The California Current System encompasses a southward flowing current which is perturbed by ubiquitous mesoscale variability. The extent to which latitudinal patterns of physical variability are reflected in the distribution of biological parameters is poorly known. To investigate the latitudinal distribution of chlorophyll variance, a wavelet analysis is applied to nearly 9 years (October 1997 to July 2006) of 1-km-resolution Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) chlorophyll concentration data at 5-day resolution. Peaks in the latitudinal distribution of chlorophyll variance coincide with features of the coastal topography. Maxima in variance are located offshore of Vancouver Island and downstream of Heceta Bank, Cape Blanco, Point Arena, and possibly Point Conception. An analysis of dominant wavelengths in the chlorophyll data reveals a transfer of energy into smaller scales is generated in the vicinity of the coastal capes. The latitudinal distribution of variance in sea level anomaly corresponds closely to the chlorophyll variance in the nearshore region (<100 km offshore), suggesting that the same processes determine the distribution of both. Farther offshore, there is no correspondence between latitudinal patterns of sea level anomaly and chlorophyll variance. This likely represents a transition from physical to biological control of the phytoplankton distribution.