Across the blue planet, 20 million people take pleasure in surfing waves wherever saltwater meets land. As a reward for nerve and athleticism required, surfers are granted entrée into the life aquatic. Often described as a spiritual experience, surfers alone know the feeling of a wave surging and breaking beneath them. For those with their feet on dry land, it’s an enviable hobby; but even watching surfers provides a meditative experience. Standing on the beach—or sitting inside your warm car—watching the black-hooded figures bob and weave amongst the waves, spectators are invited to share the simple joy of surfing.

In Humboldt County, surf culture dates back to the 1960’s when a handful of adventurous souls discovered there were some pretty sweet beach breaks beyond the redwoods. Though the area has a reputation for cold weather, the climate in coastal Arcata is actually quite mild—the region enjoys some of lowest range of temperatures in the contiguous U.S. (minimal difference between lows and highs). This consistency keeps ocean temps relatively consistent as well. Surfers paddling out near Arcata are typically swimming in water that’s nearly the same temp as the waves in surf mecca of Santa Cruz. (But in both locations, a wetsuit is required!)

During your visit to Arcata, you don’t have to go far to catch local surfers in action. Many of Humboldt County’s best surf spots are also great beaches to throw the frisbee for the pup or enjoy a picnic on a sunny day. While the size of waves fluctuates dramatically on Humboldt County’s coast—on “big days” everyone but the ultimate daredevils stay dry—wind is the next best indicator to the quality of surf. If you want to see a show, pick a day when the wind’s not blowing, and checkout these favorite Humboldt surf spots:

Moonstone Beach
Moonstone is easily Humboldt’s most accessible and family friendly beach. Located 12 miles north of Arcata, exit at Westhaven Drive off Highway 101 and follow the signs to park at Moonstone. Affording beautiful views of the Trinidad headlands, Moonstone is protected by the rocky coves that surround the beach. Beginning surfers can walk their boards out to the surf break, staying secure in waist deep water a longways from the shore. At some point, most Humboldt surfers cut their teeth at Moonstone, learning to pop-up and read the ocean in the well-behaved waves. In addition to beginning surfers, Moonstone is also popular for kayakers, rock climbers, picnics, and strolling the beach for unique rocks and shells.

Trinidad State Beach
In the fishing village of Trinidad, the flat, peaceful waters of Trinidad Bay are beloved by kayakers, fishermen, and seals. Walk down to boat launch across from Seascape Restaurant and watch the lazy sea mammals dog pile each other while sunbathing. Bordering the north end of the Bay is Trinidad Head, a huge rock formation where visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the coast after a short but strenuous hike to the top. Just beyond Trinidad Head sits State Beach, where the saltwater is a completely different animal. Depending on the day, large waves crash to shore, and more experienced surfers paddle out to play. The closest thing to Sothern California’s long, white, sandy beaches, State Beach is a great place to let your dog stretch his legs and enjoy the wind, water, and waves on full display.

Camel Rock
Tucked between Moonstone and neighboring Luffenholtz Beach, Houda Point is accessible by a steep staircase off Scenic Drive south of Trinidad. Surfers know the beach as Camel Rock, named for its distinctive double hump shape that rises up from the ocean just offshore. On a good day, you’ll see the cars pulled over on the side of the road and surfers suiting up to paddle out. If the stairs aren’t prohibitive, climb down and watch the surfers take off from the beach. The waves breaking inside of Camel Rock are often speckled with black dots, as surfers clamor for position; if they’re lucky, they’ll ride a good wave all the way to shore. We recommend bringing a beach blanket and staying awhile before making the climb back up the stairs.