I think if you went back to a lot of the 1980’s surf mags and sorted through all of the photos, Salt Creek would be one of the top 10 most photographed surf spots. At the same time you probably wouldn’t see a lot of photos crediting that they shot the little hollow-barrel-slash-closeout covershot at Creek either. It is probably a combination of the w facing beach, high cliffs, and open swell window, which offer clean conditions and good lighting most of the day…oh and the fact that Surfer Magazine is right over the hill in San Juan Capistrano probably helped a bit too.
Salt Creek is another one of Orange County’s top waves and main surf spots. It sits roughly in the middle of the county’s coastline, bracketed by Three Arch Bay to the north and Dana Point to the south. From a surf-landscape perspective it is sort of a pressure-release valve for OC surfing…particularly for the guys that live in the Laguna Nigel, Mission Viejo, and Irvine areas (basically the central county region)…it sort of gives them a decent third option rather than just plowing to HB/Newps or down to Trestles.
From a wave-quality perspective Salt Creek can get pretty damn good. You have a smorgasbord of different waves types packed into a small area. Points, reefs, beach breaks, and shallow sandbars are all within paddling distance. Throw in the fact that the beach has exposure to both SW and WNW swells, that it can handle and even prefers a higher tide, and it is protected from southerly winds and you pretty much get the trifecta going for the surf area.
Finding Salt creek is pretty easy…just look down from the Ritz Carlton in Dana Point and you will see it directly below. Oh I always forget…it is a little hard to get past the Ritz door guards while you are shirtless, sandy, and in some beat-ass sandals. (Cross your fingers that the man with the rubber gloves will be gentle.) Actually you can check out Creek from Ritz Carlton Drive…you don’t even have to get out of the car just pull up and look through the fence that borders the park. It seems to drive both the locals and the authorities crazy for some reason…probably because it becomes a madhouse traffic jam when there is a good swell.
There are two pay parking lots just off Ritz Carlton Drive…they are the new ones with the pay station so don’t forget to get a pass…the parking ticket is something close 50-bucks.
For you broke suckers there is also a free public lot a little further down PCH…off Niguel Shores Dr (at least it was free the last time I checked.) You have to hike a ways back through the strand to get to Creek but if you have the time it will save you a couple of dollars.
There is this steep hill from the parking lot down to the beach…it is paved and relatively smooth until you get to the bottom. Back it the day we used to bomb it on skateboards (but then I became less insane and more attached to total body function)…you can still try it but the pavement is a little slick on the damp mornings…and the fun run can turn into a widowmaker. Also the hill sucks some major ass when you are stumping it on frozen pins back to the top after a chilly winter dawn patrol.
Like I said above Creek is a pretty good wave and on the right swell mix it can get really good. It is exposed to a wide swell angle and can pick up swells coming in from the S-SW all the way to the NW (the swell directions run from about 180-290+). Finding the perfect mix of swells for Creek depends a lot on which area you like to surf…each spot does a little better on certain swells than the others do. Generally you can see good surf from a decent sized S-SW swell, a strong W-NW swell, and the ever popular a good combo of the two directions. Creek will also work on shorter period windswells if you don’t mind surfing semi-shorebreak.
Here is a video of Creek that was posted on Youtube…the music it a bit suspect so you may want to turn down your volume.
The surf at Salt Creek is generally broken up into 4 areas.
Click on a link to get more details on each spotSalt Creek, Southern California