Summer comes to Santa Barbara, not with stifling heat or enervating humidity, but with gentle ocean fogs. Though fog can visit the Santa Barbara coast in any season, it is most abundant in May and June when it advances down the channel between the mainland and the offshore islands. June gloom in Santa Barbara can make it a dreary month of gray.
Some days, fog covers only the beaches and leaves the town basking in sunshine. Other days, it pushes inland and piles up against our Santa Ynez mountains, blanketing the town and burning off only in the late afternoon. On these mornings, fog drips from the trees in lush droplets allowing moisture-loving plants like ferns to thrive.
We have a special fondness for these foggy Santa Barbara days, but not everyone welcomes the fog. It can cut into beach time and obscure views on early morning hikes. Yet it’s an important part of our climate. Over the eons, the native chaparral that clothes the steep mountain slopes has relied on the fogs of summer to provide the scant moisture which allows them to survive.
Fog is born of winds that blow down the coast, passing over the colder ocean waters and condensing into droplets. The fog is then drawn inland by the hot interior valleys of California. As the ocean warms in late June and July, there are more coastal days free of fog.
The fog along the Santa Barbara coast is usually mild. In the dry climate of summer, it can bring a welcome relief from too much sun. In the white, misty light of a cool summer day, bougainvillea and blooming hibiscus glow in singular intensity. When the fog drifts inland, sometimes looking out from the foothills and Mission Canyon high points on the Mesa stand above the mists like islands in a grey foamy sea. In a magician’s sleight of hand, veils of fog can reveal and then conceal in “now you see it, now you don’t.”