The best time to visit San Francisco

SF's many microclimates can be hard to navigate. Use this guide to figure out the best time to visit San Francisco.
San Francisco
Photograph: Flickr/Sergey Galyonkin
By Shoshi Parks |
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If it’s your first time to the city, San Francisco’s weather can be hard to wrap your brain around. Yes, San Francisco is in California, which means we get our fair share of sun, but thanks to location and geography we also get a whole lot of fog and cold wind. Counterintuitively, summer is San Francisco’s coldest season, where temperatures tend to range from the mid-50s to low-60s. Winters are mild enough to enjoy outdoor activities but it’s also the season where the city gets most of its rain. If you prefer warm, sunny days, early fall and spring are your best bet for a visit.

When to visit San Francisco

Spring in San Francisco
Photograph: Flickr/James Carnes

Spring

Spring is a beautiful time of year in San Francisco, full of blooming flowers and sunny skies. As the winter rain fades away, temperatures rise to the mid- to high-60s during the day (though, as they do year-round, they’ll drop back to the 50s at night). Fog is common in the spring but so are plenty of sunny warm days, especially in neighborhoods like the Mission, Potrero Hill and Bernal Heights which are farther from the ocean. Cold winds can rise quickly, though, so always be sure to bring a sweater. San Francisco’s parks and outdoor cafes see their fair share of visitors in the spring and events like Bay to Breakers and Carnaval (both in May) liven up the streets. Spring also marks the beginning of San Francisco’s whale watching season.

Fog and fully-clothed beach-goers
Photograph: Flickr/William Welch

Summer

While the rest of California basks in the sun during the summer months, San Francisco is shrouded in fog. June through August is typically the city’s coolest, windiest season and some weeks Karl the Fog (yes, our ever-present foggy friend has a name) doesn’t allow the sun to come out at all. During the day, temperatures typically hover in the high-50s and low-60s and nights tend to be in the low-50s. Accustomed to these foggy days and nights, San Francisco still manages to wring joy out of the summer months with free concerts at Stern Grove’s outdoor amphitheater, neighborhood festivals, and the Outside Lands music festival in Golden Gate Park in August.

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Fall in San Francisco
Photograph: Flickr/ Justin Kern

Fall

Karl the Fog takes a vacation when temperatures begin to cool off slightly inland, making early fall—typically September through October—the warmest, sunniest days of the year. While evening temperatures will still drop to the low- to mid-50s, during daylight hours expect comfortably warm temperatures in the high-60s to mid-70s. This is the city’s favorite time of year to be outdoors and the crowds picnicking at Dolores Park and biking through Golden Gate Park on the weekends are at their max. Outdoor events continue to surge during early fall, including October’s free music festival Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Fleet Week. This is also a great time of year to get out on the Bay on a kayak, ferry or other seagoing vessel.

San Francisco
Photograph: Flickr/Sergey Galyonkin

Winter

When not in drought, winter is San Francisco’s rainiest season. For those from the Midwest and South, our “rain storms,” however, are child’s play; a steady drizzle is about the most you can expect and temperatures rarely drop below the mid-50s during the day. Still, winter is the best season for taking advantage of the city’s world-class museums and cozy bars, especially those with fireplaces blazing. Around the holidays, Union Square is bustling with holiday cheer (including a seasonal ice skating rink) and Fort Mason hosts an impressive array of holiday craft fairs. At restaurants, keep an eye out for Dungeness crab, a local favorite featured on menus during the winter season.

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