Mark Twain and the Myth of San Francisco's Summers

There's no denying the absolute prominence of Mark Twain as literary influence in the upbringing of American youth, especially outdoors inclined males. The well-loved, well-cited, well-read standards The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn teach that the world is a place to be explored, and the independence as well as friendship have generous rewards to be heaped.

If only Twain had spent more summers in Yosemite, or in Tahoe, or in the desert. His laments on summer in San Francisco have afflicted generations of people, American and foreign, into thinking that for three months of the year, the city becomes a cold, despicable abyss.

"The coldest winter I've ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." Whimsical, ironic, pseudo-intelligent, and to the point - this quote has everything you need for a good round of laughter in the bars. Maybe it merits repetition to the mate who couldn't make it out that night - but that's it. The quote should have died there, left behind with the empty glasses and lonely old man on the last bar stall.

But it prevailed, and it seems difficult to go a day without hearing a half-hearted joke about SF's summertime winters as the fog rolls in and the temperature drops to 60 degrees, oh my! The truth is less witty, less funny and altogether dull. San Francisco's summers tend to be warmer than its winters, but colder than all the surrounding towns.

The irony is that San Francisco is more than the city itself, and those who don't believe so and missing out due to their misguided conviction. A great city by itself, what truly sets San Francisco apart is how easy it is to get to those wonderful places that surround it - Marin, the coast, Napa etc. And summers there are far from cold.


My last few days of riding have been very contradictory to Twain himself. As my tan lines testify - Tuesday was hot as hell. Temperatures reaching 90 Fahrenheit, all but scorching everything around. I went to Point Reyes and back, enjoying not only the sun but the simple pleasure of not having to go to work on a Tuesday, meaning I could ride where I wanted, when I wanted, as fast as I wanted. Brilliant.

This morning looked like it might appeal to Twain's sensibilities. And too bad, as it was Drew's welcome ride to the city. Thick fog, even thick damp fog surrounded the city, the bridge, and the Marin Headlands. The ocean climate was well at work, except that it is summer in the city, and it may as well be hot and gritty. Shorts and short sleeves were in order, despite the near zero visibility. The tan lines may not testify today, but coldest winter I ever spent was definitely not a summer in San Francisco.