The California Bucket List: Your daily guide to the best adventures and experiences in the Golden State

California Bucket List

Here’s your daily travel guide to the best adventures and experiences in the Golden State. Each of these essential California adventures has been tried and tested by a Travel section staffer or contributor.

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Family-friendlySan Diego County

Surf Southern California, even if you need a lesson

Rookie surfer, age 56. (Adam Weigand)
Rookie surfer, age 56. (Adam Weigand)

Why: Because it's an irreproducible thrill to balance a board on a rolling wave. Because it's an excuse to get in the water. And because surfing underpins so much of California popular culture. 

What: Blame the three Hawaiian princes who introduced surfing to California in the 1880s. Or blame the Beach Boys for deciding to sing about it in the early 1960s. Either way, the word got out about this sport, which can be fatal or, in the best of circumstances, not so hard.

I admired it from afar until the other day, when I signed on for a 90-minute, one-on-one lesson at beginner-friendly Mission Beach in San Diego. Instructor Adam Wiegand took me through the basics, launched me into a few waves, then went ashore and hollered instructions at me, the 56-year-old rookie. It wasn't pretty, but I got up a few times and spent some precious seconds gliding with the tide. This means it's not that hard.

It does help to start on a day of 1-2-foot waves, using a 10-foot-long foam board — that's about the size of an aircraft carrier. We did need to be careful of stingrays on the sandy bottom (no stings, thankfully) and we had the happy distraction of a dolphin swim-by.

Where: Classes like this are offered up and down the coast, and the citizen critics of yelp have evaluated more than a dozen in Santa Monica alone. I used Surfari Surf School, 3740 Mission Blvd, San Diego, 116 miles southeast of downtown L.A. 

How much: Surfing instruction rates vary widely. At Surfari, I paid $85 for a 90-minute one-on-one session (and an added hour of board and wet suit rental, if I'd had the energy). For a group lesson (three to five people), the rate is $55 per person.

Info: Surfari Surf School


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