Nat Young on a San Francisco treat. Photo: Ryan Craig
Nat Young on a San Francisco treat. Photo: Ryan Craig

10 Best Surf Cities in the World: San Francisco

In no particular order, these are the 10 best urban options for a surfer

It's a sign of the times that seemingly all surf shops must now come equipped with a Slayer espresso machine operated by a pretentious barista. No longer contented to simply fondle a few handshapes and leave with bar of wax, surfers--particularly urban-based surfers--also need an exotically sourced pour-over from a third-wave coffee purveyor and a selection of artisanal baked goods, while they scope out new surf crafts. It's clear that the needs of surfers have evolved quite a bit since the post-war years of Kivlin, Quigg and company, content to eat canned meats and retire to improvisational thatched-roof shelters after hours of riding waves on the North Shore. Today, it seems that coast-adjacent, dense, urban areas best meet the needs of the contemporary surfer.

In the gig economy, cities--regional and global centers of industry, commerce, and culture--are where the jobs are. Modern cities have become walk-able, gastronomic and booze-centric, tolerant and progressive playgrounds for a Millennial generation primed to live and work in a more communal, stimulating environment. And when you stir in an accessible coastline and roughly a hundred days of ridable waves per year, a city can also provide a surfer a dynamic and balanced existence.

So in case you're considering a relocation opportunity, we pored over job statistics, surf reports, and city guides--taking into consideration surf proximity and quality, employment opportunities, and quality of life--to narrow down the world's best surf cities. The list we've assembled includes ten world centers, economic hubs revered for their cultural institutions where one can find a steady job and consistent-enough surf to satiate the most wave-obsessed among us. These are cities where, even if you're resigned to only surf with the weekend warrior crowd, you'll never be bored--provided you haven't handed over all your disposable income to some pretentious barista.

Let the list begin, starting with…

San Francisco, California

With a world-class beach break and a few novelty points--including one with an iconic backdrop--San Francisco does, indeed, have surf. Stretching from Kelly's Cove to the Sloat Blvd parking lot, Ocean Beach is one of the heaviest, most dynamic beachbreaks in the world. With its constantly shifting sandbars and northwest exposure, the surf at OB can be heavy at under head high and downright terrifying during wintertime, long-period swells that produce waves up to 20 feet. The fall brings warm weather, playful surf, and offshore winds for weeks on end, while the spring and summer will be blown-out and onshore for even longer durations. But with Santa Cruz just an hour and a half to the South and a gorgeous stretch of the PCH offering dozens of nooks and crannies capable of blocking wind from nearly any direction, SF is not just a seasonal surf town.


Traditionally thought of as a city of artists, musicians, and poets, San Francisco's reputation for catering to its residents' Bohemian lifestyles now exists only in the minds of hopeless romantics. As it has emerged as a tech-industry hub and world financial center, the rat race is in full swing in SF. The city is home to the headquarters of 30 financial institutions, roughly two-dozen colleges and universities, and nearly every tech company you have (and haven't) heard of has at least a satellite office here. Though tech gets all the hype, tourism is the city's biggest economic sector. While artists can no longer afford to chase their muse in SF, if you have a worthy idea and are seeking seed funding, angel investors, or just a tech-bromance, this is your place to network.

You can blame the tech industry--and its willingness to bus its employees to offices beyond the city limits--for the untenable rent prices (everyone does, anyway). The Ocean Beach adjacent neighborhoods of the Sunset and the Richmond--traditionally home to the city's eclectic, underground surf scene--is now nearly as affordable as more centrally located neighborhoods like the Haight and the Mission (which is to say unaffordable). But if you can find a spot to lay your head -perhaps a hall closet-turned-illegal-unit-- between its rich literary history, renowned arts and culture institutions, and history of social justice advocacy and diversity, San Francisco is definitely worth the hassle. While you can quickly escape in nearly any direction and find solace in nature--be it redwood forest, snow-capped mountains, world-renowned vineyards, or Pacific Ocean bliss--you may rarely want to, as there is perhaps more to experience in San Francisco than one could fit into a lifetime.
Median Income: $78,000

Top Industries: Technology, Tourism, Healthcare, Financial Services

Median Home Price: $1,285,000

Median Rental Price: $3,400 for a 1 BR
Population: 864,000

Water Temperature Range: 50-62F

Surf Spots: Ocean Beach

[Head back to tomorrow for our next reveal]