Experience level: Intermediate/advanced only
Best seasons to go: Summer and fall
When you're talking San Diego surf, La Jolla -- literally, the Jewel -- is the star of the show. As such, it demands care. With the days of wild beach parties, vandalism, and riots now behind us, the area remains steeped in lore and tradition. As a kid growing up on these beaches, I was taught to respect the locals from the jump. The parking lot at Windansea was, and still is, packed with scrutinizing older locals -- and, today, with their kids, who hold down the lineup to make sure they get the best waves.
The wave itself breaks far off the beach. It packs a surprising wallop, and every year seriously injures dozens of people. Both the quality and the danger make locals quick to sniff out beginners and kooks, so if that sums up your ability, maybe give this one a pass. If you're already a skilled surfer, you'll have a great time on this south swell magnet that produces rippable waves year-round.
If you're not surfing, this is still the finest beach in town. By all means, visit for the rock caves, the tide pools, and the beautiful, scantily clad people who flock to this beach in the summer months. And if you only want to watch surfing, this is your spot. The bluffs that overlook the tight surf zone create something like a natural arena, giving you a better vantage than you'd have on a flat beach. On busy days, it's the best free show in town.
Local tip: Check out El Pescador Fish Market or Verdes El Ranchero for post-surf food and cocktails.