Doheny State Beach

Doheny State Beach, also known as "Doho" is California's oldest state park. Donated by oil tycoon Edward Doheny in 1931, the beach was named in his honor. Mentioned by the Beach Boys in "Surfin' Safari" and "Surfin' USA, this is a classic California longboard break. Here you'll find a world-class beginner wave where all of Southern California should go to learn to surf. Fire up the Volkswagen Bus, strap the boards to the roof, and don't forget your surf wax!

Photograph of Doheny State Beach surfers with the Santa Ana Mountains in the background.
Doheny State Beach & The Santa Ana Mountains

Surf Conditions

The perfect conditions at Doheny State Beach is a SW swell, that's pretty much all you need to know. Avoid low tide like the plague here, you will see lots of exposed rock at the Boneyard when it gets too shallow. Unfortunately the San Juan Creek Rivermouth creates very poor water quality conditions during periods of rain that can quite honestly make you very sick. For this reason, Doheny consistently gets the worst water quality ratings out of any beach in California. If there's a good rain, give it a few days before you surf Doho. During summer months when SW swells are common and rains are infrequent, it can be a really ideal spot. There is a variety of different sized reef rock that slows down the wave to create a longboard paradise. That being said, there are so many beginners here on summer weekends, that surf etiquette is typically a massive free for all. If you're looking for some good wave time on weekends, hit up Dawn Patrol at the park open at 6AM. By about 10AM it will be completely slammed if there's swell.

Map of Doheny State Beach surf break.
Doheny State Beach Surf Map

Outside or "Mini-Jetty"

This is really the one spot where beginners are less likely to be. Directly out from the lifeguard tower you will see a "Mini-Jetty", buried in the sand The locals will probably refer to this as the outside. Depending on how the sand bar is formed from the river runoff (during periods of rain), the right can be super long and fast. Some of the best waves I've ever ridden at Doheny have been 4' rights that are generally pretty epic noserides. The outside left is generally a bit more consistent and is good for a solid, but shorter wave. 

Doheny State Beach surfers ready to paddle out.
Surfers Getting Ready to Paddle Out

Inside

The inside is where waves are most consistently firing. In the summer months, you can easily see 8+ people party-waving. If you decide to surf the inside, expect to find a flurry of flailing and crashing newbies. There is typically very little surf etiquette on weekends due to the lord of the flies type atmosphere. It's pretty much every man, woman, or child for themselves. Part of the reason why the waves are so good here is because the Harbor shields the waves from northerly winds. The jetty also shields the inside a bit from ocean currents, so the reef rock on the bottom doesn't move around as much. 

Dana Point Harbour Orange County
Dana Point Harbor

Boneyard

When Doheny State Beach is totally flat, you'll usually see a couple of surfers surfing Boneyard. It's an extremely shallow spot right against the jetty wall. The combination of the wave bouncing off the jetty, and only 1-2' of water running along the rocky bottom will create a nice, rideable wave. Definitely only surf Boneyard if you're confident in your abilities and are willing to put a nice ding in your surfboard. I've spent a few nights with epoxy fixing up my board due to costly missteps riding at Boneyard.

Stand Up Paddlers

Like most surf spots, there's a bit of a feud between Stand Up Paddlers (SUPers) and traditional surfers. If you draw an imaginary line out from the "mini-jetty", all stand up paddlers are supposed to stay south of that line. On days where there are plenty of waves, there's typically no issues. On scarce days there may be a few SUPers consistently grabbing all of the outside rights from the surfers. As you can imagine, surfers get frustrated and drop in on the SUPers, creating a safety hazard. For the most part, the SUP surfers at Doheny State Beach are a great group who really care about sharing the waves. Unfortunately, it's the nature of the beast that surfers and SUP surfers will tangle pretty often, so only surf the outside right if you're confident about mixing with SUP surfers.

Doheny State Beach paddleboarders.
SUPers at Doheny State Beach

Food

Doheny has a really solid restaurant right on the beach! For very affordable prices and quality food you can eat at the Boneyard Beach Cafe. You can either order at the take out window or sit in the fenced in area for service. If you want to sit in the service area, they will make you leave your board outside for some reason (probably a tripping hazard for the waiters). Try the french fries, my fiance is totally addicted to them.

Camping

Overnight camping here is some of the most popular in the state. Over 850,000 people will camp here each year. Reservations can be a bitch to get though, if you want to camp on a weekend day, or in consecutive days, you will need to book 7 months in advance. It sounds totally insane, but it's true. For example if you want to book any day in August, you have to log into ReserveAmerica.com at 8AM on January 1st (when the August dates become available) to race for a spot. Competition is fierce and you will commonly see not a single weekend day available for 6 months straight throughout any of the California State park system. That being said, it can be totally worth it. Unzipping your tent to an ocean view is priceless. Campgrounds here have nice bathrooms and outdoor showers to rinse off, so you won't feel like you are roughing it too much. 

Doheny State Beach campground area.
The Campground at Doheny Beach

Parking

Parking is ample and easy at Doheny State Beach.  With the California Explorers pass ($195/yr), you can park in any day use spot in the park. Without an Explorers Pass, expect to pay $2/hr or$15/day. Proximity to the 5 freeway also helps to make Doheny an easy-in, easy-out surf day. You will see tons of RVs and vans in the parking lot, making a nice weekend out of it.

Doheny State Beach park area.
Aerial Views of Doheny State Beach

Family Factor

Doheny State Beach is one of the best beaches to bring the entire family. You have ample access to parking that is mere steps from the beach (somewhat of a rarity in California). This allows you to bring all of the gear that you want to keep your family happy, all day long. If you have a kiddo that you are trying to teach to surf, there won't be a better spot out there. Since there is such a massive population of beginner surfers here, the better surfers will "expect the worst" from everyone and give them plenty of room to operate. If there's any place where you can drop in on someone and get away with it, it's Doheny State Beach. Also, the bathrooms are respectably clean for beach standards (another rarity). Take the whole family and check it out for yourself!

Doheny State Beach surfer mosaic art.
Doheny Surfing Mosaic
Doheny State Beach whale mosaic art.
Doheny Whale Mosaic

Purchase Canvas Prints

If you would like to purchase canvas prints from the Doheny State Beach Surf Guide, click on the specific image you are interested in, and you will be directed to Imagekind for printing and distribution. There are multiple sizes and styles available for purchase.

Click on the Canvas You Want to Purchase

Headshot for Web

About Derek

Surfing is my passion! When I moved to Orange County and wanted to learn, I found a huge lack of information about where to surf. Little by little, I am going to create a comprehensive guide about every surf break in Southern California. Join me on my journey. If you are interested in hiring me for professional drone photography services, please visit Drone Zone.

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