8 surf destinations with more than great waves

Dedicated surfers notoriously have a one-track attitude when it comes to their passion, chasing waves taking precedence over pretty much everything else. Of course, their holidays are often geared towards chasing waves.


While this results in some stunning beaches in dreamy tropical locations, prime surf spots can also be remote and isolated, leaving not much else to do outside of the ocean. From time to time, especially when traveling with non-surfing family members, friends or especially someone significant, different considerations are required when deciding on your next vacation destination. Here are some places that will keep everyone happy in and out of the water!

8/8 south-west of France

Biarritz, France countryside
Photo by Ilona Bellotto on Unsplash

Biarritz, France countryside

What better way to fit a bit of culture into a surf trip than going to France? About 30 minutes apart on the southwest coast are Hossegor and Biarritz. Both offer world-class waves, with Hossegor hosting a World Surf League event each year (usually in August/September) and the Biarritz Surf Festival also being an annual event.

Hossegor is also popular with golfers, cyclists and nature lovers. There is a large lake, an extensive forest and a boat harbor. Biarritz is a lively yet charming resort town set against the backdrop of the Pyrenees. It features several museums, an aquarium, and lots of great shopping and dining.

7/8 Bali, Indonesia

A rite of passage for all surfers, the “Island of the Gods” is literally surrounded by world-class waves, suitable for all levels from beginner to expert. Numerous international surfing competitions are held every year.

Non-surfers of all stripes flock to Bali too, whether it’s to enjoy the notorious restaurants, parties and nightlife or, on the contrary, the thriving health and wellness scene. Areas like Canggu and Ubud are favorites of the international yogi community. Bali caters for all tastes and budgets, making it a versatile destination that’s sure to keep everyone happy.

RELATED: Are you visiting Bali? Here are 10 things you can do there

6/8 Basque Country, Spain

San Sebastian, Spain
Photo by Raúl Cacho Oses on Unsplash

San Sebastian, Spain

Another option for a European surf holiday is in northern Spain. The waves at Mundaka are some of the biggest and best in Europe, but surfers will enjoy the entire stretch of coast all the way to San Sebastián.

Outside the water, the possibilities are amazing. A foodie’s paradise, the region boasts the second most Michelin-starred restaurants per capita. Also, let’s not forget its rank as one of the world’s top wine producers, making wineries an ideal addition to the non-surf agenda. But wait, there’s more! Visit the Guggenheim Art Museum and stroll along Bilbao’s waterfront. The road trip scenery en route from San Sebastián is an attraction in itself; Enjoy both historical landmarks and breathtaking views.

San Sebastián hosts a famous film festival in September and a jazz festival in July each year.

5/8 Vancouver Island, Canada

Surf check in Tofino, BC
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Surf check in Tofino, BC

While surfing may not be the first thing that springs to mind when someone mentions Canada, the country’s west coast is home to a thriving surfing scene. While there are numerous wave-rich regions, the epicenter is in the postcard town of Tofino. Those who can endure frigid sea temperatures and thick wetsuits will be rewarded with the quality of surf on offer.

The cozy coastal town surrounded by ancient forests is a dream for every nature lover. There’s hiking galore, ziplining, 4×4 tours, biking, golfing and more. The delightful downtown has a lot to offer for its small size, with dozens of shops, artists, indigenous history museums and galleries. You can also enjoy a range of restaurants, pubs, breweries and pharmacies.

4/8 Baja Norte, Mexico

Just a few clicks south of the US border, Northern Baja is an excellent option for those looking for a budget-friendly getaway with a diverse mix of offerings. Surfers will enjoy miles of uncrowded waves while their significant other can sip cocktails in affordable oceanfront accommodation.

The Rosarito arts and entertainment district sits right on the surf, so there’s no shortage of dining, shopping, and nightlife. This is of course in addition to the nearby urban mecca of Tijuana. For something more laid-back, the cozy coastal bay of Ensenada offers countless outdoor activities and is known for some of the region’s best seafood. Add a wine tasting to the itinerary and also head to the Valle de Guadalupe. There are more than 100 wineries and an award-winning culinary scene.

3/8 Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa
Photo by Sharaan Muruvan on Unsplash

Cape Town, South Africa

For a surf trip like no other, head to South Africa for a truly unique experience. Nestled beneath the towering Table Mountain, Cape Town has repeatedly been voted one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is also one of the most famous surfing spots not only in the country but in the entire African continent.

As a city rich in historical significance, visitors should take advantage of the numerous opportunities to learn more about their struggle to defeat apartheid (particularly with a trip to Robben Island). There are plenty of cultural offerings with the city’s influence on European, African and Muslim traditions. Like many other destinations on this list, Cape Town is one of the world’s leading wine regions.

2/8 San Francisco, California

The Bay Area’s crashing waves give surfers another reason to set their hearts on San Francisco. While Ocean Beach’s near-town break is only for experienced surfers, there are a variety of gentler options in Pacifica to the south and Marin County to the north.

While SoCal’s endless days of sunshine and beach culture are more associated with surfing, nowhere else in California has so much to offer outside of the ocean. History, nature, art, culture, music, food, nightlife, sports, events and shopping are all within reach here, just a few steps from the sea.

RELATED: About the Golden Gate Bridge: Did you miss Marin County?

1/8 Florianopolis, Brazil

Aerial view of Florianopolis, Brazil
Photo by Cassiano Psomas on Unsplash

Aerial view of Florianopolis, Brazil

With over 60 stunning beaches, it is the destination for a Brazilian surf vacation. At the same time, it was once named the “Party Destination of the Year” by the New York Times, so clearly there’s no shortage of fun for the non-surfer cohorts either.

Foodies will surely love La Ruta Gastronomica, which offers an endless line of world-class seafood restaurants. Be sure to try the oysters, for which the region is particularly well known. Visit the bustling historic Central Market and be sure to check out the Cantinho da Arte for handcrafted, one-of-a-kind souvenirs rather than the mass-produced variety.

About Stephanie McGehee

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