While San Simeon surfing definitely has its hot spots, there’s excellent surf everywhere you look along this stretch of unspoiled coastline. Seriously: endless opportunities, if you have the will to reach them. Often the best spots are tucked back in tiny, remote coves, but if you’re up for the challenge of finding them, epic surf awaits. Just take note of a few tips. First, be very aware of the conditions, particularly in spring, when surfers most enjoy the waves here. This part of Highway 1 can be wet and windy (though often it’s gloriously sunny and warm), and the water is chilly. Plan to bring all your neoprene: a 4/3 wetsuit plus booties and a hood. This is not the place to see how little you can get away with! Second, look out for hazards. These can be anything from hidden rocks to dangerous swells to elephant seals which are sometimes aggressive (and hunted by Great White sharks). Watch out for these and their predators especially around the Elephant Seal Rookery and Piedras Blancas Light Station. Otherwise, pack your board, your gear, and your sense of adventure, and get ready to get stoked.
Explore Surfing San Simeon to Ragged Point
One of the greatest benefits of surfing this spot is its accessibility. You can easily park right at the north end of San Simeon and walk to where the mouth of Pico Creek enters the ocean. This meeting of the creek and ocean makes for really interesting breaks that experienced surfers can appreciate. Ideal conditions at Pico Creek include a swell from the west (including southwest and northwest), and winds from the east and northeast. At its best, the surf here ranges from chest-height to a few feet overhead. If you choose to surf the reef, look for a low tide; at the beachbreak, look for a medium tide. If the northern end of the beach is too busy, try the southern end. Park on Vista Del Mar and walk along the bluff trail to find easy access down to the beach. This is an area that doesn’t see as many surfers due to the rocks and less navigable shoreline. If you’re not confident along an irregular coastline, stick to the north end of the beach.
San Simeon Point
From the pier in Old San Simeon, look north and you’ll see a large point facing southeast. This is the fantastic San Simeon Point, a point break that cuts right — and is for experienced surfers only. When the conditions are right, this large point offers epic waves, especially as wind moves west from the cliffs. Park in the lot at W.R. Hearst Memorial Beach, near the Coastal Discovery Center. Walk the beach northwest, about a quarter of a mile. At the end of the beach, look for the dirt trail that climbs the hillside. Follow this trail (the San Simeon Point Trail) into the forest, and be ready to walk about a mile to the point, where you can scramble down to the beach. Look for northwest and west swells that break big at the top of the point. These swells start working at around 5 or 6 feet and hold upwards of 10 feet. Watch out for rocks, but otherwise enjoy this remote spot that most people don’t take the hike to explore.
Ragged Point Beach
Despite its name, this actually isn’t the beach beneath Ragged Point Inn. (That’s Black’s Beach, or sometimes called Young’s Creek Beach, a favorite for waterfall-chasers, and a steep walk down from the inn.) The Ragged Point Beach trailhead lies seven miles north of Piedras Blancas, and 1.8 miles south of Ragged Point Inn. Because it’s remote, this beautiful little beach doesn’t see many visitors. But those who venture out on the trail off Highway 1 get the reward of a quiet surfing hideaway. Start from the tiny pull-out between a call box and a sign that reads “No Campfires.” You’ll also see a Private Property sign posted by the Hearst Corporation that details the rules of visiting the beach. Follow the narrow trail through the trees to the bluff beside Ragged Point. Here you’ll find a steep path down to the right side of the point. Enjoy the solitude here, as you’ll probably have every wave to yourself.
San Carpoforo Creek
Located north of Ragged Point, San Carpoforo Creek is considered the southern border of Big Sur. Walking the trail among the wide, low marshes, you can see already that the river mouth here feeds directly into the beach break. That beach break offers rights and lefts from the northwest-facing beach. The ideal swell hits in winter, when storms traveling down from Oregon can result in waves 2-3 feet higher than in other spots. (Just be aware that this same swell can mean tricky riptides that make paddling in tricky.) One of the best conditions here is the wide valley that leads to the beach. This protects the beach break from offshore winds, unlike many of the best surf spots on the Central Coast. Find San Carpoforo Creek 8 miles north of Piedras Blancas and 1.5 miles south of Ragged Point Inn, with easy-to-spot signage. Park in the turnout and look for the green gate on the west side of Highway 1; this is the trailhead. The trail is only about 1/4 mile long to the beach, which is typically empty.
This spot is known as a consistent wave all through the year, with both left and right reef breaks, the left being the better of the two. And because it’s known as an excellent surf spot, the waves can be busy at times, despite the remoteness of the area. Intermediate and experienced surfers will find 5-7-foot waves and swells around 12 seconds. These are fast, ledgey waves with a lot of power behind them: head out to Willow Creek when the tide is rising for the best possible conditions. Offshore winds come in from the northeast, but groundswells are more common here than windswells. Like so many favorite spots along Highway 1, watch out for hazards like rip tides, rocks, and sharks. Thirteen miles north of Ragged Point, follow signs for the Willow Creek Picnic Area. Park in the limited lot and head out onto the rocky beach.
Sand Dollar Beach
Located across Highway 1 from Plaskett Creek Campground, Sand Dollar Beach is the largest public sand beach in Big Sur. This can mean more people than in other parts of Big Sur, but the surf is nonetheless terrific. An exposed beach break, Sand Dollar Beach has the best conditions in winter, but it’s consistent all year long. Expect clean groundswells, ideally from the west, with breaks that favor lefties. Visit during high tide on a rising tide, and always beware of rip tides, sharks, and rocks. To reach the beach, travel 15 miles north of Ragged Point and look for the large day-use parking area near Plaskett Creek. (Be prepared to pay a fee to park here.) On the north end of the park, look for a large wooden sign for the trailhead. Keep left on the trail, and you’ll discover a wood staircase that leads down to the beach, about another 1/3 of a mile.