In Santa Cruz, California, knowing how to surf is right up there with walking and talking. For residents and visitors of the Golden State, one of the prime spots to surf is the famous Steamer Lane. This terrific beach should be on every surfer’s bucket list. It’s the perfect spot to surf the famous Northern California wave or watch others do it from afar. Big, noticeable waves offer the best conditions to catch good air time (or water time).

With the rather unpredictable variations in the ocean’s temperament, Steamer Lane attracts surfers interested in a bit of a challenge. In the winter months, an onlooker can often see the ocean displaying all parts of its personality in one day! While the morning waves might be playful and on the softer side, the afternoon waves might send a surfer tumbling down with their surfboard!


Steamer Lane Surfing Spots

Different types of waves can be seen at three different locations within Steamer Lane (Indicators, Middle Peaks, and The Slot). All three of these surfing spots can vary in difficulty and skill level.

  • Indicator: The Indicator zone features waves breaking inside Middle Peaks, featuring a wall of water on the right-hand side. As it nears Cowells Beach, located north of Steamer Lane, the Indicator’s waves can survive for nearly 200 yards before it finally levels! To tackle the Indicator’s wave, surfers must paddle out against currents heading southbound.
  • Middle Peak: Offering middle-ground waves to surf, the Middle Peak area offers both “rights” and “lefts,” with the righthand offering wider and deeper waves and the left hand offering an interesting steeper slope. The waves in the Middle Peak break out further than The Slot.
  • The Slot: Containing trickier waves to master, The Slot area’s water breaks against the rocks of a cliff face and only features “fast rights.” These types of waves are best left to seasoned professionals.

Despite being a popular choice for experienced surfers, the Steamer Lane beach is not the best option for sunbathing. There is a sandier spot nearby, under one of the rugged cliffs, but the coastline at Steamer Lane is mostly quite rocky. Surfing observers can watch people tackle the waves, or, if they desire something a bit more low-key, they can also venture out to The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, located at the Punta Lighthouse.

RELATED: Surfing In Hawaii: How And When To Catch The Best Waves On This Pacific Island

Santa Cruz Surfing Museum

Open from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., every day except Tuesday and Wednesday, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum offers nearly a century’s worth of memorabilia for surfing aficionados to admire. One can find the museum at the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse on Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz. It recently celebrated its 35th anniversary!

At the museum, surfing fanatics can find special surfboards, photographs, and other fascinating novelties or artifacts. At the gift shop, guests can grab books on how to surf or biographies of famous surfers who frequented Santa Cruz.

The Santa Cruz Surfing Club Preservation Society (SCSCPS) encourages visitors to donate and support the museum’s efforts. Donations can help the museum maintain the artifacts, continue staffing the gift shop year-round, and improve the museum’s exhibits. Donations also help keep the museum open, further preserving the unique surfing culture of Santa Cruz.

During pleasant weather, crowds often form outside the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, conveniently located right next to the beach, and watch the Cold Water Classic Surfing Competition.

RELATED: You Can Surf In Sydney And There Are More Options Than Just Bondi

Events Not To Be Missed

To see surfing aficionados in action, head out during the first week of November to catch the O'Neill Cold Water Classic series as it stops in Steamer Lane.

The O'Neill Cold Water Classic is only one of the many different surf contests Santa Cruz offers, drawing in thousands of participants worldwide! The International Longboard Association is another popular event taking place near Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz.

If surfing is not one’s cup of tea, adventurous people can also find other watersports in Santa Cruz like diving, swimming, sailing, and paddling. However, be careful while paddling and maintain good spatial awareness when sharing the ocean with others. Plenty of accidents happen at Steamer Lane as people taking part in watersports sometimes collide with one another.

Surfing Schools Nearby

Cowell’s Beach

Several different surf schools catering to all ages and experience levels can be found at Cowell’s Beach, making these schools the nearest and most all-inclusive spot to learn how to surf. A beginner lesson lasting a full three hours is available at Cowell’s Beach. It’s a great opportunity to master the fundamentals of surfing, and lessons start at $105.

Richard Schmidt Surf School

In the opposite direction from Cowell’s Beach lies another school, renowned for its world-class surfing lessons. While the website does not list prices for their services, they do offer discounts!

  • Note: They also offer yoga retreats in Costa Rica!


Be sure to keep a sharp eye on the official surf reports and forecasts! Sometimes, the ocean can be dangerous, and especially for any inexperienced surfers, unsafe conditions are best to be avoided entirely. It might also be smart to brush up on basic riptide safety measures- a quick tip is to swim parallel to the shore if being swept away by the current.

Surfing at Steamer Lane is a great bullet point to add to a fun-filled California itinerary, whether residents who live in the Golden State are enjoying a stay-cation, or are visiting tourists! Surfing California’s beautiful waves are free and open to anybody who likes to surf- but it might be a good idea to consider investing in some lessons before going for the first time. Always remember to be safe, smart, and sensible, and most importantly, don’t forget to have fun!

NEXT: 20 Beaches With Waves Fit For Anyone Learning To Surf