The best time to visit San Francisco is in the late summer and early fall when the weather is agreeable and most tourist attractions are in full swing. Late fall and spring can also be good times to visit, depending on the activities you want to do while in the big city.
You must take several factors into consideration when deliberating the best time to visit San Francisco. The choice isn’t easy for someone who’s never been to the Northern California city before and as a California local, I’m here to help.
I’ve visited San Francisco almost every year since adolescence and have experienced the city in every season. I know San Francisco like the back of my hand and can help you determine the best time to visit the city with my expertise.
Once you know the things you want to do in San Fransico, planning will be a piece of cake from there. Let’s take a look at the best time to visit San Francisco.
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When is the Best Time to Visit San Francisco?
San Francisco typically experiences its best weather from August – October which is a great time to see the tourist attractions. The summer months are the peak tourist season with many festivals and activities, but June and July also tend to be the foggiest months.
San Francisco is one of the most scenic cities in California, but when you visit can greatly influence your experience. The best time to visit San Francisco depends on factors concerning the weather, your budget, seasonal activities, and the most crowded times of the year. Let’s break it down.
When to Visit San Francisco for Good Weather
Generally, June through September are the driest months in San Francisco. This is the most agreeable time to visit the city to avoid unexpected and unpleasant rain showers. Day temperatures average around 67°F and nights are typically around 55°F.
However, June and July tend to be the foggiest months in San Francisco. So, if you want to visit to get the San Francisco sunshine, then I recommend visiting from August through October.
The temperatures tend to steadily decline going into late autumn and winter, when you can see low temperatures in the 30s. This can be an uncomfortable time to travel and you will likely never leave your hotel without a thick coat. Be prepared to layer up if you visit San Francisco in the late fall, winter, or early spring months.
In my opinion, August through October is the best time to visit San Francisco. These months have warmer weather and there is a chance that schools may still be in session, making your summer experience more pleasant and less crowded.
When to Visit San Francisco on a Budget
If you’re looking to visit San Francisco on a budget, then you will want to visit the city in the off-shoulder months of November-April. The busy summer tourist season is the most expensive time in San Francisco, and most hotels and tours double in price at that time.
Budget during your San Francisco trip while still experiencing the best weather by going in September-October or April-May. If saving money is your top priority, then you will find the best deals in the winter.
If you will be traveling to San Francisco in the winter, then you should find indoor activities to occupy your time. Restaurants with hot cocoa and fireplaces will be your accomplice in the cold winter months. For activities, check out the many art and history museums in San Francisco.
The Best Time to Visit San Francisco for Avoiding Crowds
There are approximately 18,000 residents per square mile in San Francisco. With almost 900,000 residents total, the city will always seem busy, even more so in the summer months when the amount of tourists is tripled.
To avoid large crowds and long wait times at restaurants and attractions, visit San Francisco in the colder months of late fall, winter, and early spring.
There are annual San Francisco events that draw big crowds, such as Chinese New Year events in Chinatown. If you want to avoid crowds, figure out when big San Francisco events are and avoid travel at those times.
🚗 Where to Rent a Car: You will want to rent a car to fully explore San Francisco without limitations. I recommend using Discover Cars. They will get you suited to the best car for the season in which you visit San Francisco.
The Best Time to Visit San Francisco for Families and Kids
If you’re traveling to the city with children, then you will find the most activities for kids from June-September. You can find family-friendly events all over San Francisco during the summer months.
While many kid-oriented exhibits and attractions are open year-round, your child may not be in the best of spirits to cruise the bay to look for whales in below-freezing temperatures.
Families can enjoy sunny picnics at Golden Gate Park and children can find their favorite animals at the San Francisco Zoo in the summer. These activities are some of the best things to do in California.
Walking around Fisherman’s Wharf and admiring the blubbery sea lions serenading passersby is another fun outdoor activity for families in the summer.
When to Visit San Francisco for Sightseeing
The summer months may receive the best weather and the most visitors, but the best time to go sightseeing in San Francisco is in the fall season just before temperatures drop significantly.
There are tons of cool things to see in San Francisco at this time. The light rain forecast will also make it easy to get around the city on foot. Most of the San Francisco sightseeing takes place outdoors, so if you visit in the rainy months of winter and spring, be prepared to bring an umbrella or a rain poncho.
🛎️ Need a Hotel? The Suites at Fisherman’s Wharf hotel is in the prime location to catch a tour or sightseeing bus. Staying in this centrally-located accommodation minimizes your need to arrange transportation to get around the big city.
San Francisco Travel Seasons
- 🎷 Golden Gate Jazz Festival – Summers in San Francisco bring out all the music lovers in the city. The Golden Gate Jazz Festival is the perfect three-day weekend event for relaxing indoors away from the hot summer crowds. This SF Jazz Festival sees thousands of jazz lovers during its late July performances.
- 🎆 Fireworks Over the Bay – Fourth of July celebrations in San Francisco are a treat. Spend the day lounging on the beach or at a friend’s house for an Independence Day BBQ before the fireworks show over the bay at night. Usually around 9 or 10 pm, the San Francisco fireworks show can be best viewed from either a rooftop bar or up close and personal at Fisherman’s Wharf.
- 👒 Alameda County Fair – Less than 1 hour outside of San Francisco, the 270-acre Alameda County Fair is one of the biggest fairs in Northern California. Families and friends flock to the fair during the summer months of June and July in hopes of winning a carnival prize, eating delicious fair foods, and going on nostalgic, thrill-seeking rides.
- 🎶 Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival – Besides Coachella, Outside Lands is one of the most popular music festivals in California. The annual festival takes place at Golden Gate Park and is the largest independently-owned music festival in the United States. Catch your favorite Indie artists at the festival each August for a San Francisco trip to remember.
- 🎃 Halloween Pub Crawl – The biggest pub crawl in San Francisco happens around Halloween time. A spooky entourage of costumed adults visits over 50 bars on the pub crawl around the city. Individuals who sign up for the official pub crawl get transportation provided and extra deals on cheap beer and cocktails. San Francisco residents and visitors alike find Halloween events all around the festive city.
- ✨ How Weird Street Faire – This October event hosts 9 music stages over seven blocks as well as food and artisan vendors from around the world. Known as the “longest running EDM festival of the West Coast,” dance the afternoon and evening away with San Francisco locals. This festival officially helps San Francisco “stay wild” and is entertaining for all.
- 🧀 Cheese Plus 18th Annual Fall Harvest Artisan Food Festival – This outdoor tasting event showcases the Bay Area’s finest flavors. Each fall, San Franciscans congregate for this tasty event. The food festival takes place on Polk Street and is completely free. Participants can enjoy artisan cheeses, wines, charcuteries, pasta, flowers, and more.
- ❄️Light Boat Parade – Each December, the boats in the harbor at Fisherman’s Wharf light up the winter sky with their holiday lights. More than 60 boats display their best dress as they parade by the coastline of the wharf area for excited holiday fanatics. This family-friendly parade has been a San Francisco tradition since 1994 and has free admission for locals and visitors alike.
- 🎄The Colors of Christmas – This San Francisco symphony event kickstarts the holiday season in the city. Enjoy a night of legendary artists performing the holiday classics at the Davies Symphony Hall. This December music show has affordable ticket prices to be able to accommodate individuals from different economic backgrounds. The lowest ticket prices start at $18.
- ⛸️ Union Square Ice Skating – Skate through the holidays at the Union Square ice rink in San Francisco. Families and couples love this Christmas time activity in the big city and the ice rink sees hundreds, if not thousands, of happy skaters daily from early November until late January. Inexperienced skaters can also take advantage of the 60-minute lessons that are included in the skating fee.
- 🎨 Art Market – The Fort Mason Center hosts a modern art fair each April in the city. Experience works of art from over 80 local and global galleries. Typically up for a month during the spring, go to the San Francisco Art Market prepared to purchase one-of-a-kind pieces.
- 🌸Cherry Blossom Festival – Be a part of the largest Cherry Blossom Festival on the West Coast as you celebrate Japanese culture through the appreciation of the pastel pink flowered trees. This free event is open to the public and over 220,000 individuals marvel at the dazzling display of the cherry blossoms. Besides traditional Japanese cuisine and beautifully sprouted flowers, the festival also hosts traditional dancers and parade floats.
- 🍺 International Beer Festival – Help raise funds for the Telegraph Hill Cooperative Nursery School by participating in San Francisco’s International Beer Festival. General admission tickets for the event are on the steep side ($75-150), but it includes unlimited beer and food samples from top-notch vendors.
- ⚾ San Francisco Giants game – Be a part of local San Francisco sports culture when the San Francisco Giants kick off the first day of the season in the springtime. Opening day at Oracle Park is quite the spectacle and the biggest fans of the team come out to show their pride with painted faces, tailgating parties, and excited cheering.
San Francisco Weather and Climate
San Francisco displays a Mediterranean-like climate. The city typically has hot, dry summers and cool, rainy winters. Expect San Francisco to have regular 4-season weather and always be on the lookout for an unexpected rainstorm at any time of the year.
San Francisco experiences average temperatures and rarely rises above 83°F or below 39°F, meaning that the overall San Francisco weather is rather comfortable. Late June to early October experiences the best weather for exploring San Francisco and enjoying fun tourist excursions.
San Francisco receives an average of 25 inches of rainfall per year, so plan your trip accordingly if you plan on sightseeing. Additionally, humidity is low and wildfires can be expected at any time of the year.
San Francisco’s weather is pretty standard and unlikely to throw you any real curve balls. The city is one of the most favored places in California but it’s important that you visit during good weather.
Tips for Visiting San Francisco
Use Public Transportation
It may be wise to rent a car if you plan on exploring the greater San Francisco area, but you will also be able to get around just fine by using San Francisco’s public transportation.
The public bus system is fairly easy to use and the BART subway is an incredibly reliable way to get around San Francisco. You can get anywhere in the city using the BART system but make sure to pay for a Clipper Card or download the Clipper app before you hop on the train.
You will also have no problem using the city’s public taxis and the rideshare apps.
Dress in Layers
San Francisco summers can be chilly when there’s cloud coverage over the sun. Dressing in layers is the best way to account for surprising weather.
The winter months in San Francisco bear cold weather in this Northern California city. If the sun is out, the city may be warm during the day but temperatures will quickly change from clear skies to chilly winds in the early evening.
Dress for whatever weather San Francisco might throw your way by layering up every season.
Check out the Ferry Building Marketplace
The Ferry Building Marketplace is a destination less traveled in San Francisco. Overshadowed by the nearby Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, the marketplace is a prime destination for artisan food and local craft beer.
There are fewer crowds here than in the nearby tourist attractions which makes the Ferry Building Marketplace one of the best places for fresh seafood in San Francisco.
You will also find special events inside the marketplace like holiday pop-up craft-making sessions and tea festivals.
Hike to Twin Peaks
Hike to one of the best viewpoints in all of San Francisco. The Twin Peaks are a pair of 922-foot summits with 360-degree views of the Bay Area from the top. The hike is a short 2.1-mile roundtrip adventure that will give you an opportunity to walk off your big San Franciscan lunch.
Depending on the San Francisco weather, this hike is usually accessible year-round but most hikers prefer the trail in warm weather during the non-rainy season.
Stay in a Centrally-Located Hotel
Some of the hotel prices in downtown San Francisco are outrageous. If you do your research, however, you will find that there are spectacular deals in the best locations around the city.
Stay in a centrally-located hotel so you can walk to all the most famous attractions and sites in the Golden Gate City. You should look for accommodation options near Fisherman’s Wharf, South of Market, and Chinatown.
Plan A Few Days in San Francisco to See All the Best Sites
If you are on an epic California road trip and are trying to see all the golden state has to offer in a short amount of time, then you are better off saving San Francisco for another time.
I recommend reserving a few days to see all of San Francisco because of its thousands of things to do and sights to see. Plan for a minimum of 3 days in San Francisco to fully explore this huge city and get to know it like a local.
👉 Pro Tip: Choose one of the top San Francisco tours if it’s your first time in the city. They provide transportation and hit all the best spots!
Walk or Bike Across the Golden Gate Bridge
Explore the iconic bridge from a unique perspective by walking or biking across it. This offers visitors a more intimate experience with San Francisco architecture and is the best way to fully marvel at the splendor of the giant.
There are pedestrian and bike-only lanes across both sides of the bridge, ensuring that it is a safe venture. A great San Francisco excursion is biking from downtown, across the red bridge, and to one of the best towns in California, Sausalito.
Check for Discounts at the Attractions
Many top San Francisco attractions offer various discounts. This is the perfect way to budget for your trip and it never hurts to ask. Check to see if your tour offers military, AAA, student, or disabled discounts before you pay full price for anything.
Eat in a Different District for Each Meal
Make an effort to eat in a different one of San Francisco’s districts for each meal. This will let you experience the personality of each neighborhood. This is the best way to discover your favorite area in the big city and forces you to try something new every day.
The food in the Castro District is distinct from the restaurants in the Union Square area and the flavors of Chinatown. It’s easy to return to your favorite restaurants every night of your trip, but implementing this travel strategy keeps things interesting.
Take a Trip to Muir Woods
One of the best day trips from San Francisco is to the nearby redwood forested area of Muir Woods. This unique area showcases some of the world’s tallest trees, which are caressed by the nearby Pacific Ocean breeze.
Take a break from the tourist attractions and nightlife of San Francisco with an escape into the woods. Muir Woods has been federally protected as a national monument for over 100 years and boasts hiking trails for all skill levels.
Don’t Carry All Your Money on You at All Times
While San Francisco is relatively safe, it is still wise to always take safety precautions in major cities. In case you find yourself in a dangerous situation, you don’t want to have all of your money on you at all times.
A good rule of thumb is to keep half of your cash and credit cards in your hotel safe and only carry what you need throughout the day. This way if you do get robbed, you will still have the means to get back to the airport for your return flight.
Skip the Cable Cars if You’re a Return SF Visitor
The San Francisco cable cars are a traditional SF attraction. They are almost as old as the city itself and are an icon.
Their route isn’t the most efficient way to get around the city, however. The cable cars are a fun excursion for families and a good spot to take photos but because the lines are so long, they aren’t a good means of transportation if you are in a rush.
Most locals do not use the cable cars to get around the city because they are now mainly a tourist attraction. You should ride the cable cars on your first trip to the Bay Area but try out new attractions on sequential trips.
Check Out Hostels If You Are Budgeting
Avoid fancy, expensive hotels if you are visiting San Francisco on a budget. Hostelworld.com is a great website to find affordable accommodation.
The cheapest hostel options will often be shared dormitories with shared bathrooms but hostels also offer guests private room options for less than half the price of hotels.
You will find hostels in San Francisco around major attractions like Golden Gate Park, North Beach, the Folsom Street Fair, and Mission District.
FAQs About the Best Time to Visit San Francisco
What are the best weather months in San Francisco?
Late summer and early fall are the best times for weather in San Francisco. This includes the months of August, September, and October. The warm weather is generally mild at this time, with average highs of 76°F.
What should you not miss when visiting San Francisco?
You shouldn’t miss popular San Francisco tourist attractions like Golden Gate Park, Downtown San Francisco, Union Square, the Haight Ashbury street fair, Ocean Beach, the North Beach neighborhood, and the Castro District.
Why is San Francisco so popular?
San Francisco is so popular because it was one of the first cities established in California during the Gold Rush Era. There are many historic sites to see in San Francisco like Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square.
What is the best way for tourists to see San Francisco?
The best ways for tourists to see San Francisco are on foot or using local transportation like the BART train and the public cable cars. Most of the popular destinations are within walking distance of the city center.
I hope you found all you needed to know with my helpful guide on the best time to visit San Francisco! There are so many sights and attractions that the best time you visit really depends on what you would like to do and see. If you’re planning a bigger trip to the state, then check out my guide to when to visit California.
Have fun exploring San Francisco!
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