San Francisco is extremely lucky to have very temperate weather. That affords 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 at any time of the year, but winter does offer some unique opportunities!
San Francisco Bay Cruises
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.
We have 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!
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.]
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!
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 fewer 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!
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 dugout, and more! This is a must-do for any baseball fan! During the off-season, tickets for public tours aren’t as always to sell out, in fact, it is the best time to try.
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).
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?
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 is 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.
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!
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 the first part of March. There are elaborate floats, crazy costumes, lions, dragons, firecrackers, you name it!
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:
- Dimsum is a great winter meal, here is my San Francisco Bay Area Dimsum Guide.
- Visiting the Sunset District, here’s my guide.
- Visiting the Mission District, here’s my guide.
- Visiting Nob Hill, here’s my guide.
- Visiting the Financial District, here’s my guide.
- Visiting the Richmond District, here’s my guide.
- Visiting Lower Haight, here’s my guide.
- Visiting SoMa, here’s my guide.
- Visiting the Marina, here’s my guide.
- Visiting North Beach, here’s my guide.
- Visiting Hayes Valley, here’s my guide.
- Here are my San Francisco restaurant posts.
- AFAR San Francisco Wanderlists:
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!