It might be helpful to see some comparisons between California vacations and Hawaii vacations–just for fun. In fact, this will include a bigger-picture comparison of the differences between SoCal with Hawaii. Those differences in turn all affect your choice of vacation destination.
We all love the beaches in Hawaii, and I have spent quite a bit of time there. But you need to know that, in a number of ways, Southern California beaches totally stand up to those found in our westerly neighbor.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both destinations. Here are a few of the differences, in case you’re deciding between a Southern California vacation and a trip to Hawaii.
Water Temperature and Visibility
The first thing you notice from a plane is that California ocean water is not as clear as in Hawaii. The reason is that, as a rule, the sand in California is finer in its makeup, with silt and small particles that are more likely to mix into the water than heavier sand particles.
You’ll notice that the Hawaiian beach sand is frequently somewhat coarse, being volcanic in origin. Some beaches can actually hurt your feet without sandals. The advantage with the volcanic soil is that there is less fine material to cloud up the water from wave and current action.
SCUBA divers playing a ways off the California coast find the water to be clearer because they are away from the wave action. The advantage is that it is easier to walk on the California beach sand, and it is much easier to find a swimming or surfing beach without underwater lava outcroppings. There are miles upon miles of beautiful sandy beaches in SoCal, and more of the resort areas offer direct access to rock-free beach frontage.
Another difference between California vacations and those in Hawaii is that the water temperature is cooler in California than in the more southerly Hawaiian waters. Admittedly, we in CA would sometimes not mind an average increase of a few degrees (not sure what that would do to Antarctica). In the winter months, the water gets downright cold, but during the summer it climbs up to 70 degrees or more. That is a very reasonable and refreshing temperature.
Air Temperature and Humidity
The drawback to the higher water temperature in the Aloha State is that the same tropical environment increasing the water temp is keeping the humidity up as well. On nice summer (or late-spring/early-fall) days the air temperature during Southern California vacations could be into the low 80s along the beach (90s inland) and the humidity at a very comfortable level. The water, although brisk, feels good and is very refreshing.
Once you get out and dry off a bit, you’ll find you can spend hours hanging around the beach, without being bothered by sticky humidity (not so true in Hawaii during the summer months at least). The sun radiation is less intense in California than if you’re closer to the equator, which means you can handle being out in the sun for a longer period of time, than if it is beating down on you (and the humidity is up). This can be fairly significant in planning activities during Southern California vacations, especially for folks from cooler climates.
You’re slightly less inclined to burn with the lower sun angle, but you still need to take sunblock seriously! So if you just love to spend hours in or right around the water, without feeling like you need to find some protective shade or more deodorant, SoCal beaches are the place to be.
On the other hand, you can’t beat the Hawaiian beaches in the off season, when it is a bit cooler, the humidity is lower and the sun is not quite so high in the sky. So if you want a warm beach vacation between late Fall to late Spring, Aalohaa!
(Of course, having said that, there is a rainy season in the Islands, usually in the late winter/spring months. But it’s a nice warm rain much of the time so you don’t mind it; also, an hour later the sun may be out and you’re ready to go again. Not quite the case during wintertime California vacations although even then the weather is mostly pleasant and dry.)
Watch the Sun!
Speaking of sun, the dangers of too much exposure are becoming well known for sun worshipers in California and Hawaii and anywhere else. Whether you’re going to Seal Beach or White Bear Lake, Minnesota, you know the importance of protecting your skin. Many kids of the ‘60s and ‘70s are nowadays regularly visiting their skin doctors, having little patches of epidermis whacked off as potentially serious cancer risks.
It is not uncommon for the beaches to be overcast in the mornings. However, the ultraviolet radiation is still streaming through the cloud layer, messing with your skin. So never assume it is safe to go out at the beach without proper protection. You might be safe on a rainy day in December but otherwise at least put some sunscreen on your nose and other obvious targets.
Surf’s Up! The Waves and the Wind
What about when California vacations and Hawaii vacations are compared for the wave action you might expect? Hawaii gets some killer good surfing waves in the winter months; great for serious surfers and winter vacations. Winter storms also bring good waves to parts of California.
You’d want a wetsuit to surf during a California vacation in January whereas it would be optional on the North Shore of Oahu. But, perhaps because of the influence of neighboring islands and other natural phenomena, most of the resort areas in Hawaii seem to offer only piddly waves much of the time.
Now some may dispute this, but after many trips to numerous islands (and being a true fan of Hawaii), the Guru has almost always encountered waves of maybe 2-3 feet measured from the front face (some cultures measure waves from the back of the wave). The typical visitor is more likely to find 3-4 foot waves in Southern California, on a nice sandy beach with no dangerous rocks beneath the surface.
Both states are embraced by ocean breezes. Being planted in the middle of the subtropical Pacific Ocean, the trade winds can sometimes be a bit relentless in Hawaii. In some areas they can blow almost nonstop for days, being “funneled” around the large volcano mountains.
Southern California vacations can also gets their share of an onshore breeze, mainly in the afternoons. In both cases the wind can build white capped waves that make afternoon surfing, snorkeling and skiing a challenge. It may be great for sailing however.
The California wind is pretty quiet in the mornings and comes alive later in the day, as lower pressure builds over the land, and calming down again at night as things cool down. Overall, SoCal is usually the slight winner in the wind category.
Culture and Other Differences
A couple of other quick observations in our comparison of Southern California vacations and Hawaii vacations. First, Hawaii is more strongly influenced by its (Polynesian) history and culture. It is a large part of the charm, celebrating Hawaiian customs. There is not the same level of cohesion in the California history; you’ve got Native American Indians, Spanish occupation, western-migrating pioneers and the modern melting pot. There’s lots of culture and history in California, but it’s not as prominent.
Although there are many industries that flourish in the Islands, tourism represents a rather large percentage of the total economic picture—more so than in Southern California. Tourism is definitely big in SoCal, but there are a lot of other very significant industries in a fairly diverse economy.
There is a greater emphasis on the beach in Hawaii; you’ll find very few major cities more than say 5 miles from the coastline on any of the islands (Waimea on the Big Island being one exception). Most Hawaiian population and tourism development is along a strip that’s maybe a couple miles wide around the perimeter (circumference?) of the islands.
Not so in SoCal, where Disneyland, Knott’s, Magic Mountain and Universal Studios are all well over 5 miles inland. So you see a subtle difference in emphasis; not better, just different.
Oh, and by the way, Southern California vacations are around 11 hours closer on a round trip ticket and reachable by car and Amtrak. So for every 11 Southern California vacations make one to Hawaii because, after all, we want to be fair-minded.