Summer Travel to California: What You Need to Know

No matter where you travel in the U.S. during the summer, the weather is typically going to be warm, even hot. Throw in some sunshine and a body of water in which to take a plunge, and you have most people’s idea of nirvana.

My adopted home state of California is a popular vacation destination throughout the year, but the number of visitors is higher during the summer months when schools are out. Depending on where and when those trips are made, it’s a little known fact that the weather might disappoint.

The Golden State generally has great weather, but there are a few things those outside California don’t know that might affect their vacation activities. I’ve lived in Northern and Southern California, so I can speak to some summer oddities that should be taken into account when planning trips here.

  • Nights are cool (and even cold). I grew up in the Midwest and lived in Texas for years, so it took a while to get used to the fact that it’s a good idea to have a light jacket or sweater ready when outside on summer evenings. When I lived in the Bay Area, one Fourth of July it was so cold I left the outdoor evening festivities early—and I was wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, sneakers and socks, plus had a blanket wrapped around me.
  • San Francisco’s summer weather is unique. The quote attributed to Mark Twain—“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”—has merit. On my first trip to the City by the Bay, like many other visitors, I was unprepared for the cool temperatures and brisk winds, so much so that I had to buy a jacket. I learned when I lived in San Jose, 40-odd miles to the southeast, that it could be in the mid-80s where I lived, but 20 degrees cooler in San Francisco. The last time I was there, to celebrate my late August birthday, I “froze” walking to the end of Pier 39, so much so that I needed to resuscitate myself with hot tea. (It’s a great city; don’t let the weather stop you—just be prepared.)
  • Southern California has its own weather peculiarities, including May gray and June gloom. I’m not sure if this is applicable to LA or Orange County, but it definitely occurs where I live in San Diego. Those two months, considered among the best in most parts of the country, are actually the worst times to visit here. The marine layer, often present along the coast, creeps farther inland and can remain there for days. The first time my sister and her family came here was over Memorial Day weekend some years ago, and all the pictures feature them wearing Hotel Del Coronado sweatshirts because they weren’t prepared to experience May gray.
  • As for bodies of water, the vistas along the Pacific Ocean are breathtaking, but the water is pretty cold. There’s a reason you see surfers wearing wetsuits; they want to catch waves, but don’t want to freeze while doing it.

California is a great place to visit; there’s so much to do and the weather generally does cooperate. If you’re planning a summer trip to any of its coastal cities, however, be sure you pack appropriately, which means not limiting your clothing options to shorts, t-shirts or tank tops, and bathing suits. You won’t need winter clothes, but some long pants, long-sleeved shirts and even a sweater or light jacket will serve you well.

Adrienne Moch is a freelance writer/editor based in San Diego who loves to travel.

Adrienne Moch is a freelance writer/editor based in San Diego who loves to travel.