In Southern California, it’s possible to ski and surf on the same vacation (or even on the same day!) for a uniquely exhilarating adventure.
From the glittering Pacific Ocean to the snow-topped peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains, a wealth of natural beauty thrives in Southern California. Luckily, there are plenty of activities that allow visitors to take advantage of both the endless summer and the towering mountains. As a resident Angeleno for the past 12 years, two of my favorite pastimes are surfing and skiing — and once in a while, I’ll do both on the same day.
Catch a Wave
I learned to surf in Malibu under the tutelage of a floppy-haired surfer/actor named Doug. He manned a truck full of foam-top surfboards and wetsuits; for an hourly fee, he set me up with a board, strapped it to my ankle and paddled me out into the Pacific before pushing me (gently) into the swell. After my first pop-up, I was hooked.
If you’ve never surfed before, you can find a teacher like Doug at most beaches in Southern California. Independent instructors and surf stores frequently park their vans (like food trucks, but for surf gear) near local point breaks — just look for brightly colored signs and racks of rental boards. If you’re a more seasoned surfer, the workers will love to talk shop and help you pick the perfect board.
Alternatively, check out a local surf shop like The Board Club in Newport Beach. The staff will rent you a board and a wetsuit, connect you with a local surf instructor and give you pointers on the best places to hit the waves given current ocean conditions and your experience level.
The Pacific can be chilly. Although you may only need a rashguard during the summer, you’ll want a thicker wetsuit the rest of the year. Wetsuits are measured in millimeters; I’m prone to cold, so I wear a 4/3 all summer.
While surfing the California coast is a year-round enterprise, my other favorite local outdoor sport is only in season from November to about March (depending on the year’s snowfall). A handful of mountains are close enough to day-trip from the beach. Mountain High is about 90 miles from Marriott’s Newport Coast® Villas; Bear Mountain, which features the highest peak served by a lift in Southern California, is a bit more than a hundred miles away.
As with surfing, the peaks at these resorts offer enough variety for everyone, from beginners to experts. You can rent skis or snowboards, as well as boots and helmets. Most mountains offer ski schools for both adults and children, and you can also set up private lessons if you’d prefer one-on-one instruction. I got my ski legs back after years away with a group session at Snow Valley. Then I took a private snowboarding lesson at Bear Mountain that set me on a quick path to shredding the gnar.
A Ski-Surf Double
If you’re enchanted with the idea of skiing and surfing on the same day, your best bet may be Mount Baldy. This endeavor requires a bit of planning, along with packing both cold- and warm-weather gear and allowing at least a couple of hours drive time both ways to get from the mountains to the beach. But when the weather cooperates, it is a fantastic experience.
The day before your adventure, pack your bags. For skiing, you’ll need layers; for surfing, you’ll need a swimsuit or a wetsuit. Hitting the slopes will require base layers to wear under your snow pants and jacket (including warm socks), gloves and goggles or sunglasses. For the beach? Sandals, shorts or a cover-up, a towel and a brimmed hat for sun protection. Water or sports drink, snacks and sunscreen will serve you well in both climates.
Call the mountain the night before you ski to check snow and weather conditions — you may also be able to reserve rental equipment in advance and save yourself time in the morning. You should also call a surf shop to reserve your board and confirm the surf forecast for the following afternoon. I typically surf Venice Beach, but the Huntington Beach Pier is a good alternative. To maximize your time in the water, rent your surfboard from a shop near the beach where you’ll be surfing.
The Big Day
On the day of your cross-climate adventure, get up early and head straight to the mountain. The earlier you get there, the more time you’ll have to play in the snow. Eat a light breakfast and make sure to keep fueled and hydrated throughout the day. You’ll want to head back to the coast around midday in order to give yourself enough time to get to the beach and catch a couple of hours of waves.
After your morning on the peak, grab a quick lunch and use your GPS to optimize your route back to the coast. Traffic in Southern California can be unpredictable, and although you’ll be going against it, congestion can happen at any point. When you get to the surf shop, confirm the surf report for the afternoon and the store’s hours; some shops close on the early side and will allow you to return an afternoon rental the following morning. Then reapply your sunscreen, get out there and enjoy! You’ll never forget how amazing it feels to tackle two awesome SoCal adventures in one day.
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