SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA
While some say Santa Cruz’s crowded, you might actually be glad to have company on those cold winter evenings when the men in the gray suits (sharks) start searching for dinner. This funky NorCal town receives the majority of swell that the North Pacific dishes out, and there’s a solid helping of spots packed inside the three-mile stretch. So if you like wearing booties, you’ll love this place. The waves vary from perfect glassy wedges to double-overhead freight-train walls, so you’ll want a quiver ready for everything. Take notes from local pros Flea, Pete Mel, Anthony Tashnick, Adam Replogle, Homer Henard, and the rest of the crew blowing up at Steamer Lane. With more surf shops within a three-mile strip of coastline than anywhere in the world, finding equipment will never be an issue. It’s a small town with a big feel (see: parties, art, granola eating). And there’s a good chance you’ll return home with a beard.
WHAT TO KNOW
Water Temp: 50-55 degrees.
Consistency: No shortage.
Crowds: Dense at the prime spots, but quieter at the surrounding breaks.
Local Scene: Home to University of California Santa Cruz and an eclectic mixture of art, culture, and surfers.
Watch Out For: Macking winter swells, sharks, locals doing airs over your head.
Links: www.surfingsantacruz.com; www.santacruzsurfschool.com