Things To Do in San Francisco in the Winter

Things-to-Do-in-San-Francisco-WINTER

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San Francisco is extremely lucky to have very temperate weather. That affords a certain freedom when it comes to being outside all year round. Most of the things to do in San Francisco in the winter can be done any time of the year, but winter does offer some unique opportunities!

San Francisco Bay Cruises

Things To Do in San Francisco in the Winter - Alcatraz Cruise
Photo credit: Manohar Dasari

I think one of the most important things to mention is that there just aren’t as many tourists, so lots of the places that locals and tourists like to visit are less crowded in the winter. Catching a boat to Alcatraz and general sightseeing cruises on the bay run year round, but the crazy lines that you find most of the year are far shorter in the winter.

Museums

We having amazing museums in San Francisco, but when the wind chill drops they are the perfect way to spend an afternoon or an entire day! Getting into the California Academy of Sciences or the Exploratorium, can be seriously depressing during good weather, but are thankfully less crowded in the winter – these are must stops, two great museums!

Things To Do in San Francisco in the Winter Exploratorium
Photo credit: Sonny Abesamis

For the classics we’ve got the de Young Museum, the Legion of Honor and SFMOMA. All world-class museums that will knock your socks off. [TIP: If you buy a San Francisco City Pass bundle, the admission to some of these museums plus others like the Aquarium of the Bay (on Pier 39) are one low price and it even includes a seven-day Cable Car and Muni pass, check their site for more info.]

walt-disney-takes-family-members-for-a-ride-on-the-carolwood-pacific-c-1950-photograph-collection-of-the-walt-disney-family-foundation-1999-3-1686

Starting mid-November, there is a special seasonal installation at The Walt Disney Family Museum called, Home for the Holidays at Carolwood. Walt’s family had a particular love for trains and this new temporary exhibit will be fabulous!

Walking Tours
If you don’t mind the chill and are properly dressed in layers, there is nothing better than a walking tour. While the tour capacities are generally the same all-year round, what is different during the winter is that there are less locals crowding the scene than when the weather is nice and everyone is outside. Check out tours in the Mission District from Edible Excursions, they have some of the best tours in the city, as well as Gourmet Walks, who have a great chocolate tour!

Things To Do in San Francisco in the Winter Walking Tour
Photo credit: SPUR

I also like the Wok Wiz Chinatown tours (I had a great time on the one I did!).

For a tour that is held partially indoors, our World Series Giants AT& T Park is open for behind the scenes tours where you can stand on the field, sit in the dug out, and more! This is a must do for any baseball fan! During off season, tickets for public tours aren’t as always to sell out, in fact it is the best time to try.

Shopping

shopping

Of course we have great shopping in San Francisco! I have mentioned Westfield Centre many times over the last six months, but besides the restaurants, they have one of the largest selection of brands, stores, and clothing items in town. It is a beautiful mall and you can get lost for hours shopping, eating, or even seeing a movie!

For more boutique shopping there is Chestnut Street, Hayes Valley, the Haight and the Mission (see some of my guides below).

Cooking classes

hings To Do in San Francisco in the Winter Cooking Class
Photo credit WikiImages

San Francisco is chock full of cooking, wine and cheese tasting classes. If it is super cold outside, this is my choice! There are so many out there, but three I like are the San Francisco Cooking School, Tante Marie’s with the amazing Mary Risley and the Cheese School of San Francisco.

Food and Drink
As I already mentioned in my San Francisco for the Holidays post, one of the best things about winter is Dungeness crab! The season is from November through March and you should not miss an opportunity to eat it as often as possible!

I have also written about where to go for coffee in San Francisco, we have an amazing coffee scene and what could be better on a cold day than hanging out at a local coffee shop?

Things To Do in San Francisco in the Winter Hot Chocolate
Photo credit: Christopher Cornelius

Well, there might be one thing….hot chocolate! The chocolate makers in this town could make a girl increase her waist-size on a constant basis! I suggest moderation in trying out these must-try hot chocolate spots:

  • Recchiuti Confections also known as the Chocolate Lab in the Ferry Building
  • Caffé Pascussi n South Beach
  • Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates in Hayes Valley
  • Dandelion Chocolate in the Mission District

In addition, San Francisco Restaurant Week takes place during the second half of January. There are an insane amount of restaurants that participate, ten days in not enough! You can choose from a $25 two-course lunch, a $40 three-course dinner,  an $85 tasting menu. Oh the choices! It is a great way to explore San Francisco restaurants without breaking the bank.

Beer

I know beer seems like it belongs squarely in the summer, but in San Francisco we take beer seriously in the WINTER (hence its own category). In January there is the Bay Area Brew Fest, a one-day event which offers unlimited international and domestic beers for just $40. In addition there are always several food trucks on hand. San Francisco food trucks rock!

Things To Do in San Francisco in the Winter Beer

For more serious beer drinkers there is Beer Week which takes place in February. If you are a beer lover, this is the week to be in San Francisco! There are over 100 beer related events!

We close the beer festivities with the one-day SF Craft Beer Festival which takes place in March. There are 75 breweries and 150 beers. This event focuses on limited release and seasonal beers and offers unlimited tastings!

Chinese New Year Parade
Lastly, the annual Chinese New Year parade is the biggest parade in San Francisco (except when the Giants win the World Series!) and it takes place at the end of February or first part of March. There are elaborate floats, crazy costumes, lions, dragons, firecrackers, you name it!

More Resources

If you are visiting San Francisco in the winter, I think I’ve provided you plenty to do, see, drink and eat, but just in case you need more, here are a few more posts that will help you out:

San Francisco Best [Hotel] Beds > San Francisco Bites > San Francisco Sips > I left my heart in San Francisco > Shopping in San Francisco > San Francisco Treats > Best of San Francisco’s Bakeries > San Francisco’s Coffee Culture

How about you? What would you add?

See my entire collection of San Francisco post in my San Francisco Guide. Also you can save 42% off admission to the best San Francisco attractions with a San Francisco CityPASS. PLUS, skip most tickets lines!

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74 Comments

  1. molly c
    January 8, 2015

    i would love to visit san fran! thanks for the help!

    Reply
  2. Tamara @ We3Travel
    January 8, 2015

    Great suggestions! I’m pinning this because my daughter and I will be spending 2 days exploring San Francisco in March while my husband is speaking at a conference. I’ve been many times but it will be her first trip and it is a city I’ve always wanted to share with her. How do you think a foodie 10 year old would do on one of the food tours, especially the Chinatown one?

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Tamara, I definitely think some tours are better than others for kids. I will email you!

      Reply
  3. Colleen Brynn
    January 8, 2015

    Winter travel is actually really underrated, I think. From less tourists and lower prices to Christmas markets(!) what’s not to love! SF is a very special place… I loved Haight Street for shopping!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Colleen, Haight is a blast lots of great restaurants moving in and out of there!

      Reply
  4. Heather / girlichef
    January 8, 2015

    Dungeness crab…coffee…beer…doesn’t sound bad at all. 😉 These are all great options, and SF has been on my to-visit list for years – I hope to get there one day. It’s good to know that I can even get away from temps like -30 (w/ windchill) where I live during the winter… 😉

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Heather, absolutely we RARELY dip into the 30’s and that is usually the morning, the afternoon is usually 55 or higher. Will feel like a sauna to you!

      Reply
  5. Lee Anne
    January 8, 2015

    Great ideas! I would love to visit San Fran again. Such an awesome city!
    xoxo
    Lee Anne
    http://lifeinatx.com/

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Lee Anne, thanks and I hope you do come visit!

      Reply
  6. Becky
    January 8, 2015

    Love love love this post. I need to try those gourmet walking tours!!!!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Becky, you do, they are a blast!

      Reply
  7. Heather
    January 8, 2015

    What a fun list! I think there’s always something awesome to do in San Fran no matter what time of year you visit! I can’t wait to go back! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Heather, glad you enjoyed it and I agree, there is always something to do here!

      Reply
  8. Jeanine
    January 8, 2015

    San Francisco looks absolutely beautiful. I have always wanted to visit. Hoping one day!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Jeanine, crossing fingers for you!

      Reply
  9. Shannon Peterson
    January 8, 2015

    I love dim sum! I’ll have to check out your suggestion when my hubby and I go to SF this summer!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Shannon, please do, we have great dimsum here! Do you have dimsum where you live?

      Reply
  10. Erin
    January 8, 2015

    This is seriously proof that i need to visit the west coast asap!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Erin, you do! You do!

      Reply
  11. Vicky
    January 8, 2015

    Love this list! I have been to San Francisco numerous times over the years and love it!! I never tire from visiting it and always find new things to do. Next time I go, I’ll be sure to revisit this list to plan out my trip :). #NYNB

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Vicky, so glad you liked it! What has been one of your favorite things you’ve done in SF?

      Reply
  12. Lix
    January 8, 2015

    Well, now I want to go to San Francisco. And drink that hot chocolate! I don’t even like hot chocolate. I want to like it so damn much though.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Lix, I hear ya, I have a friend who doesn’t like any chocolate, she drinks tea when I drink hot chocolate!

      Reply
  13. karissa
    January 8, 2015

    What a great list of things to do. I want to have that hot chocolate. Yum!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Karissa, hot chocolate in San Francisco is outrageously good, I want to do a whole other post just on that topic!

      Reply
  14. Elaine
    January 8, 2015

    Thank you for this. A great reference on my next trip to San Francisco.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Elaine, so glad to hear!

      Reply
  15. Sarah Close
    January 8, 2015

    I love san fran. By far one of my favorite cities. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Sarah, ah the person responsible for my birthday cake 🙂 What has been one of your favorite experiences?

      Reply
  16. Kelly - A Side of Sweet
    January 8, 2015

    I am OBSESSED with San Francisco! I can’t believe I’m so lucky to live here! Every day I am just SO excited!
    xxo,
    Kelly
    http://asideofsweet.com

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Kelly, SF is amazing. I do a series with SF peeps called San Francisco Profiles (https://misadventureswithandi.com/tag/san-francisco-profiles) I would love to interview for it!

      Reply
  17. [email protected]
    January 8, 2015

    When I visited San Francisco, it was during the summer. But even if it was busier, I loved visiting the city. I would love to visit it during the winter time as well.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Beth you should, I am sure you would enjoy it!

      Reply
  18. Jenna
    January 8, 2015

    Funny, I just wrote a post (about a month ago) about what to do in San Francisco this winter! I love visiting SF in the winter because there are so many sunny days. We were just there for 5 days after Christmas and had a blast, but there are still many things for us to do there, like the bay cruises and walking tours.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Jenna, we are so lucky that the weather lets us do these types of things in the middle of winter!

      Reply
  19. jess meddows
    January 9, 2015

    We really need to come back to San Fran and visit in the Winter. When Shawn and I were in California for three months during the summer last year, we tried to book to see Alcatraz maybe 4-5 weeks after we arrived, and guess what? Completely booked for the entire summer! Dates only freed up after we’d gone back to Canada.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Jess, summer is crazy here! I work right by the Ferry Building and often head there for lunch – in the summer it is impossible to get in and out of there!

      Reply
  20. i would love to go on a gourmet food tour! i feel like there are way too many options for food.. and whenever i visit, i feel like i haven’t even made a dent!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Esther, there is NO way to make a dent, you just have to give up and give in 🙂

      Reply
  21. Mai T.
    January 9, 2015

    I’d love to visit SF once in life. My must-go is VIEW SPOT from Top of Mount Tam via Fire Access Road.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Mai, that is a GREAT choice – Mt. Tam is amazing!

      Reply
  22. Julia Rose
    January 9, 2015

    I’d love to go to San Fran! The picture in this post reminded me of Full House. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Julia, that show certainly made certain area of the city recognizable – like Alamo Square where the pink ladies are.

      Reply
  23. Brenda
    January 9, 2015

    I was just talking about this with my bf! I like taking the ferry to larkspur or Sausalito to Bar Bocce or another cute spot!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Brenda, the ferry is perfect if it is not too windy (and therefore rocky!) love Sausalito too and so much less crowded in the winter than summer!

      Reply
  24. Myrabev
    January 9, 2015

    It sounds like the place i need to be, the UK has some horrid weather but not as bad as some states parts for us its just too much rain. I wanna go shopping in san francisco one day

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Myrabev, I love the rain but I know it can be a bummer when you are trying to get somewhere, like work! Shopping in the city is incredible – although a bit on the expensive side sometimes!

      Reply
  25. Vicky
    January 9, 2015

    I’m saving this post for when we make it to San Francisco for a visit, it’s been on my must see list for a long time now and your descriptions of all of the many things you can do there really make me want to visit more

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 10, 2015

      @Vicky, I am so glad that you find it to be a good resource! San Francisco has so MUCH to offer!

      Reply
  26. kristine foley
    January 11, 2015

    Thanks for sharing! Hoping to visit this Fall with family!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 12, 2015

      @Kristine, another excellent time to visit! You will have a great time!

      Reply
  27. Kimberly
    January 11, 2015

    Thus far I’ve only been to San Francisco in the Summer and this is an excellent list for visiting during the cooler months. San Francisco really is a terrific “all seasons city.” Thanks for all the great ideas!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 12, 2015

      @Kimberly, it kind of takes on a whole different character in the winter. I hope you get a chance to see it in colder weather.

      Reply
  28. Deborah
    January 11, 2015

    I have a friend that moved just outside of San Francisco several months ago, and since I’ve never been there, I’ve been dying to go and spend some time with her. I’ll definitely be referencing this guide – there are some great ideas. And I definitely want to go in the winter now!!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 12, 2015

      @Deborah, so glad you found it beneficial!

      Reply
  29. Ashley | Spoonful of Flavor
    January 12, 2015

    Even the winter time in San Francisco is beautiful! Personally, I love to just eat my way around the city. I would love to try a cooking class too. Thanks for this list! I will definitely have to keep it in mind for my next visit!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 12, 2015

      @Ashley, San Francisco is pretty great in the winter – the crab, the oysters, the mushrooms, oh yes!

      Reply
  30. @Travelpanties
    January 12, 2015

    Wow. One more reason I need to get my butt out to San Fran! And the sooner the better!

    Reply
  31. Maria Sarmento
    January 16, 2015

    I am from Portugal and I have been to San Francisco once and I just have to stay that I fell in love with the city, just loved it!!!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      January 16, 2015

      @Maria, I think parts of it are very much like Lisbon. Which part of Portugal are you from? My grandparents immigrated from the Azores.

      Reply
  32. Jessica Doll
    February 11, 2015

    You definitely just reminded me that I still haven’t visited the new Exploratorium. I’ve been dying to take the kids there for awhile now.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      February 16, 2015

      @Jessica, it is such a fun spot for the kids! And Thursday nights are adult-only so maybe a date night for you and your hubby! They also do an evening once a year called the science of cocktails (adults only) which is really fun!

      Reply
  33. Carly
    February 11, 2015

    Aw, I grew up right outside the city…..this makes me miss it SO much!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      February 16, 2015

      @Carly, what did you like most about living close to San Francisco?

      Reply
  34. Angelic Sinova
    February 11, 2015

    I’ll be in LA this April and May and I’m REALLY trying to make a trip out to San Fran while in Cali! I know they’re like 6 or 7 hours apart but I really want to visit! I’d love to go on a walking tour and visit the museums <3

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      February 16, 2015

      @Angelic, I hope you do! It is hard to tear yourself from LA, but worth it. What part of LA?

      Reply
  35. Liv
    February 12, 2015

    This makes me miss SF soooo much!!! I’m thinking that I am going to plan a trip shortly!!! and eat till i’m senseless! great post!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      February 16, 2015

      @Liv, you will definitely have NO problem eating your way through the city!

      Reply
  36. barbara langley
    February 15, 2015

    The museums sound like a good place to visit,I love museums.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      February 16, 2015

      @Barbara, they are! San Francisco has so many great museums for any time of the year.

      Reply
  37. Natalie
    December 14, 2016

    Oooh, I want to go to San Francisco so badly! 🙂 I know my daughter would love the train exhibit at the Walt Disney museum, and I would happily eat my way around the city with your recommendations!

    Reply
  38. Mary
    January 17, 2017

    That Hot Chocolate looks amazing! I love my hot chocolate like most people love their coffee!

    Reply
  39. Calvin F.
    May 20, 2017

    Heard about this busy place, never been there though.

    Reply
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