Time series of alkenone unsaturation indices gathered along the California margin reveal large (4? to 8?C) glacial-interglacial changes in sea surface temperature (SST) over the past 550,000 years. Interglacial times with SSTs equal to or exceeding that of the Holocene contain peak abundances in the pollen of redwood, the distinctive component of the temperate rainforest of the northwest coast of California. In the region now dominated by the California Current, SSTs warmed 10,000 to 15,000 years in advance of deglaciation at each of the past five glacial maxima. SSTs did not rise in advance of deglaciation south of the modern California Current front. Glacial warming along the California margin therefore is a regional signal of the weakening of the California Current during times when large ice sheets reorganized wind systems over the North Pacific. Both the timing and magnitude of the SST estimates suggest that the Devils Hole (Nevada) calcite record represents regional but not global paleotemperatures, and hence does not pose a fundamental challenge to the orbital ("Milankovitch") theory of the Ice Ages.