California is a state like none other. Any regular morning is an Instagram-worthy picture of mother nature at her finest. Multicolored skies, warm rolling breezes and clean, white sand beaches are just some of the draws of the Golden State, and that’s only taking the beaches into account. Start factoring in the deserts, mountains and cities and, well, you can see why California has such a massive population.
But beautiful scenery aside, there’s another reason people love to frequent California: action sports. From the mountains to the seas, California is naturally one of the best places to snowboard, ski, surf and skate. And for the brave few, those wanting to really take advantage of all that California has to offer, there lives a challenge worth chasing.
It’s called the “California Double.”
The California Double is a day spent both surfing and snowboarding (or skiing). That’s right, in California, not only is it possible, it’s actually quite feasible to hit the surf and the snow in a single day. We can all thank Cali’s awesome topography for that one.
Legendary surf spots are a mere two hours away from stellar snowy peaks (at least, if the traffic gods are on your side). And if you time the whole shebang right, you’ll have more than enough time to catch a ton of tasty waves, as well as plow through some serious powder, without ever needing to rush.
But how do you plan the perfect California Double? Fear not, we’ll show you.
In this article we’ll break down:
- The must-have essentials to bring on your California Double
- The best surf break and mountain to hit
- The schedule you need to stick with for optimum surf/snow success
After reading this you’ll be fully prepared to do what few have done before, conquer the California Double. Also, you’ll probably pick up some sweet, sweet surfer/snowboarder lingo on the way. So, yeah, you’re welcome for that too.
But why listen to me? Well, because I literally just did a successful Cali Double. With the help of Chevy, I went from a sunrise in San O to a sunset overlooking Lake Arrowhead, all in the same day.
Chevy was kind enough to take myself and some other writers on a California adventure tour of sorts in their new 2020 Chevy Bolt. And if eco-friendly travel is important to you, the Bolt is precisely the kind of car you want on a road trip like this. In fact, after going through with it from start to finish in the zippy little electric car, it’s hard to imagine doing it any other way. Not only is the Bolt fully electric, a feature which feels at home with the outdoor nature of the California Double, but it feels built for just this sort of adventure.
The hatchback-design of the Bolt makes loading and unloading surfboards easy, and attaching a roof rack to the car is just as simple. Likewise, thanks to regenerative braking, we actually gained a lot more energy than we expected, even with the 259-mile range of the car. We were able to make it from San O to the slopes of Snow Summit on a single charge with a ton of mileage to spare. And when we left the mountain, we even gained 20 miles of distance thanks to that damn handy regenerative breaking. If you’re interested in learning more about the 2020 Chevy Bolt, take a look here.
For starters, you’ll need to get to Los Angeles and drive an hour and change south to San Clemente. We recommend leaving Los Angeles as late as possible on a Friday night to avoid traffic. If you’re flying in, anything after 8:00PM PST will work. After all, you’re arriving to drive another hour, so the further away from rush hour you are, the better.
San Clemente is a tiny little surf town most tourists overlook as they drive down to sunny San Diego. But you’re not most tourists and you wouldn’t do something so foolish as to miss this gem of a beach town. Aside from a slow, sun-drenched pace, impossibly clean beaches and model-worthy locals, San Clemente is known for some of the best surf in the state (and arguably the world). Between T-Street, Trestles and San Onofre State Beach, there are enough tasty waves to satisfy even the hungriest of wave junkies. For the purposes of our list, though, we recommend surfing San Onofre (more commonly referred to as “San O”).
In San Clemente you can pick from surf hostels, Airbnb’s or quaint hotels (depending on your price point). But whatever you choose, aim to be close to the surf. Anything within a 30-minute drive of San O is perfectly fine. Going any further is alright, but the extra time spent driving is less time surfing and snowboarding.
For the snow side of trip, we recommend shredding Snow Summit. The choice is yours where you choose to stay (for our trip, we spent the night at the Lake Arrowhead Resort), but you by no means have to. The key takeaway is proximity. Wherever you choose to stay in San Clemente and Big Bear/Lake Arrowhead, we recommend aiming to be close to the surf/snow. You will be tired after all of this; don’t make your drive to snoozeville more difficult than it needs to be.
We went with Snow Summit because there are plenty of runs for every skill level. Likewise, the runs are all decently long, which gave us the ability to cruise through each a handful of times before the park closed for the day at 4:00 PM.
Now, on to the gear! Before embarking on any leg of this trip, you’ll want to prepare three bags per person: a surf bag, an in-between bag and a snow bag.
Disclaimer: We left out major essentials like surfboards and snowboards in our packing list as those are not only personal choices, but are also largely dependent on the conditions of where/when you surf and snowboard (or ski). In other words, if San O is totally firing with 5-foot waves, you might want to leave the Wavestorm at home. However, if it’s churning out nothing but slow little ankle slappers at barely a foot high, the ol’ Wavestorm is O.K.
Packing the Surf Bag
Inside your surf bag you’ll need a handful of items at the ready to handle a frigid morning at San O. Sure, it’s not going to be as cold as Big Bear, but SoCal beaches can still get mighty chilly (and windy) depending on the weather, so your best bet is to come prepared. Here’s what you’ll need:
1. MarsBro Water-Resistant Weekender Bag
Light, affordable and lined with PVC coating, this weekender is my go-to bag for surf adventures. It’s machine washable and won’t absorb the smell of your wetsuit while it sits in your bag as you drive up the mountain. What’s more, it has plenty of convenient pockets to stash sunscreen and other personal items you’ll need while getting in and out of the surf.
2. Ho Stevie! Thick Microfiber Surf Poncho
If you don’t look goofy, you’re not doing it right. Sure, you could get by with an average beach towel, but when the wind is howling and your hands are frozen from an icy surf sesh, the last thing you want to worry about is your towel falling off. Grab this surf poncho and stuff it in your bag so that as soon as you’re ready to leave the water, getting out of your suit is as easy as possible.
3. O’Neill Men’s Epic 4/3mm Wetsuit
Good luck surfing as the sun is rising without a wetsuit. For the purposes of this trip, I opted for a 4/3 wetsuit, which means the neoprene around your core is 4mm, while the neoprene covering your extremities is 3mm. Some might feel this is overkill in Southern California, and good on them. If you can handle the water in a 3/2, by all means, get after it, but we’d rather be warm. O’Neill makes reliable suits and this one is well priced and comes with free shipping from Amazon.
The In-Between Bag
The next bag you should prepare is your in-between bag. Think of this bag as everything you’ll need when you’re not surfing or snowboarding. This will hold the clothing you wear on the drive down to San Clemente, up to Big Bear and back down to Los Angeles, not to mention anything you’re wearing while hanging out at the various hotels.
1. Black Roll-Top backpack
For the actual bag, go roll-top. This bag from Gecko Equipments is great because it’s affordable and you can haphazardly stuff just about anything into it without worrying about the zipper bursting. It’s going to be cold from start to finish on this trip, and there’s nothing worse than trying to pinch and battle a zipper when your fingers are frozen. Plus, the bag is water-resistant so you don’t need to worry about dropping it in the snow or getting it a little sandy at the beach.
2. J.Crew Sweatpants
Sweats are an obvious pick, but this specific pair from J.Crew is my first choice because they strike the right balance between slim cut and breathable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of slim-cut sweats, but some brands take it too far. I don’t want to be struggling to get my sweats on after surfing or snowboarding. Plus, these aren’t cheap, throwaway sweatpants, either. Invest in a pair from J.Crew and watch as they become your go-to sweats for years of surf and snow adventures.
3. Miir Travel Tumbler
Have we mentioned you’ll be cold yet? It goes without saying you should stay hydrated, but don’t forget to stay extremely caffeinated. The most diehard daily surfers or snowboarders out there will find both sports (plus driving) a struggle. This travel tumbler from Miir will fit snug in your cupholder for every leg of your journey and keep your coffee warm throughout.
Packing the Snow Bag
The last bag you’ll need handy is your snow bag. Whether you’re skiing or snowboarding, you’ll need the proper gear to stay warm on the slopes. A lot of things are obvious (helmet, boots, boards), but without gloves, a good jacket and some goggles, the latter half of your Cali Double is going to be a rough one.
1. VELAZZIO Ski Gloves
Water-resistant and extremely cozy, these gloves will make a great companion on the snowy half of your California Double. We like the extra functionality by way of the small zippered pocket and the synch-cable wrists. However, the best part about these gloves is they are damn affordable and come with a 30-day money-back guarantee. It’s tough to find quality with that sort of price, but VELAZZIO somehow makes it work.
2. Ski Jacket
It may seem a touch pricey, but this triple threat of a jacket will set you right during the California Double. The jacket has three different parts to it: a fleece zip-up, a fleece liner and a water-resistant wind shell outer to keep you cozy and protected regardless of the conditions. I love this one especially for this excursion because you can rock the fleece right out of the water and during your drive to the mountains, and then add on the outside layers once you’re ready to hit the slopes.
Don’t try to use your sunnies; just buy a quality pair of goggles when you cruising down the slopes of Snow Summit. This pair from OutdoorMaster boasts 100% UV400 protection and an anti-fog coating so you will never lose sight of your surroundings. And best of all, nearly 3/4 of the 3,400+ Amazon reviewers gave this pair a perfect 5/5 stars. So if you don’t take our word for it, take theirs.
Let’s Talk About Timing & Traffic
So your bags are packed, the hotel is picked and paid for and you’re sitting in sunny San Clemente watching the sun dip below the horizon. You’re tired but not tired enough to fall asleep, so in lieu of counting sheep, let’s go over the schedule.
When planning a California double, the itinerary breakdown should look like so:
- 6:00 AM Leave for the beach
- 6:35 AM Get in the water
- 9:00 AM Get out of the water and head back to the hotel to shower and check out
- 10:30 AM Hit the road and swing by a coffee shop to grab fuel (read: food and coffee)
- 12: 30 PM Get to Snow Summit
- 1:00 PM Hit the slopes
- 4:00 PM Drive to Hotel
- 11:00 AM Check out and head back to LA
Aim to get to the San O around 6:30am to give you ample time for surfing. Also, you’ll beat the crowds. If the waves are great (especially since you’re likely going on a weekend), you can expect San O to be PACKED. After a few hours of surfing, get out, change into some dry clothing and hit the road! We recommend swinging by a local coffee shop to up your caffeine and grab some lunch to go. If you’re going to make the mountain in good timing, it’s best to eat as you drive.
From San Clemente, it’s a pretty easy shot to Big Bear. The drive is 117 miles. With luck, you can get there in less two hours, giving you plenty of time to buy a pass, suit up and shred.
Technically, you could plan your trip without an overnight hotel or Airbnb stay, but then you’ll be battling California rush hour after a full day of surfing and skiing. That’s not a great way to cap off a perfect day. So after taking off your boots and retiring your boards for the day, head back to your hotel of choice, treat yourself to a well-deserved beer and call it a night.
You have successfully joined the pantheon of true Californian adventurers who can claim they’ve conquered the California Double.
We hope you enjoyed our guide and tour through the incredible state of California. But if you think this is the only way to do the CA Double, you’re sorely mistaken. Between the incredible beaches lining Cali’s coast to the magnificent mountains throughout the interior, there are plenty of ways to chop up your own personal California Double.