Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii
Best For: Couples who want to enjoy unsurpassed natural beauty steeped in Polynesian culture and colonial history, from Captain Cook to the U.S. annexation of Hawaii
Hanalei Town sits on the North Shore of Kauai, one of the least developed and most beautiful islands in the Hawaiian chain. The local Hawaiians, or “Ka poe Hawaii,” maintain a strong sense of identity and connection to their Polynesian ancestry, making this the perfect place to catch some waves while learning about the long, and sometimes fraught, history of the 50th state.
Tofino, British Columbia
Best For: Couples and surf travelers who want to trade the bleached-blonde surfer dude vibe for something more hip and outdoorsy … and don’t mind wearing a bit of extra neoprene
California may be one of the surfing world’s spiritual centers, but one of the surfiest towns on the West Coast of North America is far to the north. Tofino, British Columbia, is an old fur trading and logging town that just happens to sit in one of the prettiest spots on Vancouver Island. Clayoquot Sound, compromised of nearly 350,000 hectares of land and ocean, is cool, misty, full of wildlife, and utterly spectacular. Although winters can be harsh, the spring and summer bring warmer air temperatures and almost nonstop markets, festivals, and cultural events.
Best For: Couples and serious surf adventurers who want to wander through the labyrinthine corridors of some of the world’s oldest cities and also catch the waves of their lives
Taghazout, Morocco, is a surfing oasis in the middle of a long, rugged coastline that is inundated with waves. This ancient Berber encampment became an outpost for European adventurers trekking into southern Morocco in the 1960s. And throughout that same period, surfers “discovered” the region and set up shop in Taghazout. Today, there are a lot of French and Spanish surfers mingling with the native Moroccans and Berbers in what still feels like a frontier town on the edge of the desert. The waves are almost always long-period ground swells—which means great shape and plenty of power—and the winds consistently blow offshore.
Best For: The whole family can enjoy Southern California’s signature blend of classic American beach culture with a refreshing Mexican twist.
No area of the United States says “surfing” quite like Southern California; and no SoCal town is quite as surfy as Encinitas. It’s an easygoing mix of West Coast counterculture—from skaters and snowboarders to surfers—and New Age spiritualists. Aside from having some of the oldest and most well-respected surf shops in the country, it is also the home of La Paloma Theatre, which in its 84-year history has premiered countless surf films.
Best For: The salty surf traveler who doesn’t mind surfing in cold water or rain
Ireland, known among surfers as “Europe’s cold-water Indonesia” should be on the bucket list of every surfer. And Bundoran should be the start of any surfing adventure on the Emerald Isle. This centuries-old fishing village catches just about any swell that steamrolls through the North Atlantic and onto a smattering of beaches and reefs that suit different levels of surfers.
Best For: Young people looking to burn the candle at both ends
With 4,655 miles of coastline and an increasingly surf-crazy populace, Brazil is poised to become the next great epicenter of global surf culture. Nowhere is this better exemplified than Brazil’s island capital of surfing, Florianópolis, or Floripa, as the locals prefer. There are 42 different beaches to suit all surfing tastes, from the novice-friendly Barra Da Lagoa to the heavier Joaquina Beach, where they sometimes hold professional surfing competitions. The only thing more consistent than the Southern Hemisphere swells is the nightlife. Expect to surf a lot of afternoons, because the parties go late.
Byron Bay, Australia
Best For: Families. Australia is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and Byron Bay and the rest of the country will enchant all age groups.
In an entire continent of surf towns, Byron Bay stands out as one of the spiritual and historical homes of surfing in what is, pound for pound, perhaps the greatest surfing nation in the world. Despite a tendency toward the upscale, Byron is at heart a hippie town that favors live bands, relaxed cafes that source local ingredients, and plenty of “all natural” everything. Combine that with the naturally cheerful disposition of many Aussies and you won’t find better waves in a more pleasant setting anywhere in the world.
Best For: The discerning surfer who insists that the wine be just as good as the waves
Biarritz is the only surf town in the world with a royal history. In 1854, Empress Eugénie convinced her husband, Napoleon III, to visit the area. They then bought the land and built a palace on the beach, which made Biarritz one of the hottest resort towns in Europe. Screenwriter Peter Viertel brought France its first surfboard in 1956, when he came to shoot location shots forThe Sun Also Rises.
Best For: The intrepid surf traveler who wants to experience the culinary and cultural delights of the Far East while learning about a new and vibrant surfing culture
When you think of wave-rich Pacific islands, Japan doesn’t immediately jump to mind. It doesn’t have the consistency of Hawaii or the death-defying reef breaks of Tahiti. But its west coast is home to hundreds of miles of dark-sand beaches, and its craggy coastline hides reefs, points, and river mouths for all level of surfers.
Muizenberg, South Africa
Best For: Beginner surfers looking for a safe and inviting environment to get their toes wet in the world of surfing
Located in a country known for cold water, heavy waves, and sharks, Muizenberg, South Africa, is an oasis of gentle rollers, friendly locals, and beachside cafes. And don’t forget about the local wine. “Muizenberg is the best ‘learn to surf’ beach in the world,” says Tim Conibear, founder of Isiqalo, a Cape Town organization that teaches kids from low-income neighborhoods to surf. “The attitude in the water is also super-mellow, with a general acceptance of all watercrafts and abilities. Shark spotters keep you safe, so you don’t need to worry. For heavier waves, take a walk toward Kalk Bay, where there’s a serious reef. Danger Reef is also a little left-breaking wave that’s worth a stop.”