The main strip in town is where tourists and locals come together at the international restaurants, surf shops, bars, and clubs. The western style strip malls may remind you of home. If you want pizza hut and TCBY you can get it in Tamarindo. New hotels and extravagant homes are rapidly being built up in the general area.
For surfers, Tamarindo is a home base. There are many quality beach breaks in the area. You can surf right in front of town, where surf shops rent boards and give lessons. Walk 10 minutes north on the beach to find a less crowded wave. Playa Grande is a 10 km drive north of Tamarindo. The spot is a heavier wave that receives more swell.
It gets crowded when it lights up and locals are not always eager to share waves. A 40 minute drive south along pot holed dirt roads is a short beach called Avellana. The small parking lot gets packed with surfers, who shred various peaks along the part sand, part rocky bottom, and hang out at a little bar. Just south of Avellana is Playa Negra, one of the most popular beach breaks on the north coast.
The people of this region are laid back, welcoming, and friendly. I rented a room at a hostel and immediately inquired about surf conditions. An employee offered me a ride with his friends to a neighboring break. I had a surf crew within the first hour I was in Tamarindo. We rallied to Avellana, surfed until the sun went down, and smiled about our new friendships and the waves we shared. With the right mindset, the locals will make sure you have a good time.