Surfers worth their wax know that the beach on Oahu's north shore near Haleiwa has some of the best reef breaks. But ask a salt-in-the-veins surfer which towns are best for off-wave chill outs and local culture, and head-scratching ensues.
"It's funny, I've always looked at the surf, not so much at the town," says Pierre Wilkinson, a South African who's surfed from Australia to Zanzibar and just about everywhere in between. "I've surfed in many places where there is very little to do out of the water."
For die-hard fans like Wilkinson, the waves always win. But for those seeking a blend of cowabunga thrill and après-surf scene, there are plenty of cool towns where good food mixes with a barefoot vibe, and browsing galleries and shops is as fun as catching waves.
Consider California's classic surfin' safari destination of Santa Cruz, with its 106-year-old boardwalk, or Byron Bay, Australia, where surfers fuel up at The Top Shop before paddling out to the swells at Wategos and The Pass. Or the many draws of Bundoran, a town on the west coast of Ireland, where a world-class surf competition and a thriving pub and music scene collide.
Read on for more beach destinations you can sink your 10 toes into, even if you never hang 10.
Jamie Pham / Alamy
Browse among the 700 boards at family-run Hansen's Surf Shop, and take your pick to world-famous Swami's beach, named for the nearby Self-Realization Fellowship Retreat, Gardens, and Hermitage. During winter months, the right point break, reef breaks, and beach breaks lure a steady stream of local and international surfers. Stroll the short walk to downtown Encinitas, full of Mexican restaurants like Juanita's, whose fish tacos are worth the wait in line. And get your beach-tunes fix at Lou's Records, an institution for SoCal vinyl lovers.
Robert Harding World Imagery / Alamy
Nosara, Costa Rica
Visitors to this Pacific paradise strike it rich with endless beaches and abundant wildlife. Playa Guiones is where surfers plunk down, while yogis do the downward dog at the open-air studio at Hotel Harmony, founded by a couple who met surfing. At nearby Ostional Beach, thousands of olive ridley sea turtles crawl ashore once a month to lay their eggs. Nosara's private Biological Reserve supports hundreds of species of birds, howler monkeys, and other rainforest creatures, and the bar at Lagarta Lodge delivers killer sunset views.
Courtesy of Shelter Restaurant
British Columbia draws serious skiers and oenophiles, and surfers, too, have come to adore B.C.-especially Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The 2013 Rip Curl Pro surf competition shredded here in June. The rustic buildings around Main and Campbell streets are worth a glance. Shelter Restaurant is replenished daily by Tofino's fishermen, and locals gather in the bar to watch Vancouver Canucks hockey. Eagle Aerie Gallery displays the works of award-winning Canadian artist Roy Henry Vickers.