July 23, 2024
seaside reef surf spot

Seaside Reef Surf Spot Cardiff

North County San Diego has excellent surfing. Seaside Reef Surf Spot is another Northern gem. I consider Seaside Reef one of the best waves in Encinitas and Top 10 waves in San Diego !

In this surf spot review – find out what to expect when surfing Seaside, what time of year this wave is best and other hidden, local knowledge.

Jump to a quick Seaside Reef Surf Spot Review

Where is Seaside Reef in Cardiff?

Firstly, let me clarify that Cardiff is part of Encinitas. Hence, Seaside Reef Cardiff or Seaside Beach Cardiff. Seaside Reef Surf Spot is easily spotted when driving along the Coast Highway 101. When driving South along Coast Highway, you will spot an entrance and large parking lot for South Cardiff State Beach on your right. The entrance is just before the Solana Beach border.

where is seaside reef in cardiff
Parking for Seaside Reef surfing @ Seaside Beach in Cardiff

Beware, when entering Cardiff State Beach into your smart phone, it will likely take you the main entrance for Cardiff Reef. However, Seaside Reef in Cardiff is located South from there.

Fortunately, the parking lot at South Cardiff State Beach is huge. As such, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a parking spot. However, it is paid parking. Note, the annual California State Park pass will also apply.

I also must note that this lot does not open until 7am. For those of you aiming to do dawn patrol, there are a few spots North along Coast Highway where you can park for free on those early days. Alternatively, the first street on your right going North past South Cardiff State Beach will be Ocean Street. You can also park in this Solana Beach neighborhood. From here, you can either backtrack to walk back to Seaside Beach or you can take stair access from the top of the bluffs. This staircase will drop you out directly in front of Tabletops surf spot, but keep walking South to paddle out at Seaside Reef.

Once parked, it’s time to enjoy some Seaside Reef surfing!

Seaside Reef Surf Spot Overview

In this section, learn what to expect when surfing Seaside Reef.

Some say Seaside Reef surf spot is considered the baby Trestles of San Diego. Well, it’s for good reason.

Seaside Reef is a playful wave in medium size surf with multiple sections and will become fast and hollow when the surf is overhead. As such, I consider Seaside Reef surf spot to be an intermediate to advanced wave. Locals love this wave and even local pros like Rob Machado are commonly found hanging out and surfing here. Seaside beach has a large wide, beach so it’s easy to sit and watch the surfing or simply enjoy a beach day.

Seaside Reef is a reef break that breaks best on a low tide. Typically, your lefts are going to be the ones you can really dig your fins into. However, rights are also easy to find when surfing Seaside Reef. After the first section of wave, it usually reforms again on the inside allowing for a playful section and longer ride.

surfing seaside beach cardiff
Surfers having fun on the inside section at Seaside Reef

Since Seaside Reef is a reef break, the only real hazard to watch out for when surfing Seaside Reef is the rock bottom. At times, it’s shallow so I recommend falling flat.

In summary, Seaside Reef Surf Spot has a great wave with multiple sections that works in most swells.

Surfing Seaside Quick Facts

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Wave Height: Ideal shoulder high to a couple feet Overhead

Tides:  Low or dropping low. Will be swamped on a high tide.

Water Temperature: Average 64° F. Check my post on the water temperature in San Diego by month to know what the proper wetsuit thickness is.

Swell Direction: W or NW preferred.

Wind Direction: Offshore wind from the East. Kelp can sometimes keep the surface stable but usually blown out in the afternoon.

For a daily, up to date Seaside Reef Surf Report, check out Surfline.

When is the Best Time of Year for Surfing Seaside Reef?

In the following paragraphs, be sure to know the best time of year for surfing Seaside.

Winter: Oftentimes, winter is the most consistent time of year for those clean, consistently larger NW or Westerly swells that make Seaside Reef light up!

Spring: A bit of a fickle season for surfing Seaside. If the right amount of West is in the swell direction, it can be good. Otherwise, surf is average.

Summer: While summertime is typically the smallest, SW swells are the best bet for this time of year and pack a punch when they arrive.

Autumn: Autumn usually gets a mix of both NW and SW swells allowing for pretty consistent surf. Also, the best time of year to get lucky with some offshore Santa Ana winds.

In summary, winter is the preferred time of year for surfing Seaside Reef with Autumn being a close second.

Which Board to bring for Surfing Seaside?

In this section, I’ll help you choose the proper board from your quiver to maximize your time surfing at Seaside Reef.

To begin, I’ll give you my recommendation for waves in the shoulder high range and below. For this size surf, surfing Seaside Reef is going to be absolutely perfect for a fish or fun board. Due to the way this wave breaks and reforms into multiple sections, a fun board with a little extra volume will help ease your cruising from section to section. The Cloud from Degree 33 will help you conquer these conditions while maintaining speed.

Local's Choice
5'7 Cloud Shortboard Surfboard Aqua Dip (Hybrid Epoxy Softtop) - Degree 33 Surfboards

Designed to glide flawlessly in small surf and to handle itself in overhead waves.

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Next, you need to change your board selection when the wave height approaches shoulder high and beyond. For this kind of surf, the wave becomes fast and hollow. For a technical wave like this with more pitch, best off bringing your shortboard or board suited best for the head high range. I personally like the Pyzell Phantom. My other board recommendations are found in my surf gear guide.

And there you have it, my board recommendations when surfing Seaside.

Seaside Reef Surf Spot Crowd Factor

In this section, learn what to expect from the crowds while surfing Seaside Reef.

Seaside Reef is characterized by one general peak and takeoff section on the outside. As a result, this wave will become easily crowded. Any time you can count 20+ people in the lineup, your best bet will be sitting on an outside edge or even on the inside to catch smaller waves or the waves others miss. Otherwise, it may not even be worth paddling out.

The second characteristic of surfing Seaside Reef is that it’s somewhat localized. When I say localized, what I mean is that most of the surfers in the water already know each other. Typically, they are friendly and won’t bother you but something to be aware of. Also, the level of surfer talent at Seaside Reef surf spot is high, even for the groms shredding here.

Lastly, Seaside Beach is also popular for normal beachgoers. It’s not uncommon for the beach to be crowded with non surfers in summer. Be sure to arrive early if you intend to pay for your parking.

seaside reef surf
Get to Seaside Beach early before the lot fills up!

In summary, when the surf’s up and the wave is busy, I suggest trying another nearby surf spot instead.

Surf Breaks Near Seaside Reef

Below, find the nearest waves to surfing Seaside Reef Cardiff.

Closest to the South in order:

Closest to the North in order:

Seaside Market Cardiff Crack

Before ending this post, I have to share some local tips! For anyone surfing or hanging out at Seaside Beach Cardiff, it should be common knowledge to hit up Seaside Market in Cardiff post surf!

Seaside Market has a range of fresh options at their deli including sandwiches, bowls, and breakfast burritos before noon. Seaside Market is also famous for Cardiff Crack. When in the area, it’s a must to pick up some Cardiff Crack for grilling later.

I am going to share my Cardiff Crack cooking tips in order to make the most of this succulent beef. Cardiff Crack comes as a large slab so it’s best to slice it into chunks about one inch thick. This will allow the beef to cook more quickly without burning the outside. Afterwards, toss them on the grill for about 10 minutes. Turn them after 5 minutes so they get cooked on both sides. Cardiff Crack cooking is easy since the beef is already marinaded. You just need to know how to prepare it right.

Now, you will be ready for a tasty Seaside treat after a session of surfing Seaside Reef surf spot!

cardiff crack cooking

Seaside Reef Surf Spot Review


Accessibility: Easy parking with a large lot. Only downside is it’s paid parking. The paddle out is easy enough provided you paddle around the outside of the reef.


Waves: A very fun, workable wave with multiple sections for inside turns. Becomes fast and sometimes hollow on a large swell.


Crowd: One primary takeoff option leads to this spot becoming easily crowded.


Scenery: Excellent views of the coastline stretching from the bluffs of Solana Beach to the wide open beaches running through Cardiff by the Sea.


OVERALL: Seaside Reef Surf Spot is one of the best options in North County for the experienced surfer that doesn’t mind a crowd.

Bottomline: Is Seaside Reef in our top 10 surf spots in San Diego? Yes! Check the other top spots here.

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Please keep your parks and beaches clean by picking up after yourself. Do me a favor and surf Seaside Reef how you found it. Check out Surfrider San Diego if you are looking to participate or contribute to a charitable ocean cause.


  • Gavin Bechtold

    Gavin has been living and surfing in San Diego for over a decade. He loves the ocean and is lucky to call San Diego home. Frustrated with mainstream reviews, he set out to create the best source of surf reviews for San Diego beaches. Check the About page for more info!

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