More than simply being a sport, surfing has become a lifestyle for many who love being on the water. With this in mind, many surfers enjoy visiting different surf towns to integrate with the culture while indulging in their love of waves. However, if you are looking to plan your next trip or, even better, relocate to a surf town, you’ll want to know a bit about the best surf towns in the US.
Some of the best surf towns in the US in terms of waves, surf culture, and beach quality include Huntington Beach, Santa Cruz, and Haleʻiwa. However, there are also other towns to consider for different reasons, such as Port Isabel and Wilmington, both great cities for various reasons.
Though there are many different surf towns in the US, not all are equal, and each has unique features that make it great. Below we discuss the best of the best and examine what makes each choice unique. In addition, we also give you some information on some of the best surf towns to relocate to, some of the cheaper surf towns to go to, and some of the best surf towns in different areas of the US.
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What Are the Best Surf Towns in the USA?
When looking for the best surf towns in the US, the key considerations include the culture, beach quality, and wave consistency. With this in mind, we have listed some of the best surf towns in the USA below, including the details mentioned above.
1. Huntington Beach, California
Huntington Beach, or Surf City as some know it, is a seaside city in Southern California. With a name like Surf City, it is only natural that this city is known for its excellent climate, gorgeous beaches, and the surfing culture you can find here.
- Beach Quality – With a beach maintenance group that cleans the beach and keeps everything in tip-top shape year-round, the quality of the beach itself is excellent. The ocean water is also safe to swim and surf in, meeting the health standards for bacteria levels.
- Wave Consistency – The consistency of the waves at the Huntington surf spots can differ significantly, but waves are relatively constant, even if they aren’t always rideable. With the most consistent waves, January is the best time to surf here.
- Surf Culture – Huntington Beach is rich with surf culture and history, with some of its history dating back to 1914 when George Freeth surfed at the pier dedication. With this in mind, though it took a few years for everyone to catch on, Huntington Beach is now filled with surf shops and even has a surfing museum you can visit.
2. Santa Cruz, California
Known for some of its fantastic surf spots, like Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz is high on the list of best surf towns in the US. With numerous surf spots in and around Santa Cruz, surf schools for those who want to learn, beautiful views of the ocean, local wineries, and strong surf culture, Santa Cruz is perfect for any surfer, especially those who enjoy wine.
- Beach Quality – Though the Santa Cruz beaches are clean for the most part, the ocean water quality does differ frequently. It is best to check the latest tests for water quality before you get your surfboard ready.
- Wave Consistency – If you want the best chance to catch some waves on the water in Santa Cruz, it is best to visit in July. During this time of the year and most of the summer, more consistent and clean waves allow you to ride for longer.
- Surf Culture – Also boasting a surf museum, Santa Cruz has been a go-to surfing area since the 1880s when it got reported that three Hawaiian princes introduced the locals to surfing. Since then, Santa Cruz has been home to Jack O’Neill, who introduced the wetsuit, gathered tons of exciting surfing-related items like a shark-bitten surfboard, and gained popularity among surfers.
3. Haleiwa, Hawaii
One of the most well-known surf towns, Haleiwa in Hawaii is a hub of activity, culture, food, and surfing. This surf town, which now plays the role of the area’s social, cultural, and artistic hub, is rich with history and surrounded by excellent surf spots. With many eateries in old buildings, surf shops, art galleries, and boutiques, this is a go-to area for any surfer.
- Beach Quality – With many ongoing projects to clean the beaches of Hawaii, it is safe to say that, for the most part, the beaches themselves get kept in good condition. However, before going to Haleiwa, it is best to see if there have been any recent storms or floods since these make the water brown sometimes. Though brown water is mainly due to rain, most advise surfers to steer clear.
- Wave Consistency – If you want the best surfing time at Haleiwa, the best time to visit is in January, when proper surfable and consistent waves are more likely. During January, these waves occur around 38% of the time.
- Surf Culture – Winter in this area is full of the hustle and bustle when it comes to surfing, with people coming from all around the world to experience the fantastic waves and rich culture. Making friends with locals is also an excellent way to learn in-depth information about where to go and what you can do if the scenery and historic buildings are not enough to satiate the culture-hungry.
Cheapest Surf Towns to Live in the USA
If you are a budget-conscious surfer, you may need more details to determine whether you can afford the area. Below you will find some of the cheapest surf towns in the US with important information such as the median home cost and cost of living index rating.
1. Port Isabel, Texas
Based on the most recent numbers, Port Isabel in Texas is one of the most affordable surf towns in the US. Despite being one of the cheaper surf towns to live in, Port Isabel, according to Surf Forecast, has surfable waves 10% of the time during good months like January, and combined with a median house cost almost $100k below the US standard, it is one of the best options.
- Cost Of Living Index: The overall cost of living index number is 78.7, making it relatively inexpensive compared to many other surf towns. In addition, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is around $700.
- Median House Cost: The median house cost in Port Isabel is around $214,800, which is also more affordable than many other surf towns. With this in mind, the median house cost is determined by looking at a list of houses in an area and ranking them from most to least expensive. The median in this scenario is the home price ranked in the middle of the list.
2. Gulfport, Mississippi
Another on the list of cheapest and best surf towns in the US is Gulfport in Mississippi, which is just a bit more expensive to live in than Port Isabel. Though Gulfport isn’t known for its waves, it is a coastal town that still allows newcomers to get used to the water and has a median house cost lower than Port Isabel’s. While not at Gulfport, there are also more surfing opportunities at the nearby islands.
- Cost Of Living Index: Gulfport is lower than the national score on the cost-of-living index, making it a cheaper surf town than the US average. With this in mind, its score is relatively low at 80.6, slightly higher than the Mississippi average of 78.7.
- Median House Cost: Even more affordable than Port Isabel, the media house cost in Gulfport is around $172,600, almost half of the US average.
3. Daytona Beach, Florida
One of the best towns for surfing enthusiasts in Florida, Daytona Beach is known for its regular swells and is a cheap surf town to relocate to. With many different surfing spots, a website to give you daily safety reports, and a lower-than-standard overall cost of living index rating, Daytona is one of the top choices for money-conscious surfers.
- Cost Of Living Index: Scoring 86.7 on the index, Daytona is well below the usual score of Florida, which is 103.1, meaning that your money will go a lot further due to lower living costs.
- Median House Cost: The median home cost is also considerably lower than the US and Florida standards, at around $245,100.
Best Surf Towns to Live
For many, surfing is more of a lifestyle than a sport, so, naturally, you would want to stay in a surf town if possible. However, relocating can be quite a hassle if you don’t know about the area; for this reason, we give you some information about the best surf towns to relocate to below.
1. Wilmington, North Carolina
If you want to relocate to a surfing town or city permanently, Wilmington is one of the best and has been one of the most popular choices over recent years, with good reason. With the cost of living below the US average, great surf spots in the area, a thriving job market, and a strong community, it is clear why it is so popular.
The median house cost in Wilmington is around $372,400, though with the thriving job market and lower than average living cost, with a score of 96.5 on the index, most would be happy to pay that price to stay here.
2. Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach is another great option if you want to relocate to one of the best surf towns in the US. The beaches in and around Virginia Beach are teeming with life and filled with tourists and surfers, making for a rich and easy-to-mingle vibe. With this in mind, there is always work in this area, especially for those specializing in tourism.
There are also plenty of opportunities to help get you out of the house if you live here, and there are festivals, events, and other community activities year-round. Though the cost of living is slightly more than the US average, around 103.3, the median home cost is marginally lower than Wilmington, around $370,800.
3. Ocean City, New Jersey
A historic surf town with ties to surfing going back to the start of surf culture on the East Coast, Ocean City is high on the list of the best surf towns in the US and a great one to live in. Though Ocean City does not have the most opportunities for work, there are always opportunities for seasonal work to help you find your feet.
The cost of living in Ocean City, New Jersey, is higher than the others, with a score of 148.7 on the index and a median home price of around $849k, but it is still lower than some other cities nearby. With this in mind, though work in Ocean City may be more seasonal, there is plenty of work in close-by areas and the tourism industry.
Best Surf Towns in Florida
Florida has some of the best waves in the US, making it one of the best states to find surf towns. Below we list some of these surf towns with information about each.
1. Saint Augustine
With quite a few surf spots in the area, Saint Augustine has something for all skill levels. There are many different surf spots and types of waves, allowing you to choose what you feel up to, and even surfing novices get a chance to have some fun.
With surfers flocking here, it is only natural that there would be a good amount of surf culture in the area, and with so many places to grab a bite or a drink after a session, you are sure to find fellow surfers.
Another town brimming with surfing culture in Florida is Jacksonville, where the time of year can determine the skill level you need to catch some waves. Though anyone can go surfing here, it is common for novice surfers to give some breathing space in the winter months when the more experienced take on more extensive and more aggressive waves.
One thing to note is that you can drive on some beaches, making getting all your gear on the beach much more manageable.
3. New Smyrna Beach
The best times to surf in New Smyrna Beach are between September to April, when the beaches are full of surfers spread out through the ocean. Luckily, though the beaches here are in demand, the area allows anyone to surf, and there is usually a decent amount of space for surfers to spread out.
Naturally, you can also feel the surfing culture more during the good months, but even when the waves aren’t the best, many people still surf at the many different surf spots in the area.
Best Surf Towns on The East Coast
The Atlantic Ocean is known for having some of the biggest tides, which is one of the reasons why more and more surfers are flocking to the East Coast. If you want to find a place to stay and surf on the East Coast, the places mentioned below are great places to start.
1. Folly Beach, South Carolina
One of the best areas to go surfing on the Charleston coast is Folly Beach, with Folly Beach Pier, North Washout, and 10th Street being some of the most popular surfing spots in the area. In addition, there are some highly-rated surf schools in the area if you are interested in learning, two of the best being Isla Surf School and Sol Surfers Surf Camp.
2. Newport, Rhode Island
If you’re looking for the best surf spots in Newport, Sachuest Beach, Surfer’s End, and South Shore Beach are the most likely to go to, but they are not the only great surf spots in the area. If you’re looking to learn, the best surf school in the area is Rhody Surf, be sure to book online since they offer both camps and lessons.
3. Nantucket, Massachusetts
You can catch several waves in Nantucket, meaning there is something for even the least experienced surfer. Though some more popular areas, like Madaquecham, Cisco, and Madaket, can get a bit crowded, there are plenty of other surfing spots to choose from, even if they are unnamed.
The Ack surf school is close by, a highly rated surf school to help you get used to the waves and the area.
There are many great surf towns in the US, but not all have the same type of appeal. Whether you are looking for a great weekend outing to catch some waves with friends or want to relocate to a place with an affordable living cost, there will surely be a surf town that suits your needs.
G’day, my name is Rach Taylor and I’m the proud Founder of Surf Hungry. I am a former Australian Olympic athlete and Australian representative surf sports athlete. I’ve worked in the surf industry and lived at many of Australia’s best surf spots, sparking a life-long love of the ocean and a passion for surf sports which also rubbed off on my two young sons! I am also lucky to spend a lot of ocean-time in my favorite second home, Indonesia. In addition to SurfHungry I have founded several other websites in my areas of passion, namely coffee and rock climbing, and am also a regular rowing content contributor.