow for a diverse set of options to surf in San Diego in the Spring.
Swamis: The best break in North County San Diego despite the crowds. This point break deliver almost all times of year but a little N + S in the water certainly helps.
Tourmaline: A premiere longboarding wave in San Diego that still gets consistent leftover winter swells.
Seaside: Reef break in Cardiff by the Sea that also delivers a nice mix of swell in the Springtime.
Wrap up on the Best Time to Surf San Diego
San Diego is certainly a coastal city that delivers surf throughout all seasons of the year. The San Diego surf season is best in winter but, don’t be shy to visit in any season. With my seasonal San Diego surf guide in hand, I hope that you can choose for you – the best time to surf in San Diego!
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