Thanksgiving’s Best Surf Bets

No matter where your Thanksgiving travels take you, as long as you stick near a coast, you’re stoked. Late November is a surefire bet for good surf pretty much anywhere in the States. Crisp fall conditions, regular pulses of swell in the Pacific and Atlantic, water and air not yet bone-chilling cold. Yet even among our bounty of surf options, jewels gleam. If you’ve got the freedom to break away from family commitments, these five areas are Thanksgiving’s best surf bets:


The stretch from Point Conception north to Big Sur is a big giant crapshoot of closed out sandbars and a few lumpy reefbreaks. It’s often a frustrating place to be a surfer, but in the fall the place can absolutely sing, with strong offshores transforming the closeouts into something a little more magical. When it comes to Thanksgiving, the Central Coast has got you covered. Some of the country’s best wineries are smack dab in the middle of San Luis Obispo’s Edna Valley, and wine pros don’t call Paso Robles the new Napa for nothing. Plenty of restaurants offer big, wine country Thanksgiving spreads. Plus, turkey hunting season starts mid-November, and there are tons of wild turkeys rooting around all over the Central Coast. If you’re into that kind of thing.

Photo: Burkard

If you like some barrels with your turkey, the Outer Banks is your Thanksgiving destination. November is the backend of hurricane season, with semi-regular storms sending wave trains chugging into OBX from the north, east, and south. Westerly winds and combo swells mean spitting a-frames all day, up and down the Banks, if you know where to look. It’s a great family Thanksgiving destination with big rental houses right at the beach, most of them discounted heavily in the wake of the summer tourist season. Like some protein variety with your turkey? Fall fishing at OBX can be world-class.

Photo: Pullen

While most of San Diego gets good in the fall, Black’s gets damn good, especially if a late season south swell sneaks up the coast. Black’s also gets damn crowded though, especially when everybody’s off work and out of school. The key here is to paddle out in the afternoon. Early Thanksgiving eaters aren’t making it down that trail bloated with stuffing. Later eaters are getting out of the water to meet up with family. If you can break away from the food scene, you can score a fairly uncrowded Black’s with some of the year’s best conditions on late Thanksgiving afternoon.

Photo: McGuinness

Much like the Outer Banks, New York and Jersey breaks love late fall. Hurricane swells light up the beachbreaks and jetties, and early Nor’Easters can throw swell down the coast too, filtering into the more west-facing beaches. It’s starting to get cold up there, but it’s still bearable compared to what’s to come when winter kicks in. And if you head to New York for Thanksgiving, you can catch the famous Macy’s Parade, with the giant floating Snoopy. That’s gotta be cool.

Photo: Currie

Santa Cruz gets so good in the fall. I mean, it gets good all the time, but it loves fall. Plentiful west swells, friendly winds, even the infrequent late-fall south swell pop. And people sure do love to surf there. It can seem like the most crowded place on earth on a warm, late fall day, which happen pretty regularly. Hell, it was in the 70s during the WCT event there last November. But much like Black’s, or anywhere that’s normally crowded, Thanksgiving day lineups in Santa Cruz go from the most crowded of the year to the least crowded in the space of one afternoon. You’re not going to have head-high Hook all to yourself or anything, but once 3 o’clock rolls around, the crowd thins, the vibes mellow, and it can be the best place to surf in the world.

Photo: Burkard

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