While San Francisco's famously bohemian vibe goes strong all year long, its mysterious weather patterns and microclimates can flummox visitors, running counter to typical travel schedules.
There's no bad time to visit the "cool, grey city of love," however, whether you're looking to lay out on hippie hill in Golden Gate Park or dine in at one of the city's storied restaurants.
Here’s our guide to help you decide the perfect time to visit San Francisco, California.
Editor's note: During COVID-19, please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government health advice. Events may be subject to change.
Fall in San Francisco: August to October
Sunny days and street fairs
Unlike the foggy chill that accompanies the early summer months – and sometimes takes visitors by surprise – the late summer and early fall are some of San Francisco's best months to get outside and stretch your legs on the city's famously hilly streets and natural areas.
August, September and October are best for warm weather, street fairs and enjoying California's farm-fresh cuisine at its peak. If you're hoping to practice your photography and get fog-free shots from promontories like Corona Heights Park, Coit Tower, or looking back at the skyline from Alcatraz, this is the time of year to shoot your shot.
Winter to spring: November to June
Best time to get outdoors and explore
Avoid the summer crowds and take advantage of the way San Francisco's weather refuses to synch with the traditional ebb and flow of travel season. You'll find paradoxically balmy temperatures throughout late fall and spring time, though winter itself is still chilly.
As always, pack plenty of layers – while microclimates add magic realism to San Francisco, they can flummox visitors. When it's drizzling in the outer reaches of Golden Gate Park, it might be sunny in the Mission. A difference of a few degrees between neighborhoods grants permission for salted-caramel ice cream in Dolores Park, or a hasty retreat to tropical heat inside the California Academy of Sciences' rainforest dome. This town will give you goosebumps one minute, and warm you to the core the next.
Summer in San Francisco: June to July
Lower temps and higher occupancy rates
Grab your coat and a handful of glitter, and enter a wonderland of fog and fabulousness. So long, inhibitions; hello, San Francisco! Summer may see the greatest number of visitors to San Francisco (and higher hotel rates as a result), but it when the weather is the dodgiest.
But this is also the season when the city is in some ways most itself, with epic Pride celebrations that rock The Castro, the Haight Ashbury Street Fair, and plenty of visits from Carl the Fog. Summer is the perfect time to take advantage of San Francisco's famously fantastic food scene, its independent bookstores, its charming bars – and a still-packed schedule of can't miss events indoors and out.
Lion dancing, freakishly warm days and alt-rock shows provide brilliant breaks in the February drizzle. Discover your new favorite indie band and catch rockumentary premieres and rockin' pop-up events during the Noise Pop festival, or chase the 200ft dragon, during Lunar New Year celebrations.
Key events: Noise Pop, Lunar New Year Parade
Reasonable room rates and weekends crammed with cultural events will put some spring in your step in San Francisco. Spend Easter with The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a non-religious order of queer and trans nuns who have been blending camp and community service since 1979. They host an epic event in Golden Gate Park each year that blends Easter bonnets and rock-n-roll messiahs.
Key events: Hunky Jesus Contest, Cherry Blossom Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, Art Market SF
As inland California warms up, fog settles over the Bay Area – but goosebumps haven't stopped the naked joggers and conga lines yet. Join the joggers dressed as salmon (or sporting their birthday suits) to run upstream from Embarcadero to Ocean Beach for Bay to Breakers. Or shake your tail feathers in the Mission and conga through the inevitable fog during Carnaval.
Key events: Bay to Breakers, Carnaval
Since 1970 SF Pride has grown into a month-long extravaganza, with movie premieres and street parties culminating in the million-strong Pride Parade. But that's not all July has in store, with the Street Fair in the Haight on deck – originally pioneered by Harvey Milk – as well as parades of Dykes on Bikes, and the improvisational grooves spilling out of the SF Jazz Festival.
Key events: Pride Parade, Haight Ashbury Street Fair, Frameline LGBTQ Film Festival, Pride Parade, Dyke March & Pink Party, SF Jazz Festival
Wintry summer days make bundling up advisable, but don't miss July barbecues and outdoor events, including charity hikes through Golden Gate Park, free concerts under the redwoods in Stern Grove each Sunday, and fireworks at Fisherman's Wharf.
Key events: Independence Day, AIDS Walk, Stern Grove Festival
Finally, the San Francisco fog rolls back and permits sunset views from Ocean Beach, just in time for one last glorious summer fling in Golden Gate Park and a harvest feast at Fort Mason.
Key events: Outside Lands, Eat Drink SF
Warm weather arrives at last and SF celebrates with more outrageous antics than usual, including public spankings and Shakespearean declarations of love. Take to the streets for San Francisco's sunniest months – just don't be surprised if you run into leather-clad bondage enthusiasts on Folsom Street between 7th and 11th drinking beer and dishing out “punishments" for charity.
Key events: Folsom Street Fair, SF Shakespeare Festival, Green Film Festival
Expect golden sunshine – this is San Francisco's true summer – and free events for fans of music and literature. The legendary Lit Crawl is full of stranger-than-fiction events that bring the writers community together. Meanwhile, Golden Gate Park is full of the strains of free bluegrass and roots music.
Key events: Litquake, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Party to wake the dead and save the planet as San Francisco celebrates its Mexican history and perennial craftiness. Zombie brides and Aztec dancers in feather regalia in the Mission District for Día de los Muertos, while the West Coast Craft fest features 100-plus indie makers just in time for the holidays.
Key events: Día de los Muertos, West Coast Craft
December days may be overcast, but nights sparkle with holiday lights and events citywide. San Francisco's melting pot cultures come together for a unique holiday celebration – Kung Pao Kosher is a Jewish comedy marathon held in a Chinese restaurant at Christmas. Of course, you can always roll your own festivities like a local by hitting up one of the city's many delicious dim sum restaurants.
Key events: Kung Pao Kosher
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