Sediments collected off northern California by Ocean Drilling Program Leg 167 contain time series that show strong, orbitally driven insolation forcing of surface oceanographic conditions. Orbital forcing caused a strong response in the distribution of major terrestrial vegetation but a less predictable response for primary productivity offshore. Terrestrial vegetation responded primarily to regional sea surface temperature (SST). Coastal ocean productivity appears highest when SST is moderately high, not during peak interglacial conditions nor during insolation maxima. When individual interglacial intervals are examined closely, each has a different signature. Two of six interglacials (MIS [marine isotope stage] 5 and MIS 11) have higher SST than modern conditions, but each elicits a different response from the terrestrial and marine communities. The type of vegetation and the strength of upwelling vary between interglacials, depending on the relative strength of factors that drive the warming, including insolation, ice-cap size, and level of greenhouse gases.