About Cardiff Reef

This is one of the few beaches around at which you'll see multigenerations of families all hanging out in and out of the water, together. The reef is a long, right point that breaks over a flat, grass-covered reef for about a quarter of a mile. The wave is usually slow and a little mushy, but with real low tides and big winter swells, the south peak at Cardiff can be a real smoker. Otherwise, break out the log and join the party.

The state park coalition has built a pay lot right in front of the point, but free parking is available just outside the gates along the highway. The wave is easy to find, and can be checked by driving either north or south along Highway 101. The nearest freeway turnoff is at Manchester. The road that runs parallel to the tracks, just east of PCH, offers a great view of both Cardiff Reef and those spots adjacent to it. One of San Diego's hottest surfers owns a house along this stretch of asphalt, and there's no wonder why once you've had a glimpse of the view from Machado's front window.

A short paddle north from Cardiff reef, you'll find another pack of surfers in the water, probably sitting shoulder to shoulder in a tight knot. This is Suckouts. It's a very different wave than its partner just 50 yards away. As waves roll slowly and gently into Cardiff Reef, the same swell will produce dredging tubes that "suck out" quickly and spit those keen enough to make the drop out into a small channel before the wave closes out into the backside of the peak at Cardiff. This wave also prefers a lower tide, but the drop gets more and more difficult as the water level decreases. The left off of this same peak can offer multiple opportunities to crank turns off its steep face. It is not as hollow as the right, but is always a welcome relief from haggling for the favored tube on the other side of the peak. The crowd at Suckouts is as different from Cardiff Reef as is the wave. Once 10 surfers are on the peak, it is hardly worth paddling out, as there just won't be enough waves to go around.

The San Elijo Lagoon drains into the ocean and straight into the lineup at Suckouts, and has been blamed for a number of sicknesses contracted by local surfers. Ear infections are common during winter months when the rivermouth is opened, as are cases of severe intestinal problems. It is best to avoid these spots after heavy rains, and especially when warning signs are posted on the beach. A quick look at the stagnant water in the estuary should convince even the most daring of surfers not to enter the surf during the polluted periods. Even the ducks swimming in this cesspit look a bit apprehensive as they enter the water.

Source: Cardiff Reef Surf Guide

Ability Level

All Abilities

Beg Int Adv

Cardiff Reef, beginner to advanced; Suckouts, experienced only

Local Vibe


Welcoming Intimidating

They're out there; blow a drop at Suckouts and you may as well paddle in.

Crowd Factor


Mellow Heavy

Weekends can be packed; weekdays are not so bad.

Spot Rating


Poor Perfect

No shortage of quality.

Shoulder Burn


Light Exhausting

Easy paddle back out through channel, but can be long.

Water Quality


Clean Dirty

Not great, toxic after a big rain.

Additional Information


Low tide reef plants at Suckouts, hassling the crowd at Cardiff, stand-up paddleboarders.


Easy as can be.

Bring Your

Shortboard, fish, funboard, longboard


Reef, reef/point

Best Season


Swell Consistency and Wind Overview

Photos & Videos