After asking "What affordable beachfront hotels in or near San Diego should I consider?", it occurred to me I may want to consider other areas of the South Coast or even Central Coast of California. Where else (other than San Diego) would I find affordable beachfront hotels, with easy access to surfing for beginners?
South Coast cities famous for surfing and great beaches:
Malibu - you must check out the regional classic point break at the Malibu Lagoon. Contests are held throughout the year and surfers are crowding for the best waves at other times. Finding affordable accommodation is tricky, but the Calabasas Good Nite Inn seems about the best cost vs distance option.
Santa Monica - more touristy than Malibu and with the famous pier, the promenade stretches a couple of miles to Venice Beach. Cheapest I can find is the Pacific Sands Motel, 1515 Ocean Ave., ☎ (310) 395-6133 with rooms from $55,
Pacific Beach - numbers surge in summer, especially at the Tourmaline Surfing Park. The Banana Bungalow is a chain of hostels here, and is probably your cheapest option.
Santa Barbara - There's actually a hostel here (Santa Barbara Tourist Hostel), with beds from US$30.
to check these out, have a look at the various webcams for these beaches.
Highlights on the Central Coast:
Big Sur - a small town where tourists can get away from it all (albeit with other tourists) - perched on a cliff over the ocean. To be fair, the surfing here would be a bit rubbish but it's a highlight on the way down the coast.
Monterey (in Monterey Bay) - with five public beaches, there's tons to do here. As much as I dislike promoting HI Hostels, there's one here called Hostelling International Monterey which seems like the best budget accommodation.
Santa Barbara - There are numerous beaches in the area fit for surfing and several companies that rent surfboards. Although the surf tends to be much smaller in the summer, it is perfect for beginners. There are also several nice long board breaks that are suitable year round. Impressively there's a hostel 2 blocks from the beach as well!
Santa Cruz - a variety of beaches, some of which are a surfer's paradise. The Surf Museum is here too. Easy waves for novices in summer, big breaks in winter especially in front of the lighthouse. Worth noting that it's illegal to sleep in your car here, so you'll need a hotel - best I can find is the Adobe on Green Street Bed and Breakfast - the Dream Inn is too touristy and some view it as overpriced.
Of course there are lots of beaches all along the coast, and as you drive down you may spot a beach that looks amazing. If you find a gem, feel free to add it to this page!