Best Places for Surfing, Skateboarding and Rock Climbing

If you’ve ever wanted to ride a wave, jump a ramp or climb a crag, get ready for some adventure- and sport-themed vacation inspiration. Surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing will debut on the world stage in Tokyo — but you don’t have to travel overseas in 2021 to try these extreme sports for yourself. Get in on the action by planning a vacation to one of the following destinations.

Plan a Surfing Vacation to San Diego

When you think of the best places to surf, California probably crosses your mind. Surfing is such an integral part of the Golden State’s history and culture that the California Legislature declared it the state’s official sport. Explore this surf destination during a family vacation in San Diego.

Getting There

Fly into San Diego International Airport, pick up your rental car and drive about 3 miles to reach the ocean.

What to See and Do

One huge perk of surfing in San Diego is its song-inspiring weather, which makes many of its beaches surfable and safe during all four seasons. Year-round lifeguards are present at Ocean Beach, South Mission Beach, Mission Beach, North Pacific Beach, Pacific Beach and the Children’s Pool. You’ll also find lifeguards at  La Jolla Shores, where you can embark on a driving tour of the area when you’re done riding waves.

In Ocean Beach, park at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park and take in an unparalleled view of brightly colored surfboards cruising back toward the beach. Then grab a bite at OB Surf Lodge, where families can enjoy crab cake sliders and a taste of surf culture. Stop by Bird’s Surf Shed, a quintessential San Diego surf shop selling equipment and surf apparel surrounded by a wall-to-wall display of vintage boards. For families looking to catch a surf break of their own, Pacific Surf School offers lessons at several locations. Beginners should book with instructors at Pacific Beach or Mission Beach, where the more consistent waves are easier for learning.

“In the whole San Diego area, it’s difficult to find a beach where you don’t see surfers. It’s a welcoming place, too,” says Rick Wilson, who has surfed in the area since 1962. Wilson volunteers at the California Surf Museum, another must-see less than 40 miles up the coast in Oceanside. Park for free around the corner on Tremont Street before heading into the museum to see boards from 1912 to now and other exhibits on topics like adaptive surfing. After a dose of surf history, walk to Oceanside Pier, one of the longest wooden piers on the West Coast and host to several annual surfing competitions, like the USA Championships in June.

Bonus Tip — Plan a Day Trip: Drive about 90 miles north of San Diego, or 55 miles north of Oceanside, to visit Huntington Beach. Nicknamed “Surf City” for its 10 miles of flat and wide beaches and its legendary waves, Huntington Beach is also home to the International Surfing Museum, where families can spy the largest surfboard recognized by the Guinness World Records.

With its 70 miles of coastline, San Diego offers a wide variety of surfing spots.


Also Consider Cocoa Beach for a Surfing Vacation

Sometimes referred to as the East Coast’s surfing capital, Cocoa Beach, Florida, is home to the self-proclaimed world’s largest surf shop Ron Jon, year-round and annual attractions like the Florida Surf Museum and Surfing Santas on Christmas Eve, and beaches for beginners and advanced surfers alike. To surf where the locals do, head to the Cocoa Beach Streets near downtown or 2nd Light Beach, which is located, appropriately, at the second stoplight when heading south from Cocoa Beach.

Getting There

Drive about 20 miles northeast from Orlando International Airport.

Ensure you have enough room for the family and your gear by upgrading your rental car reservation to an SUV.

Plan a Skateboarding Vacation to Detroit

If you ever thought surfing and skateboarding seemed related, you were right. The sport was invented as a way to “surf” on land when the ocean’s waves were flat. Despite starting on the West Coast, Detroit adopted the sport and is known for its many DIY and community-sponsored skate parks.

Getting There

Drive about 20 miles northeast from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.

What to See and Do

Name-drop Tony Hawk with the family while planning your next vacation, and you may find Detroit is your next kid-approved travel destination — not to mention one of the best places to skateboard. At the Tony Hawk-sponsored skate park in Riverside Park, families will find 15,000 square feet of bowls, rails and ramps backdropped by the Ambassador Bridge and waterfront. In addition to the skate park, Riverside Park has new basketball courts, soccer fields, a dog park and picnic shelters. Watch as locals perform skateboard tricks, and then enjoy a picnic in the park, or head about a mile northeast for sliders at Green Dot Stables.

For some artistic flair, drive 10 miles north to Ride It Sculpture Park, a free community skating spot that combines public art and greenspace. If you’re a newbie or prefer two wheels over four, drive about 8 miles farther north to the indoor Modern Skate & Surf for skateboarding, BMX biking and inline skating. Walk-in lessons and rental gear are both available for purchase.

Before heading back downtown, drive less than 5 miles southwest to Detroit City Skateboards in Ferndale. Browse skateboards, equipment and apparel or pick up a skateboarding sticker as a souvenir.

Bonus Tip — Learn the Lingo: The “nose” is the front of a skateboard, while the “tail” is the back. “Air” is when all four wheels are off the ground, and “sick” means cool. Give a compliment by saying: “That was a sick trick” or “You really caught some air.”

Local skateboarders were highly involved in designing the skate park at Riverside Park in Detroit. Photo courtesy of the City of Detroit, Flickr


Also Consider Los Angeles for a Skateboarding Vacation

An epicenter of extreme sports, Southern California is where skateboarding was born, with the first boards manufactured near Los Angeles. Host of 11 previous X Games, the City of Angels is where you can watch experienced skaters tackle snake runs at the 16,000-square-foot Venice Beach Skate Park. Then drive 40 miles northwest to the Skateboarding Hall of Fame and Museum, featuring vintage skateboards, memorabilia, a skate shop, library and practice ramp.

Getting There: Drive less than 10 miles northwest of Los Angeles International Airport to Venice Beach.

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Click to expand the map above and discover even more locations to surf, skateboard and climb in the USA.


Plan a Climbing Vacation in Red River Gorge, Kentucky

On television, you may have seen athletes competing in sport climbing. During this high-intensity activity, which can be streamed here, athletes scale artificial climbing walls indoors. Another rewarding way to enjoy this fast-growing sport for yourself is to head outdoors at Red River Gorge, Kentucky, one of the best places for rock climbing.

Getting There

Drive about 65 miles southeast from Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky.

What to See and Do

With sandstone walls, caves and coves estimated to be millions of years old, Red River Gorge inside the Daniel Boone National Forest is considered the mecca of climbing in the East. Discover more than 1,000 routes with preplaced climbing bolts to clip into in the gorge. The gorge’s 150 sandstone arches are the second-highest concentration of arches in the country, surpassed only by Arches National Park in Utah.

No matter your level of rock climbing experience, Southeast Mountain Guides offers full- and half-day climbing journeys to fit your family’s needs and abilities. The outfitter’s instructors are all certified through the American Mountain Guides Association. While climbers ages 9 and younger get $20 off, those 10 and older can consider signing up for Southeast Mountain Guides’ Via Ferrata, a climbing experience that is equipped with cables to clip into and iron hand and foot rungs that are ideal for beginners. New climbers will also find easy and moderate climbs and well-marked signage throughout the Muir Valley area.

Red River Gorge offers an abundance of other outdoor adventures within driving distance too. Check out Red River Gorge Ziplines to glide through the gorge on one of five zip lines 300 feet above the ground or visit Red River Adventure to kayak or canoe.

During your rock climbing trip, grab a bite at Miguel’s Pizza, a popular hangout for rock climbers and hikers that offers 50 toppings to make your own pizza. Also consider Sandstone Arches Restaurant in Natural Bridge State Resort Park for unparalleled forest views and nibbles that vary by season; past menus have included fried shrimp and frog legs. Then set out on the park’s easy and mostly flat Laurel Ridge Trail, which winds for 0.7 miles (one way) along the top of Natural Bridge to a panoramic outlook over the valley at Lovers Leap.

Bonus Tip — An Event to Plan Around: Each October, the Red River Gorge’s Climbers’ Coalition hosts Rocktoberfest, three days of events like climbing clinics, question-and-answer panels, yoga for climbers, food and live music.

The Red River Gorge Geological Area spans 29,000 acres within the Daniel Boone National Forest. Photo by David Sorich, Flickr.


Also Consider Las Vegas for Sport Climbing

If the desert suits your spirit of adventure best, venture out on a rock climbing trip in Red Rock Canyon, the first national conservation area in Nevada and home to more than 1,000 climbing routes. Enjoy Scenic Drive, a 13-mile byway that serves up views of the Calico Hills and Spring Mountains and provides access to climbs like the easy-to-moderate Solar Slab, accessible via the Oak Creek Canyon parking area. For a guided adventure, Red Rock Climbing Guides offer excursions and classes for both beginners and experienced sport climbing enthusiasts.

Getting There

Drive about 20 miles northwest from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

Stay on course by adding a navigation device to your rental car reservation before your next climbing adventure.


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About the Author:

Lisa Zimmermann is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and former competitive athlete. She’s previously written for Boston magazine, The Dallas Morning News, The Jersey Journal, New England Travel and Atlas Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @lisazimm or Instagram @lzloveslife.