The third largest of the north American States, California covers a vast territory in the south-west USA. Bordered by the Pacific Ocean in the West, the Sierra Nevada mountains in the east, the Cascade Range in the north and the Tehachapi Mountains in the South, the popular holiday State has a range of climatic conditions, from temperate to sub-arctic. The bulk of California experiences a Mediterranean climate, enjoying cool, wet winters and dry summers, while in the mountains the climate is icy alpine. California has some desert regions too, east of Los Angeles and around the southern mountains.
The long Californian coastline, incorporating the major cities of Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, experiences pleasant, sunny summers (prone to fog in the south) and mild, wet winters. The State justly deserves its reputation for being a destination where you can ski in the mountains in the morning and move on to bathe on the beach in the afternoon. Extremes in temperature range from the USA’s record high (57°C - 134°F) measured in the notorious Death Valley, to freezing conditions atop the Sierra Nevada.
When is the best time to go to California?
Deciding when to holiday in California is a case of matching your requirements to the prevailing weather. Most outdoor holiday pursuits, like enjoying the beautiful beaches or visiting attractions like the Yosemite National Park, are best undertaken during the summer months between June and September, when the weather is dry and sunny. The sizzling southern deserts are best avoided during the summer season, however. Those who prefer to avoid crowds and take advantage of lower prices are best served by visiting during the spring (March to May) or Autumn (September to November). Winter (December to February) is a wonderful time to head for the ski resorts in the mountains for picture-postcard scenery and snow fun.
What to pack for a holiday in California
With a variable climate, it is important to pack layers for California depending on the time of year. Summers are warm and relatively dry in most places, so pack T-shirts and shorts, jeans, a light jersey for the evenings, and don't forget to take bikinis and board shorts for the California beaches. A light covering, like a sarong, is useful in the sun, and sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and other sun protection gear is essential.
Take warmer clothes outside of summer, including trousers (synthetic materials will dry quickly in the wet weather), long sleeved shirts, a thermal or two, jerseys and a waterproof jacket. A raincoat will be useful for all but the summer months, and its always a good idea to have layers to take off rather than be stuck without them.
Sandals and trainers are perfect for summer, while trainers and closed toe shoes are best for winter; take hiking boots or sturdy walking shoes for any adventuretravellingor trekking. Finally, pack something smart for formal events and upscale restaurants.
Weather in California in January
Average temperature in California in January: 7.3°C, 45°F
Sea temperature in California (Los Angeles) in January: 14°C, 58°F
Average rainfall in California in January: 122.7mm, 4.8in
Note: It’s a cool start to the year in California, where it is mid-winter and very wet everywhere except in the deserts and high mountains (where precipitation comes in the form of snow rather than rain). The ski resorts are in full swing and roads heading to the mountains can be congested.
Weather in California in February
Average temperature in California in February: 8.9°C, 48°F
Sea temperature in California (Los Angeles) in February: 14°C, 58°F
Average rainfall in California in February: 106.4mm, 4.1in
Note: Those fleeing the cold of winter in the northern USA will find some sunny days and mild temperatures in southern California in February, although it remains predominantly wet and cool along the coast. It’s a good time to enjoy the snowscapes of Lake Tahoe and go skiing in the mountains, or to warm up take a trip to the desert.
Weather in California in March
Average temperature in California in March: 10.5°C, 51°F
Sea temperature in California (Los Angeles) in March: 16°C, 60°F
Average rainfall in California in March: 90.4mm, 3.5in
Note: The wet winter lingers on in California in March, although temperatures begin to rise slightly in anticipation of spring. There is plenty to do indoors in the coastal cities, and the desert region remains an attractive holiday option with warm, dry conditions. Ski resorts remain busy in March.
Weather in California in April
Average temperature in California in April: 13°C, 55.4°F
Sea temperature in California (Los Angeles) in April: 16°C, 60°F
Average rainfall in California in April: 46mm, 1.8in
Note: Spring brings warmer weather and fewer rainshowers to coastal California in April. This is a good time to visit San Francisco before the summer fog sets in and the weather is sunny and bright. Flowers bloom in the desert, and the Yosemite National Park is scenic as the snow melts.
Weather in California in May
Average temperature in California in May: 16.2°C, 61°F
Sea temperature in California (Los Angeles) in May: 16°C, 61°F
Average rainfall in California in May: 20.8mm, 0.8in
Note: Bikini weather returns to the California coast in May as temperatures begin to rise and the rain dries up. Snow can linger in the mountains, but the thaw will have set in on all but the highest peaks. This is a good time to visit the national parks, before the summer holiday crowds arrive.
Weather in California in June
Average temperature in California in June: 19.6°C, 67.8°F
Sea temperature in California (Los Angeles) in June: 18°C, 64°F
Average rainfall in California in June: 8.2mm, 0.3in
Note: Most of California is an attractive holiday option during June, as the summer season hots up. The coast, though, can be subject to what is known as the “June Gloom”, when fog blankets the beaches. This is a good month to visit the Napa Valley wine country, while in the mountains the focus shifts from snow sports to hiking and camping.
Weather in California in July
Average temperature in California in July: 22.5°C, 72.5°F
Sea temperature in California (Los Angeles) in July: 19°C, 67°F
Average rainfall in California in July: 4mm, 0.1in
Note: California heads for the outdoors during July, except in the scorching desert. Conditions are best inland where it is a great time to dine on local produce and explore the farmers’ markets. It can be chilly in the evenings in San Francisco, so it is wise to bring a warm jacket for after dark.
Weather in California in August
Average temperature in California in August: 22.5°C, 72.5°F
Sea temperature in California (Los Angeles) in August: 20°C, 68°F
Average rainfall in California in August: 5.8mm, 0.2in
Note: August is peak holiday season in California, with all the theme parks and attractions open for business and packed with visitors. The coast around Los Angeles is hot and sunny, and the fog lifts somewhat from San Francisco. It remains foggy to the north, however, making it difficult to appreciate the vistas of Big Sur.
Weather in California in September
Average temperature in California in September: 20.1°C, 68°F
Sea temperature in California (Los Angeles) in September: 19°C, 66°F
Average rainfall in California in September: 11.8mm, 0.4in
Note: Blue skies and sunshine are the order of most days in California during autumn. The beaches are pleasantly warm and fog-free. The central valley is full of food festivals in September, celebrating the harvest.
Weather in California in October
Average temperature in California in October: 16°C, 61°F
Sea temperature in California (Los Angeles) in October: 19°C, 66°F
Average rainfall in California in October: 33.1mm, 1.3in
Note: Birds migrate from California during October, giving rise to the fun Kern County Turkey Festival and Sand Crane Festival, but sensible visitors will flock into the State during this autumn month to take advantage of the glorious, sunny and mild weather. It is still dry and warm enough to enjoy the great outdoors before the winter rains set in.
Weather in California in November
Average temperature in California in November: 10.9°C, 51.6°F
Sea temperature in California (Los Angeles) in November: 16°C, 60°F
Average rainfall in California in November: 78mm, 3in
Note: As wet winter weather creeps in to California, there are still some sunny days to be enjoyed on the southern coast and central interior. November is a good month to visit the resort city of Palm Springs in the desert east of Los Angeles, where it remains hot and dry.
Weather in California in December
Average temperature in California in December: 10.9°C, 51.6°F
Sea temperature in California (Los Angeles) in December: 16°C, 60°F
Average rainfall in California in December: 78mm, 3in
Note: Rain storms can be fierce in California in December, the midst of the wet winter. Tourists turn their attention from the seaside to the mountain ski resorts, such as Mammoth Mountain, which is rated as one of the top in the United States. There are also great opportunities for whale watching, and the rain on the central coast does not put off clouds of Monarch butterflies from wintering in the eucalyptus groves.
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