The Santa Ana River Jetties is actually one large area…but it has several distinct sub-areas. Most people consider the zone that starts directly south of the Brookhurst Outflow and runs to a couple hundred feet south of the Santa Ana River Mouth to be the actual River Jetties surf spot. Personally, because the influence of the river mouth is so great, I feel that you should include all of the coast down to about Prospect St. (which is a couple of hundred yards north of the 56th street jetty).
The northern part of the SNA River Jetties is one of the most visible surf spots in Newport. You can see it as you drive over the PCH bridges that separate Huntington Beach from Newport. It is also sort of a weird no-mans land between the two cities. It is actually managed by the county and partially by the state beach. It has a separate lifeguard agency, from either Newport Guards or HB State Beach, and even the single tower doesn’t have a number on it…just the letter “R”, which I like to think stands for River Tower. What is really nice about this set-up is that they don’t blackball this area…it stays surfable all day even when the other beaches have banned hard surfboards.
The River Jetties has three rock jetties that were put in place by the Army Corp of Engineers to stabilize the sand flow at the mouth of the Santa Ana River. Two of the jetties sit on the north side of the river and the other, which is a little shorter, rests on the south side. It is the combination of the river, these jetties, and the various sand transport currents that helps to build a part of the most consistent sand bar in North Orange County. The bar generally starts up around the Brookhurst jetties and then ends down past the river proper.
While most of the sand stays around the river it does occasionally make its way down the beach…and after good rains or big swells you can have some excellent sand bars down in “official” Newport territory.
Overall the waves in this area are pretty good most of the time and can be excellent on the right swell mix. The sandbar helps keep it breaking through all but the most extreme high tides. The waves are steep, hollow, and can get pretty closed out on bigger S and WNW swells. Combo swells work best at this spot, like most of the breaks in the region, so expect it to get good when you have the magic swell combo mix of S and WNW energy and offshore winds.
This spot actually does pretty well on windswell too. The shallower sandbar helps the shorter-period swell set up further off the beach, and in a more energetic fashion that a deeper bar would.
One big drawback about the River Jetties, and Brookhurst, is the water quality. The combination of pollutants from the storm drains and the junk that comes down the Santa Ana river keeps water-quality on the marginal side most of the year. If there is any sort of rainfall it knocks the water quality right into the hazardous range.
Best swell direction: SE-SW (160-210+) and W-NW (260-290)
Best Wind: N-NE-E, light-moderate Santa Ana winds are the best.
Sea Floor: Sand…really shallow sand, and few rocks near the jetties
Best Season: Summer, Fall, and Winter can all be equally great. Fall is the most consistent.
Crowds: Most of the time not too bad. But it can get super crowded. You see heavy crowds when it is the only sandbar working or on weekends, particularly in the summer.
Newport Beach, Santa Ana River Jetties, Southern California