Long-term monthly sea level and sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies from central California show that during winter months, positive anomalies are associated with El Nin??o events and the negative ones with La Nin??a events. There is no significant impact on monthly mean anomalies associated with Pacific decadal oscillations, although there is a tendency for more extreme events and greater variance during positive decadal oscillations. The very strong 1997-1998 El Nin??o was analyzed with respect to the long-term historic record to assess the forcing mechanisms for sea level and SST. Beginning in the spring of 1997, we observed several long-period (> 30days) fluctuations in daily sea level with amplitudes of over 10 cm at San Francisco, California. Fluctuations of poleward long-period alongshore wind stress anomalies (AWSA) are coherent with the sea level anomalies. However, the wind stress cannot entirely account for the observed sea level signals. The sea level fluctuations are also correlated with sea level fluctuations observed further south at Los Angeles and Tumaco, Columbia, which showed a poleward phase propagation of the sea level signal. We suggest that the sea level fluctuations were, to a greater degree, forced by the passage of remotely generated and coastally trapped waves that were generated along the equator and propagated to the north along the west coast of North America. However, both local and remote AWSA can significantly modulate the sea level signals. The arrival of coastally trapped waves began in the spring of 1997, which is earlier than previous strong El Nin??o events such as the 1982-1983 event. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.