Home to both Alcatraz Island and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is one of the most popular cities to visit in the States. While it is known for its interesting neighborhoods and cool counterculture scene, Frisco is just as famous for its wind, rain and fog.
As the days are long, sunny and dry, both the summer months and autumn are when most people visit. Although prices are much higher and everywhere is packed, the slightly warmer temperatures are best for strolling about Fisherman’s Wharf or taking scenic harbor tours.
To help you plan your trip, let’s take a look month-by-month at what the weather is like and what exciting events are going on in San Fran. We’ll also cover which periods are cheaper or more expensive and when its attractions and hotels are most crowded.
In this post, we'll cover:
What’s the Weather Like in San Francisco?
Lying along the West Coast, the Californian city is perched on a peninsula between both San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Due to its location, it has a very mild climate with cool, wet winters and dry summers.
Despite fog often shrouding it from mid-May through August, San Francisco still sees quite a lot of sunshine and clear blue skies. It never gets very warm though as even September and October – the hottest months of the year – only average around 70 or 71°F (20-22°C). After this, winter sets in and it drizzles a lot from November to March.
As it sprawls across numerous hills alongside the ocean and bay, the weather in one part of the city can be very different from another even nearby. Due to these microclimates and the cool, year-round temperatures, you’ll want to take a jacket with you wherever you go.
Best months to visit San Francisco
As their days are warmest and have the least amount of fog, both September and October are usually considered the best months to visit. During SF’s ‘Indian Summer’, you can enjoy the city’s unique culture and scenic beauty without the heaving crowds of July and August.
The spring months of April and May are also very pleasant with tons of fun events going on too. Cooler and less crowded, they are mostly dry with very little rain or fog. As such, you can explore the city and hike about its parks without worrying too much about the weather.
Summer is by far the most popular time to visit as people have holidays, the sun is shining and all kinds of interesting festivals take place. Prices are highest, however, and endless fog often obscures all its unbelievable views.
San Francisco in January
After Christmas and New Year’s Eve are over, January is a very quiet month in San Francisco with the chilly winds and rain putting most people off. You can still ice skate, however, about the rink at Union Square if you feel like it. The Sketchfest Comedy Festival also brings some much needed cheer to the city.
With January being the coldest, wettest month of the year, conditions aren’t great for seeing the wind-swept Fisherman’s Wharf or Golden Gate Park. There is less fog though and the skies are often sunny and blue. Hotels are also cheaper and top attractions like Alcatraz and its many excellent art museums are much less crowded.
San Francisco in February
February is also the off-season with not much improvement seen in the weather. While the rain does let up a bit and average temperatures do rise to 61°F (so 16°C), you’ll still want to spend most of your time indoors. Make sure to wrap up warm and take an umbrella around with you as the gusts of wind make it feel much colder.
On the plus side, airfares and accommodation are very affordable and almost no crowds are found at its main sights. There are also some great events to attend like SF Beer Week and the Noise Pop music festival. Its Chinatown – the largest in the world – also puts on amazing parades and performances to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
San Francisco in March
As spring is in the air, visitors slowly start to return to San Francisco in March. With nine hours of sunshine a day in which to explore the city, it’s not a bad month to visit before the crowds arrive around Easter. Temperatures remain chilly though and it does rain for around 11 days on average.
Besides benefiting from its cheaper prices and crowd-free attractions, you can also see grey whales migrating along the coast at the Point Reyes National Seashore. The magnolias are also blooming at its beautiful botanical garden while Macy’s hosts its famous flower show for two weeks. To top it all off, big parades and parties are held for St. Patrick’s Day.
San Francisco in April
Around the Easter holidays, prices do rise as more people pour into the city. The crowds are nowhere near as bad as in both summer and autumn though. Its days are also longer, sunnier and warmer with very little rain or fog. While you’ll still need a jacket, it’s a fantastic time to take boat trips about the bay, see Alcatraz and snap photos of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Life returns to the city after the long, wet winter with Japantown’s Cherry Blossom Festival – the largest along the West Coast – attracting thousands of visitors. Traditional performances and a grand parade showcasing Japanese culture are also held for it. Lots of screenings are put on for the San Francisco International Film Festival while its Art Fair also has interesting installations to see and artworks to buy.
San Francisco in May
While May is usually a mild, dry month, it does start to get quite cool and foggy towards the end of it. Earlier on though is a wonderful time to enjoy its epic views and outdoor activities while the skies are sunny and clear. Before they get too busy, it’s worth heading to Yosemite National Park or the towering redwood trees at Muir Woods.
Asides from wandering about Fisherman’s Wharf or taking cable cars up and down its steep streets, you can take part in the legendary Bay to Breakers fun foot race. Street parties and parades also take place for the Mission District’s colorful Carnaval. Hotel prices and airfares are more expensive but still affordable in comparison with July and August.
San Francisco in June
June is the start of the peak season as people from all around the country and further afield are drawn to San Francisco hoping for good weather. While averages of 66°F (19°C) are still not all that warm, there are at least 11 hours of sunshine and 15 of daylight to amble about in. Thick fog does often blanket the city for days at a time, however. If you want to see SF’s sea lions, June and July are the only months to avoid as this is when they head off to breed.
While San Francisco’s museums and main attractions are more crowded, there are lots of exciting events taking place. Both its Union Street and North Beach neighborhoods host fun street festivals with the SF Jazz Festival also going on. In addition, locals and tourists head to the Alameda County Fair to enjoy its thrilling rides, carnival games and food. Massive festivities, a parade and parties are also held for Pride on the last weekend of the month.
San Francisco in July
Although July is the foggiest month in Frisco, it is also by far the busiest with its museums, Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf all packed. Averages of 68°F (20°C) feel way chillier though due to the brisk sea winds and damp, lingering fog. Both flights and accommodation prices are among the most expensive of the year.
Making up for the huge crowds and high prices, however, are all the street fairs and festivals taking place throughout the summer months. As well as the free concerts at Fillmore Street and Stern Grove, there are, of course, impressive firework displays for the Fourth of July. Its iconic marathon also makes its way along its gorgeous coastline and across the Golden Gate Bridge.
San Francisco in August
August has just as many awesome events to attend with its Outside Lands music festival at Golden Gate Park being one of the biggest. Countless performances are put on for its Fringe Festival with top-class gigs still going on at Stern Grove. While the city is still full of visitors, thousands of San Franciscans migrate to the Nevada desert for Burning Man.
Almost identical weatherwise to July, it has around 10 hours of sunshine and 14 of daylight to wander about in each day. The second half of the month also sees the fog over San Fran finally start to fade. This is a lovely time to take boat trips about the bay or amble about the wharf while the weather feels warmer.
San Francisco in September
September is arguably even better as temperatures reach 71°F (22°C) – the highest of the year – and the worst of its summer crowds have headed home. Prices drop with less queues forming at its main tourist sites and museums. Plenty of people still visit though to enjoy its ‘Indian Summer’ and the fog-free views it brings.
Besides basking in the sunshine and making the most of the dry conditions to hike and bike about its pretty parks, you can always catch a San Francisco Giants’ game. Haight-Ashbury also hosts its annual street fair while Chinatown puts on dances, music and a dragon parade for its Autumn Moon Festival. Many visitors also take relaxing trips to the vineyards in Napa or Sonoma Valley while it is the harvest season.
San Francisco in October
Along with September, October boasts some of San Francisco’s best weather of the year. Its clear, sunny skies and warm temperatures are great for taking boat trips about the bay with the views of Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge and the city’s skyline being out of this world. A bonus is that slightly fewer people visit during the month with prices also dipping too.
Other than visiting some nearby wineries or Yosemite National Park now that they’re quieter, you can attend San Francisco’s Italian Heritage Festival and Parade. The season also starts for the Golden State Warriors if you want to watch an NBA match. Some locals and tourists even head to the city’s beaches though most will find it too cold to sunbathe or swim!
San Francisco in November
After all Halloween’s spooky themed parties and events are over, November is a very quiet month in the Golden City. Along with both January and February, it sees the least number of visitors of the year. The days are shorter and cooler with the rainclouds also massing again, though clear skies and sunshine are just as likely.
With fewer people around, hotel prices and airfares are much cheaper. Due to the weather, however, you’ll want to layer up and spend more time indoors at its museums. Day of the Dead celebrations do take place in the Mission District with Union Square also setting up its ice rink. Once Thanksgiving is over, cool installations appear everywhere for the Illuminate SF Festival of Light. Pier 39 also has a nightly Tree Lighting musical show to enjoy.
San Francisco in December
While temperatures drop to 57°F (14°C) and it does rain for 10 days on average, December sees an uptick in visitors due to the Christmas holidays. Prices rise a bit for both hotels and flights as people come to enjoy its colourful decorations and New Year’s Eve celebrations. All kinds of fun events also brighten up the holiday season.
Asides from admiring the twinkling lights and displays at iconic spots like Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf, you can see The Nutcracker performed at various venues around town. The SF Symphony also puts on special seasonal shows while the St. Francis Yacht Club has a lovely Lighted Boat Parade to watch. Spectacular fireworks shows then light up the skies for New Year’s Eve with party cruises and concerts also taking place.