If, as Leo Tolstoy once wrote in Anna Karenina, "All happy families are alike…," then all happy surf towns are, too. Certainly, in every happy surf town there are the same old salty surf dawgs on giant longboards who'll cut off the groms and never look back. There are the underground legends who could've gone pro, but never left. There's a robust amateur comp circuit and a local shaper who seems to make every other guy's board. There's a particular breakfast spot where every surfer in town eventually eats after a dawn patrol, hair still dripping wet, with the menus promoting various combinations of eggs all named after local surf spots, as if the "T-Street" is any better than the "Riviera." Most importantly, in all happy surf towns, every real local believes the same unanimous lie that sometimes, just sometimes, their homebreak can get as good as the best break on the entire planet.
Indeed, there are many of these surf towns all over America, but what, precisely, makes one better than the other? Wave quality? Quaintness? Seclusion? Proximity to a city with culture? Price of a "T-Street" with a side of bacon?
We've compiled this list, primarily considering quality of life and quality of surf, but also taking into account other variables such as climate, consistency and variety of waves, cost of living, culture, and availability of work. After consulting, researching, and heavy debate, we narrowed the expansive list of towns down to 10—our ranking of the 10 best American surf towns.
No. 7: Encinitas, CA
Bear with us on this metaphor…If surf towns were the beds in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, then in all of Southern California, Encinitas is the bed that feels juuuust right. San Clemente? Wave-rich, but too sleepy. Oceanside? Too gritty. La Jolla? Too snobby. Pacific Beach? Too fratty. But Encinitas? Why, that's a place with a variety of year-round surf, a rootsy bike-rideable town, and a community of ocean-minded families and individuals. In striking distance of more consistent surf spots up or down the coast (Not to mention Baja, Mexico is less than an hour south), lovely Encinitas, perhaps, is the surf town that the bear in the state flag is wandering toward.
There's Seaside, Cardiff Reef, Swamis, and D-Street, if you're looking for the obvious. But then there's random, tidal beach breaks, reefs, jetties, and river mouths for miles both ways, if you've got some gumption and gas money. Of course, if you want a little more punch, Blacks and La Jolla reefs are less than 20 minutes south, and Oceanside beach breaks, as well as Trestles, are less than a podcast north up I-5. Swamis and Seaside can get crowded, but if you get creative, you can surf somewhere just beyond those miles of cliffs with no one out.
While some towns have "real" culture—like, with museums and film festivals and Shakespeare in the Park—some towns have "beach" culture. Encinitas is loaded with the latter. Nearly every garage west of the 5 is barfing out boards, leashes, and bikes with surf racks. Every other car is a Subaru Outback, and every Outback has boards strapped to the roof, with floor mats caked in sand. The menus of local eateries list burgers and burritos named after nearby waves, and most patrons have wetsuit neck tans and faces smeared with leftover Vertra. So, if you're looking for real culture, move to LA or New York. If you're looking for surf culture, Encinitas is your place.
Quality of Life:
Why can't people shut up about how good the weather is in Southern California? Because when something's true for so long, you can’t keep quiet about it. Usually sunny and temperate year-round with a few rains here and there, Encinitas makes it still totally possible to wear a T-shirt in January. Work-wise, it's close enough to a number of startups and big-boy jobs in San Diego, just a half-hour south. Plus, there are tons of great bars and restaurants right in town with an optimal demographic that's more mature than the college towns to the south, while less mature than the cul-du-sac family-towns to the north. The only real quality-of-life drawback: the crowds. But if you weigh the pluses (good weather, winds, and waves) against the minuses (too many people), the population density starts to make sense.
Average Water Temp: 63
Average Air Temp: 63
Median Income: $ 99,604
Median Home Price: $933,250
Most Common Industry: Professional, Scientific, and Tech Services
Nearest Large City: San Diego, CA (20 miles, pop. 1.407 million)
Premier Surf Spots: Cardiff Reef, Swamis, Seaside, D-Street
Local Talent: Rob Machado, Joel Tudor, Ryan Burch, Jake Marshall
[Head back to Surfer.com tomorrow for our No.6 reveal]
Best Surf Towns 2017