They call it the California Double: going surfing in the morning and hitting the ski slopes in the afternoon. It’s one of the reasons Californians are so passionate about their state, and SoCal is one of the few places in the world pulling a surf-to-ski double is even an option (although if you happen to be vacationing in New Zealand, Chile, or Japan, you could give it a try there too).
In and around LA, you’ll find beginner to pro-level surf opportunities at multiple locations along the coast. Then turn your back to the water and head into the SoCal mountains, and you’ll find loads of fresh powder and slopes that are more than worth the drive. Here’s how to make it happen.
Step One: Hit the Waves Early
Most experienced doublers suggest hitting the waves early before heading into the mountains, so you can wrap up your day with an après-ski as the sun sets behind the SoCal peaks. So the first step is to choose your beach and don your wetsuit early in the day!
1. El Porto
El Porto and Manhattan Beach are quintessentially Californian. The perfect stop in the fall or winter if you’re looking to catch some serious waves, this stretch of white sand is also close to the airport, making it a favorite stop for those with long layovers through the city.
2. Venice Beach
The waves here are a little more mellow than the ones you’ll find at El Porto in the colder months. Venice Beach is a great spot for beginners; you’ll find surf shops and instructors in every corner of the Venice Beach neighborhood, so it’s easy to rent a board and get started without much trouble.
3. Malibu (Surfrider) Beach
For those who know how to handle themselves on a board, Malibu Beach offers the perfect waves: long point breaks and the perfect winds. SoCal’s surf culture was practically born at Malibu Beach in the ’50s, so it’s a classic place to stop. (Related: Best Places in SoCal to Raise a Family)
4. Topanga Beach
If you’re not a first-time surfer but you’re not ready for the larger breakers at Malibu or El Porto, Topanga Beach offers the perfect level of challenge. The swells at Topanga Beach are a great choice for novices on a longboard, but plan to arrive early if you don’t want to battle for a spot on the waves; Topanga Beach’s ideal conditions make it attractive to many surfers.
5. Zuma Beach
At the north end of Malibu, Zuma beach is a picturesque spot to drop in and catch a few waves. It’s also a great choice for beginner to intermediate-level surfers to get in the water and challenge themselves a bit, or for avid surfers who want a relaxing morning on the water.
Step Two: Choose Your Slopes for SoCal Skiing or SoCal Snowboarding
Whether you’re a novice or a pro on the snow, take a scenic day trip from the city and you’ll find powdered slopes more than worth your time.
1. Mt. Baldy
Drive 45 minutes out of the city, and you’ll hit Mt. Baldy, the closest ski resort to LA. Mt. Baldy – part of the San Gabriel Mountains – is a little smaller and lower-altitude, so its snow season is shorter than the other ski resorts on this list. But it’s also among the most accessible. It’s just $49 for an afternoon lift pass, making it a natural choice for those pulling a California Double. Mt. Baldy is also a great place for beginners to try out skiing or snowboarding for the first time.
Big Bear Mountain and Snow Summit are connected mountain resorts just over two hours from LA. Admission to either of these resorts gains you entrance to the other, which makes this one a favorite getaway for a day of skiing. Big Bear in particular boasts a variety of jumps, boxes, and rails, making it a cornerstone of the SoCal snowboarding scene and one of the better terrain parks in the area. These are great slopes for adventurous beginners or intermediate skiers–and they offer half-day passes, as well.
Another resort well suited to beginners and those on a time crunch, Mountain High is just over an hour from the city, and it offers a variety of lift pass options–including four-hour and nighttime lift tickets. Unfortunately, you can expect Mountain High to stay fairly crowded throughout the ski season.
4. Snow Valley
Snow Valley is an hour and a half from LA. It’s not as crowded as Mountain High or Mt. Baldy, but it doesn’t have quite as high a vertical. Snow Valley makes a great beginner’s hill or a relaxing run for more experienced skiers and snowboarders. The drive to Snow Valley from the beaches of LA is breathtaking, too; come prepared to enjoy the ride.
Mammoth Mountain is a five and a half hour drive from LA, but time it right and you could still get a couple of runs in after an early morning of surfing. It’s also widely recognized as the best ski getaway within easy access of LA. An 11,000-ft peak, 3,500 skiable acres, remarkably efficient ski lifts, and excellent après-ski and dining options in the park make it a worthwhile destination. Get a season pass so you can come up all season long!
For many SoCal residents, pulling a double isn’t a bucket list item so much as a way of life. But if you try it once and decide that the surf/ski in a day combo isn’t for you, you could always stretch your double over a long weekend, or opt for a different kind of double altogether: a morning of surfing followed by an afternoon at the spa. Or the golf club. Or a local winery. That’s another thing to love about LA–you’ll never run out of options. (Related: SoCal Spotlight: Playa del Rey)