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In Search of Surf Culture in San Diego

Surf Culture in San Diego

Everyone knows that San Diego is a big surf town and a swell place to visit for those in search of a good swell. This list isn't about naming the best surf spots in the area as most are either well known destinations that can be uncovered by stepping outside of any beach front motel or placing an inquiry with the nearest surfboard rental shop. Sure there are secret breaks all over the San Diego coastline but we're not in the business of divulging locals only haunts with limited room for catching waves out of respect of said locals and out of fear of not being allowed to return to this fine Southern California city.

Instead, we decided to dig even deeper into a culture that spans further than the peaks and point breaks of the Pacific. The surf scene in San Diego is all about community. This has spawned a plethora of both fringe and mainstream establishments and events dedicated to promoting the lifestyle to the point of self sustenance in a world constantly fighting the surge of pop culture exploitation. Showing your support of the arts and small businesses that have found their niche near the beach keeps them in business and the seaside towns you love to visit from becoming over run by big brand bullies that have tarnished the view of far too many coastlines. Whether you prefer your waves looming behind you while perched a plank of polyurethane or painted and hanging on the wall, these places listed below will help fulfill your personal search for an endless summer.


California Surf Museum

312 Pier View Way, Oceanside (San Diego County), CA

While the California Surf Museum isn't exactly located in the city limits of SD it is still within the "walls" of San Diego County and its importance to the surf community justifies it's placement here. The museum offers a look not only at the history of surfing in the state of California, but recognizes the impact that the region had/has upon turning this sport of kings into a lifestyle for millions all over the world. With exhibitions and events to enlighten both casual enthusiasts and seasoned veterans of the sea, the California Surf Museum is an important piece of surf culture and a "must visit" on this itinerary.


Tourmaline Beach
600 Tourmaline Street, San Diego, CA

Tourmaline is not only a picturesque and semi-secluded beach away from the bustling Pacific and Mission beaches, it is home to one of the funnest surf breaks in the area. Popular with the old timer crowd and longboarders (hand in hand), this stretch of sand and sea found at the base of a steep slopping hill from La Jolla Blvd is bookended by tall cliffs, creating a canyon effect that opens up into the ocean. Immediately visitors can see that they've stepped into a real surf scene with classic cars and boards planked across their tops, facing the Pacific - a scene straight from any local art gallery wall.

In the parking lot, you'll find a crew of locals shooting banter back and forth about how much better it was at 6AM dawn patrol (when you weren't there), yesterday (when you weren't there), or how there is a big swell on the way (which you won't be there for). It's the surfers version of "I once caught a fish this big".

The Tourmaline Surf Memorial Stands on site as a monument to those that graced the waves here and passed the proverbial torch to up and coming generations since the 60's, including honorees well recognized by the surf community such as Skip Frye. At the time of this article posting, you can purchase a personalized brick at the base of the memorial in an effort to preserve the beach park by following the to the Tourmaline Memorial.



4652 Mission Blvd, Pacific Beach, San Diego, CA

Surfindian is a contemporary surf "gallery" that features items from the surf inspired art world in San Diego and beyond. Collections include everything from t-shirts to accessories to prints/paintings to customized surfboards that are so beautiful you wouldn't dare paddle out on them (although it would look severely cool if you did). There is no pressure to purchase put on you by the friendly and knowledgable staff when stopping by to browse so please be sure to make Surfindian a destination when strolling along Mission BLVD in Pacific Beach.


Waveriders Gallery
10373 Roselle Street #100, San Diego, CA

The Waveriders Gallery is yet another fantastic artistic addition to surf culture in San Diego. They carry a diverse array of paintings, poster prints, photographs, books, boards, home decor, accessories, and even DVDs all relating to the world of surf.


La Paloma Theatre

471 S Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, CA

The La Paloma Theatre has been screening since the late 1920's and continues to bring in the masses as an historical landmark of cinema in San Diego County. Aside from showing the likes of the Rocky Horror Picture Show (sorry, we just don't get it...), La Paloma is also well known for supporting the surf/skate/snow community in Southern California. From movies that need no introduction such as the timeless Endless Summer, to modern and edgier surf flicks like Lost Atlas that packs the house full of groms, La Paloma Theatre is the official gathering place for those in search of surf on the big screen.

Directions: Located in downtown Encinitas, La Paloma Theatre is found on the corner of South Coast Highway 101 and D Street . From I-5 exit Encinitas Boulevard west to the Coast Highway go one block south and look to the left hand side. For recorded show information call 760-436-SHOW (7469)

*Photo courtesy of Transworld Surf Magazine