The 4 Kinds of Sausalito Fog
We get far less fog than San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, but more fog than the Wine Country. The rocky ridges of the Marin Headlands protect us from much of the fog along the coastline. The fog that does arrive tends to burn off in late morning and return later in the afternoon. Fog is most common during the summer, and September-October feature our nicest weather as the fog recedes.
The four kinds of Sausalito fog, which I’ll explain with videos below, are:
Moby Dick Fog
But First a Word from the Weather Service
We pay a lot of attention to fog here, but most days in Sausalito fog is an early morning and late afternoon side-show. It’s a regular visitor high in the hills and at the southern end of town. It likes to flirt with us by gathering at the ridgetops. But, unlike the western half of San Francisco, it’s unusual for it to barge right in and take over.
But when it does — usually during the summer — it’s pretty dramatic!
You may have heard the “kinda true” meme about Aleuts and Eskimos having 50 different words for snow. For today I’ll focus on the four major kinds of Sausalito fog… but around town I hear people use plenty of other words to describe it!
Let’s start with the 4-step science project that explains everything we discuss below about Sausalito fog:
- “Upwelling” ocean currents bring cold water from the deep Pacific up to the surface off the coast of Northern California.
- When warm winds blow across that cold water, especially in summer, the clash of temperatures between air and water creates a “marine layer” of fog. Summer’s hot sun makes the winds warmer… and the morning fog thicker!
- The winds blow the fog towards the mainland, but the Coast Range mountains block it off, collecting fog near the coast. The fog stops in its tracks… except for the one break in that natural wall of mountains: The Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay.
- On warm sunny days the sun “burns off” the fog in the morning or early afternoon, but on cooler days it may stay around all day.
1. Lazy Fog
This video shows the most common kind of local fog. It streams in through the Golden Gate and then extends pale white fingers over the water. That’s Lazy Fog, which stays away from land and takes the easy path across the Bay.
The Marin Headlands, which parallel San Francisco’s famous hills, protect us from much of the fog that enters San Francisco Bay. It’s common to see fog hovering over the water between our waterfront and San Francisco, but clear skies in all directions over Sausalito.
This is what happens when the marine layer of air cooled by the Pacific Ocean isn’t very thick. Lazy Fog takes the easy path through the Golden Gate. And that’s where it stops, lying low over the Bay and waiting for someone to bring it a beer and some chips.
Lazy Fog especially likes to visit San Francisco Bay on July 4, where it will obscure an average 72% of San Francisco’s expensive July 4 fireworks show! Yes, I made that number up, but I still think it’s pretty accurate!
Of course, if you’re standing at Vista Point or you’re crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, the fog doesn’t feel so lazy. Then it may feel like the wind is blowing tiny little needles of ice into your face! Once you’ve experienced the Bridge, you can come down the hill to Sausalito to warm up!
2. Bluffing Fog
Bluffing Fog is the least obtrusive kind of Sausalito fog that we can actually see as we look up from downtown, I call it “Bluffing Fog” because it masses at the ridgelines above town when the afternoon breezes start to kick up, bringing cooler ocean air across the area.
But that’s where it stops, because it’s bluffing. It looks strong, but like a playground bully it knows that inside the big fog bank lies a big cloud of insecurities.
It never comes flowing down off the hills — as the fog types described below will do — and just sits there looking ominous but not moving. It’s like a motorcycle gang that roars up to the outskirts of town and revs their engines at 122 decibels. But then they sit down for a quiet pre-packed brown bag lunch with cute little sandwiches and Diet Cokes and then they drive back home without further incident.
Just one Sausalito neighborhood is affected by Bluffing Sausalito Fog, and that’s Wolfback Ridge. It’s so high up on the ridgeline that it’s in the locale where Bluffing Fog likes to picnic.
3. Waterfall Sausalito Fog
Waterfall Fog is the most well-known and best publicized Sausalito fog, because it’s so photogenic. As the videos above show, Waterfall Fog enters the warmer areas inside the Bay, where the sun then burns it off. This creates flowing waterfalls of Sausalito fog that dissipate before they reach the Bay, an effect that draws photographers from all over the world.
Sausalito’s famous “banana belt” areas sit high enough on the kills to be below Waterfall Fog most days, but high enough above the cool waters of the Bay to get a full dose of sun from springtime through autumn. These homes may be warmer than both their uphill and downhill neighbors, especially if they face at least somewhat south on the hill. You’ll hear endless arguments about where the Sausalito banana belt begins and ends, because even the unfounded allegation of a banana belt address in Sausalito adds major dollars to a home’s market value. Every real estate ad for a home located at an elevation greater than six feet (2 meters) claim’s it’s in the banana belt.
We used to live on Cazneau Ave. in Sausalito, above Caledonia Street. When we stood on our deck during Waterfall Fog afternoons, we could look straight up and watch the last wisps of fog fade away, like a magician’s “disappearing cloud” trick that continually created an illusion right above our heads. If that happens on your deck in Sausalito on a foggy-sunny day, you’re in the banana belt.
4. Moby Dick Fog
The “sea of fog” scenes in this video (like at 0:58) show San Francisco and Sausalito fog on days when the marine layer is super-thick. I call this Moby Dick Fog, because the great white whale of a fogbank appears and swallows everything.
Don’t confuse this with overcast, which are clouds that appear a few hundred feet or even a few thousand feet above the ground. Overcast is like that guy at the back of the room at the big meeting. Everyone else is yelling about how Finance is strangling innovation at the company or how we need to order Himalayan food one night a week for dinner. That guy in the back just nods, takes notes and doesn’t get involved. Overcast is the same way — it just sits there above all the action and does nothing except such all the good feelings out of the room with its indifference.
Moby Dick Fog stays close to ground level and expands up from there. Drivers crane their necks and clutch the steering wheel when it devours the road and spits on the windshield. Moby Dick Fog is the opposite of uninvolved and distant. It’s fog so thick it feels like you’re breathing micro-ice-cubes when you inhale. Fog so intense that when you wear that goose down parka (the one you borrowed from your sister and never gave back) the fog still penetrates your clothes till you can feel it in your underwear. It doesn’t just command your attention. It controls all your senses except for common sense. And your common sense keeps screaming at you to get the hell inside and find someplace warm.
And, fortunately, Moby Dick Fog is like the great white whale. We don’t see it very often, and it doesn’t hang around for very long..
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Want to see how the Sausalito fog is doing today? Check out our Webcams page. Remember that the Golden Gate Bridge will be foggy on many days when downtown Sausalito is clear, so check out all the different views.
You can also get lots of additional information here on Sausalito weather and what to wear.