San Diego’s weather is not what it’s cracked up to be, particularly along the beautiful coastline. That is, it’s not what most tourist literature, local weather reports, and advertisements about that golden Southern California life might lead you to believe.  In short, San Diego’s “perfect weather” is a myth. It seems that most people who live there believe in the myth, but large numbers of humans believing in myths is nothing new.

People who live in cool or temperate climactic regions often view San Diego as a place to get away from the chill and to soak up some rays. The city has capitalized on this perception for generations, attracting tourists by the millions.

About a decade ago we lived in San Diego for two years after my wife and I moved there from Nebraska after retiring from academic careers. We had spent most of our lives in the often cold and snowy Midwestern part of the U. S.  We lived in the north end of San Diego, about a mile as the crow flies from the beach between Del Mar and La Jolla, near the spectacular Torrey Pines State Reserve. Soon after unpacking and arranging our things, we noticed the cool ocean breeze coming through our screens.  Ahhh, San Diego!

We began life there, as we had planned, eating a leisurely breakfast,  lingering to sip coffee while unhurriedly reading The New York Times, and walking on the beach.  We both signed up for continuing education classes at the University of California—San Diego, keeping our brains guessing what we would do next.  Early on, San Diego seemed like heaven compared to the wintry Midwest.

Something began to seem odd over the ensuing months. We began to notice that the mornings were not only surprisingly chilly, but that early morning clouds and fog were more common than sunshine. So, when we dressed to go out in the mornings, by midday it was too hot for warm clothes. Then, we’d change into shorts and t-shirts, but by 4:00 p.m. they were not warm enough. Another change of clothes was necessary to be comfortable in the evenings. Just wearing layers didn’t cut it, either. Neither long pants nor shorts will work satisfactorily for an entire daylight cycle in the “warm” months.

The following year, after being somewhat acclimated, we noticed what is known locally as June gloom along the coast.  It was characterized by many mornings of chilled overcast, sometimes with the sun emerging in late morning.  Then as it warmed up, we had to peel off layers of clothing, only to put them back on in late afternoon as a coastal chill rolled in with the setting sun. The only problem was that “June gloom” lasted on and off from March until November!  We bought our first leather jackets in San Diego, which did provide cool comfort at last.

An example of the myth I referred to earlier is in the travel guide, Frommer’s San Diego 2011, which states,

“With weather that is almost always pleasant, San Diego is a year-round beach town (though water temperatures can be chilly in winter).”

In Moon San Diego, Erika Chickowski, a transplanted San Diego resident, wrote,

“There is something about the constant sunshine.”  

Such superlative descriptors may be largely true for people who live farther inland and who don’t frequent the coast, or who come there for short visits from places with nasty weather extremes. While we frequently shivered at the coast at all times of the year, it was often sunny, warm, and beautiful a few miles inland.

My wife and I gradually made this discovery jointly. I point this out because these observations are not just one person’s, but those of two. This fact alone doubles the substantial scientific credibility to my thesis. (Ahem.)  This discovery was not instantaneous, but it crept upon us with cat feet as we began to get acclimated.

The beginning of this discovery came when we belatedly purchased a new Replogle globe, mainly in order to have an accurate picture of the countries making up the former Soviet Union. While looking over the globe and getting better acquainted with the world, I was shocked to find the California Current running north to south, from British Columbia to Mexico, just off our coastline! When the reader consults a globe on this matter, it would be well to wear a shirt with a high collar to help calm the chill that will go up your spine and the back of your neck.

In 2006 The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),  Southwest Fisheries Science Center, based in La Jolla, California,  described the southward flows of northern waters by referring to “extensive upswelling of colder sub-surface waters.”   The chill created by this “upswelling” in San Diego can put a chill on more than your spine and neck.

Up to that point, I had been a believer in the myth that San Diego was a perpetually perfect place. Before that I would have bet my life that San Diego was bathed in warm Pacific currents coming up from Mexico.  However, our discovery of the southbound California Current from British Columbia was like an unwelcome awakening. Many previous mysterious discomforts suddenly made sense.

Our family and friends in other states were strong believers in San Diego’s perfection. So much so, that we had more house guests there in 18 months than we had in the previous ten years in the Midwest! Months in which these visitors came included January, February, March, April, May, August, October, November, and December. Without exception, at various times of the year and day as our guests’ planes arrived at Lindbergh Field, the clouds rolled in from the Pacific. Whether guests stayed two or ten days, invariably it was cold and cloudy and basically unpleasant. Then as soon at their planes took off, the sun would come out and warm us up a bit. I’m not kidding.

Apart from our own observations, I will offer a rare candid view from a writer who calls San Diego home. Marybeth Mellin, in Best Places San Diego, wrote:

“Tired of sunshine? Head to the coast, where sea breezes and low-lying clouds can cast a gray chill until noon . . . .As beach dwellers shiver in the chill winter dampness, desert rats run about in shades and shorts.” (1999, p. 5)

As I was sharing some of these views with a group of friends in San Diego, some of them began to fidget and look agitated with me. The first one to respond, however, came to my defense. She said she had moved to San Diego 18 years earlier from northern California. Since her arrival there she had planned to spend an entire day relaxing on the beach, but had “. . . so far not found a day that was warm enough!”

I would not take anything for our San Diego experience. Southern California is beautiful and rich with history. Old Town San Diego showcases a romantic period when Mexican culture was dominant.  Wyatt Earp moved to downtown San Diego after his heroic participation in the famous “Shootout at the O. K. Corral” in Tombstone.  Today Balboa Park is a fascinating urban playground and cultural center.  The downtown, Point Loma, the storied Hotel del Coronado, Del Mar, and La Jolla are places we never tired of visiting.

But, as great a city as it is, San Diego’s self-appointed moniker, “The Finest City,” is a myth when it comes to climate and weather. The phrase could be considered a gigantic case of false advertising, foisted off on tourists, newcomers, and even residents who have bought into the myth.

I think I should stay out of Southern California for a while.  🙂