Things To Do in San Francisco in the Winter
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.
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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!
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 that 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.
How about you? What would you add?
See my entire collection of San Francisco posts 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!
i would love to visit san fran! thanks for the help!
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?
@Tamara, I definitely think some tours are better than others for kids. I will email you!
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… 😉
@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!
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!
@Colleen, Haight is a blast lots of great restaurants moving in and out of there!
Great ideas! I would love to visit San Fran again. Such an awesome city!
@Lee Anne, thanks and I hope you do come visit!
Love love love this post. I need to try those gourmet walking tours!!!!
@Becky, you do, they are a blast!
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! 🙂
@Heather, glad you enjoyed it and I agree, there is always something to do here!
San Francisco looks absolutely beautiful. I have always wanted to visit. Hoping one day!
@Jeanine, crossing fingers for you!
This is seriously proof that i need to visit the west coast asap!
@Erin, you do! You do!
I love dim sum! I’ll have to check out your suggestion when my hubby and I go to SF this summer!
@Shannon, please do, we have great dimsum here! Do you have dimsum where you live?
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
@Vicky, so glad you liked it! What has been one of your favorite things you’ve done in SF?
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.
@Lix, I hear ya, I have a friend who doesn’t like any chocolate, she drinks tea when I drink hot chocolate!
What a great list of things to do. I want to have that hot chocolate. Yum!
@Karissa, hot chocolate in San Francisco is outrageously good, I want to do a whole other post just on that topic!
I love san fran. By far one of my favorite cities. Thanks for sharing.
@Sarah, ah the person responsible for my birthday cake 🙂 What has been one of your favorite experiences?
I am OBSESSED with San Francisco! I can’t believe I’m so lucky to live here! Every day I am just SO excited!
@Kelly, SF is amazing. I do a series with SF peeps called San Francisco Profiles. I would love to interview for it!
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.
@Beth you should, I am sure you would enjoy it!
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.
@Jenna, we are so lucky that the weather lets us do these types of things in the middle of winter!
Thank you for this. A great reference on my next trip to San Francisco.
@Elaine, so glad to hear!
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.
@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!
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!
@Esther, there is NO way to make a dent, you just have to give up and give in 🙂
I’d love to visit SF once in life. My must-go is VIEW SPOT from Top of Mount Tam via Fire Access Road.
@Mai, that is a GREAT choice – Mt. Tam is amazing!
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!
@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!
I’d love to go to San Fran! The picture in this post reminded me of Full House. 🙂
@Julia, that show certainly made certain area of the city recognizable – like Alamo Square where the pink ladies are.
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
@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!
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
@Vicky, I am so glad that you find it to be a good resource! San Francisco has so MUCH to offer!
Thanks for sharing! Hoping to visit this Fall with family!
@Kristine, another excellent time to visit! You will have a great time!
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!
@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.
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!!
@Deborah, so glad you found it beneficial!
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!
@Ashley, San Francisco is pretty great in the winter – the crab, the oysters, the mushrooms, oh yes!
Wow. One more reason I need to get my butt out to San Fran! And the sooner the better!
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!!!
@Maria, I think parts of it are very much like Lisbon. Which part of Portugal are you from? My grandparents immigrated from the Azores.
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.
@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!
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
@Angelic, I hope you do! It is hard to tear yourself from LA, but worth it. What part of LA?
Aw, I grew up right outside the city…..this makes me miss it SO much!
@Carly, what did you like most about living close to San Francisco?
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!
@Liv, you will definitely have NO problem eating your way through the city!
The museums sound like a good place to visit,I love museums.
@Barbara, they are! San Francisco has so many great museums for any time of the year.
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!
That Hot Chocolate looks amazing! I love my hot chocolate like most people love their coffee!
Heard about this busy place, never been there though.