This Northern California Beach Is A Must-Visit For Surfers

The rugged coastline of Northern California is beautiful and dramatic and can produce some serious waves. The best spots to surf stretch from San Francisco to Del Norte. But one beach, in particular, with waves that can sometimes reach 80 feet high, beckons surfers from all around the world.

Half Moon Bay is located in San Mateo County. It's a popular spot along the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway and less than 30 miles south of San Francisco. The coastal city has three city-owned beaches (Poplar Beach, Surfer's Beach, and Manhattan Beach) in addition to Half Moon Bay State Beach, which includes four separate stretches of sand (Dunes Beach, Venice Beach, Francis Beach, and Roosevelt Beach). While there is ample opportunity for surfing in Half Moon Bay, the biggest surf break in the area is just outside Pillar Point Harbor. During winter, surfers can find Mavericks here, possibly the most dangerous waves on earth.

Traveling to Half Moon Bay to catch the waves and need to rent surfing gear? No problem. Try Mavericks Surf Company. They offer everything from surfboards to bodyboards and wetsuits. Owned by legendary Maverick surfer Jeff Clark, a trip into the shop might even mean meeting the surfing celebrity.

The most iconic surfing spot in Half Moon Bay

Mavericks is a surfing location in Half Moon Bay and the name of the biggest waves in the world. During winter, surfers from around the globe travel to Northern California to marvel at Mother Nature's wonders. For very experienced surfers only, these waves require respect. One San Francisco-based big wave-surfer, Bianca Valenti, described on KQED what it was like to surf these infamous waves. "Every time a wave broke, it was like hearing a nuclear weapon explode," adding, "the whole horizon would just go black — you start paddling as fast as you can towards the boats and pray you don't get caught."

For visitors to Half Moon Bay who'd like to check out the Mavericks, head down Highway 1 and turn north on West Point Avenue. Keep going to get to the Pillar Point Marsh parking lot. Hike down the trail to the harbor and turn right. Spot the jetty and keep your eyes peeled for waves.

Want to check out the Mavericks but not quite ready to jump into the water? The Maverick Big Wave Invitational operates in winter when the waves are at their strongest. The event attracts the best big-wave surfers who compete against each other and surfing fans inspired by the athlete's skill and bravery. The season starts in November. Want news and updates about upcoming competitions? Sign up here.

Other surfing beaches in Half Moon Bay

While surfing Mavericks isn't for everyone, there are plenty of fantastic surfing spots in Half Moon Bay. Beginner and intermediate surfers will like Surfers' Beach. Located on Highway 1 near Pillar Point Harbor, this is a great place to dive right in. The waves can sometimes be unpredictable, but luckily, often sheltered from northwest winds. Surfer's Beach is also a great boogie board and stand-up paddleboard spot.

For more advanced surfers, Francis Beach offers consistent waves year-round, but it's best in winter and at high tide. Be warned: it can be crowded. And keep an eye out for sharks. Local surf shops are a great resource when trying to decide where to go; their expertise on surf conditions in the local area is invaluable.

And for those interested in learning to surf but don't know where to start — Half Moon Bay is a fun place to learn a new skill. Why not take a lesson or two? Tommy Tsunami Surf School in Half Moon Bay is an excellent place for beginners ($200 for an hour and a half private lesson). Pillar Point Surf School is another great option ($180 for an hour and a half private lesson).