Cowell's Beach—Santa Cruz, California
Surf Report: Waist-high sets that break 200 yards from shore; nippy, 55-degree water (wetsuit required) in summer.
Scene: Packed with locals, but the most welcoming spot in Santa Cruz.
Bonus: Après-surf, play pinball at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
Wax Run: Cowell's Beach Surf Shop, 831-427-2355, www.cowellssurfshop.com
San Onofre State Beach—San Clemente, California
Surf Report: Long lines of whitewater for boogie boarding and longboarding. Find low, slow-breaking peaks at Dogpatch.
Scene: A family-friendly mecca since the 1930s-with a few RVs and beer bellies.
Bonus: Cameos by longboard legends like La Jolla native Joel Tudor.
Wax Run: Rip Curl Surf Shop, 714-422-3600, www.ripcurl.com
Linda Mar Beach—California
Surf Report: Half an hour south of San Francisco, Pacifica's Linda Mar is one-mile-long beach that picks up swell from every corner of the Pacific. Colder in the spring than any other time of year and generally foggy all summer and clear all winter, Linda Mar is extremely popular with beginner to intermediate surfers. It always has something to ride.
Scene: Packed every weekend and every swell with beginners, longboarders, shredders, valley kids, and city guys, this place is popular, but there is more than enough room from the Boat Dock break on the south end to the Round House break on the north end.
Bonus: Fast food within 50 yards of the surfline. World-famous surf spot Mavericks is less than an hour away.
Wax Run: Nor Cal Surf Shop, 650-738-WAVE, www.norcalsurfshop.com; Surf Camp Pacifica, www.surfpacifica.com
Mondos, Pitas Point—California
Surf Report: In Ventura County, south of Santa Barbara, Mondos, on the inside of Pitas Point, has long and gentle waves over a sandy bottom, with a lot of room for everyone. The beach lacks massive swells because it's tucked away and shadowed by Santa Cruz Island so beginners can splash and crash on the inside without getting in anyone's way.
Scene: Some Ventura surfers consider Mondos a secret spot, although it's visible to the whole world from Route 101. Generally friendly on the inside, but don't get in anyone's way.
Bonus: Mondos faces south and gets summer swells that flow under Santa Cruz Island. Get good at Mondos and go nuts on all the classic points and reefs of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
Wax Run: Patagonia Great Pacific Iron Works, 805-643-6074, www.patagonia.com
Surf Report: Thirty minutes west of Los Angeles, along 27 miles of beaches known as the 27 Mile Miracle, Surfrider Beach at Malibu is home to the original perfect wave. First Point is the most popular spot for beginning to intermediate surfers and some of the world's best longboarders. Best in summer, when the water is warm and the south swells are running.
Scene: A great beginner break but crowded with ravenous surfers. Learning here is a bit like playing hockey on the freeway. Collisions happen every couple of minutes. Beginners should stay inside and close to the point and ride the wild whitewater.
Bonus: Surf Malibu all day, party in Hollywood all night. Dolphins in the lineup. Plenty of sunshine. And that guy who dropped in on you without looking back just might be Adam Sandler.
Wax Run: Pro Surf Instruction, Learn to surf from John Philbin, the actor who starred in North Shore and Point Break and taught Kate Bosworth how to surf for Blue Crush. www.prosurfinstruction.com; Zuma Jays Surf Shop, 310-456-8044, www.zumajays.com; Malibu Surf Shack, 310-456-8508, www.malibusurfshack.com
Surf Report: Forty-five minutes from Houston, Galveston is the best beginner spot in Texas, with four piers and miles of un-crowded beach breaks. The waves here are gentle and rolling, and the Flagship Hotel/Pier is the best spot to get started. Jetties on both sides of the long pier protect the swell from chop and currents and help with paddle-outs during larger swells.
Scene: Tens of thousands of tourists will flock down to Galveston on any given summer weekend from cities like Houston to enjoy some gulf shrimp, a little sand between their toes, and some longboarding.
Bonus: Access to the surf spots is easy, with parking all along the seawall that stretches for miles. And if the ocean isn't cooperating, you can always go ride the tanker wakes for miles over the shoals in the Galveston Channel.
Wax Run: Surf Specialties, 409-763-1559, www.surfspecialties.com; 24-hr. Surf Reports: 409-763-2115