San Francisco’s Stolen Summers

Sunset District, San Francisco, California

Poet George Sterling called San Francisco the “cool, grey city of love.” He committed suicide.

Today the poet laureate of San Francisco’s defining summer weather is Karl the Fog, a Twitter phenom with 350K followers. He revels in quips like, “Taking the ‘sun’ out of Sunday” … or “TGIFoggy.” He calls the eighth month Fogust. I am not a follower.

Fog flowing over hills in Marin County

One year at a time, for more than 40 years, my summers have been systematically stolen. By August I snap, crackle and pop with fury. I bark at people who ask if I’ve had a “splendid summer.” But they never understand. That’s because they love San Francisco.

How can you love a city that snatches away your summer?

I’ve been told that I have seasonal affect disorder, usually a winter malady. Anger, my therapist friend said, is just another manifestation of depression. Indeed, it’s S-A-D.

Trees in San Francisco fog

For most of America, summer is warm, even hot. This year especially, global warming is baking the inland valleys, the mountains and usually cool spots like northern Europe.

But there’s no warming at my house in San Francisco’s misnamed Sunset district. In Fogust the sun never shines on the ocean side of the City by the Bay. It might come out to flirt around four p.m., only to flee as the fog, carried on a chill wind, creeps over the hills to settle in for the evening.

Fog creeping over San Francisco's Eureka Valley

Radio ads tell me to save energy by cutting my air conditioning. They are not talking to me. My heat goes on automatically at 65 degrees, defying seasonal common sense.

Eucalyptus in the San Francisco fog

Summer in San Francisco is monochromatic. Gray. Gray. Gray. I want to sleep. My garden laughs at me. I feel what’s left of my youth sucked away and spit out. I wander in search of sun, feeling unproductive, wasteful and alone.

I curse the mist as Lear curses the storm. Like a spell, thick gray cotton descends over me, smothering my days, blotting out July and August. No light. No color. No smiles. No sparkle in my eyes. Just day after day of gloom. Sixty days, sometimes more. Even Noah’s flood lasted only 40 days. Was there a full moon? I saw one once in Walnut Creek. Are there stars in the sky? I hear the Perseid meteor shower came and went. Do the heavens exist if you can’t see them?

Fog flowing over Twin Peaks in San Francisco

I miss the sunny Los Angeles summers of my youth, listening to chimes of the Good Humor truck plying the neighborhood in the late afternoon. I miss summers sticky with the juice of ripe Santa Rosa plums dripping down my bare arm or gritty with fine sand from Santa Monica beach or fragrant with the aromas of Coppertone, jacaranda and honeysuckle.

Santa Monica Beach from the air

In San Francisco, the long days mock me. Twilight walks mean parkas. I want to wear a tank top or a summer dress. My sandals sit idle in my closet. Sidewalk cafes have heat lamps. Global warming feels like a cruel joke.

Then suddenly, one day, the sun comes back. I should be glad. Instead I curse the sun like a lover who has strayed. How dare you desert me? Now that you are back I see how you have changed. You have moved away, grown more distant. Your angle is lower, more acute, your shadows more pronounced.

Bicycle wheels and shadow

Ah, shadows, how I’ve missed you. The days are getting shorter now. It’s too dark to play ball in the street or amble after dinner. My summer was stolen. It’s almost September now, too late to get it back.

San Francisco at night with fog rolling in

For another perspective on the San Francisco fog, take a look at Adrift, an amazing time-lapse video by Simon Christen. But, remember, Simon lives in Oakland.


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  1. Hi Cuz,
    Sunny South Florida on the Treasure Coast during this year’s summer should be retagged “The Umbrella Coast”! We have had more than our share of dismal weather limiting our adult summer camp retirement! Beautiful San Fran is there beneath the Fogust. It’s still the only place I know where you can swim or ski within a short drive. Fog is better than rain and certainly beats snow!!

    • Ah, I was wondering how people would respond who don’t live here. Sorry about all the rain. What’s odd is that I’m perfectly happy during a rainy winter. It’s just foggy summers that are hard for me. When Ben was little he used to call his gray sweats his camouflage fog suit.

      • I still wear a lot of grey and think of the fog.

        • Someone I was with downtown in San Francisco this afternoon called San Francisco weather bipolar. Sunny and bright downtown, gloomy toward the coast.

      • After suffering the double Hs ( hot & humid – high 80s and 90s) for most of August in New York…after feeling like you could hardly breath going outside in the heavy air…after being unable to weed my garden because it was so miserable out…I’d gladly switch to Fogust. Your photos are beautiful, Ellen.

        • Thanks Susan! The extremes, either direction, really are a drag. We finally got some summer over Labor Day in Massachusetts with a few days in Martha’s Vineyard and a few in Boston. It was hot, but the humidity was OK. Definitely ice cream weather! I hope New York cools down soon.

      • Unbelievable pictures 👋🏿👋🏿

  2. I get more sun at my house because I’m further from the ocean. Not a lot more. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But some. It can get old. But a sunny day comes along, and you’d rather not be anywhere else. Till the fog comes back. But—it makes for great writing weather!

  3. I miss fireflies & walking out barefoot and in shorts to play in the warm evenings as a kid in hot, sweaty Texas.

    • I’ve only seen fireflies a few times in my life. They are amazing. And I miss chirping crickets. They were one of the other delicious sounds of summer.

  4. Every summer when my boys were growing up I would take them back east to my family, where they would swim all day in the town pool and make sand castles with their cousins until the clouds burst. Then a voice would come over the loudspeaker, “Everybody out of the pool!” We would all huddle under the overhang at the concession stand and eat French fries for about 5 minutes, when the sun would reappear and the voice would say, “OK… back in the pool!”

    People would scoff at me for taking my kids away from their home and their Dad for about six weeks every July/August. Chris would join us for us for a week or so, but he understood, and I know you would have too!

  5. We need to switch cities every “summer “…..Here in Austin Texas we’ve had over 40 days of above 100 degrees., today will be 103….it’s too hot to swim outdoors, twilight walks do not invigor ( they make you need a nap , and feel nauseous ), all errands must be done early in the am, which I never see.. Needless to say you must never be far from an a/c. I know this won’t give you your fair share of a balanced summer, but if I remember September brings a sort of summer ?
    More great writing from you !

  6. Thanks everyone for sharing your memories and your current summer stories! We all complain about the weather, but there’s not too much we can do about it.

  7. Fogust–the perfect name! But after spending 2 plus weeks around Boston with constant temps in the 90s, I came back to Oakland and embraced it!

    • I wish I could take credit for Fogust. It’s attributed to Karl the Fog, but who knows. The quote, “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco,” has long been attributed to Mark Twain, but no one can find the documentation for that. It’s just another urban myth. Oakland probably has a few more shadows than SF this time of year. Enjoy!

  8. Love this. Love the photos, love the language and the humor.

    • Thanks Leslie!

  9. Beautiful photos, Ellen! Perhaps that is some consolation for your missing season? Love the fun writing, too.

    • Thanks Teresa!


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