Sea level elevations from near the mouth of San Francisco Bay are used to describe the low-frequency variability of forcing of the coastal ocean on the Bay at a variety of temporal scales. About 90% of subtidal fluctuations in sea level in San Francisco Bay are driven by the sea level variations in the coastal ocean that propagate into the Bay at the estuary mouth. We use the 100-year sea level record available at San Francisco to document a 1.9 mm/yr mean sea level rise, and to determine fluctuations related to El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and other climatic events. At time scales greater than 1 year, ENSO dominates the sea level signal and can result in fluctuations in sea level of 10-15 cm. Alongshore wind stress data from central California are also analyzed to determine the impact of changes in coastal elevation at the mouth of San Francisco Bay within the synoptic wind band of 2-30 days. At least 40% of the subtidal fluctuations in sea level of the Bay are tied to the large-scale regional wind field affecting sea level variations in the coastal ocean, with little local, direct wind forcing of the Bay itself. The majority of the subtidal sea level fluctuations within the Bay that are not related to the coastal ocean sea level signal are forced by an east-west sea level gradient resulting from tidally induced variations in sea level at specific beat frequencies that are enhanced in the northern reach of the Bay. River discharge into the Bay through the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Delta also contributes to the east-west gradient, but to a lesser degree. ?? 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.