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Does Big Sur Get Foggy (& When)?

We went to Big Sur this past August and could not believe the amount of fog. Driving along the cliffside of the Pacific Coast Highway was scary enough, but adding fog and low visibility made it even more worrisome. We’re planning another trip for next year and wanted to know when there’s little to no fog.

Here’s what we found.

Big Sur is foggy about 70% of the time, with the mornings and evenings having the highest chance of fog. Generally, the fog burns off around 12-4 pm, but some days can still be foggy or cloudy. Fog is more common as you go north of Big Sur and less common the south of it, such as in Santa Barbara and LA.

So, is Big Sur always that foggy, and when’s the best time to visit? Let’s look at the details.

When Does Big Sur Get Fog (Is It Always Foggy)?

When we took our trip to Big Sur in August, it was foggy almost every day. However, we saw the fog disappear mid to late afternoon and arrive again in the evening.

I highly recommend bringing a jacket for the morning and evenings and shedding it during the daytime. We usually keep a jacket tied around our waist as the temperature can dip pretty fast.

Big Sur gets fog the majority of days, starting at dawn and dusk. Most times the fog fades in the afternoon, but it depends on the day and season. The summer is typically foggy, especially in June. Many locals call this “June Gloom”.

If you’re planning a hike or a picnic in Big Sur, and you’d like to avoid foggy weather, here’s your best window:

Anytime between noon and around 4 pm.

Here’s an example from our trip of pictures I took of the same day, but afternoon versus morning.


If the fog is super thick, it’ll likely stay around for most of the day. However, it’s almost impossible to tell if and when there’s going to be fog, so we like to bring jackets just in case.

For the best chance to avoid fog, visit Big Sur in the late summer and early fall (September-October).

Why Big Sur Has So Much Fog

Big Sur gets its dense fog from its cool air moving over a warm ocean. This is why many summer months are foggier than the rest—the waters warm and mix with the cool air. Fog commonly stops on the continental side of a mountain, what’s known as a “rain shadow”.

Steam fog forms when cold air moves over warm water. When the cool air mixes with the warm moist air over the water, the moist air cools until its humidity reaches 100%, and fog forms.

National Weather Service

Often, you can see the fog coming in along the ocean’s horizon like a rolling blanket. Many locals call this the “marine layer”.

The fog starts to clear once you get to areas with warmer air. Most of the time this is south of Big Sur, such as Ventura and LA.

While San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara are warmer than Big Sur, they’re still fairly north and both commonly get fog.

Fog is definitely more common when you travel north of Big Sur.

When we hiked Big Sur and stayed in Carmel, the temperature dropped about 15-20ºF. It got pretty cold and the fog obscured the sunset.

So, when you’re planning your trip to California, and you’d like to avoid fog, stick to the warmer climates of Ventura, LA, and San Diego.

For example, the Santa Monica mountains (around Malibu) get little to no fog and offer great hikes and an amazing view of the ocean.

Keep in mind that while larger, southern California cities like LA don’t get a lot of fog, they do get quite a bit of smog—leading to less visibility of views and more.

How Much Fog Does Big Sur Get (What’s The Visibility)?

Fortunately, the fog in Big Sur usually doesn’t get too thick where you can’t see your hand in front of you. However, when we drove Big Sur this past August, it was starting to become difficult to see the car 50 feet ahead of us.

Also good news, the fog is not thick and stagnant like pea soup but is constantly moving. For us, the fog wasn’t depressing but offered a nice and dramatic scenery that has interesting lighting for photos.

The Best Time to Visit Big Sur

Big Sur in the spring
We stopped to take a photo while the sun was out in southern Big Sur.

The ideal time to visit Big Sur is in the fall or spring. This is also some of the best times to avoid the fog.

You also don’t run the risk of huge crowds and higher prices. It’s also a good time to avoid road closures and uncomfortable weather in the winter.

Visiting Big Sur in the spring, you can enjoy the blooming of wildflowers, whale watching, and overall great weather.

If you’re not a fan of the fog, consider visiting Ventura or LA for the sun and warmth. The Santa Monica mountains have less fog, great hikes, and amazing views of the ocean!

What to Wear When Visiting Big Sur

Year-round, Big Sur normally stays between 40ºF to 80ºF.

When I went in August, I found myself wearing shorts and a t-shirt, with a sweater over it the whole time.

The nights in Big Sur do get much colder, and I would recommend wearing pants and a heavier jacket (especially if you are traveling there in the winter season). Maybe even a scarf and beanie.

Recommended: Does Big Sur Get Snow (What to Wear)?