The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Monday, March 08, 2004


Most non-Californians have an unrealistic picture of the Golden State as having wonderful sunny weather all the time, due to popularization of Southern California beach culture. Certainly Los Angeles has fine warm weather the year round. (Though perhaps a bit too warm for some tastes; when I visited Anaheim in the summer of 2000 the temperature was 95 degrees during the day, and there was just enough humidity to make it uncomfortable.) The low-lying inland areas such as Sacramento are even hotter, with typical summer temperatures in the high 90's or 100's. And of course the desert, most infamously Death Valley, is hellish. (The average high in Death Valley in July is 115 degrees.)

The San Francisco Bay Area has a more moderate clime -- though really there is no one "Bay Area" clime. In the areas near the Bay but removed from the coast (which includes Silicon Valley and many East and North Bay cities), November through March is the rainy season, with highs in the 50s (when raining) and 60s (when clear). Summers are hot (80's to high 90's) and bone-dry -- in many years there is no precipitation for six or seven months. The inland areas (Napa, Livermore) are hotter in the summer, cooler in the winter.

San Francisco itself has beastly weather. In the winter it is cool and wet, and in the summer it is cool and foggy. In 2001 my wife Sherry's mother came from China to stay with us for six months. On the Fourth of July we headed north to show her the Golden Gate bridge. It was 85 degrees at my house -- and our weather in the hills is usually 5 to 10 degrees cooler than that of Silicon Valley below us. When we got to the Golden Gate it was 58, and I damn near froze. I had to buy a long sleeved shirt from a souvenir shop to keep warm.

Most of the coast is like this, from Santa Maria (an hour or so north of Santa Monica) through Morro Bay, Big Sur, Monterey, Half Moon Bay, Pacifica, and the whole coastline north of SF from Marin County to the Oregon border. If you were transported to a random California coastal location in July, it's likely that you would not be seized with the urge to surf, or ogle blondes, or drink beer. You would want to sue the Beach Boys for fraud and misrepresentation.

There is one exception, and that is Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz sits in the middle of the north end of the Monterey Bay, and is far enough from the open Pacific that it does not suffer from the usual coastal weather pattern. Santa Cruz is warm and sunny in the summer; without it Bay Area residents would have to board a plane to get to a nice beach. An added attraction is that there is a city to go along with the beaches. The East Bay city of Berkeley is famous for its loopiness, but Santa Cruz is equally weird. It has a vibrant and funky downtown, and you never know what you will see there. Last year I saw a man playing a theramin. On several of my visits last year I saw a bizarre character who wore glittery costumes and makeup and would play an accordian next to a makeshift disco ball that displayed light patterns on the sidewalk.

Yesterday was a very warm day (a record high of 81 according to weather.com), so Sherry and I drove down the coast to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This is a little amusement park about a half mile from downtown, with rides (including the Big Dipper roller coaster, which seventy-five years ago was one of the best roller coasters in the country), carnival game booths, food, and a huge room full of classic video games. The place is kind of tacky -- locals invariably loathe it because they worked there in hot fry kitchens when they were teenagers -- but I like it because you can lay on the beach, drink an occasional Diet Coke, and play classic games like Space Duel and Berzerk.


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