Your Guide to San Diego Reef Breaks
Ahh, beautiful San Diego. A unique mix of universities, military bases, biotech, craft beer, yogis chasing the sun and surfers chasing waves, there’s no other place like it and we here at Manda are happy to call it home.
As a group of people who identify most with the “surfers chasing waves'' demographic, we want to share a brief guide to the reef breaks that were at the front of our minds when we were formulating our reef-safe sunscreen. So without further ado, here are our favorite reef breaks in the county from south to north.
Sunset Cliffs (Point Loma)
Starting from the bottom of San Diego county, we’ve got Sunset Cliffs in Point Loma. It’s ringed by a kelp bed, and creates a consistent wave regardless of wind conditions, but it’s definitely better suited for fall, winter, and spring. The reef is often exposed in some parts, especially at low tide, so keep a sharp eye on where you’re going, and the entry, exit, and timing of your paddle out. We’d definitely recommend you go with a buddy who’s been there before if there’s any size (people have been known to get caught on the rocks here).
While this spot works best when the surf is big, you’re bound to catch something or another on the average day. Localism is moderate here, so don’t paddle out into a heavy lineup without a good bit of skill and lots of surf etiquette.
Tourmaline (Pacific Beach)
Cruising north, you’ll run into Tourmaline street in PB, at the end of which you’ll find a parking lot and a huge longboarding scene. This break is crowded for a good reason, it’s mellow, cruisy, and super welcoming to beginners. If you’re looking for a chill spot to teach a friend visiting from out of town, you’ll be right at home in the lineup at Tourmaline.
15th Street (Del Mar)
15th Street in Del Mar, located just off of the cute little central village lined by boutiques and restaurants, is an all-around friendly, fun, and mellow reef break. It’s the only one between Encinitas and La Jolla, which is a long 15+ mile stretch.
While it’s certainly better and more-consistent in the winter, this spot works on every tide and has something for every board in the quiver. It’s also surrounded by beach break, which is perfect for a long summer day split between bodyboarding, surfing, skimming, and splashing in the breakwater with friends and family.
Below the eroding cliffs of Encinitas lies a series of reef breaks that make up the quintessential San Diego surf enclave. There are too many spots for us to break them up, so let’s break them down together in this section.
Starting at the southern tip of this stretch is seaside reef, which sits on the border between Solana Beach and Encinitas. Its left starts strong and tapers off before dropping you into shorebreak while its right is on the mushier side. Bring a shortboard if you know what you’re doing and maybe avoid this spot if you don’t.
There’s a reason you see legends like Rob Machado in the lineup around the break at Cardiff Reef—it’s a classic longboarding spot on fairer days and an excellent ride on a big winter swell. It’s at the mouth of the San Elijo Lagoon, so be sure to avoid this spot on rainy days—if you see a “Do Not Swim” sign, don’t ignore it. Overall, Cardiff Reef is an excellent place to relax and catch some long rides with some of the greats.
Next up the line is the San Elijo/ Pipes zone. Accessible through the San Elijo State Beach Campgrounds (park on Coast Highway and walk through to one of the staircases inside), you’re bound to find some room to play in this stretch of long, mellow reef break. Localism can spike here and there, but being on a tourist destination keeps it mellow enough.
Last on the list of Encinitas classics is Swamis, located in front of the Self Realization Fellowship, a spiritual center built by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1920. Legend says there’s an energy vortex in the water in front of it, so don’t be surprised if you come out of the water feeling extra good. This rare right point break is one of the most popular breaks in the whole county, so be prepared for a paddle battle on a small day—let alone a good winter swell.
Old Man’s (San Onofre)
Old Man’s is a SoCal treasure in the world of logging. Old Man’s has been an epicenter of surf culture since the 1930’s, and something about the bamboo-forested showers and surf shacks make you feel like you’re in another time on this gold-sand beach.
This is a summer wave, and it becomes an incredible hodgepodge of old-timers, groms, tandem couples, and even dogs on a beautiful sunny day. San O is all about style and vibes, so come prepared for some tasty waves and a cool buzz.
Trestles (San Clemente)
Before you say that Trestles isn’t in San Diego, Google it (Trestles sits on the border between San O in San Diego and San Clemente in Orange County).
While its southern neighbor Old Man’s is all about chilling, Trestles is its polar opposite. It’s considered one of if not the best surf spots in California and the crowd sure reflects it. It’s made up of 5 breaks: Churches, Middles, Lowers, Uppers, and Cottons. If you’re earlier in your surfing journey, stick with Churches, Middles, and Cottons.
If you’re an advanced surfer, then you’re probably rolling your eyes at this article altogether, but we’ll dig into Lowers anyway. With A-framing lefts and rights that respond to the smallest bit of south swell, this spot is all about high-performance. Don’t be surprised when a local 12-year-old snakes you and rides the wave better than you ever could.
Because we love these spots so much, we wanted to create a product that would protect them while protecting other surfers who love them too. That’s why our Organic Sun Creme formula is made with reef-safe materials to protect the skin and the environment.
Now, all there is to do is grab a board, throw on some sunscreen, and enjoy what the natural world has to offer. Shop our natural sunscreen here.