Hardcore surfers are always chasing that next monster wave. Even the professional surfers who are lucky enough to do it for a living often feel like there's a monster wave out there that they need to ride. There are millions of surfers out there who aren't able to do it for a living but enjoy the sport as a hobby on the weekends or during a summer vacation.
There are some great surfing spots around the world, but you don't have to go too far to find some huge waves in the United States. Most of the best waves are located on the west coast, namely in California or Hawaii, but there are also other places to be sure and check out.
Whether you're planning a surfing trip with a couple of buddies who also surf or are looking for a family beach vacation and want to get in some time on the waves, you can benefit from knowing where the really good waves are at. You likely have a favorite beach or two, but you might be missing out on a great beach with some awesome waves.
Even if you don't surf but enjoy watching those that do, knowing which beaches have the biggest waves means that you'll see some awesome surfing and competitions. Even if you're on the east coast or up in the Pacific northwest, you'll be able to find a spot on this list to check out over the summer or even during the winter when waves are often higher.
20 San Clemente, California
It’s no wonder why several magazines, like Surfing Magazine, Longboard Magazine, and The Surfer’s Journal are all located out of San Clemente. There’s also the Lower Trestles which is a favorite among local surfers and has been the subject of a lot of debate based on the state of California wanting to build a toll road but surf organizations are fighting back.
San Clemente has a four-mile-long coastline and includes North Beach, San Clemente State Beach, and San Clemente City Beach.
The heart of the city beach is San Clemente Pier which is located very near to a railway station making it an easy place to get to. The beach is open from 4 a.m. to midnight daily and is near a variety of restaurants. The pier often gets hit by some pretty huge waves, and there’s some great surfing spots nearby. San Clemente is also home to San Onofre State Beach and 1,000 Steps Beach.
19 Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii
This crescent-shaped bay is known for its big waves that can reach up to 20 feet. The tallest waves happen in the middle of the bay, and the locals call them “pine trees.”
This spot is considered to be the best surfing location on the island of Kauai.
It has waves for surfers of all experience levels. Agile and speedy surfers can try to ride breaks named The Bowl and Impossible. There are also more consistent waves at Pinetrees break. Hanalei Bay is the largest bay in terms of area on the north shore. There are two miles of beach which are surrounded by picturesque mountains. Kauai island is called the “Garden Isle” and has been the location for many movies and television shows. Hanalei Bay is home to some pretty gnarly waves, making it a popular destination for surfers and those who just want to watch. If you visit Hawaii, it’s certainly worth taking a day out to check out this location.
18 Waimea Bay, HI
If you’re looking for big waves that are consistent, try Waimea Bay in Hawaii. The beach is on the North Shore of Oahu and has played a pivotal role in the history of big-wave surfing. Each year, it plays host to the Quicksilver Big Wave Invitational. Legendary surfer Greg Noll made his home at Waimea Bay in the 1950's. Waimea is also home to 50-foot waves which are dangerous even for the most experienced surfers. If you want to see some big waves, head out to the Quicksilver competition. But, be sure to arrive early because the beach fills up fast. This location has very strong currents and a shallow and sharp reef that should be avoided. The waves here are thrilling to ride for experienced surfers who can handle them. Not only is Waimea Bay one of the top destinations for suffers, but it’s also a great spot for travelers looking to enjoy the beach and watch some good surfing action.
17 Trestles, Orange County, CA
Trestles is known for its high-quality breaks paired with easy paddle-outs. There are actually five different beach spots that make up the collective Trestles. And if you want the best surf, which also comes with the largest crowds, go to Lower Trestles. Being located in Orange County makes this area more popular. Trestles is home to several professional surfing tour events which draw many spectators and top pros from around the world. Trestles provides tall and consistently-shaped waves and has friendly locals.
The beach is set against a dreamy mountain backdrop, making it a nice location to visit even if you aren’t ready to try the waves.
Trestles isn’t the only beach in the area as it’s considered part of the San Clemente beaches which are also popular for their giant waves. This means that you can spend a day here but you can also spend the entire week in the area if you so choose.
16 Honolua Bay, Maui, HI
This beach can sometimes be difficult to find if you aren’t from the area. Ask the locals how to get there and they may be friendly or they may tell you to turn around and go home. Imagine surfing while being able to do some whale watching. This rocky beach features a beautiful bay and some pretty big waves. If you can’t find it, you may need to take a tour boat, and once you’re there, you won’t want to leave. The bay is part of the Marine Life Conversation District so there are some strict rules including no fishing. Surfing and snorkeling are its main draws, and you will likely see a good amount of sea turtles. This beach isn’t really a place to go tanning as it’s more for those people with a purpose like catching big waves. This is home to some of the best surf breaks during the winter.
15 Rincon, Santa Barbara, CA
Rincon becomes the best point break in the state of California, even though it doesn’t break often. There’s also a Rincon located in Puerto Rico which is known for its big waves as well. The California version is situated in between Carpinteria and La Conchita near Highway 101.
There aren’t any spots for tourists to eat or shop, so it’s all about surfers and hardcore spectators.
Rincon Point State Beach has a high concentration of surfers because it doesn’t cater to anyone else, but those who go there to surf will likely be rewarded with some giant waves. Three of the main draws for surfers at Rincon are Rivermouth, The Cove, and Indicator. Rincon is known as the “Queen of the Coast” and ranked #24 in the book 100 Best Surf Spots in the World. It hosts the Rincon Classic each January, but the competition is only open to local residents.
14 Jaws, Maui, HI
If the name of this beach doesn’t scare you, then the killer waves might. Almost every year, there are at least 50-foot waves at this beach, also known as Peahi. This is a tow-in-site but some surfers still paddle in it. In fact, Jaws holds a paddle-in competition for a select number of pros. Breakers crash about a mile off shore so it’s a bit difficult to be a good spectator unless you bring your binoculars. There are strong winds which help waves reach an amazing 88 feet during winter at times. Jaws helped propel big wave legend Shane Dorian who won Billabong’s XXL Ride of the Year and gained induction into the Surfer’s Hall of Fame. Jaws has the biggest waves in Hawaii and arguably anywhere in the US. Inexperienced surfers will want to avoid it as they can fall victim to a wall of water and end up on the slippery rocks of the beach.
13 Backdoor, Oahu, HI
This beach located in Oahu, Hawaii is recommended for experts only. The waves are tall, fast, and hollow. This break is not for the inexperienced surfer, although it isn’t quite as difficult to navigate as the nearby Pipeline. Waves can easily be over 16 feet and one reason why it isn’t recommended for amateur surfers is because of the coral reef and sharp rocks. It’s slightly slower and less dangerous than The Pipeline but is still quite serious. There are three reefs, and each one is a bit more difficult than the previous one. Backdoor isn’t as well-known as some other spots in Hawaii, but for the same reason, it may be a bit less crowded and easier to find a good spot to surf or spectate. Oahu is the third largest island in Hawaii and is known as “The Gathering Place.” It stretches 44 miles long by 30 miles across and has 227 miles of shoreline.
12 Huntington Beach, CA
Also known as Surf City, USA, Huntington Beach is a great destination for surfers and has four different beaches for anyone looking to enjoy them. Huntington is probably the place you’d see if you looked up the word beach in the dictionary. It features a boardwalk and lots of fit people. After you surf or enjoy the beach for the day, there are plenty of bars and other interesting activities to partake in.
Huntington Beach is home to the US Open of Surfing which attracts plenty of surfers and spectators.
Huntington Beach itself is a city, but Huntington City Beach is where you can find some good waves as well as the Huntington Beach Pier and the International Surfing Museum. This means that even if you aren’t a very good surfer, you can learn some of the sport’s history before or after trying to ride the big waves yourself.
11 Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Almost all of the spots on this list of best waves in the United States are on the west coast in California or Hawaii. This might make those on the east coast feel a bit left out, but there’s a good spot in Cape Cod, Massachusetts for surfers.
This destination is a popular spot for the rich and famous to relax in their beach houses, but it also has big waves.
Marconi Station is the place to go for some huge waves when conditions are right. The area was named for the inventor Marconi who completed the very first transatlantic cable message in 1903. Go beyond the guarded swimming area to find the large waves, and if you end up doing well, then you could have some celebrities watching you surf from their private residences. This is a good experience for surfers who have only tried their craft on the Pacific Ocean.
10 Wilderness, Puerto Rico
With it being a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico makes the list for a location known as Wilderness. Puerto Rico isn’t typically considered a big surfing destination, but it is home to one of the best spots with the biggest waves in the United States. Waves are fast so you need to be able to change direction quickly. Catching a wave at Wilderness is a beautiful experience as long as you know what you’re doing. This location has the ability to produce some huge swells of more than 12 feet. Be careful of the rocky reef, and also, do know that this spot is only recommended for experienced surfers. It’s worth checking out and you can also experience the culture of Puerto Rico without needing a passport. Wilderness gives you the chance to surf the Caribbean without technically leaving the United States and has some great local cuisine and nightlife as well.
9 Haleiwa, HI
Another great spot for big waves on Hawaii’s island of Oahu is Haleiwa. This beach has waves for both experienced veterans as well as those without much experience. There are lightning-fast waves if you paddle out far enough, and there are gentler waves for newcomers nearer to the shore.
This is a great place to visit for a surfer with a family who wants to experience the beauty of Hawaii while still getting some major surfing in.
The beaches here are Haleiwa Beach Park and Haleiwa Ali'i Beach Park. This is a popular tourist destination due to the old plantation character it still has. For those who aren’t quite ready, you can take surfing lessons. Also, there are plenty of places to eat and shop nearby. One of the more popular place is called Matsumoto’s Shave Ice which has been in existence for more than 50 years. Make sure you go early as it closes at 6 p.m.
8 San Onofre, CA
Another location near San Clemente, San Onofre is known for its killer waves in Orange County. For whatever reason, this beach isn’t typically very crowded, which could be due to the fact that it’s located near a nuclear power plant that had a meltdown back in the day. One reason why it became popular with local surfers is that being near the power plant made the usually-cold Pacific Ocean water quite a bit warmer. There is a place to camp at San Onofre State Beach which has been picking up visitors and becoming more popular as time goes on. The beach was established by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1971 and is home to dolphins, whales, and sea lions. It offers a “world renowned and historical surf break” for beginners to professionals. This is a great location for dedicated surfers, as well as for those just looking for a nice day at the beach.
7 Ghost Trees, Monterrey Peninsula, CA
Beaches with scary names often indicate big waves. It’s located about three hours away from Mavericks and shares some of the same characteristics. This location is relatively new for big-wave riders and veteran Don Curry first saw it back in 1974. In 2007, it claimed the life of professional surfer Peter Davi and has amazing 50-foot waves, sometimes higher. This is a great beach for spectators because waves break just about 300 feet from the shore. Ghost Trees is located off Pebble Beach and is considered a pretty extreme location with storm waves, sometimes coming in at 60 feet.
Ghost Tree was actually taken off limits in 2009 because it’s so dangerous.
The location is quite dangerous because of the rocks but has still become famous due to the thrill-seeking surfers it attracts. Most surfers are better off just checking out the location and coming back after getting more experience at other locations.
6 Newport Beach, CA
Newport Beach has become well-known for the Wedge. Backed up against a jetty, it has some of the biggest man-made waves ever created. The waves are quite steep and described as rolling. They’ve been known to break surfboards before, so come prepared. The Wedge is a popular spot for local surfers and tourists alike. Located in Orange County, the city of Newport Beach is home to the Newport Beach Pier. Balboa Pier is a popular tourist destination and has an amusement park located on the boardwalk where you can ride a Ferris wheel with an ocean view. In addition to the Wedge, you can also visit Corona del Mar State Beach. The Wedge is found at the east end of the Balboa Peninsula and produces waves of up to 30 feet high. Newport Beach is a great family vacation spot where father and son (or mother and daughter) can hit the waves while the rest of the family enjoys some other attractions.
5 Banyans, HI
One of the most popular surfing spots on the Big Island of Hawaii is Banyans. This is a difficult place to catch a wave if you aren’t used to the conditions like the locals are. Banyans Beach is located in Kailua-Kona on the island of Hawaii and is a popular surfing spot with the locals. The beach is located on the west side of the island. Aside from surfing, it's also home to the Kona Coffee Festival and Ironman World Championship triathlon. Take Ali'i Drive, which has been referred to as the “Royal Footsteps Along the Kona Coast” with a great view and historical sites. The Kailua Pier is also popular, and there are royal residences nearby. You can even take a boat tour if you want to take a break from surfing to go whale watching or see some dolphins. Temperatures are in the 80's all year long and it rarely goes below 70 degrees.
4 Cocoa Beach, FL
While most of the best surfing spots in the United States are on the west coast, Florida is home to Cocoa Beach. One of the best surfers in the world, Kelly Slater, grew up and learned to surf here so that says something about it. There are plenty of tourists who populate Cocoa Beach due to its proximity to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. Most of the time, you are better off on the left coast, but Cocoa Beach can give you a new experience and a good reason to visit Florida. You can also visit the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame and the legendary Ron Jon's which gets two million visitors every year.
Cocoa Beach is home to the Ron Jon Easter Surfing Festival as well as the National Kidney Foundation Pro-Am Surfing Festival.
In addition to Kelly Slater who has won more than 10 World Championships, surfing legend Dana Brown is also from here.
3 Cape Kiwanda, OR
The Pacific Northwest has some good surfing spots if you know where to go. Waves can reach up to 15 feet during a heavy swell, but the surf culture here makes the beach a worthy place to live in or visit. The local surf shop in Pacific City is very popular, and each year, there’s a surfing tournament in August. You’ll need a wet suit because the water isn’t warm enough. The Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area offers camping and some great views. You can also explore the 382-mile Oregon Coast Trail. The natural area includes Cape Lookout and Cape Meares. The Pacific City beachbreak is a popular destination and hosts an annual surf contest in August. There are sharks in the area so be sure to watch out. If you want to surf on the west coast but have already tried Hawaii and California, this Oregon location might be the best place to catch a big wave.
2 Banzai Pipeline, Oahu, HI
Located in Oahu, Hawaii, the Banzai Pipeline or simply “The Pipeline,” is considered one of the best surfing locations in the United States. The biggest waves break during the winter time, but luckily, there’s plenty of sunshine all year long in Hawaii. The movie Blue Crush was filmed there and so was an episode of the TV series Hawaii Five-O. The area is home to the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic as well as The Billabong Pipeline Masters. The waves average nine feet tall and have unfortunately claimed the lives of many surfers.
Most of the world’s surfers aren’t even talented enough to surf at The Pipeline, making it a bucket list item for even the best of the best.
The Pipeline features beautiful turquoise-colored water, but underneath, it has a dangerous reef. This is the place where some claim that surfing was invented and is certainly worth visiting even if you don’t surf
1 Mavericks, CA
Mavericks is a very popular spot with surfers and is not for the inexperienced. Mavericks is half a mile away from Half Moon Bay and is considered a top big wave beach, not only in the United States but in the entire world. Waves break very hard, and the best surfers in the world can be seen there each winter. At their largest, the waves at Mavericks can reach more than 60 feet, and it’s not uncommon for them to be 25 feet tall. Mavericks gained popularity in the 80's and 90's. If you don’t get the name, it was actually named after a German Shepherd who swam there in 1961. It hosts the annual contests the Mavericks Invitational and the Mavericks Big Wave Contest.
Since waves crash on a reef, they are pretty predictable, making for some good competition.
Surfers have also died at this beach which means that it’s probably too dangerous for those who don’t know what they’re doing.