- an essential introduction
With 840 miles (1350 km) of coastline, California has the third longest
coastline of any state in the USA. But stretching almost 650 miles -
over 1000 km - from north to south, it is a coastline that is very
different in the north, towards the border with Oregon, compared to the
southern coast that reaches down to the border with Mexico
that the sea off the California coast is warm –
something like the coast of Florida or the Mediterranean. It is not.
Many tourists have been more than a little taken aback to discover that
on a warm summer's day the main seaward beaches of San Francisco
not packed with San Franciscans and vacationers splashing happily
around in the waves. They are more likely to be shrouded in fog, and
even when they are not, only the brave venture further than the
From the border with Oregon, down to as far as Malibu
, even in the
summer time the
coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean are not warm. Average
water temperatures for July,
the warmest month, are a
tolerable 65.8°F (18.8°C) at Malibu
, but down to
(13.9°C) at Monterey
and just 55.3°F (12.9°C) at San
By way of comparison
the July average sea temperature at
(NJ) is 74°F (23.3°C), at Brighton
(UK) it is
59.7°F (15.4°C), at Nice
(France) it is 73.6°F (23.1°C), and
(Spain) it is 77.1°F (25.1°C).
Even in southern California, sea water
temperatures do not get up to Mediterranean or US East coast levels.
The July average for Santa
, not far north of Malibu, is a brisk
62.1°F (16.7°C) while right down by San
and the Mexican border,
the July average at the very popular Coronado beach
only 67°F (19.5°C).
The coasts of Southern California are part of the California dream.
From the Beach Boys to Bay Watch, countless bands, movies and sitcoms
have put the southern California coast firmly on the world map.
Although average water temperatures, even in July, are nowhere near
Mediterranean levels, the summer sun can raise water temperatures quite
a bit higher for a few hours in the shallows off long sandy beaches.
And when summer air temperatures reach 90°F (32°C), cool sea water
The long sandy beaches between Malibu
and the Mexican border certainly attract the crowds; but apart from on
the warmest sunniest days, only the hardy will go further than
waist-deep into the waves, and those who do swim will not spend too
long in the water.
But swimming is just one way to enjoy the ocean; there are
others, starting with surfing. It is said that surfing, as a sport,
began at Long Beach
and today surfing
with southern California, and surfing beaches dot the coast from Santa
down to San
. Southern California's sunny ocean beaches
great places for relaxing, beach walking, paddling, building sand
castles and other seaside pleasures.
The beaches and coast of Northern California
Many of the beaches of Northern California are deserted for much of the
time; few are reputed as good swimming beaches. One notable exception
is the small beach at Heart's
in Point Reyes cove, about
50 miles north of San
, a long sea inlet in which the water
can warm up to Mediterranean temperatures by late summer. But this is
an exception; other beaches, exposed to the Pacific, are cool and
relatively deserted. In addition, for much of the summer, they may be
shrouded in coastal fog or low cloud.
Fog is a regular feature of the Pacific coastline in
northern California, specially in summer.
Nevertheless, the beaches and coastline of Northern
California have plenty of other attractions. Wildlife, such as sea
birds and sea lions, is abundant; and long sandy beaches attract
hikers, joggers and family outings. Many of the beaches on
the coast north of San Francisco are off the beaten track, down small
side roads off the very scenic coastal road, Highway 1
, one of
the best road-trip
journeys in the
United States (see California
A trip up or down the northern part of Highway 1, between Leggett and
San Francisco, is a trip to remember, as the highway hugs the coastline
for most of the way.
Some special places to see on the California coast
Naturally, the California coastline has some special places,
attractions that are worth making a detour to go and see.
Here is a selection of ten sites, from
north to south
national and state park - a UNESCO world natural heritage site. What
remains of the large expanses of temperate rain forest that once
covered this part of the Pacific coast. Home to the world's tallest
- The Lost
Coast - a wilderness area including the Kings Range
National Conservation area - south of Eureka
- historic small town with all amenities. Historical landmark
- Bodega Bay -
the small coastal town in which Hitchcock filmed the classic
movie "the Birds"
- The Golden
Gate bridge - the only northern entrance to / exit from
- Santa Cruz -
an old fashioned seaside resort, with historic amusement
park, boardwalk and other attractions
- The Monterey
aquarium. An amazing seawater aquarium that is actually
connected to the sea. Big attractions include sharks, penguins and the
otters. Mission: to inspire conservation of the world's
- Big Sur
- one of the most dramatic sections of Highway 1, south of Monterey.
- Hearst Castle,
San Simeon - National historic landmark. Flamboyant neo-hispanic
seaside chateau built 1919-1947 for newspaper magnate Randolf
Harbor Seal Preserve and Rookery. Southeast of Santa
Barbara, famed seal-breeding area. Website