Pacific Beach gets a bad rap for tourists and partying but honestly, surfing Pacific Beach is pretty good. Pacific Beach surf spots include Crystal Pier, PB Drive, Law Street, and Tourmaline Beach. However, this review will focus primarily on Crystal Pier and PB Drive. The other PB surf spots (Law Street + Tourmaline) are more for longboarding and a different kind of wave.
As such, this post will include information on surfing Crystal Pier, the best time of year for surfing Pacific Beach, and a final review at the end.
Grab your board, your six pack and enjoy the read!
Where is Crystal Pier Surf Spot?
Firstly, I’ll help you navigate your way through Pacific Beach to find Crystal Pier surf spot.
For anyone who has been to Pacific Beach, it’s a busy place. Finding a place to park is no exception. To begin, simply punch in Crystal Pier, San Diego CA 92109 into your smartphone.
Crystal Pier is literally the heart of Pacific Beach. However, parking in this area is notoriously difficult. I suggest beginning your quest to find parking along one of the main roads heading down to the beach. These include Garnet Avenue, Grand Avenue, and Hornblend Street. If you exhaust these options, head to the side streets. Another popular choice is Law Street which will land you directly in front of another Pacific Beach surf spot, PB Drive (also walkable to the pier).
In summary, surfing Pacific Beach is only made difficult by finding parking in Pacific Beach. However, you have many options and all of them are within walking distance to the beach. The pier is a landmark so you can’t miss it!
Surfing Crystal Pier Overview
In this section, learn what to expect before surfing Crystal Pier or surfing Pacific Beach in general.
To begin, I will say Pacific Beach holds a special place in my surfing history. When I moved to San Diego in 2011, I lived in PB only 3 blocks from the ocean. I could literally walk to Crystal Pier. As such, surfing Pacific Beach and Crystal Pier formed an early part of my experience surfing in San Diego. I also surfed Pacific Beach plenty of times, so I know what I’m talking about 🙂
The whole area from Crystal Pier to Tourmaline is a beach break with a sandy bottom (well, Tourmaline is the exception that turns into a rock reef). When surfing Crystal Pier, the wave tends to wedge up on the North side creating a nice left that shoots off the pier. Note that surfing is only allowed on the North side of the pier. Also, fun fact is it’s one of five surfing piers in San Diego.
As you drift further North of the pier, you’ll get your standard beach break that gets peaky on the right swell direction. As a result, lefts and right are common. However, PB maxes out at head high. Beyond that, surfing Pacific Beach is not really possible as everything is closed out.
As you go even further North, the beach break area is considered PB Drive. Once you get in front of Law Street, the wave turns mushy and is better for longboarders. This is also a good place for learning to surf and surf lessons in Pacific Beach.
In summary, there are several Pacific Beach surf spots. All are average except Tourmaline which is a premiere longboarding surf spot in San Diego. Surfing Crystal Pier is the most advanced section but still mainly an intermediate wave.
Surfing Pacific Beach Quick Facts
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Wave Height: Waist high to a foot overhead
Tides: Medium to high is most workable
Water Temperature: Average 64° F. Check my post on ocean temperature in San Diego by month to know what the proper wetsuit thickness is.
Swell Direction: W, NW, SW.
Wind Direction: East, NE – offshore flow!
For your daily Pacific Beach surf report, check Surfline.
When is the Best Time of Year for Surfing Pacific Beach?
In the following paragraphs, I’ll help you determine the best time of year to consider surfing Pacific Beach.
Winter: While winter is one of the better seasons for surfing in San Diego generally, it’s not always the best option for surfing Pacific Beach. Reason being winter swells are powerful and PB tends to close out when it’s overhead. Although, a smaller less powerful winter swell is still a good bet.
Spring: Surprisingly, Springtime is a seriously good choice for surfing Pacific Beach. This area favors a NW swell. In the Spring, short period NW swells frequent the coastline.
Summer: Summertime is smaller waves and larger crowds. With that said, SW swells are favored this time of year. Since they aren’t usually as larger as the stronger winter swells, they make for decent surfing off Crystal Pier.
Autumn: This is the season when surfing Pacific Beach truly shines. Combo NW + SW swells make the coast come alive with peaks that stretch up and down the beach. Thrown in some winds from the East and you get rare epic windows. I’ve had some amazing sessions here in the Fall.
All in all, you can surf Pacific Beach year round but there are select seasons when the surf is especially better.
Which Board to Bring for Surfing Pacific Beach?
There are a few Pacific Beach surf spots. As such, the board you choose while surfing Pacific Beach will vary. Let’s start with surfing Crystal Pier.
Generally, you can surf Crystal Pier with everything from a longboard to a shortboard. With that being said, a shortboard is typically your best choice when surfing directly off the pier. The waves break a bit more quickly off the pier which suits a shorter board well.
As you move North of the pier toward PB Drive, a fish or funboard becomes the board of choice. Especially during those Autumn combo swells I talked about, a fish is perfect for laying into your turns and staying fast throughout the entire wave.
Finally, Law Street and Tourmaline are longboarding waves.
Overall, surfing Pacific Beach is possible with just about any board. Pending the spot and conditions, it doesn’t hurt to have a full quiver 😉
Pacific Beach Surfing Crowd Factor
In this section, find out what to expect from the crowds while surfing Pacific Beach.
The most aggressive crowd in Pacific Beach is normally found right off Crystal Pier. Surfers tend to bunch up around where the wave wedges off the pier. As a result, it can get busy if you are looking to catch those waves off the pier. I suggest sitting slightly North off the pier to avoid fighting for all your waves.
Otherwise, PB Drive, Law Street and Tourmaline are all pretty mellow and friendly. In terms of timing the crowds, weekends are of course always the busiest. Outside of weekends, I typically found weekday afternoons right after people are getting off work to be the second busiest. For folks living in PB, running down to the beach after work is easy. Fortunately, that normally meant the weekday dawn patrol session was not as busy.
Overall, the crowd found surfing Pacific Beach shouldn’t bother you. As long as you choose your windows accordingly, you should be able to find times when the surf isn’t overly busy.
Other Pacific Beach Surf Spots
Okay, I’ve touched on the other Pacific Beach surf spots outside of Crystal Pier throughout this post. However, this section will provide a brief summary of each to help you choose the best Pacific Beach surf spot for you!
PB Drive is the first stretch of beach North of Crystal Pier. This is a beach break that allows you to spread out and surf multiple peaks. Best at mid to high tide and potential to be really good in Autumn.
Directly in front of a large grassy area on Law Street is where you will find this surf spot. Surfing Law Street slows down quite a bit more than PB Drive and the pier making it ideal for longboarding. This is a great place to learn and it’s common to see surf lessons here. While a higher tide favors PB Drive, a low to mid tide favors Law Street. Don’t forget to check out oceanfront yoga with Namasteve on the weekends!
Now, if you are planning to surf outside of Pacific Beach, Mission Beach is a great nearby option!
The final and most Northern Pacific Beach surf spot is Tourmaline Beach. Tourmaline is a classic San Diego longboarding wave. In my opinion, it’s the best for longboarding in all of San Diego. Read the full review for surfing Tourmaline here.
In conclusion, you have a few spots to choose from of varying skill levels so it’s difficult to not to find a wave for you while surfing Pacific Beach.
Surfing Lessons Pacific Beach
Considering Pacific Beach is a hotspot for tourists, it’s no surprise that surfing lessons in Pacific Beach are common. Additionally, breaks like PB Drive and especially Law Street are perfect for learning to surf.
The sand bottoms and gentle waves at Law Street are a great spot for surfing lessons in Pacific Beach. In fact, lessons are being given in the whitewash almost any day of the week. The most common outfits giving out surf lessons in Pacific Beach are:
I can’t say I have a preference because I taught myself how to surf but I’m sure they are all great. If you are looking for 1:1 instructions with yours truly, I also give my own surf lessons!
In summary, you have a lot of options for surf lessons in Pacific Beach. Soon enough, you’ll be out surfing Pacific Beach breaks like the best of em!
Crystal Pier Pacific Beach Surf Spot Review2.8 out of 5.0 stars
Accessibility: Easy if you live in Pacific Beach. Otherwise, the drive is out of the way and parking can be difficult.3.0 out of 5.0 stars
Waves: Plenty of options to choose from when surfing Pacific Beach but all are average. Crystal Pier is the best choice.3.0 out of 5.0 stars
Crowd: Oftentimes, busy but several breaks to spread out along the beach. Go during off peak times for lighter crowds.3.5 out of 5.0 stars
Scenery: Great views of the PB coastline, the pier, and the cliffs by Tourmaline.2.9 out of 5.0 stars
OVERALL: Consistently average. Rarely epic. Best for PB locals, tourists, and beginner surfers.
Bottomline: Is Crystal Pier in our top 10 surf spots in San Diego? No. Check the 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 Pacific Beach how you found it. Check out Surfrider San Diego if you are looking to participate or contribute to a charitable ocean cause.