It happens to us every morning — as we’re commuting to work, we doze off and imagine we’re part of the strings of tanned, lean bodies flocking to the beach, surfboard in hand — instead of on the subway. Well, it’s time to stop daydreaming, get your boss to approve your time off, and catch the next flight out of town — we’ve shared our favorite spots to practice the most popular and coolest summer sport. And whether you are an experienced surfer or just looking to learn, rest easy: we’ve got you covered.
1. OAHU, HI
Hawaii is known as the Mecca of surfing, but Oahu’s North Shore is the icing on the cake. It’s probably not for amateurs, though, as waves are a good size and are better enjoyed with a little practice (not that we’d be the ones to to tell you). Some of the world’s top surf competitions take place here, and anyone who’s ever been on a surf board will recognize names such as Pipeline, Log Cabins and Waimea Bay — home to some of the best waves around. Granted, the island can get crowded, but few places in the world boast waves like these.
Best Spot to Surf: Turtle Bay, Radz and Graters are arguably the best, as they are all open to the swells of the northernmost spot on the island. All are for experienced surfers and close to each other.
Best Spot to Sleep: Turtle Bay Resort is a 448-unit resort on the scenic, isolated North Shore with an unbeatable array of amenities — two 18-hole golf courses, a stable, helicopter rides — plus five miles of shoreline with wonderful waves, and great restaurants.
2. PUERTO RICO
Known as the “Hawaii of the Atlantic,” Puerto Rico is good for year-round quality surfing. It has breaks for every level or expertise, and for those who are there to watch the other ride the waves, there’s a wide array of stunning beaches, some of which are pretty empty even during peak season.
Best Spots to Surf: The western side of the island is probably your best bet. Rincon, Aguadilla and Isabela, all within a short drive of each other, offer superb waves and generally fewer crowds than other regions.
Best Spot to Stay: Villa Montana Beach Resort is a well-maintained, low-key property in the northwest corner of Puerto Rico. The rooms and villas are somewhat sparsely decorated, but decidedly nice with flat-screen TVs, iPod docks, comfortable bedding and large patios or balconies. There’s plenty of surrounding nature, attractive outdoor pools, and a gorgeous secluded private beach on this 30-acre property. Just keep in mind that while there’s plenty of nearby outdoor activity, there is very little to do in the area at night –which is good news if you have to wake up before the sun is out to head to the beach.
San Diego’s 70 miles of coastline, with white-sand beaches, picturesque bluffs, and wonderful north, west and south swells make it one of the surfing hot spots in California. The area mixes California culture and laid-back vibe with Latino flair, plus great nightlife, some of the best Mexican food around, and outstanding attractions, such as Legoland, San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, and Balboa Park for those who want to mix it up a little or traveling with non-surfers.
Best Spot to Surf: La Jolla is one of the area’s most popular spots for learning due to its great position somewhat protected from the wind. There’s a wide array of surf schools and convenient amenities, such as parking lots and lifeguards.
Where to Stay: Hotel Parisi is a charming, intimate boutique option in downtown La Jolla, amid restaurants and shops, and within walking distance of the beach. Its large, contemporary rooms and nice freebies (free Internet, a free breakfast buffet) make it a solid option, but for better views, a pool, and more luxurious rooms, go across the street to La Valencia.
4. COSTA RICA
While Costa Rica is known mainly for its volcanos and rainforests, this small Central American country has some of the best surf breaks in the region. With two coasts, each completely different from the other, surfers will probably find it hard to pick just one destination. However, there’s great surf in both, with quiet, empty beaches perfect for learning and for practicing.
Best Spot to Surf: Playa Espadilla Sur is an uncrowded beach in Manuel Antonio, and area home to Manuel Antonio National Park, one of the smallest national parks in Costa Rica and one of the most popular with tourists. Its lush forests are full of howler monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys, sloths, tucans, parrots, and more, and line gorgeous stretches of perfect white sand with occasional rough surf.
Best Spot to Stay: Perched high above the Pacific Ocean, the highlight of the 60-room La Mariposa is the breathtaking coastal views from the restaurant, pool deck, and guest rooms. A beautifully designed (if small) pool and a warm staff add to the appeal. The rooms and the restaurant are nothing special, but guests don’t seem to mind at all.
Riviera Nayarit may bring to mind romantic getaways and lazy afternoons on a hammock, but this low-key spot also has world-class surfing, with wonderful reef breaks for every level of expertise. There are several surf schools around and a wide variety of beaches with different types of swells. When the surf day is over, Riviera Nayarit is just a short drive from Puerto Vallarta’s nightlife and diverse dining scene.
Best Spot to Surf: Punta Mita has several different breaks, but the best one is arguably The Cove. It can get packed despite its remote location a 40-minute walk from Punta Mita, but it is absolutely worth both the hike and the crowds.
Best Spot to Stay: Hotel Cinco is a 12-suite luxury boutique hotel on the beach, with two pools, a gym, and the Punta Mita branch of Puerto Vallarta’s finest restaurant, the Café Des Artistes, on the ground floor. For those seeking a luxurious Punta Mita vacation without fencing themselves off from Mexican reality, this is the ideal pick.