San Francisco is a popular tourist destination known for its iconic landmarks, beautiful scenery, and temperate climate. However, as with any major city, there are certain times of year when visiting San Francisco may be less enjoyable. Here is an overview of the worst times to visit San Francisco and tips to avoid the crowds and hassles if you are planning a trip.
Summer is considered the peak tourism season in San Francisco. June through August brings warmer weather and long sunny days that appeal to travelers. However, this is a double-edged sword:
- Crowds – Popular attractions like Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, and cable cars are mobbed with tourists during summer. Expect long lines and packed public transportation.
- Hotel rates and airfare – Prices on hotel rooms and flights soar during summer. Book well in advance for the best deals.
- Fog – San Francisco is famous for its microclimates. The cold ocean fog typically rolls in during summer in the late afternoon, especially by the Golden Gate Bridge.
If you visit in summer, focus your activities on mornings and indoor attractions to avoid the heaviest crowds. Head to overlooks like Twin Peaks in the early morning to catch views before fog sets in.
Holiday weekends bring a huge influx of visitors to San Francisco. Hotel prices spike and popular tourist sites get extremely crowded. Avoid visiting during:
- 4th of July week – Fireworks over the Bay and Independence Day celebrations mean crowded parks and jam-packed public transit.
- Labor Day weekend – The last long weekend of summer draws vacationers. Getting reservations at top restaurants can be difficult.
- Thanksgiving weekend – Bay Area locals and out-of-town visitors flock to the city to see the trees lit up for the holidays. Expect traffic and crowded attractions.
If you do visit over a holiday, have reservations made well in advance and plan to visit lesser-known neighborhoods and sites to avoid hordes of tourists.
September & October
September and October mark the transition from summer to fall. The weather is temperamental, with cold fog interspersed with warm sunny days. Many locals say this is the worst stretch of weather in San Francisco:
- Layering required – Unpredictable weather means packing and dressing in layers. Foggy mornings give way to warm afternoons.
- Tourist attractions quiet down – Kids are back in school so attractions like the Exploratorium and California Academy of Sciences are less crowded. However, hotels don’t offer off-season discounts yet.
- Increased rain likely – September is the second wettest month of the year in San Francisco. Always carry an umbrella or rain jacket.
The fall shoulder season has its advantages and disadvantages. You’ll encounter fewer crowds, but weather can put a damper on plans. Come prepared for changes in weather if visiting in early fall.
December & January
While December and January bring the glow of the holidays to San Francisco, winter weather begins to set in:
- Chilly temperatures – Average highs in the 50s means layers are a must. Lows in the 40s or 30s feel downright cold given San Francisco’s humidity.
- Increased rain – The rainy season ramps up, with December being the city’s wettest month. Heavy rainfall can snarl traffic and lead to flooding.
- Fewer daylight hours – The winter solstice brings under 10 hours of daylight. Sunset is around 5pm, so many attractions start to close early.
If you don’t mind bundling up, winter offers holiday ambiance, thinner crowds, and hotel rates that haven’t yet spiked for the summer season. Just come prepared with warm layers and an umbrella!
Tips for Visiting During Less Ideal Times
If your schedule requires visiting San Francisco during one of these worst times, keep these tips in mind:
- Book hotels well in advance – Room rates will be at their peak during busy tourist seasons and holidays.
- Plan activities for early or off-peak hours – Get to top attractions right when they open to beat crowds.
- Have backup plans – Be flexible in case weather affects your plans. Check indoor activities like museums or shows.
- Pack layers – San Francisco can experience 4 seasons in a day, so dress in layers. Always keep a jacket and umbrella handy.
- Avoid renting a car if possible – Traffic and limited parking make public transit or taxis better options.
- Focus on lesser-known neighborhoods – Escape hordes of tourists by exploring areas like the Sunset District, Richmond, and Dogpatch.
Frequently Asked Questions
The rainiest months in San Francisco are December, January, and February when the city averages 4-5 inches of rain per month. November and March are the second rainiest. September also sees increased rainfall. Come prepared with rain gear if visiting during the winter rainy season.
The best hotel deals are available from mid-November through February, excluding holidays. Summer has the highest average hotel rates. Moderate deals can be found in spring and fall shoulder seasons.
December and January are typically the coldest months in San Francisco. Average highs are in the mid 50s and average lows are in the low to mid 40s. The coldest temperature on record is 27°F set in 1932.
San Francisco’s famed summer fog is caused by high-pressure systems that bring cold water offshore air currents sweeping through the Golden Gatestraight into the city. Fog typically appears in the late afternoon and lasts into the evening.
On rainy or foggy days in San Francisco, opt for indoor activities like visiting the SFMOMA, Exploratorium, Asian Art Museum or the Musée Mécanique. Take in a show at a theater or comedy club, or browse the Ferry Building marketplace.
Ideally, book San Francisco hotels 2-3 months in advance for summer visits, and 1-2 months in advance for other peak holiday times. For off-season stays, 1 month in advance may suffice for deals. Book as early as possible for the best rates and availability.