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California is a very large state and has a wide range of weather climates. Popular culture may have one believe that the weather in California is always sunny and perfect year-round, but the truth is that some seasonality does exist, even along the coast.
San Diego, Santa Barbara, and the Central Coast (as far north as Avila Beach) have mild climates that are enjoyable at all times of year. Rainfall is minimal, and excessive heat and cold are almost unheard of. Like most of the California coast, expect "May Gray" and "June Gloom" along the beaches. The overcast weather usually burns off by noon and generally doesn't exist a few miles inland, but a visit in the late summer makes it easiest to partake of warmer beach weather and warm water.
Los Angeles is slightly warmer than San Diego and Santa Barbara, and its inland regions can be somewhat hot during the peak summer months. However, the heat generally isn't excessive, and LA can be visited any time of year.
San Francisco stays cool year-round. Fog is common in the summer, and cool breezes are not uncommon any time of year. The warmest and clearest time generally runs from August to October, with September often being a "safe bet" for mildly warm weather. Be sure to pack a jacket no matter what, though, or suffer the fate of many tourists who end up sporting a San Francisco sweater or jacket.
The Central Coast from Morro Bay to Santa Cruz has weather that is more similar to San Francisco than Santa Barbara. Summers are pleasantly cool and winters are cool but relatively mild. A coastal breeze is common.
The North Coast, starting in roughly Bodega Bay and extending all the way to Oregon, has cool weather year-round and experiences more rain that the rest of the coast. In fact, areas like Eureka experience cool to cold weather most of the year and frequent rain in the winter. Jackets are essential in winter and can be welcome in summer -- leave the shorts at home! In Bodega Bay and along the Wild Sonoma Coast you may find the warmest time of year is after the summer fog abates, leaving the beaches warm and sunny, sometimes reaching 80 degrees during October and November. Always prepare for the cold, dressing in layers so the warm sun, when present, can be enjoyed.
Coastal weather throughout California changes rapidly as you head inland. In the summer, depending upon where you are, you'll experience warmer temperatures if you go even as few as 10 miles inland.
Communities located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains along the state's Eastern border experience warm days and cool nights during the summer, whilst winter months are cold. Annual snow is part of the landscape here, and ski resorts such as Lake Tahoe become wildly popular as soon as it starts snowing in the fall. The historic Donner Pass - well known for the tragedy of its deep winter snow - is located in this region.
The great Central Valley, one of the world's most productive farming areas, has wide temperature swings year round. Summer temperatures are sweltering and winters can be quite cold. Snow is unusual but nightly frost is common.
The seldom-visited Northeast section of California consists of the southern part of the Cascade Mountain range, as well as foothills rich in volcanic history. The climate in general is cold (and can be snowy) in the winter, and warm and dry in the summer.
In Death Valley the name gives one an idea what to expect during the summer. Temperatures are well above 100º Fahrenheit throughout the summer, and only well-maintained cars stocked with water, hats and sunscreen should make the visit at that time of year. Like any desert region, Death Valley in the winter can be erratic. Rainfall can be surprising and heavy, wreaking havoc on roadways. Death Valley is best visited in the spring and fall when temperatures are not too high; spring is especially nice when the wildflowers bloom.
Some unusual weather conditions to be aware of:
Tornados seldom occur in California, and hurricanes and tropical storms are even more rare. Thunderstorms are uncommon along the coast, but they sometimes occur in inland areas in the winter and also in the eastern deserts during Arizona's summer monsoon season. Flash floods are possible in the desert; avoid low-lying areas during and after rain. Tule (pronounced too-lee) fog can develop in the Central Valley during winter months; driving in tule fog can be exceedingly dangerous so slow down and use great care.
Earthquakes are a consideration in California, but it is not possible to predict them and there is no scientific evidence supporting the common notion of "earthquake weather" (defined by warmth and lack of wind).
Wildfires -- usually exacerbated by Santa Ana winds -- are the biggest natural threat in California. It is best to avoid extremely dry regions during hot windy days; take note of fire danger signs in California's foothills, mountains, and parks, and ask a local if you have any questions. Wildfires are more common during the fall but can occur at any time of year.
No mattter which weather region you are visiting, enjoy your stay in the "Golden State" :-)