Although San Mateo is located in the San Francisco Bay Area and ultimately right by one of the most highly beloved tourist destinations in the world, the area is not mainly known for being a prime surfing location. However, San Mateo is indeed home to some of the best waves in the world and undoubtedly deserves more recognition for being a great surf spot.
San Mateo, California, might not be listed among the top-rated surf spots in the world; however, the area promises to offer a great surfing experience if you know where to go. The world-class surfing spot, Mavericks, is only 30 minutes away, and other popular spots include The Jetty.
If you are ready to take on one of the most thrilling surf spots where top surfing legends from all around the world come to compete, or perhaps you are just looking at getting started in the world of surfing, look no further than San Mateo. Discover why San Mateo County could be the perfect surfing destination for you.
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Surfing In San Mateo
An unfortunate and sad reality is that traveling surfers frequently overlook San Mateo and the San Francisco Bay area in favor of the milder waters of Southern California or the numerous pointbreaks of more well-known surfing hotspots, like Santa Cruz, as an example. You are also unlikely to see San Mateo in the headlines of popular surfing magazines.
Thankfully, it is not all bad news. In fact, San Mateo County is home to the world-renowned Mavericks Beach, North America’s premier big wave destination. Every winter, Mavericks hosts some of the best surfers from all over the world who risk their lives by getting towed out into the ocean in an attempt to catch one of the world’s most dangerous waves.
These world-class waves are located roughly 30 miles from San Francisco’s rolling hills and the famous Golden gate Bridge. It’s highly common for many surfers in the area to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and have a go at the San Mateo beaches to get away from the often-overcrowded tourist city.
Thankfully, if you are not yet ready to take the challenge of these dangerous waves, nearby you will be able to find Princeton Jetty beach, popularly known as “The Jetty.” This is a much more suitable surf spot for those who are still learning the ropes and mastering the art of catching the perfect wave.
The Best Time To Go Surfing In San Mateo
Choosing when to go surfing in places like San Mateo – and anywhere really – can significantly affect the kind of surfing experience you will have. The different seasons and weather conditions play a huge factor in the overall surfing conditions.
Thankfully, places like San Mateo County offer a great surfing experience all year round. However, the different seasons are better suited for different surfing skill levels.
For example, the winter months undoubtedly offer a better experience for the highly experienced surfers out there. During this time of the year, many professional surfers will flock to the famous Mavericks Beach. In fact, after a wild winter storm, the waves at Mavericks have been known to reach anywhere from 25 to 60 feet tall.
However, not all beaches in San Mateo County will experience waves of that magnitude. During the winter, the average height of the waves at most of the surf spots typically ranges between 3 to 15 feet tall. So, depending on the weather, some days could be well suited to beginners, but most waves will cater to more intermediate to advanced level surfers.
The summer months and during spring and fall still offer a great surfing experience – and undoubtedly better weather. Although these seasons are probably better suited to novice and intermediate surfers, with wave heights ranging between two to six feet on average, the occasional ten-foot wave should be enough to keep the professionals happy too.
The Best Surf Spots In San Mateo
With the overall San Mateo surfing experience covered, along with the best time to visit based on your general ability and skill, let us dive in and catch the waves at some of the best surfing spots in the county:
Princeton Jetty (The Jetty)
Princeton Jetty, commonly referred to as “The Jetty,” can be found just around the corner from one of the world’s most famous waves – Mavericks Beach. In comparison, The Jetty is a lesser-known surf spot that sits at the very end of Princeton Harbor, well protected from Maverick’s 25-foot-plus swells.
Small to head-high waves are a common occurrence at The Jetty in Princeton Harbor. Unfortunately, The Jetty is known to be a little inconsistent at times, but given the right conditions, it is undoubtedly a great place to catch a few waves.
This spot is typically better suited to beginner and intermediate surfers. However, even those with a lot more experience will still enjoy a day out at The Jetty. This spot can often be crowded with locals on a pristine surfing day, so you might need to practice some patience while waiting your turn to catch a good wave.
Half Moon Bay
There are four miles of beach that constitute the crescent of Half Moon Bay from the south of Princeton Harbor. Although the surf along this stretch can oftentimes be somewhat unfavorable due to it being excessively exposed, the correct combination of conditions makes Half Moon Bay one of the most incredible surf spots in Northern California.
Unfortunately, like most of the other surf spots in Northern California, the surf at Half Moon Bay can be nearly impossible to anticipate. The weather at this spot can be rather unpredictable, so you will have to hope that you catch it on a good day. If you do, you will undoubtedly enjoy the surfing experience of a lifetime.
During ideal conditions, the wave heights at Half Moon Bay can vary anywhere between waist height to two times overhead, meaning that this spot will be able to cater to surfers of all skill levels.
Another great surf spot to visit in San Mateo County is the beautiful Ano Nuevo. This surf spot is typically better suited to intermediate and advanced surfers. However, do not let that stop you from trying it out if you are a beginner.
Approaching Ano Nuevo from the north, you will be able to see the reefs in the north of the island off in the distance over a field. It is in this spot where you can surf a large left break. The south side of Ano Nuevo boasts a right break that is the main attraction for the surfers who frequent this spot.
Because Ano Nuevo faces south and sometimes be the only rideable wave on the coast, this state park is known to be highly popular with the surfers from Santa Cruz, especially in the summer months.
The height of the waves at Ano Nuevo ranges from waist-height to overhead during prime conditions, meaning that surfers of all skill levels should be able to enjoy this beautiful spot. The only downside here is that Ano Nuevo is known for having some of the coldest water in all of Northern California, so be sure to have a good wetsuit.
Montara Beach is another stunning spot consisting of a half-mile stretch of open beach that faces directly into the Gulf of Alaska. The only downside to Montara Beach is that it is oftentimes subjected to a lot of wind, fog, and all of the other unfavorable conditions that the Pacific Ocean often has to offer.
The good news is that the south winds that typically accompany fog and rain in the San Mateo area blow directly offshore at Montara. This means that when the majority of San Francisco’s beach breaks are murky and somewhat deterring, Montara Beach’s surfing conditions can be absolutely fantastic, despite the water temperatures here being. Little on the colder side.
Because of its varying conditions – again, as is typical with many of the popular Northern Californian surf spots – Montara Beach is a suitable surf spot for all skill levels. It all depends on the overall weather conditions of the day that you happen to give it a try.
Though we have already briefly mentioned this iconic spot, a list of the best surf spots in San Mateo would never be complete without featuring the glory that is Mavericks Beach.
Mavericks is the surfing spot of legends in Northern California, located north of Half Moon Bay near the settlement of Princeton-by-the-Sea in San Mateo County. Waves in the northern Pacific Ocean can regularly crest at over 25 feet and top out at around 60 feet during the area’s infamous winter storms.
Seismometers are commonly used to record the breaking waves at Mavericks Beach – yes, they are that powerful. The sheer magnitude of these breaks is said to be caused by the unusually shaped rock formations found under the water.
During the winter months, you will find some of the world’s top big wave surfers flock to Mavericks Beach. The prestigious surfing competition known as the Titans of Mavericks, which is an invitation-only competition, has been based at Mavericks Beach from 1999 up until 2016.
Sadly, this world-renowned surf spot has taken its fair share of lives, including the well-known surfer Mark Foo back in 1994. The waves here are not to be treated lightly and demand the utmost respect and caution. This spot is undoubtedly reserved for the best of the best.
Surfing Lessons In San Mateo
Whether you are an outright beginner or you have had your fair share of experiences catching some great waves, surfing lessons are a great idea to consider. Learning from professional surfers is the best way to up your skill as a surfer by learning the perfect techniques and overall “tricks of the trade.”
Thankfully, since Northern California – well, California in general really – is such a surfing hotspot, there are multiple options that are readily available when it comes to surfing lessons. You will be able to enjoy private lessons for the quickest rate of advancement, as well as group lessons if you would like to improve your surfing skills with some friends or family.
San Mateo County, in particular, has plenty of outstanding surfing lessons on offer. We’ll show you a few of the best options to choose from:
Surf School Santa Cruz
Surf School Santa Cruz is undoubtedly one of the best options to consider to help you improve your skills on a surfboard. With a 5-star rating on yelp, they come highly recommended by everybody that has ever made use of their services.
They offer a variety of options to cater to your specific needs, including private lessons for beginners, advanced private lessons where you even get to pick your own professional surf coach, two-person lessons, group lessons, and even corporate lessons for big teams that are looking to do something fun together.
For their private beginner surf lessons, you will get a two-hour lesson focused on your specific needs and surfing techniques that you would like to improve. It is available for all ages and will teach you everything you need to know about surf etiquette and where you stand in the surfing world as a newcomer.
These private surfing lessons will cost you $200 and will include a wetsuit and a surfboard for you to use, which is fantastic news if you do not have your own surfing equipment yet.
If you have a family or a group of friends of three people or more, Surf School Santa Cruz is also the ideal choice for a group surfing lesson. For $120 per person, your group will be taught by professional surfers, where you will learn to master the art of various surfing fundamentals like paddling, stand-up techniques, and proper surfboard positioning.
These group surfing lessons are guaranteed to be a whole lot of fun and are ideal for beginners looking to get started in the world of surfing, as well as intermediate surfers looking to improve their wave riding skills.
Overall, we think that San Mateo undoubtedly deserves to have its name listed among the other top surfing spots in the world. Sure, the conditions have proven to be a little inconsistent, but any surfer with experience will know that every spot has its fair share of downsides. Do not miss out on the surfing experience that San Mateo has to offer.