One of the most famous La Jolla beaches is no doubt Windansea Beach, but you might only be familiar with it if you live in La Jolla like I do or surf. While very much a local’s spot surrounded by multi-million-dollar homes, it’s famous for a rough break, historic Surf Shack, and storied past.
There is a lot to know about Windansea Beach La Jolla before you go, which is the entire point of this post.
The Famous Windansea Surf Breaks
Underwater reefs and the steep ocean floor cause consistent, incredible surf breaks at Windansea Beach, which are the closest thing California has to Hawaiian surf breaks. Waves typically vacillate between two and ten feet high.
Most of the beach is home to a strong shorebreak that can hurl you quickly into very shallow water. You should only enter the water here with this in mind and only if you know what you’re doing because many novices get hurt.
Many La Jolla parents like me stress out about our kids going in the water at Windansea even though many have been trained to womp or recognize hazardous conditions.
Those who don’t live here and dream of paddling out to these surf spots (they have names — Middles, Turtles, Simmons, or Big Rock) should be well-skilled and well-versed in surfing etiquette. Otherwise, I would advise you to stay shore-bound. This is a sacred spot for many.
Windansea Surf Report and Live Cam
The Windansea surf cam allows surfers to keep up to date with the surf conditions. You can stream the free live Surfline camera to check the water conditions before heading out to the beach. A forecaster posts a daily summary of what the day and winds will be like out on the water.
You can also see if the lifeguard is present, so I check the cam in the shoulder seasons when lifeguards start to patrol regularly. (More on lifeguards below.)
Short Windansea Beach History and The Surf Shack
A lot has happened on this beautiful beach over the years.
Windansea Beach was originally called Neptune Beach but took the name of Windansea in the 1920s, after the neighboring Windansea Hotel. The beach’s name remained unchanged even after the hotel burned down in 1943. Windansea is an abbreviation of Wind-and-Sea.
The Surf Shack
In the 1940s, the beach became popular with military members who found surfing to be a fun leisure activity and a way to decompress after service in WWII. Three of these surfers — Don Okey, Woody Ekstrom, and Fred Kenyon — built the iconic Surf Shack in 1947 for some “shade and aloha.”
The Surf Shack is planted into the rocks with four wooden posts. The roof is made up of layered palm fronds. There are no walls or any additional structures. While the shack is humble, it holds significance to the community of surfers and locals.
It’s been the scene of some tragedy too. In 1954, waves claimed the life of Bob Simmons, a surfer and surfboard shaper who played a huge role in the evolution of the modern surfboard. The break where he died, Simmons, is named after him.
In 1963, the statue of Hot Curl joined The Shack. Hot Curl was made of 400 pounds of concrete and stood six feet tall. He was a mop-haired, knobbly-kneed surfer with a large belly that overlooked the water while holding a beer.
Artist Michael Dormer created the cartoon character with help from Lee Teacher. Hot Curl became a nationwide sensation and appeared in the 1964 movie Muscle Beach Party. Unfortunately, Hot Curl came to his demise less than a year later due to vandals and, later, big surf.
Windansea Surf Club
In 1963, Mike Hynson, Chuck Hasley, and Thor Svenson formed the Windansea Surf Club with the goal of entering (and dominating) the well-known Malibu Invitational surf competition. The club still exists today with the goal of shedding a positive light on surfing and its community, in addition to charitable initiatives that involve our local youth and protect the ocean.
Past and present surfing greats from all over the world continue to maintain active memberships. If you like to surf or have kids who do, check it out.
You might also be surprised to know that Andy Warhol spent time at Windansea in 1968 while filming San Diego Surf. The eclectic storyline involves a couple from New York who come to La Jolla and befriend a group of local surfers. The movie never screened during his lifetime but was finally finished in 1996 using Warhol’s notes.
A Historical Designation
The Surf Shack was named a historical landmark in 1998 by the San Diego Historical Resources Board. Almost two decades later, in 2015, The Shack was destroyed by a huge swell. Locals came together to rebuild the sacred structure and still enjoy it today.
The Surf Shack Rebuilt (Again)
The palm fronds on top of The Surf Shack aren’t meant to withstand heavy surf or rainfall brought on by storms. So, if you see them missing, it’s likely that volunteers removed them as a precautionary measure.
Sometimes though, the entire structure washes away. That’s what happened in the winter of 2015, but rest assured that locals rebuilt it six months later. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last time that The Surf Shack succumbs to nature.
Windansea Beach, La Jolla for People Who Don’t Surf
I do think Windansea is one of La Jolla’s prettiest beaches. A couple of benches along Neptune Avenue allow visitors to sit and admire the view.
Windansea is not considered a good beach for families with small children who may want to play at the shoreline. You can check my list of best beaches in San Diego for families to find a suitable alternative (like my favorite, La Jolla Shores Beach). Don’t forget that we also have La Jolla Cove and our La Jolla seals and sea lions at Children’s Pool Beach.
It’s also not a good beach for swimmers, but you will see people frolicking in the water regardless.
The shoreline has some sand but also these lovely sandstone rocky plateaus that are perfect for sunbathing and watching the sunset. They’re usually not set back very far from the water, depending on the tides, and their natural formations create little more private nooks for beachgoers.
The rocks here make it a nice place for visitors to mostly avoid sand if they want to.
Seasonal lifeguards monitor the beach from roughly 9 a.m. to dusk. They are not present during non-peak beachgoing seasons like the winter. Surfing at Windansea is a year-round activity regardless of whether there’s a lifeguard or not.
You won’t find any public facilities like restrooms, water fountains, or showers, which helps keep some crowds away.
Locals love it, so while you might think it’s a hidden gem, it can get busy during the summer months. Really busy.
Windansea Beach Directions and Parking
Windansea Beach address: 6800 Neptune Place, La Jolla, CA, 92037
To get to Windansea Beach, make your way to La Jolla Boulevard. You can turn west on multiple streets between Palomar Avenue and Westbourne Street until you reach Neptune Place, which runs parallel to the beach. The Surf Shack and parking lot are at the end of Bonair Street.
- From La Jolla Boulevard North (Bird Rock): Turn left on Bonair and right on Neptune Place. (I often turn right on Palomar)
- From La Jolla Boulevard South (downtown La Jolla): Turn right on Westbourne and left on Neptune Place.
The Windansea Beach parking lot is located along Neptune Place, between Nautilus and Bonair Streets. It’s very small, with maybe 20 parking spaces, so don’t plan on parking here unless you get lucky.
Luckily, residential street parking is usually available, but it may take you a while to find a spot during peak summer months.
Hotels Near Windansea Beach (and Restaurants or Convenience Stores)
The two closest hotels to Windansea Beach are The Shoal and Holiday Inn Express. Both lean toward more budget-friendly travelers but recognize that in a La Jolla summer, this can mean luxury hotel pricing elsewhere. The Shoal though was recently renovated and makes my list of best La Jolla hotels. Most La Jolla hotels are located closer to the Village area, which is still within a hearty walking distance of Windansea Beach.
If you need snacks, there is a 7-11 at the intersection of Westbourne Street and La Jolla Boulevard, an easy three-block walk from the beach.
Before you get to the 7-11 (assuming that you are walking up from Windansea Beach), on the west side of La Jolla Boulevard before you cross the street, there are two other great places to stop on the right side. This little complex has Valley Farms, a gourmet grocer with awesome sandwiches and even fish tacos, and The Promiscuous Fork. You can read more about my favorite La Jolla restaurants.
The latter claims to be an unpretentious foodie joint, which I believe is true. I find it hard to narrow down what to order because I lean toward items like The Hippie portabella mushroom and veggies sandwich, but I have happily taxed my husband’s burgers from Ana’s Code Blue Burger (blue cheese) to the one with the jalapeno poppers. They also offer happy hour, tacos, and a kids’ menu.
Rigoberto’s fast-casual Mexican is also very popular with local teens (La Jolla High School is just up the street) but overall an excellent place for a breakfast burrito or carne asada burrito to take down to the beach.
I grew up in Huntington Beach, another famous SoCal surf community, and my family’s friends include famous people from the cult surf movie Endless Summer. There are certain people and beaches that play significant roles in the history of surfing. Windansea is one of these places — and it’s another reminder of why I feel very lucky to live here.
Who is Windansea Beach for? I would say definitely locals, in addition to surfers who understand sacred waves, sunset chasers, surf history enthusiasts, people who want a nice place to gaze over the ocean and maybe meditate, and sunbathers who crave a little more privacy and don’t mind the lack of public amenities.