California’s sprawling Central coast region has something for every kind of tourist whether they're seeing beaches, mountains, wine country, or bucket-list destinations like Big Sur or Hearst Castle. This diversity extends to the weather. While the Central Coast, like much of California, has a dry Mediterranean climate, the region covers a large area and is subject to Pacific Ocean currents. As such, there are some areas can see triple-digit heat in July while others have highs of 85 degrees F (29 degrees C). As a general rule, the Central Coast has mild winters and warm to hot summers and gets around 8 average inches of rain between December and April.
Popular Areas of the Central Coast
The weather is similar throughout all of the Central Coast but there some slight differences. A few rules to remember: as you journey north, the temperature will drop in the fall and winter and be higher in the spring and summer with the exception of the coastal enclaves and higher elevations, where it is always cooler; Big Sur and Highway 1 also experience a good bit of fog.
No matter what part of the Central Coast you are in, one thing you will see throughout the year is a drastic drop in temperature—usually, 10 degrees F give or take but sometimes upwards of 20 degrees—once the sun goes down. It is also common to be overcast and gray in the mornings but the marine layer usually burns off by noon.
There are 101 miles of coastline (half of which are protected) in San Luis Obispo County alone. The shoreline is dotted with scenic turnouts and quaint beach towns including Morro Bay, Cambria, Cayucos, Nipomo, and Avila Beach offering endless activities in the sand and surf. Temperate weather means visitors can kayak, sunbathe, drive on dunes, shop for souvenirs, watch otters play and elephant seals tussle, peek into tidepools, fish, and so much more year-round. The Pacific Ocean is quite cold (between 55 and 65 degrees F / 13 to 18 degrees C) so it’s best to wait until summer if you actually want to go in the water as that’s when the region records its highest temperatures. The average high is 77 degrees F (25 degrees C) and the low is 52 degrees F (11 degrees C). September tends to be the warmest month while December is the coolest.
Winter has an average high of 64 degrees F (18 degrees C) and an average low of 44 degrees F (7 degrees C). Winter and Spring get a bulk of the year’s rain as well, as 6.5 inches of around 8 annual inches falls during those two seasons.
San Luis Obispo
Home to a four-year university, the wacky and historic Madonna Inn, a bustling downtown, and 41.2 miles of bike lanes, San Luis Obispo is the largest city on the Central Coast. SLO sits approximately 11 miles inland from the coast and is surrounded by rolling hills and mountains, both factors that contribute to generally higher temperatures than those found in the beach towns. Summers are arid, filled with sunshine and minimal cloud cover. Throughout the year, the temperature varies from 41 degrees F (5 degrees C) to 78 degrees F (25.6 degrees C). It rarely shoots above 89 degrees F (32 degrees C) or below 33 degrees F (0.6 degrees C). However, highs venturing into triple-digit range during summer months is becoming more common.
August is the warmest month while the thermometers hit their lowest points typically in December. Most of the year’s rain falls between November and March. February is the wettest month with an average of 5.28 inches. It can also get windy in San Luis Obispo. From late November to late June, the average wind speed is more than 8.1 miles per hour.
Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco along Highway 101, in the middle of a coastal mountain range, sits this town known for its world-class wineries, walkable town center, and friendly locals. Sitting slightly farther north and farther inland, it tends to be warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter than SLO. July is the warmest month and December is the coolest. The temperature usually falls between 37 degrees F (3 degrees C) and 89 degrees F (32 degrees C) with the average high being 76 degrees F (24 degrees C) and the average low being 44 degrees F (7 degrees C).
Paso Robles has an average annual precipitation of 12.78 inches, most of which falls between November and March, and the average humidity is quite low. Expect wind between February and July, although the average speed is approximately 7.6 miles per hour.
Big Sur is both a rugged coastal wilderness area filled with state parks, hiking trails, and picturesque beaches along Highway 1 and an affluent village south of Monterey and north of San Simeon (aka the home of Hearst Castle). January is the coolest month with an average high of 58 degrees F (14 degrees C) and an average low of 44 degrees F (7 degrees C). September is the warmest month with an average high of 58 degrees F (14 degrees C) and an average low of 70 degrees F (21 degrees C). It is rare, but record highs in the area fall in the high 90s Fahrenheit and have even squeaked into triple digits.
It is a much wetter part of the Central Coast and sees far more fog. USclimatedata.com reports the average annual precipitation in the area at almost 45 inches although other weather watchers report it is closer to 28 inches when drought conditions are present in the state. The rainiest months are typically December through March. The area’s highest points occasionally get a light dusting of snow. The average annual wind speed is 14.4 miles per hour.
Winter on The Central Coast
The days are short. The nights are cold. Most of the region's annual rainfall occurs between November and March although in 2020 several storms came late and made for a soggy April. Overall, the winters are mild in these parts, especially for folks visiting from places that have regular snowstorms. The droves of Western Monarch butterflies that migrate here and cluster in groves in Pismo Beach, Morro Bay, Nipomo, and Los Osos are another winter draw. The average highs are in the 50s to 60s Fahrenheit while the lows are in the 40s Fahrenheit.
What to pack: If visiting December through March, consider packing a raincoat and umbrella (or at least find out if the hotel has umbrellas to borrow). No matter the season, if you want to surf or spend a significant amount of time on/in the water, pack or rent a wetsuit as water temperatures range seasonally from 55 to 65 degrees F (13 to 18 degrees C). If you’re looking to surf, waves tend to be best in the fall and winter.
Spring on The Central Coast
After the winter and early spring showers, the landscape is at its greenest and alive with wildflower blooms and blooming/fruiting trees making it a great time to hike or walk the beach. The average highs are in the high 60s Fahrenheit while the lows are in the 40 Fahrenheit.
What to pack: As many of the hotels feature heated pools or hot tubs and there are several hot springs scattered throughout the region, it is smart to pack a swimsuit in all seasons.
Summer on The Central Coast
Most of the time, this is the region's hottest and driest season. Inland cities still have an average high in the 70s Fahrenheit but it's quite common for the mercury to surge into the 90s F. The low humidity help keep summers tolerable and Coastal cities are typically cooled by ocean breezes, especially in the afternoon.
What to pack: Swimsuits, shorts, sunglasses, sunscreen, and anything else you need to stay protected from the sun while having fun in it.
Fall on The Central Coast
The weather stays warm far into the fall, especially inland, and the days are still long with sunlight. It is not uncommon to have a warm Halloween. The waves tend to be the best during the fall and winter as the swell picks up. In these months, it’s not uncommon to find waves that surge above surfer’s heads. Average temperatures are in mid-70s Fahrenheit on the warm end and high 40s on the cold end.
What to pack: Because the nights are much chillier than the days, the most important thing to pack is layers and a light coat. As mentioned above, the water stays cool year-round on the Central Coast, so make sure to pack or rent a wet suit if you want to jump in. At the tail end of fall, you might need gloves, scarves, and beanies.