School’s out, the heat is on and the waves are curling, which means it’s officially surf season in the USA. The sport has existed in one form or another for several centuries and can trace its origins to Polynesia. But it was in the early 20th century that surfing became a global phenomenon and a wildly popular pastime on the mainland, especially along the Southern California coastline.
Hawaii and California are replete with renowned surf beaches and pop-culture idol status, but they’re not the only spots in the country to hang 10. From Oregon to Florida to New York and even tiny Rhode Island, beaches have earned rip-curl reputations and lured wave warriors to their wicked surf breaks and laid-back shores.
Whether you’re a pro looking for a place to hang your wetsuit for a week or you want to turn your family’s bucket list surf dreams into a reality, there’s a beach (and a beach hotel) waiting for you. Here are eight amazing U.S. spots to surf and stay. Cowabunga!
The history of Surfrider Beach is tied closely to the history of surfing itself, as it was one of the first places in the Los Angeles area where surfers rode the waves. Its legendary point break became a popular surf spot in the 1950s and 1960s. Over the decades, Malibu became home to Hollywood movie stars and studio producers and even inspired the creation of the blockbuster Gidget.
Where to stay: The former 1953 motel turned retro-chic boutique hotel, the Surfrider, is located directly across Pacific Coast Highway (PCH in local parlance) from Surfrider Beach. With its laid-back spirit and barefoot luxury decor, The Surfrider captures the essence of California’s surf heritage. Its Roof Deck Bar & Restaurant is the spot to grab post-surf smoothies. You’ll also find an outdoor shower for washing off the Pacific Ocean salt, complimentary surfboards, wetsuits and more. Need a lesson? Book one with local surf legend Malibu Pete.
The sandy Ditch Plains Beach on the far southeast end of New York’s Long Island, just two miles east of popular Montauk, is beloved by surfers. Though the waves are typically a lot smaller than in places like Hawaii and California, they are consistent. Add to the mix the Ditch Witch food truck for salads, burritos and wraps, and group or private kids’ lessons at the Sunset Surf Shack, and oh! What a day! A surf wheelchair is also available when the lifeguards are on duty.
Where to stay: Amagansett’s Reform Club feels more like a friend’s well-manicured estate than a hotel, which might be why brands like Etro, Tom Ford and Sotheby’s have held intimate soirées at this understated yet elegant inn. With only seven suites, three cottages and a posh private four-bedroom home, the hotel offers laid-back luxuries such as complimentary beach cruisers for easy pedals to the shore, and in-room massages to soothe post-surf muscles.
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If you’re searching for a surf spot that will challenge advanced riders while also being inviting to learners, Ponto Beach (north and south) in Carlsbad — about 30 minutes from San Diego — is it. South Ponto’s stretch of untamed shoreline is one of San Diego’s wildest beaches, and the vast stretch of sand makes it a family-friendly place to set up your surf camp, watch sunsets and enjoy the laid-back California vibe.
Where to stay: Watch the swells roll in from Alila Marea Beach Resort, perched atop a picturesque ocean view bluff in Encinitas, a quintessential SoCal surf town (with really good tacos). The hotel connects surf-curious guests to the local landscape and culture via amenities such as a collection of environmentally respectful surfboards curated with the help of legendary surfer and local resident Rob Machado. The hotel’s partnership with Fulcrum Surf School means you’ll be up on your board in no time, and an onsite surfboard butler delivers up-to-date knowledge on the local surf scene.
Old Florida vibes, easy-to-ride waves and warm temperatures year-round push legendary Cocoa Beach to the top of the must-surf beaches list. Located just 45 minutes from Orlando on Florida’s Space Coast, the cozy beach town offers visitors a chance to learn about surf history and culture at the Florida Surf Museum tucked inside the Ron Jon Surf Shop (and school), and paddle out to surf breaks off the wide sandy beach.
Where to stay: From a one-of-a-kind lazy river pool to complimentary beach cruisers and surfboards just steps from the sand, the Beachside’s retro vibes and pastel hues encourage relaxing family fun. The poolside Duck Dive Bar & Grill, inspired by surfers plunging beneath the waves when paddling out, pays homage to Cocoa Beach’s storied surfing history.
When the Beach Boys called out “down Doheny way” in their 1963 hit song “Surfin’ USA,” they were no doubt crooning about the surf break at Doheny State Beach, just 10 minutes from the swanky boutiques and restaurants of Laguna Beach. Doheny is well known for being a great place to learn too,surfers and experienced and newbies alike paddle to places known as Boneyard, Second Spot and Creekmouth. An annual Doheny Surf & Art Festival celebrates the beach’s historic surf culture each June.
Where to stay: The Victorian-style Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa is walking distance to the beach, which means surf-seekers can BYOB (bring your own boards) or rent them from the hotel. Sign up for surf lessons, surf camp and even surf therapy at nearby Wavehuggers.
Oahu offers more than 100 surf spots for all skill levels, including Waikiki — once a playground for Hawaiian royalty. With its stunning Diamond Head views, it is a setting recognized the world over. Make sure to check out Waikiki Wall, a pier (and surf spot) where you can check out the beach and wave action, as well as take in views of the long stretch of beaches that fringe Honolulu’s skyline.
Where to stay: Kaimana Beach Hotel‘s beachfront location at the edge of Waikiki is the ultimate spot to find your surf groove. The hotel’s new “Surf and Shoot” experience teams guests up with World Longboard Surfing Champion Kai Sallas and surf photographer Tommy Pierucki to shape a custom board, learn to surf Waikiki’s famous breaks and capture rad photos for their Instagram feeds. You can also take the hotel’s beach cruisers to explore the vibrant neighborhood.
It might be the smallest state in the country, but Rhode Island earns its Ocean State moniker thanks to more than 400 miles of coastline and more than 100 beaches. Narragansett is a popular summer getaway for its picturesque downtown, sea wall strolls and the town beach, considered one of New England’s best surfing spots due to its smooth, curling waves. Enjoy private or group lessons from Warm Winds, training newbies, friends, families and old pros for 20-plus years.
Where to stay: Each of the 16 rooms and suites at boutique hotel The Break, just a few minutes from the sand, sets a surf mood with its bright and airy beach-chic decor. Enjoy a heated pool, complimentary beach bags, towels and beach chairs, and concierge services to direct you to the best surf and sunset-viewing spots, and vintage-style beach bicycles for easy cruising into town.
With more than 350 miles of coastline surrounded by impressive mountain and ocean scenery, Oregon is just right for beginners or experienced surfers who don’t mind a little chill with their thrill. Cold water and strong currents are the norm at Cannon Beach, a town about 80 miles from Portland that gets a lot of attention (and crowds) during the summer. But head just three miles north to Ecola State Park and Indian Beach, and you’ll find it popular with local surfers for its secluded location and consistent waves.
Where to stay: Just steps away from iconic Haystack Rock, the Ocean Lodge invites visitors to enjoy the simple pleasures of life on the coast, whether you surf or not. If you do, Cannon Beach Surf Lessons and Rentals is just a three-minute stroll away.
Editor’s note: Photos courtesy of the individual hotels pictured except where noted.
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