June Gloom: What California Beaches Are Really Like in the Summer

Foggy Morning at Santa Monica Beach
Foggy Morning at Santa Monica Beach. Thomas Werner / Getty Images

The phenomenon dubbed "June Gloom" is one of those things that no California visitor's bureau or publicist wants to talk about, but every California resident who lives within a hundred miles of the coast knows. So what's the big secret?

It's simple. California's beaches aren't always sunny and warm, despite what you see in the movies and on television.

If you think California is permanently 80 degrees and sunny everywhere, you're in for a surprise. Just when you'd expect the weather to be at its summery best, it isn't. In fact, May and June are the cloudiest months of the year along the California coast. During those months it may only be sunny about half the time.

What Causes June Gloom

In simple, terms June Gloom means it's cloudy, overcast, and cool near the ocean. It might drizzle and frizz your hair, but it won't rain. The term is used most often in Southern California, where it happens more often. In the north, it's usually just called "summer fog."

Whatever the name, the gloom is a weather phenomenon that occurs during a perfect storm of conditions in only a few places in the world. Start with the moist marine air layer over the Pacific Ocean. Add cold ocean water. And heat inland. That hot air rises, pulling the colder, cloudy marine layer over the land. Finally, the atmospheric pressure has to be strong enough to trap the clouds.

In spite of all those requirements, it's a frequent phenomenon, but not every June is gloomy. In strong El Niño years when the ocean is warmer, it may barely happen at all.

When June Gloom Occurs

It might sound obvious that June gloom happens in June. But it can start as early as May (known as "May Gray") and last for months, leading to "No Sky July." If it continues into August, you may see a rash of social media rants about the annoyances of #fogust.

What To Know About June Gloom and Your Vacation

If you dream of sunny skies and think a cloudy day at the beach would ruin your vacation, schedule your trip during sunnier times of the year. If you're a photographer hoping for beautiful sunsets and clear skies, this schedule change is essential. That is unless you know how to make the best of any weather condition you might encounter.

In April and early May or late August and September, you'll have a better chance of sunshine at the coast. You can get a better idea of typical weather conditions by month in the guides for San Diego weather and climate, what to expect from San Francisco weather and Los Angeles weather averages.

If you must go to the coast in the summer, get adjusted to the idea that May Gray, June Gloom, No Sky July, or Fogust days might happen. Don't give in to disappointment. Try these strategies instead.

If you want to go to the beach, check the weather for every beach city from Santa Monica to Laguna Beach in Southern California. In the north, check from Marin County to Monterey. Because of local geography, some of them may experience less fog than others.

June Gloom often clears up between mid-morning and early afternoon. After checking the forecast, adjust your day's schedule to the weather. Sleep in, go somewhere for breakfast, or hang out at a local coffee shop until the fog clears up.

If you're not going to the beach, pretend to be a true Californian and be happy about it (or say you are even if you aren't). Gray conditions seem to aggravate Northern Californians, but many SoCal residents think of June gloom as the break before the scalding months of July, August, and September arrive.

And if you're going to a Southern California beach in the summer, you also need to know about red tide. At its best, it can be as mesmerizing as the Northern Lights, but at its worst, it coats California beaches with a smelly, frothy mess.​