2017-07-07 / Columns

Avoiding a hot foot at California beaches

Flying Squirrel
Thor Challgren

It’s summer. You’re lying on a towel at one of our local beaches. The blazing sun has warmed you up and it’s time to cool off in the ocean. You stand, take a few steps toward the surf, and it hits you — HOLY COW THE SAND IS HOT!

Your pace quickens as your feet begin to burn. By some measurements, the sand could be as hot as 120 to 130 degrees. You race as fast as possible. Reaching the water line, you suddenly realize — HOLY COW THE WATER IS COLD!

Yes, it’s the annual recognition that in Southern California, even in the summer, our ocean temperatures never get that warm, at least not compared to the sand and air.

Did you ever wonder how we stack up compared to other beach destinations? If you went to a typical beach in Hawaii, Mexico or the Caribbean, for instance, would there be much difference? Experience tells us yes, but what do the actual numbers say?

I compared Malibu water temperatures to four popular beach locations: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Maui, Hawaii; Cancun, Mexico; and Montego Bay, Jamaica. With pun fully intended, let’s dive in.

Malibu: We’ll start close to home, using a familiar beach as our baseline. The average ocean temperature in Malibu is 66 degrees from July to September. During that same period, the average daytime high is 71 degrees.

As you can see, the water is only about 5 degrees cooler. Your body (aside from your feet) won’t likely perceive too much difference between the two.

Of course there will be days at Zuma or Leo Cabrillo where the temps can reach into the upper 80s, thus heightening the contrast (going from 88-degree air to a 66-degree ocean is quite a swing). But for now, let’s deal with averages.

Cabo San Lucas: After a 2.5- hour flight south, you might find yourself on the Sea of Cortez. From July to September, the average high temperature will range from 94 to 96 degrees. The ocean, by contrast, will be a refreshing 79 to 82 degrees.

I say “refreshing” because the difference between the air and water can be 15 degrees. That means when you first jump in, you might feel a shock, but you’ll eventually acclimate. And the good news is when you get out, you’ll dry off really quickly.

Compared to Malibu, the ocean in Cabo is 13 to 16 degrees warmer in the summer, and 15 degrees in the winter (72 versus 57.)

Cancun: Heading east by southeast from Cabo, you land on Mexico’s Caribbean-style beaches, where you’ll experience less of a difference between the air and water.

Cancun’s ocean temperatures stay in a consistent range year-round: 79 to 84 degrees. With an average high temperature of 91 in July, the difference between air and water is only about seven degrees in the summer.

In the winter, the temps are even more closely aligned. January’s ocean temperature settles in at 79 degrees, while the average daytime high is 82. Almost exactly even. Extremely pleasant.

Montego Bay: Right smack in the middle of the Caribbean, Jamaica also offers moderate temperatures. The ocean varies between 81 and 84 degrees year-round, which closely matches the average high during the day of 82 (January) to 91 (July).

So the difference between air and water is almost even in the winter and about seven degrees in the summer.

Maui: Flying west into the Pacific, we find perhaps the smallest overall differential between air and water temperatures.

Summertime ocean temps in Maui straddle 79 to 80 degrees, with the average high only about six degrees warmer: 86. In the winter, the ocean may drop to 75, with a daytime high of 80, again about five degrees warmer.

To recap, you can brave our own ocean temperatures in the summer (66 degrees on aver- age), but if you want something warmer, consider Maui (about 13-14 degrees warmer), Cabo (13-16 degrees warmer), Cancun (17 degrees warmer) or Montego Bay (also 17 degrees warmer.)

But remember one thing: No matter what beach you visit, bring sandals or a willingness to run from your towel to the ocean. The sand will still be hot.

Thor Challgren is a travel consultant who lives in Thousand Oaks. For more info, visit loveyourvacation.com/acorn. Email questions to Challgren at thor@theacorn.com

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