World's Coolest Surf Towns (PHOTOS)

11/13/2013 03:53 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Surfers worth their wax know that the beach on Oahu's north shore near Haleiwa has some of the best reef breaks. But ask a salt-in-the-veins surfer which towns are best for off-wave chill outs and local culture, and head-scratching ensues.

"It's funny, I've always looked at the surf, not so much at the town," says Pierre Wilkinson, a South African who's surfed from Australia to Zanzibar and just about everywhere in between. "I've surfed in many places where there is very little to do out of the water."

For die-hard fans like Wilkinson, the waves always win. But for those seeking a blend of cowabunga thrill and aprᅢᄄs-surf scene, there are plenty of cool towns where good food mixes with a barefoot vibe, and browsing galleries and shops is as fun as catching waves.

Consider California's classic surfin' safari destination of Santa Cruz, with its 106-year-old boardwalk, or Byron Bay, Australia, where surfers fuel up at The Top Shop before paddling out to the swells at Wategos and The Pass. Or the many draws of Bundoran, a town on the west coast of Ireland, where a world-class surf competition and a thriving pub and music scene collide.

Read on for more beach destinations you can sink your 10 toes into, even if you never hang 10.

--Kimberley Lovato

World's Coolest Surf Towns (PHOTOS)