The 2016 Vans U.S. Surf Open, the largest surf competition in the world, is currently underway in Huntington Beach. With powerful waves, pro surfers and a lively crowd, this event takes surfing to new heights – and we’re not just talking about the swells. If you’re in Southern California and looking for your annual surf fix, then head over to the U.S. Surf Open this week for a high dose of adrenaline and incredible surfing.

With tens of thousands of visitors flocking to Huntington Beach to watch the best surfers in the world compete, it got us thinking once again about the great California debate: Where is Surf City?

While Huntington Beach holds the official moniker, others argue that the true Surf City may actually be about 400 miles up the coast in Santa Cruz. Let’s take a look.

The Case for Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach Pier at daylight

Huntington Beach adopted the Surf City name in 1991, but things got serious in 2004 when the Huntington Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau successfully filed the “Surf City USA” trademark.

Along with being home to the U.S. Open of Surfing, the Surfing Walk of Fame and the International Surfing Museum, Huntington Beach has the endorsement of Dean Torrence (of the rock and roll duo Jan and Dean) who co-wrote the 1960’s hit, “Surf City.”

Located in Orange County, this beach destination offers a year round summer vibe with sandy beaches and approximately 76 parks. But surfing is definitely king.

Surfers from all over come to experience the legendary waves for themselves, no matter what time of the year it may be. The great thing about surfing in this seaside city is that no matter what your surfing level is or what preference you have in wave size, there’s a beach waiting for you. From the Pier’s aggressive waves to Bolsa Chica’s calmer tides, Huntington Beach offers a variety of surfing styles.

For those who prefer spending their time on the mainland, the city offers plenty of activities that don’t involve surf boards and wetsuits. With top notch shopping and dining choices, a wide range of recreational activities and an abundance of nature to bask in, residents are sure to be entertained in this world-class city.

Huntington Beach is all about living the ultimate Southern California lifestyle with surf, sand, sun and subtle sophistication.

As Kelly Miller, CEO of Visit Huntington Beach, told the OC Register, “People conjure this image of Surf City USA – it means surfing, bonfires, woodies and old cars, great beach tunes and small-town America. We have all those things.”

The Case for Santa Cruz

Spectacular cliffs of Big Sur California coastline, USA

When Huntington Beach applied for the exclusive rights to use the term “Surf City USA” in 2004, one particular city in Northern California had something to say about it: Santa Cruz.

You see, Santa Cruz is the first place where waves were surfed in the Continental United States when three young Hawaiian princes, Jonah, David and Edward Kawananakoa, introduced the sport to the mainland in 1885. Since then, the town has had a thriving surf scene that ranks amongst the most popular surf towns in the world. With 11 world-class surf spots, the O’Neill Coldwater Classic, the longest running annual competitive surfing event on the West Coast, and the origin of the wetsuit under its belt, it’s easy to see why Santa Cruz may have a claim to “Surf City.”

“Huntington Beach may have won the right to the name ‘Surf City, USA’ in the California courts, but any surfer who’s ever paddled out at Steamer Lane knows the judge got it wrong,” proclaimed Surfer magazine when it dubbed Santa Cruz the “Best Surf Town” in 2009.

Furthermore, according to the Washington Post, Santa Cruz has been called Surf City since 1927, when a local newspaper coined the moniker.

So what makes Santa Cruz such a great surf town? Well, the surf for one. The chilly temperatures may be a turn off for some, but don’t be fooled – numerous legendary breaks dotting the coast and rocky reefs that absorb swell from just about any direction translate to rideable waves almost every day of the year. Big waves, secret spots, outer-reef bombies – Santa Cruz has them all.

And while surfing is a way of life in Santa Cruz, this carefree town also has much love for other passions – specifically art. The city holds a number of art galleries, museums, festivals and outdoor theater performances that display the works of local artists through their coastal lifestyles.

In addition to the sporty and creative population, a large number of students from the city’s major institution of learning, UC Santa Cruz, make up the beach town. Students are often seen strolling downtown and hitting up bars, taking shopping trips and enjoying the gorgeous beaches.

With abundant surf, a thriving art scene, an educated and dynamic population, great wine and access to massive expanses of natural beauty and things to enjoy, Santa Cruz will inspire you.

The Verdict

While the official trademark dispute ended in 2008 when a settlement was reached allowing Huntington Beach to retain the trademark, the debate lives on. But does it really matter? Perhaps it was best said by Harry Mao, an employee at the Santa Cruz Surf Museum, to Surfer magazine, “There is no location called ‘Surf City.’ It’s a state of mind. If it’s a good day and you’re getting good rides, then you’re in surf city, dude.”

Which town do you believe is the true Surf City? Let us know in the comments.