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. 6: San Clemente, CA
There's a reason why the likes of Jordy Smith, Filipe Toledo, and Yadin Nicol (to name a few) all moved to San Clemente out of anywhere in America. Well, actually a few reasons. 1) Lower Trestles. 2) Close enough to LAX; 3) Far away enough from LA; 4) Did we mention Lowers? Quiet little San Clemente, sitting at the bottom of Orange County, halfway between LA and San Diego, actually has a lot more to offer than the A-frame on the other side of the tracks.
While most surf towns undeniably favor one season over the other, San Clemente is fairly ambidextrous, switch-hitting for both winter and summer swells. T-Street, a wedgy beach break known for its consistent surf and the talent it spawns, is the surfing nucleus of the town. And then, of course, there’s nearby Lower and Upper Trestles, with Lowers hosting the continental US’s only WSL ‘CT event. There are other cobblestone points like Churches and San Onofre, but then there a handful of other random, punchy sand-bottomed peaks between Trestles and the Pier. Still flat in the winter? Drive 15 minutes north to Salt Creek or 20 minutes south to Oceanside.
If you're looking for foreign films or the nearest Museum of Modern Art, you'll need to do some driving. San Clemente is pretty sleepy socially. There are a few dive bars, some restaurants with live Sublime cover bands, and the local sushi spot has killer karaoke…but that's about it on the nightlife train. Actually, there's a couple snazzy wine bars these days like The Cellar and Vine, but San Clemente culture is still surf-centric, with a history that runs deep and perpetuates generationally, from the Fletchers to the Andinos, not to mention the groundbreaking documentation like the …Lost videos of the late ’90s. While the major surf magazines aren't all based in town anymore, San Clemente is still one of the world's major surf hubs.
Quality of Life:
Spoiled with an abundance of year-round consistent surf and the signature Southern Californian sunshine, San Clemente is a great place for a surfer to call home. That, and/or to create a home, as schools are good, crime is low, and, for the most part, it's a town of families. Once deemed gritty and rundown on certain streets (evidence in What's Really Goin’ Wrong!), San Clemente has become a bit more polished in the last 10 years, with dozens of new restaurants and boutiques opening up, while still maintaining that classic, cozy surf town appeal.
Average Water Temp: 63
Average Air Temp: 62
Median Income: $98,710
Median Home Price: $966,936
Most Common Industry: Science & Tech Services, Retail Trade, Accommodation & Food Services
Nearest Large City: San Diego, CA (56.0 miles, pop. 1.407 million)
Premier Surf Spots: Trestles, T-Street
Local Talent: Christian and Nathan Fletcher, Matt Archbold, Kolohe Andino, Greg and Rusty Long, Griffin Colapinto, The Gudauskas Brothers
[Head back to Surfer.com tomorrow for our No.5 reveal]
Best Surf Towns 2017