The best time of year to surf in Santa Brbara County is in the winter, and to a lesser extent the fall. Santa Barbara's primary swell source is from storms in the North Pacific that generate waves as they approach the west coast. Spring swells tend to be wind swells generated by spring onshores.
Summertime is a good time to drive out of the swell shadow of the Channel Islands. In general, the surf will be smaller the closer one gets to the city of Santa Barbara proper. Waves are always larger around the tip of Point Conception or in Ventura.
- Hendry’s Beach: The Hendry’s Beach surf area, also known as The Pit, is located at the end of Las Positas Road, where the Arroyo Burro Creek empties into the ocean. Hendry’s Beach is the rare surf spot with a restaurant on site (Boathouse). Below the Douglas Family Preserve, Hendry’s Beach has average waves but attracts more surfers than one might expect because the free beach parking. The wave is a fast and dumpy beach break but can get fun in the spring during short period wind swells. Not recommended for beginners. Map
- Leadbetter Point: A small, fun, easy wave. Friendly crowd and good for beginners. Lots of peaks along this small right pointbreak. Leadbetter Point is a mellow wave popular with SUPs and longboarders. The waves at Leadbetter Point aren't spectacular there always seems to be something breaking, even in the summer. During winter westerly swells waves get big but are usually mushy and not very powerful. Leadbetter Point is the rare surf spot with a restaurant on site (Shoreline Beach Café). Leadbetter is a go-to spot for neighboring Santa Barbara City College students. Map
- Mesa Lane: Between Leadbetter Beach and Hendry’s Beach are a series of strictly-average beach and reef breaks. Mesa Lane provides the rare beach access stairwell and consequently attracts more surfers than nearby areas. During an incoming tide Mesa Lane offers surfable waves in the fall, winter and spring. It's busiest after work and after school. Map
- Sandspit: Sandspit offers sucking, super-hollow barrel wave. It needs a big west swell to work, and when it breaks it will be half the size of Rincon with just as crowded a lineup. Waves break at the end of the breakwater at Santa Barbara Harbor and it is visible from Stearns Wharf. Sandspit was created after a breakwater was built for the Santa Barbara Harbor in 1929. The sand continuously pours around the breakwater, building up a huge sandbar that needs to be dredged regularly to keep a channel open for boats. When Sandspit breaks nearly every surfer in town area swarms the area, hoping for a chance at a 5-second barrel wave. Sandspit is a major surfing indicator for the South Coast and when it's pumping, all area surf spots are on fire. Consequently Sandspit has a dedicated live web cam. Map
- Haskell’s: Haskell’s is an undistinguished beach break located near the Ritz-Carlton Bacara Resort in western Goleta. Haskell’s can be really fun, gets peaky and racy, but also gets walled. The waves typically don’t get that great at Haskell's but can be pleasing during a summer wind swell. The Beach is named after Mike Haskell, who was the keeper of the key to the private beach at Tecolote Canyon Ranch. Local surfers would need Mike’s permission to surf the Tecolote Canyon Ranch’s private beaches, and so the spots were named after him. Haskell's Beach shares a parking lot with the Bacara. Map
Isla Vista / UCSB
- Campus Point: Campus Point marks the eastern edge of the campus, a small right pointbreak similar in size to Leadbetter. Can get crowded with UCSB students. Campus Point offers a protected cove that is often glassy because of an offshore kelp bed. The runoff from the lagoon builds a sand bank resulting in a very long right hand wave. Campus Point attracts lots of longboarders and more than a little tar from natural oil upwellings. Map
- Depressions: Neighboring Campus Point is the Depressions surf area which rises to the level of "average beach break." Contrary to popular belief the name has nothing to do with student anxiety during exam time. Depressions Beach is named after the dent, or depression, in the adjacent ocean bluffs where the UCSB lagoon empties into the ocean. The runoff from the lagoon creates a sandbar right off shore. During a short period wind swell Depressions can get slabby with occasional barrels. During long period ground swells wave reflect off the rocks at Campus Point. All beaches in this area have a lot of tar from natural oil upwellings. Map
- Devereux/Coal Oil Point: Isla Vista's Devereux, officially named Coal Oil Point, is the point break just to the east of Sands Beach. Some surfers suggest that Coal Oil Point is a separate surf spot from Devereux, the former being a point, the latter being a reef. If Santa Barbara is being hit with a big west swell, consider surfing Devereux or Campus Point when in Isla Vista, instead of Sands or other local spots. Devereux is frequently mushy and is usually warbley in the morning. Devereux is always packed with UCSB students, most of whom are just learning to surf, though nearby Sands is officially the go-to for the new. When the sand at Devereux is in its best form and a west swell arrives directly off of the point you can catch a wave for 50 - 100 feet. All beaches in this area have a lot of tar from natural oil upwellings. Map
- Peskies: Peskies is the nickname for the surf area at the end of Camino Pescadero in Isla Vista where there are stairs that take you to the beach. At high tide there is no sand and waves crash directly into the stairs. Peskies is a not-particularly-noteworthy beach break and often has a lot of kelp until the first big winter storm. All beaches in this area have a lot of tar from natural oil upwellings. Map
- Poles: The UCSB surf spot known as "Poles" is just north of, and around the corner from, Campus Point. The area is named after 3 man-made poles (removed in the late 1970s) that poked out of the ocean, marking an underground water intake valve installed by the UCSB Marine Lab in the early 1960s. Poles is at the mountain side Campus Point Beach and is a left and right reef break. It is less consistent than neighboring Campus Point and attracts many SUPs and newbie foam boarders. Map
- Sands: Isla Vista's Sands Beach is very popular with UCSB students especially freshman who moved from somewhere far from the ocean. With the right tide and swell direction, Sands can be good but it walls out if the swell is too big. When Sands is good, neighboring surf areas are probably even better. Sands is at its best in the spring and winter. If the kelp beds are healthy, waves are usually glassy even on windy days. All beaches in this area have a lot of tar from natural oil upwellings. Map
- Fernald Point / Shark's Cove: Unlike the more popular surf spots in Santa Barbara, Fernald Point is not as easily accessible as the rest because it’s surrounded by a private property. Nevertheless, avid surfers get here by parking at the end of Eucalyptus Lane/San Ysidro Road then walking south along Miramar Beach. What’s wonderful about this spot is its exposed point break and offshore winds that create excellent surfing conditions. Hazards include rocks, and surfers should expect Fernald Point to be crowded. Map
- Hammonds Reef: A classic right-hander, near Miramar Beach in Montecito. Occasional lefts. Well-shaped, lined-up wave with a few punchy sections. Holds considerable size and always offers classic rides on a good day. Medium tides with a solid west swells work best here. Big south swells also get in making Hammond's an occasional option in the summer. Almost always crowded on good days. Trail to Hammond's Reef begins at the bottom of Eucalyptus Lane or you can walk the beach if the tide is low. Map
- Rincon: Rincon Beach has some of the most perfect waves in California. Many have even claimed they are the best in the world. Called the "Queen of the Coast," Rincon straddles the Ventura and Santa Barbara county lines. Everything to the north and west of the Rincon Creek is in Santa Barbara, and everything east and south is in Ventura though Rincon is generally considered a Santa Barbara wave. Rincon has a long right pointbreak with several distinct lineups. Connecting the entire point is a ride hundreds of yards long. Rincon is often very crowded and a must-surf destination for world champions Kelly Slater and Tom Curren. Like most South Coast surf spots, Rincon works best with a direct west swell. For northwest swells to work, the period needs to be under 15 seconds. The point, known as "The Indicator," picks up the most swell as it’s the most exposed, but that also means it is susceptible to wind and bumpy conditions. The River Mouth surf area is generally shorter and mushier when compared to The Indicator. The Cove, the surf area near the 101 Freeway, produces knee-to-waist high waves perfect for a classic log. This tends to be the longboard hangout until big west swells start pumping at Rincon. To get there, exit the 101 Freeway at Bates Road and park in either the County or State lot. Map
- Ventura County: The coastline of this county runs from Point Mugu through the Oxnard plain, past three rivermouths and up along a mountain ridgeline before reaching Rincon at its northernmost point. A quick overview:The southern portion of the county is predominantly surf-starved, with a good summer spot at County Line and a small but barrelling winter peak at Supertubes, if you can find it. From Point Mugu to Port Hueneme the surf is inaccessible. From Port Hueneme to Surfer's Point is a series of beaches facing predominantly westward. Fickle shape and conditions dominate this stretch and it can be frequently blown out. Few channels exist to get out easily once the surf gets overhead and it can get punishing. The most popular break in the county is a series of lineups at the county fairgrounds, with C Street for longboarders and Fairgrounds/Stables/Pipes for shortboarders. North from there lie a series of rocky cobblestone points and a few reefs, all visible and accessible from the highway, until we get to the county line at Rincon.
- El Capitan: The break at El Capitan State Beach is the stuff of local legends. El Cap, as it is affectionately known, can be a stellar right point break when it actually breaks. When this right-hand point break goes off, it goes big, but when and if that might be can be difficult to pin down. This fickle wave takes a big west swell period under 15 seconds to start pumping. Like at Rincon, you can ride a wave for hundreds of yards at El Cap on a lucky day. And lucky days are always crowded. Unlike other Santa Barbara surf spots, El Cap can sometimes produce a tremendous pipe. When the right swell hits, you better be on dawn patrol to hit El Cap's sweet spot. On an average day El Cap rarely break over waist high. You can camp here, there is a store, and there is a day use fee for parking. Map
- Naples: Naples is a secluded right reef break just north of Goleta. Life most of the waves in this area, it takes a solid west swell to get going. North swells can't wrap in. Naples is a reef break with emphasis on the rights. Not epic but fun waves can be had with occasional long workable lines, some tubes at low tide. But even when the waves aren’t pumping, Naples is a peaceful place to paddle out and enjoy the rural area. Map
- Refugio: Refugio Beach is a palm tree-lined campground at a creek outlet. Refugio point is sheltered from the wind and is home to a slow, mushy, sand-bottom wave that is perfect for beginners and longboarders. Rocks are on the outside point area. Rides can be long with a speedy section on the inside; an occasionally good sandbar sometimes forms on the inside that is shortboardable. Even with a big west swell, which is what it takes to come to life, Refugio is pretty tame. On average Refugio is small and not particularly good but it is rideable at all tides. You can camp here, there is a store, and there is a day use fee for parking. Map
- The Ranch: The Ranch actually refers to two ranches, Bixby and Hollister, along a lengthy stretch of private coastline between Gaviota and Jalama in Santa Barbara County, It is the worst-kept secret in the county. The Hollister and Bixby Ranches are inaccessible save by boat or for the owners of private land. Classic reef and point waves at The Ranch were discovered in the early 1960's and pictured to excess by magazines. The Ranch runs from Gaviota State Beach all the way to Point Conception.
Access to The Ranch is heavily restricted. ATV-riding security guards patrol the perimeter of the property, and the train tracks, looking for trespassers. This means that boat into the lineup is your only option. The Gaviota Fishing Pier is the closest spot for launching a boat but unfortunately it has been closed for years after the outer 100 feet were chopped off during a storm. Bill 1680 was signed by the Governor which opened public beach access through The Ranch in 2022 but Hollister Ranch Homeowners have filed a federal lawsuit over the access law so the final outcome is uncertain.
Named spots at The Ranch include: Cojo Point & Reef (the best wave at The Ranch, picks up winter and summer swells), Drakes (long right point break, can be double overhead during big west swells), Government Point (long rocky right point break), Perko's (a summer break that picks up south swell), Razor Blades (closest spot to the pier, includes namesake sharp rocks that surround the beach, requires big west or northwest swell to work), and St. Augustine's (an average wave with rights and lefts on summer south swells). Map
- North County: The forbidding and wind-torn section of the county, where the coastline turns north-south and is exposed to the full brunt of wind, tide, rain, and swell. Often blown out for days, even at dawn. Some state and county beaches provide camping opportunities. Much of the coastline hidden behind Vandenberg AFB. Best in fall when a Santa Ana condition is holding and there is a small northwest swell.