If you’re heading to the Golden State this year and want to ensure you only hit spots where the thermometers are on the balmier side, then you’ve come to the right place. This guide will run through a series of the warmest places in California, to offer sun-seeking travelers a range of choices when it comes to staying hot on the West Coast.
We’ve tried to focus on a wide array of different sorts of destinations. There’s info on the hottest coastal reaches on the surf-washed sides of uber-cool SoCal, alongside more conventional high-temperature locations deep in the deserts of California, including Furnace Creek of Death Valley. Plus, we’ll take a look at the warmest cities in California for those planning more of an urban adventure.
Naturally, you’ll find that all the destinations listed below get a whole load warmer in the summer months. This sun-drenched state often sees temps soar to above the 100 F mark between May and August, to the point where authorities even put out extreme heat warnings. If that happens while you’re around, be sure to take proper precautions if you plan on visiting any of the warmest places in California that follow…
Death Valley isn’t just one of the warmest places in California. It’s actually among the warmest places in the world. In fact, by some estimations it’s officially the single hottest place on the planet. That record is based on data from the archives of the United States Weather Bureau, who say that weather stations measured heat of a blazing 134 F (56 C) here way back in 1913. That legendary high was set at Furnace Creek. And with a name like Furnace Creek, it’s hardly a surprise that we’re talking about it on this list!
Set deep in the sun-blazed Californian deserts, some 230 miles from the cooling airs of the Pacific Ocean, Death Valley is closer to Vegas than to the coast. It’s got a truly unique geography that helps the thermometers climb higher than, well, anywhere. There are no fewer than four huge mountain ranges shrouding it to the north, south, east, and west. They act as rain shadows, resulting in almost zero precipitation throughout the whole year. The area also lays claim to the lowest-altitude point on the continent, at over 280 feet below sea level.
Temperature stats in the peak summer in Death Valley make for daunting reading. It’s super-common to see nearly 130 F for several days running, while even average low temperatures are among the highest lows in the world – it can be 110 F here at midnight! It’s hardly a wonder, then, that travelers to these parts have taken to frying eggs on the asphalt of the local carparks, although local authorities have politely asked for that particular tradition to come to an end.
These days, Death Valley is the centerpiece of the greater Death Valley National Park. It’s an incredible cut-out of the Mojave Desert, showcasing rolling swathes of Mars-like sand dunes, rugged peaks, and abandoned pioneer towns that boomed during the years of the Californian goldrush. We can recommend the hike to the top of Telescope Peak to escape the heat. That takes you to the highest point in the reserve for sweeping views over the whole Great Basin and across to Nevada.
The Sonoran Desert picks up where the Mojave leaves off, covering a huge dash of southern California and spreading over the state line into Arizona. It also covers huge portions of northern Mexico and the Baja California further south. Folk always knew it was hot here – it’s a desert, after all! However, recent research using nifty new NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data has shown that the Sonoran might just pip it’s sandy brother of Death Valley to the post when it comes to temperature.
Mhmm…there are some who say that the latest MODIS data reveals that low-lying parts of the Sonoran Desert have hit a sizzling 177 F (that’s over 80 C) in recent years. That would leave previous surface temp records in the proverbial desert dust and mean that this corner of the Golden State is far and away the warmest place on the whole planet, let alone just in this part of the USA.
There’s actually only a small cut-out of the Sonoran Desert in California. It stretches from the edge of the San Diego metro area all the way to the border with Arizona in the east. As it goes, it hosts tempting sections of outback and intriguing sites, from the onetime tourism boom area of the Salton Sea to the southern fringes of the amazing Joshua Tree National Park.
The vibrant city of Long Beach and its adjoining sands reign as the hottest coastal spot in the Golden State, so you might want to consider adding the town to your itinerary if you’re hunting for long days in the surf and on the shoreline. We know that it’s among the warmest places in California thanks to the local weather station, which measures a daily average of 84 degrees (29 C) in the peak month of August. That’s higher than at any other weather station along the SoCal coast.
Thankfully, Long Beach is well suited to balmy summers. It’s fronted by a curving scythe of shoreline that’s a veritable playground for sandcastle builders and swimmers – a large manmade breakwater off the coast ensures the waves aren’t as big here as in San Diego or LA. You also get that quintessential South Cali promenade, too, where skaters and coffee drinkers and hotdog stands coalesce between the palm trees.
Long Beach has also emerged as a bit of a culture and arts hub, and a fine alternative for travelers who aren’t too keen on the hustle and bustle of colossal Los Angeles proper. It’s just to the south of that big city and touts upcoming institutions like the Long Beach Museum of Art and the Museum of Latin American Art. Families are also sure to love the Waterfront district, where vintage ships and picnic tables sit on the side of the Pacific.
No list of the warmest places in California could possibly skip out on San Diego – the one they call America’s Finest City. A lot of the nickname is down to the weather. Or, at least, it must be, since the calendar offers up a mega 300 days of sunshine per year and an average daily mean temperature of 64 F (18 C), not to mention average highs of 70+ (21 C+). The upshot? There’s not much fluctuation in the warmth in this town. Even mid-December can be balmy enough to be on the beach.
All that’s to be expected. San Diego is Cali’s southernmost city. It’s actually smack dab on the border with Mexico. Drive just 10 miles to the south of city limits and you’ll be crossing into Tijuana. Yes, the constant flow of colder air off the Pacific Ocean can lower temperatures a little, but the locals are actually thankful for that, since it keeps things pleasant, breezy, and all-round livable.
It’s also worth saying that San Diego is just about the perfect destination to explore when the sun is shining. There are the open-air draws of Mission Bay, including Fiesta Island and the legendary Mission Beach. You’ve also got the surf breaks of La Jolla, which work best with summer south swells. And there are the amazing hiking paths that track down to the Cabrillo National Monument to offer sweeping vistas of the wide, open ocean.
The great resort of the desert blooms into life past the rugged ridges of Mount San Jacinto east of Los Angeles. It’s deep in the Coachella Valley, a corner of the state that’s now written into the annals of US subculture thanks to its annual music and arts festival – it’s sorta’ like the modern day Woodstock. But Palm Springs itself is an oasis of greenery on the edge of the desert, known for its endless rows of green palms and 300+ days of Vitamin D per year.
Temperatures here recently pushed an all-new, all-time high. Back in the middle of 2021, thermometers around the poolsides of the vintage Palm Springs motels and resort hotels clocked up a blistering 123 F (51 C). More than that, they clocked it up for at least a single day for three months running – that’s a whole summer of temperatures in excess of 120 degrees. Talk about vacation weather!
And it really is vacation territory. The spot has been a getaway for LA’s beautiful people since the 1950s. It now hosts more spa hotels, more championship golf courses, and more chic bistros than you can swing a seven iron at. Most of the crowds come between May and August, but you don’t have to – it’s warm here all year.
The warmest places in California – our conclusion
While Florida claims the moniker of the Sunshine State, California certainly has its fair share of balmy destinations. You’ll notice from this list that most of them are in the south of the territory or inland. Those regions are hotter simply because they are closer to the Equator. Notice how even the vegetation changes from gigantic redwoods to palm trees and cacti. The eastern parts of the state actually host some of the hottest places on the whole planet – the Sonoran, Death Valley. Those are low-lying areas deep in the desert, where temperatures of over 130 F are possible!