Winter is the best time to hit Santa Cruz’s 10 miles of famous breaks, for a few simple reasons: between November and March, storms produce consistent swells, from two-foot rolling waves to barrelling 10-footers; the 50-degree air keeps summer crowds away; and flights from most major cities to San Jose (just 35 minutes to the north) fall to around $300. Drop your bags at the eco-chic Hotel Paradox (doubles from $165) and head to the Freeline Design Surf Shop for a four-millimeter wetsuit ($10) and six-foot shortboard ($25), ideal for these conditions. Then make your way to two-to-four-foot waves at the Hook, a point break located at the end of 41st Avenue. To tackle larger swells, head to Steamer Lane (where winter waves average six feet) or get a lesson from Club Ed ($85 per person). When you’re done, treat yourself with a lobster quesadilla at Olitas Cantina and Grille, and chase it down with one of the legendary margaritas.
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