Surfing was not born in California, but every surfer can find a break that suits them somewhere along the coast. The stretch of coastline from Point Conception through Santa Barbara to Rincon Point is host to some of the best waves that California has to offer. From Refugio State Park to Rincon Point, there are no fewer than 10 right-handed point breaks ranging from screaming fast barrels at Sandspit to more mellow waves found at Coal Oil Point and the adjacent inside reefs that can produce rides longer than 150 yards on an average day. Hopefully this Santa Barbara Surf Report will help you find the break that you are looking for!
I will not give explicit turn by turn directions to these breaks. My goal is to help you decide what break will actually suit your style and ability, without giving away some local/secret spots that I selfishly want to keep to myself.
North County State Parks Surf Report:
North Santa Barbara County State Parks Surf Report: Santa Barbara
The northernmost part of the coastline is mostly private property, although Jalama Beach State Park offers a campground with some really fun surf if you get there before the wind picks up. This can be a great getaway for a good powerful beach break. Please note that Jalama is notorious for being sharky, and there are minimal facilities in the vicinity in case of an emergency. They have lifeguards during the summer months, but not all year long. Please surf at your own risk and remember to be as safe and vigilant as possible when surfing at a new spot. After you’re done surfing, make sure to drop by the one place to eat for a famous Jalama Burger. Moving further south, we come to a few other state parks with good surf as well.
The best tide for Jalama is medium-high, depending on where you paddle out. West and South West swells tend to work best, although this spot is very exposed to any swell and can get VERY big. Wind can be very tricky at Jalama, so getting an early start will be important. A $10 entry fee for a day pass into the state park can be well worth the good surf.
Refugio Santa Barbara Surf Report
If you are looking for more of a mellow longboarding right-hand point break, then Refugio is a great choice. This family-friendly state park surf spot offers camping and white sandy beaches that anyone can enjoy. I can remember coming to both Refugio and El Capitan as a child and camping. We would walk the point and watch the surfers gliding across the waves. I was too young to truly surf but I loved watching everyone bobbing around in the water.
Mid-period swell really makes this spot turn on with low-mid tides. Because of this spot’s orientation on the coast, the northerly winds are actually offshore fairly often. The picturesque cove will invite you into the water even when the waves are small to snorkel. Check out my other blog about Snorkeling In Santa Barbara to learn a little more about it as well!
This is a more advanced right-hand point break than Refugio. Waves are capable of offering barrels alongside family camping on the bluffs as well. This break is a more intermediate-advanced skill level, especially when it is pumping, and breaks over cobblestone rocks similar to Rincon. This spot needs a mid-long period groundswell to make the point really workable, but the low tide is really important. Low tide means a faster wave but it’s a blast when you make the section and pull into it. Keep in mind that there will be a lot of locals here that can sometimes be aggressive, but if you respect the lineup then you shouldn’t have any issues.
There are a few other surf spots south of El Capitan before you get to Goleta. However, we will not be writing/providing locations out of respect for the locals. Certain surfing spots in the area are sacred for some people. We don’t want to press on those boundaries by showing everyone where to surf when the best swells come through. This Santa Barbara Surf Report will provide you with everything you need to find good surf in Santa Barbara County. You’ll have to do your own exploration/investigation to find certain localized secret spots. Just remember that you are a guest and treat the ocean and the lineup with respect.
Goleta/Isla Vista Area Surf Report: Santa Barbara
The city of Goleta is host to the University of California Santa Barbara’s campus, as well as Isla Vista, an adjacent community populated mostly by college students. The UCSB campus, and the adjacent community of Isla Vista, is host to a multitude of breaks for all abilities and styles. Unfortunately, most of these breaks are overrun by the college kids who live there. I use to be one of those college kids, and I sometimes hated myself for paddling out with 90% of people being kooks. You will see almost half of the people on Wavestorms, almost half on brand new boards who have no experience, and another 10% maximum of actual good surfers.
Sands Beach is the northernmost tip of the area and is often filled with the college crowd both on the beach and in the water. Wide-open beach break with a couple of rock/reef spots that break in a semi-consistent way. When it’s working, Sands feels like a skate park for surfers. Head high and peaky is when I have the most fun at Sands. A few quick cover-ups can be found on rare occasions. Sands more often provides great ramps for practicing airs.
Devereaux/Coal Oil Point
Sands doesn’t handle larger sizes or longer swell-period well. Shorter wind-swell (<10 second periods) is typically best. Size on these wind swells could be anywhere from 1-5 feet, but the shorter swell period is most important. High tide is best as the low tides expose a lot of rocks and the wave just doesn’t hold up as well. Super fun but can definitely get overcrowded with the UCSB students.
Devereaux/Coal Oil Point
This wave breaks over a rocky reef with a few outcrops. Booties are recommended but not necessary if you just take your time walking out and heading in. The outer tip of the point is run by shortboards, for good reason. This initial section can be a little hairy at low tide. Making the critical drop over the shelf that forms is not always possible on a longboard (or a shortboard for that matter).
Once you move closer inside from this initial takeoff spot, the wave opens up into a rippable open face that can last for a couple of hundred yards. Whether you’re on a shortboard, mid-length, or longboard, you will be able to do long top-to-bottom carves that will leave you stoked out of your mind. You will want to walk up the beach to prevent such a long paddle out, but the wave is well worth it!
There is one section about 50 yards in from the main takeoff spot that will section in front of you. If you can time your pump and drop down and around it, you will have the rest of the wave to yourself. Careful though because there are often a few snakes that will try and take off on the other side of the section thinking that you will not make it. They are often right but if you make it around and holler at them they usually hop off. Medium tide with swell from the West or Southwest is ideal. The bigger WNW Swells will also typically light this spot off with cleaner faces but smaller waves.
Dreamies Santa Barbara Surf Report
This is one of my all-time favorite spots to longboard. When Sands is too maxed out and Devereaux is packed with kooks, Dreamies is where you’ll find me. Dreamies breaks further offshore near the kelp beds over a reef. This wave can take you on a left for 100 yards, then a right for a hundred yards, and then you can change directions again for a final left, all on the same wave! This spot handles size incredibly well with larger swells.
Maxing out at a little over head-high, the underwater topography (bathymetry) makes this wave break gently down the face. Lower tide with smaller swells or higher tide with bigger swells is best. Their is ample room to spread out and find your own peak. My sunset sessions here that last 3 hours always left me exhausted, but with a stoke level over 100. The kelp and reefs further offshore knock the chop, and some size, down a bit. This wave is consistently my go-to spot, especially on a longboard, when Sands and Devereaux are crowded.
This place breaks similar to Sands but can often handle longer swell periods as well. Peaky wave over shallow flat bedrock; be careful walking out because there are cracks in the slippery rock that makes rolling an ankle very possible. This spot is most often fun on a Wavestorm with some friends because of how inconsistent it can be. That being said, I have had more than a handful of super good sessions with just my roommate on real shortboards. Pesces is at the end of Camino Pescadero down the stairs directly to the beach. There is not a lot of sand on this beach at high tide, so this is primarily a surf only spot with not a lot of people on the beach. Not really a great spot to hang on the beach afterward, but there is a shower at the top of the stairs!
Parking here is very limited street parking only and there are a lot of cyclists blowing through stop signs. Drive safe and share the road!
Campus Point Santa Barbara Surf Report
While mostly overrun by kooks and UCSB students (same thing), Campus Point CAN get epic. If it wasn’t so well known and already overcrowded I wouldn’t even consider listing it. As a goofy footer, I have become incredibly annoyed that every point in SB is a right, including Campus Point. If Campus Point is firing it rivals Rincon’s length of a ride and quality. There are a couple of spots that back off and section. If you study the wave and learn what it will do, you can time the wave such that you can make it all the way into and past Poles.
Poles is another spot on the inside of the cove here that is primarily occupied by SUP surfers and longboarders. Careful of the current here; the closer you get to Poles the more it will pull you towards Goleta Beach Park and away from the beach that you want to get out at. My freshman year Winter Quarter finals week was super memorable for me here because I had finished my session and a guy came running up to me asking for help. A girl walked into the water to go for a quick swim and immediately got swept out. I had to paddle out to her and help her get back. Currents are no joke!
Not Mesa Header
Not Mesa Lane
Between Pesces and Campus Point there are a lot of little beach break spots. Sometimes you can find a peak all to yourself here in this area known as Depressions. The waves will most likely close out on you, but a few sections will open up. This is often worth a look just in case you don’t want to deal with the crowds of Campus Point.
Mid-Long period swells from the West or North West on a solid medium tide pushing high will make Campus Point start PUMPING.
Mesa Lane To Santa Barbara Surf Report:
This spot is honestly super funky. Depending on the tide and swell direction this wave can have a super fun and consistent left or right. Sometimes it doesn’t break at all. Recently I have been surfing here a lot because it’s easy to get to from my house. I have had really good luck on a really high tide when the wind has been side shore. The wind seems to keep the crowds down because otherwise this place can be packed. The current is also pretty strong here pulling South but there aren’t a lot of other hazards.
This spot is really only on the list as a last resort or if you just want to take a foamie out and get a couple of waves for the sake of getting in the ocean. This is also a part of an off-leash dog beach, so bring your dog and enjoy the sunshine!
Leadbetter/Santa Barbara Point
While rampant with beginners and children, Leadbetter can occasionally offer some really fun waves for a longboarder as the wave wraps into the cove. Easy access through a parking lot on the beach and showers on-site make this spot perfect for families that want to enjoy a full day at the beach. Make sure to check out Shoreline Cafe for lunch!
The picture below shows classic Leadbetter with a good-sized swell, but it doesn’t get super big very often. The wave is always a slow crumbly longboarding wave but there is always a time/place for taking a log out.
Sandspit Santa Barbara Surf Report
Next on the list as we make our way down the coast will be Sandspit; one of the finest man-made waves in the world! When the breakwater was constructed in 1929, it caused the sand that ebbs and flows throughout the harbor to settle along what we now call Sandspit. This wave is not for the beginner or intermediate surfer. Because of the critical takeoff, positioning, and ample crowds that often fill this lineup, experts only! If you’ve never heard of this break, you can mostly be sure that you aren’t ready to surf it! But that’s alright because there is plenty of other surf in the area.
WSW swells with a swell period of fewer than 15 seconds are just about perfect for Sandspit. Watch out on lower tides because this spot already breaks in shallow water.
Next, we come to Rincon; aptly named the Queen of the Coast because of her beauty both from the beach and in the water. This point actually has 3, and sometimes 4 separate places to take off, allowing for the surfers to spread out. The tip of the point is referred to as indicators, which will RARELY connect to the other two sections known as the river mouth and the cove. On those Mysto days sometimes they all line up for a ride that will change your life.
Swells from NW through SW will be sucked towards the point and the low tide will make the wave break best. A higher tide can occasionally make the top of the point break better but it also creates a really wonky current that can mess with the entire wave sometimes. Check out this other write up about the swells that work best at Rincon.
Get Out There And Have Fun!
While this Surf Report is mostly encompassing Santa Barbara, Rincon and Mondos Beach are technically in Ventura County. If you are relatively new to surfing and are looking to get in the water, then Mondos Beach in Ventura County is the place to go. Mondos Beach is the perfect peeling right-handed point break for beginners. This spot may get more crowded on the weekends and during the summer months. There are almost always breaking waves and room to spread out away from other surfers in the water. Surf lessons are a great way to develop your abilities and learn more about the waves along the Central Coast, and most lessons are taught right at Mondos! I hope this Surf Report helps you find the best possible spot on your next Santa Barbara Surf trip! See you out in the water.