Top 7 Best Surf Towns in the World | 2021 Guide (Haleiwa)

If you eat, sleep, and dream surfing, immersing yourself in a surf town’s culture will be one of the greatest experiences you’ll ever have. You’ll get to meet friendly locals, ride the same waves with the pros, know about history, eat good food, watch the sunset every day, party every night — the list goes on! 

It’s every surfer’s dream to live in a vibing surf town, so if you’re looking for suggestions on where to start your adventure, you’ve come to the right place. This list contains the best surfing communities around the globe, including their must-see attractions and some local tips about surfing, food, and lifestyle. 

Top 7 Best Surf Towns in the World

  1. Haleiwa, North Shore, Oahu, Hawai’i
  2. Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
  3. Hossegor, France
  4. Siargao, Philippines
  5. San Clemente, California
  6. Byron Bay, Australia
  7. Tofino, Canada

#1: Haleiwa, North Shore, Oahu, Hawai’i

Haleiwa

If you’re looking for an authentic surf town experience, then why not start at the surfing mecca of the world? The town of Haleiwa in North Shore, Oahu is a quaint surf destination that’s popular among surfers and non-surfers alike. It has a coastline that stretches out to seven miles, where you can also find some of the sought-after waves like the Pipeline and Waimea Bay. 

Best time to visit

The surfing season for Oahu is from October through April. In these months, the beaches here are crowded with tourists and surfers of different skill levels. Expect restaurants, bars, and hostels to be filled to the brim. 

The peak months from November to December is when you can find outrageous waves that only the surfing experts and respectable locals have the guts to ride. During this season, surfing competitions are held here, like the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing and the Reef Hawaiian Pro. 

Famous surf personalities

Decades ago, you might’ve had the chance to surf alongside surfing legends like Duke Kahanamoku and Eddie Aikau in the ‘Seven Mile Miracle’ beach coast.

These days, however, you can still get lucky and bump elbows with some of the famous photographers and superstars who live in North Shore, like Laird Hamilton, Billy Kemper, and Jamie O’Brien. 

Where to go

If you’re keen on trying adrenaline-pumping activities, you can bungee jump with the locals on the Rainbow Bridge. But if you’re looking for a mellower activity, you can try paddleboarding along the Anahulu River right under the same historic bridge instead. 

Families looking for relaxation can visit Haleiwa Beach Park. Even during peak months, this area in the North Shore has calm waves and a more relaxed vibe. 

Oahu’s got a rich surfing culture and history. If you want to learn more about it, you can visit the Haleiwa Surf Museum a.k.a. ‘House of the Frigate Bird’. The admission here is free, so that’s already a win in our books!

Must-eats

A trip on the North Shore isn’t complete without trying Matsumoto Shave Ice — a rainbow-colored treat drenched in different kinds of homemade syrups like Lilikoi and Ume. Heads up, though, there’s a long line of tourists waiting to be served here, so you might as well order a couple of bowls to get your time’s worth. Each cup of this dessert is priced at USD 3.50. 

Local tips

Local surfers here are pretty territorial with their waves, so avoid spots that are already claimed. Another one to keep in mind is don’t paddle and pull back during critical wave conditions. 


#2: Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Santa Teresa

Nestled in between the jungles of the Nicoya Peninsula lies the little surf town of Santa Teresa. It’s a locality with a village-like atmosphere because of its rugged and unpaved roads, palm tree-lined beaches, and pristine waters with steady waves all year round. It’s community consists of locals and young foreigners that keep a slow-paced and mellow way of life. 

Between you and us, we would have chosen Santa Teresa as our top pick — the only issue we have is the travel coming here, which is quite an inconvenience, if we must say.

Best time to visit

To fully enjoy your time in this surf town, we recommend coming here in the ‘green season’ when the trees and plants are at their greenest because of the rains. This lasts from May to December, and during this time, you can expect consistent barrels and large peaks.

The peak season for tourists, however, is from July to September, so you may want to avoid that if you hate crowded lineups.

Where to go

If you’re a mid-level or an experienced surfer looking for some serious waves, head to Playa Carmen. It’s located right at the center of Santa Teresa, a reason why it gets cramped most days. Head to shoulder waves and barrels are pretty common here, however, the wave conditions may vary depending on the spot. 

For beginners, we suggest going to Playa Hermosa. Although more remote and farther from town, the lineup here is smaller and the waves are calmer. 

Must-eats

Santa Teresa is located in the remote part of Costa Rica, which is a distance away from airports and other towns. It’s quite an isolated area, so the locals created their own community where everything is within walking distance. As a result, Santa Teresa today is full of shared spaces, Airbnb’s, bars, sunset cafes, and restaurants owned by expats offering different cuisines.

Among the bests here are Caracolas Beach Restaurant (seafood fine dining), Earth Cafe (healthy cafe), and Katana (Asian). 

Local tips

The best time for surfing is between the hours of 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm. This will give you a good view of the sunset before hermit crabs show up at the beaches. 

Another local tip is to travel here while the tourists are still manageable. It’s a developing community, so it’s just a matter of time before this place gets too commercialized.


#3: Hossegor, France

Combine Steamer Lane’s biggest breaks with baguettes and wine and you’ll get Hossegor — a French surf town in Europe with a Californian beach vibe. Hossegor is home to some of the major surfing events like the Quicksilver Pro, as well as the World Surf League circuits that are held during the autumn season. 

Best time to visit

Summer (June to August) is the liveliest time in Hossegor. During this season, tourists crowd the coast and beginner surfers practice their stances in smaller waves. If you’re an intermediate rider, however, we recommend going in the fall season (September to November) due to fewer crowds and better wave conditions. 

The busiest time in Hossegor is during winter when the surfing competitions take place. In La Graviere where the events take place, the faces can reach 8 to 20 ft., so unless you’re a pro or you want to take a quick trip to the ER, you might want to give surfing in Hossegor during the this time a pass. 

Famous surf personalities

Since major surf events and festivals are held in Hossegor, you’re more likely to encounter a surf legend here than a four-leaf clover. This town has a buzzing nightlife pros specifically come for, along with famous brands’ meet and greets where you can also meet your idols. 

Where to go

La Sud is a popular choice for beginners and longboard enthusiasts because of the consistent beach breaks, while La Graviere is for more hardcore surfers who don’t mind breaking a bone or two. 

But alas, a surfing town isn’t complete without its attractions other than the beaches. Hossegor is located in Landes, Southwest of France, and if you’re willing to drive for another hour, you’ll be in San Sebastian, Spain. In the north of Seignosse, you’ll also find lakes, bike trails, and sand dunes (where you can park your car later in the day before heading to the beach before sunset). 

Must-eats

Less than eight minutes away from Hossegor, you’ll find its quieter and fancier alternative, Capbreton. Here you can enjoy a more high-end and sophisticated French lifestyle — charcuterie, wines, and all!

Local tips

Know the basic etiquettes. Don’t monopolize the waves and always communicate with the other surfers.


#4: Siargao, Surigao del Norte, Philippines

Siargao

Siargao is tourist destination known for its tropical beach vibe, cheap hostels, tight-knit community. But for surfers, it’s known as a surf town with strong currents and consistent surf breaks all year round. It’s a small island in the Philippines that most expats visit for surfing, but stay because of the town. In this exotic place, foreigners and locals walking barefoot on unpaved roads is quite a sight to see.

Best time to visit

There are only two seasons in this country, the rainy and dry seasons. The months of March to September have low rainfalls and stable wave conditions. The peak of tourism, on the other hand, is during the month of October when international surfing competitions take place. 

Famous surf personalities

While the island of Siargao isn’t a mainstream surfing destination yet, a number of surfer pros have already come to visit here for surf events, like Skip McCullough during the WSL Siargao Cloud 9 Surfing Cup. 

Where to go

Siargao is an idyllic tropical paradise that offers more than just surfing. Sunsets viewed (with a cold beer in hand) from Cloud 9 are as breathtaking as the ones in the nearby islands of Daku and Guyam. The island’s nightlife in the town center is also thriving, albeit it may be hard to go back to your hostel or resort if you don’t know how to drive a motorcycle. 

Must-eats

Because of the retired expats living here, the surf town of Siargao offers a wide variety of international cuisines and local food. The Jack Daniel’s Burger in Barrel Sports Bar is famous among surfers after rigorous surfing sessions, as well as the brick-oven pizzas in Kermit tourists line up for. 

Local tips

Siargao reefs are rocky, so wear proper surfing attire. 


#5: San Clemente, California

San Clemente

Known as the ‘Spanish Village of the Sea’, San Clemente in Orange County, California boasts beautiful coastlines combined with the beauty of Spanish colonial-style architecture of the buildings. Trees and houses with red tile roofs fill its streets, along with themed boutiques, and quaint cafes and restaurants. 

Best time to visit

Surfing in San Clemente is good all throughout the year; however, the best time to visit is still dependent on your skill level and preference. The peak time for surfing is during fall and spring when the swells are consistent. This lasts from September to May.  

Famous surf personalities

This buzzing surf town is home to the biggest surfing companies and a number of world-class pros, so it’s highly possible you get to meet and (hopefully) surf with some of them. Among the famous surfers who live here are Griffin Colapinto and Kolohe Andino from the Tokyo Olympics. 

Where to go

A surf town isn’t complete without the other places you can visit after riding the waves. Aside from the state beaches, San Clemente also offers tons of other activities and places to go around. There are bike trails, cultural gardens, and surf museums you can visit, such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center.

Must-eats

Hands down — Hapa J’s ‘man-fries’ in San Clemente is one of the best appetizers you’ll ever have after a notorious surfing session. This dish consists of Yukari-seasoned potato fries topped with three types of sauces, kalua pork, cheddar cheese, and spring onions. It’s truly heaven on a plate!

Local tips

The surfer closest to the peak gets the pass on the wave. Respect the lineup. 


#6: Byron Bay, Australia

Byron Bay

In Australia’s easternmost tip, you’ll find Byron Bay — the country’s hippie and backpacker epicenter where life by the beach is laidback and sort of trippy. This iconic and spiritual surf town believes in a slowed pace of life away from life’s pressure and bustles. Whether you’re a surfer or a spectator, you’ll surely enjoy your time here.

Best time to visit

Surfing is the main activity in Byron Bay. The beach’s coastline is always filled with surfers and tourists, especially in the summer when tourism is at its peak. 

All throughout the year, swells here are pretty reliable; however, if you’re looking for a more challenging surfing experience, visit during the winter season from June to August. 

Where to go

Beginners searching for calmer waves can practice in The Pass. On good days, you can be looking at 100 other surfers picking out their own piece of surfing spot here. Now, if you’re an experienced surfer craving for strong currents and bigger swells, head to the Broken Head Point instead. 

After a good surf, it’s nice to go for a quick stop and watch the sunset from the Byron Bay Lighthouse. Apart from the beaches and lighthouse, this town also has flea and organic markets worthy of a visit during off days.

Must-eats

Byron Bay offers a lot of healthy food choices, among those are delicious vegan options and wait… ganja cookies!? Not exactly a must-eat, but weed cookies are (illegally) available in this town, especially in Nimbin. In fact, tourists  travel to this place specifically to buy this treat. Well, you didn’t hear it from us.

Local tips

Surf away from the crowd and respect the locals. 


#7: Tofino, Canada

Tofino

Although not a tropical surf destination, Tofino is Canada’s Surf Capital known for its mile-long beach coasts that’s perfect for cold water surfing. It’s a pretty chill and laidback place surrounded by raw landscapes, so whether you’re looking for a good surfing experience or you just want to decompress for a while, this place is fitting for everyone. 

Best time to visit

The summer season from June to August usually consists of steady small beach breaks and mid-size swells fit for beginner surfers. 

Meanwhile, the winter season from December to March features more challenging conditions that are more suitable for pro surfers and experts. In this period, waves in Tofino can reach up to 30 ft., so as a safety measure, wear wetsuits and rubber boots.

Famous surf personalities

Tofino is home to many surf pros such as Shane Richards who relocated to this town in 2010, Raph Bruhwiler, a.k.a. Canada’s first pro surfer, and Pete Davries who helped put Tofino on the map of surfing. 

Where to go

Hailed as the #1 Surf Beach in Canada, and also the closest beach to town that has breaks, Cox Bay is the go-to surfing spot of intermediate to surfing pros. Cox Bay is divided into three areas: Corner (the one with the strong currents), Middle, and Lando’s. 

Next is the North Chesterman, which is the alternative to Cox Bay when the latter already has long lineups. Finally, we have the Long Beach known for its nearly ten-mile-long stretch of sand dunes, as well as its thriving local beach scene that’s most popular among tourists during summer. 

Must-eats

Cold beers from Tofino Brewing Company are the best post-surfing drinks, while the most sumptuous Mexican food by the beach is from Tacofino. 

Local tips

Wave conditions in Tofino are always changing, so always read surf reports. As per locals, the fall season from September to November is also a good time for surfing because the water’s warm and there’s less crowd on the beaches. 


Runner-ups

These next surf towns may not be included on the top list, but like the others, they also have their own unique charms and characteristics.

Taghazout, Morocco

Known as one of the oldest cities in the world, Taghazout is also famous for its vibrant culture, cuisine, and surfing. Surfers around the globe come here because of the strong winds and reliable waves suitable for any kind of rider. This surf town has a rugged coastline; therefore driving a 4WD is highly suggested when passing through its sand dunes and deserts. 

Canggu, Bali

Canggu is known as a backpacker’s paradise for its cheap accommodations, rice fields, laidback vibes, vegan dishes, and holistic retreats. Although a small village, it has the best surf spots in the country that’s suitable for surfers of any skill level. 


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are there surf schools or camps in surf towns?

Most resorts in these places have surf camps that offer surfing lessons for beginners and intermediate surfers. Local pros also offer their services to tourists; however make sure that they’re licensed to teach and are recommended by the local tourism government. 

 

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