Oodles of swell exposure in Monterey County, but it's tricky knowing where to go and when. To the north, Moss Landing and the surrounding beachbreak is pretty basic in that you need ESE winds and medium-sized swell to see it really working. And when it's working, Moss serves up world-class beachbreak barrels can be cold water rivals to Hossegor and Puerto Escondido.
Down around the Monterey Peninsula itself are a bunch of quirky and fickle reefs, a point or two, some rocky beachbreak, and some booming sandbar spots – all breaking on different swell and wind directions. It's quite possible you could live an entire year in Monterey County and surf nowhere but the Peninsula. You'd get some good days and some bad ones, but it's almost always possible to find some spot blowing offshore with a wave to ride.
Big Sur is another story. Without fail, one glance at a topographic map of this section of the California coast sparks incoherent blather from the unenlightened surf-trekker who's intent on raiding this rocky maze because, dude, anywhere with that much serrated coastline must offer barrel after sparkling barrel. Not so. This coast's highly-venerated rugged beauty has been celebrated in stacks of coffee-table books. A legendary tourist destination and romantic escape, where a twisting, treacherous stretch of Highway 1 runs along the rims of sheer cliffs, it's a lovers' wonderland, but a hoodwinker for surfers the world over. Yeah, it's true. Despite the recurring lure of protected coves, bulbous headlands, white sand beachbreaks, and auspicious point set-ups, the 72 miles (115km) of photogenic shore from Carmel Highlands down to Ragged Point hold, at best, maybe a half-dozen funky surf spots. Big Sur's handful of spots is brutally fickle, rendered almost impossible to score epic unless you reside in the region. This is surf turf where local knowledge really comes into play.
The mouth of the Big Sur River (in Andrew Molera State Park) is the northern focal point of Big Sur surfing. A fairly long walk in tends to keep the crowd down, and the spot blows offshore on a prevailing NW wind, which whips around the headland, shooting directly into the oncoming waves – sometimes so fiercely it won't let you make the drop. Elsewhere, ample big swell, ample bad wind, and sharp, sheer terrain are the reality. Highway 1 through Big Sur is periodically closed during the winter due to natural calamities like floods and slides, the latter sometimes precipitated by earthquakes in this less-than-stable geology (the infamous San Andreas Fault passes through the coastal range). The sights and sounds of a gray, messy ocean are impressive here, but the surfing is not.