10 Things to Do in San Francisco in Winter

Do you want to spend the winter in one of the most famous cities in the world? San Francisco is ideal to visit in that season of the year because it allows you to see all its attractions at your leisure.

Carmen Navarro

Carmen Navarro

14 min read

10 Things to Do in San Francisco in Winter

Yosemite, San Francisco. | ©denysmyakota

Throughout the winter you will find many different things to see and do in San Francisco. Although these are the coldest and wettest months, the city offers a huge variety of activities for the whole family. In addition to the great views, you can walk around and experience the city and its surroundings in a variety of ways.

San Francisco offers a variety of contrasts when it comes to sightseeing. You'll find fun amusement park plans, tours and an intriguing visit to what was once the world's most famous prison. Surely many of the sites you see in this city you remember from a movie. It is not for nothing that the city is located very close to Hollywood. In winter, these landscapes become even sharper, do you dare to visit them?

1. Discover the gray whales in the Bay Area

San Francisco Bay Area| ©Valery Pokotylo
San Francisco Bay Area| ©Valery Pokotylo

Winter is an ideal season to see the gray whales, better known as California whales, during their southern migration, and this occurs in late December and January. At that time the Bay Area is not cloudy as it usually is in the warmer months. To find these marine animals I recommend you to look for an intermediate point between Chimney Rock and the Lighthouse at Point Reyes.

To get to these points you have two options:

  • One is to walk along the cliffs. If you choose this option, I advise you to bring a warm coat and sturdy, slip-resistant shoes.
  • The second and better option is to take a boat in Bodega Bay, located 60 km northwest of San Francisco, in Sausalito, in front of the San Francisco Peninsula or San Francisco Bay. These boats make a trip to the Gran Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

Practical information

  • Location: in San Francisco Bay or in Bodega and Sausalito Bays. They can also be seen in the Farallon Islands.

  • When to go: late December or January.

  • Price: the cost of the boat ride is around 40 € or less.

  • Hours: during the day.

Book a San Francisco Bay cruise

2. Take a two-day trip to Yosemite National Park from San Francisco

Yosemite in winter| ©shacker
Yosemite in winter| ©shacker

One of the things you can do in San Francisco in three days is a trip to Yosemite National Park. These trips are usually done in winter to appreciate the beautiful blanket of snow that covers the mountains.

Another activity that tourists love is ice skating near the base of Half Dome. You will also have time to appreciate the scenery of the snow-capped mountains. In the evening, you will head to a hotel in Yosemite Valley Lodge, where you will already have your reservation. These are heated cabins with tents.

The next day you can continue to enjoy nature. I recommend you stop by Bridalveil Falls and take a look at the Tunnel View overlook. At the site you will find several places to enjoy good food. If you are one of those who love to know new flavors, I recommend you to take a gastronomic tour in San Francisco.

Practical Information

  • Location: Yosemite National Park.

  • When to go: any time of the winter, preferably when the snow falls.

  • Price: around 580 €.

  • Schedule: the tour lasts 2 days.

Book a tour to Yosemite from San Francisco

3. Visit Lake Tahoe and finish off the day with dinner at the Hard Rock Café

Lake Tahoe in winter| ©Vladimer Shioshvil
Lake Tahoe in winter| ©Vladimer Shioshvil

To visit Lake Tahoe you can take a tour from San Francisco. This trip can last between 1 and 3 days, depending on the package you choose. The tour has an approximate price of 70 €.

Upon arrival you will be able to get close to Lake Tahoe for skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling and snowshoeing. This activity is available from November through early April when snow is most abundant.

Other activities include evening entertainment at local venues in the area. You can visit the Hard Rock Café, Harvey's, Harrah's, among others. You can also enjoy Heavenly Mountain, the South Lake Tahoe resort. Activities at the resort are not usually included in the tour.

Practical Info

  • Location: Lake Tahoe

  • When to go: November through early April.

  • Price: about 70 €.

  • Schedule: The tour lasts between 1 and 3 days.

Reserve your dinner at the Hard Rock Café

4. Visit the Chronicle Wine Competition

Chronicle Wine Competition| ©Guillaume Paumier
Chronicle Wine Competition| ©Guillaume Paumier

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is the largest wine tasting competition in the world. This event is conducted by professional wine tasting judges who taste and score each of the wines submitted. Afterwards, the public wine tasting begins in which you can participate.

To complete this experience, I recommend you to learn more about the best wine tastings in San Francisco or take a wine tour, such as booking a wine tour to Muir Woods from San Francisco. In addition to wine, you will be able to taste food that you can buy on site. These dishes feature meats, artisanal cheeses and exotic oils. You will also find different types of desserts and sauces.

The event called Public Tasting is the one that involves the general public and is usually held at the Fort Mason Center in February. Information for the price of admission, as well as the schedule should be consulted on their website.

Practical Information

  • Location: Fort Mason Center

  • When to go: usually on a Saturday in mid-February.

  • Price: between 75 and 100 euros.

  • Hours: usually between 1:30 pm and 5:00 pm.

Book a wine tour to Napa and Sonoma from San Francisco

5. Get to know Universal Studios Hollywood in the New Year

Universal Studios Hollywood entrance| ©Josh McConnell
Universal Studios Hollywood entrance| ©Josh McConnell

If you want to welcome the New Year in a fun and unforgettable way, I recommend you to visit one of the most emblematic places in the area and buy your tickets to Universal Studios Hollywood, located in Los Angeles. There are about 1000 km separating these two cities so you will have to consider how to make the trip:

  • By private or rented car: you can do it by the Pacific Coast Highway, the coastal road and travel it in about 2 days quietly to enjoy the trip. And if you want to do it without stops you will have about 6 hours of driving on the I-5 highway.
  • By bus: it will be about 8 hours approximately...
  • By plane: the trip takes about 2 hours and the price starts at 89€.

This is a family party that starts at approximately 9:00 pm and lasts until 2:00 am. During this time you can enjoy live music and a variety of food and drinks. You can choose between cocktails, champagne or beer. There are several options available for purchase.

Practical Info

  • Location: Universal Studios Hollywood, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, Los Angeles.

  • When to go: You can go at any time of the year, but in December you can appreciate the Christmas decorations and welcome the new year during their party.

  • Price: around 150 €.

  • Hours: the party starts at 9:00 pm and ends at 2:00 am.

Buy your tickets for Universal Studios Hollywood

6. Visit the Walt Disney Museum

Walt Disney Museum| ©HarshLight
Walt Disney Museum| ©HarshLight

If you are traveling with children it will be a perfect plan to do as a family, and if the trip is only for adults you will surely enjoy becoming children for a few hours. Book tickets for the Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco is a very good option for the winter months as you will be sheltered from the cold while you remember your earliest childhood.

You will discover the life and work of the creator of films like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and access to unpublished material such as sketches, drawings, filming... It also has a permanent exhibition of the film "The Jungle Book" and Walt Disney himself telling his own story in a series of recordings. A perfect plan for a day full of magic!

Practical Info

  • Location: 104 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94129, USA.

  • When to go: You can go any time of the year.

  • Price: around 25 €.

  • Hours: from 10 am to 5:30 pm.

Buy your tickets for the Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco

7. Get to know San Francisco on a tourist bus

Tourist Bus| ©Strange de Jim
Tourist Bus| ©Strange de Jim

To better withstand the low temperatures of the city while sightseeing without missing absolutely nothing, how about buying tickets for the San Francisco Big Bus tour bus?

This bus runs through the most touristic places of the city with free stops, that is, you can get on and off at the stops you want and explore the neighborhoods that interest you most: Chinatown, Haight Ashbury, the Financial District area. In addition, this bus has two floors and the top floor is uncovered, so if it is a sunny day you can take advantage to see San Francisco from the top floor or if the weather is bad, you can take shelter on the first floor.

Practical information

  • Location: 99 Jefferson Street

  • When to go: you can take it at any time of the year.

  • Price: around 54 €.

Buy tickets for the San Francisco Big Bus tour bus

8. Get to know all the cinematic history of the city

Painted Ladies Houses| ©Nektarios Karefyllakis
Painted Ladies Houses| ©Nektarios Karefyllakis

If you decide to book a movie tour of San Francisco you won't regret it for several reasons:

  • You will experience about 2 hours of interactive and family friendly excursion.
  • You will tour the city through film shooting locations
  • You will recognize the sets of more than 55 famous movies and TV series.
  • During the tour you will be accompanied by an actor-turned-guide who will tell you all the details.

It is a perfect tour to do with the family and the best of all is that at the same time you will also get to know emblematic places of the city such as Union Square, Lombard Street, the Italian heritage neighborhood North Beach or Nob Hill, the most elegant area of San Francisco.

Practical Info

  • Location: 43 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94105, USA.

  • When to go: You can take it any time of the year.

  • Price: around 65 €.

Book the San Francisco movie tour

9. Go see an NBA game

NBA Game| ©Jeramey Jannene
NBA Game| ©Jeramey Jannene

What better plan while in the United States than going to see an NBA game? You can take advantage of your stay in San Francisco and buy tickets to the NBA game. Golden State Warriors

Experience firsthand the atmosphere of one of the best basketball games in the world and meet the stars of basketball in the flesh, you will love the experience!

Practical Info

  • Location: Chase Center, San Francisco

  • When to go: league months, between October and June

  • Price: from €130

Book NBA tickets

10. Take a tour of Chinatown and celebrate the Chinese New Year

Cold day in Chinatown, San Francisco| ©JIM Mourgos
Cold day in Chinatown, San Francisco| ©JIM Mourgos

Visiting California's Chinatown during January or February is a good opportunity to see the Chinese New Year celebration. Each year the celebration changes its date, but it always takes place during these winter months. During this celebration, you will see the iconic parade featuring spectacular floats, dancers, Chinese acrobats, marching bands and the famous Golden Dragon.

Another activity you can participate in is the Flower Show held the weekend before the New Year. There you will see beautiful traditional Chinese flowers and plants that families buy as part of their decorations or as gifts to give to friends and family.

You can also go to the Street Fair held the week of the New Year, which features traditional art and performances. The Chinese New Year's Race, the Miss Chinatown USA Pageant and the Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt are other celebrations during this time. Whichever time you go, there will be something to enjoy.

Practical Info

  • Location: California's Chinatown

  • When to go: Winter months.

  • Price: free.

11. Don't miss the Winter Festival at California's Great America Park

California's Great America| ©Eric E Castro
California's Great America| ©Eric E Castro

One of the best ways to celebrate Christmas in San Francisco is to attend the Winter Festival at California's Great America Park. The general pass has an average cost of 100 ¤.

You can ice skate in front of the Columbia Carousel and enjoy the iconic views of this site. In this park you can also enjoy a delicious homemade hot chocolate while watching live winter shows.

In addition, you can choose from 60 Christmas attractions that I know you'll love. Many of them are perfect to include among the things you can do with kids in San Francisco. These include writing letters to the North Pole, visiting Santa's workshop and baking cookies in Mrs. Claus' kitchen.

Practical Info

  • Location: 4701 Great America Pkwy, Santa Clara, CA 95054 (suburb of San Francisco)

  • When to go: In December, especially at the end of the month.

  • Price: the general pass has an average cost of 100 €.

  • Hours: 10:00 am to 8:00 pm.

12. Go to the Noise Pop Festival

Noise Pop Festival| ©Peter Alfred Hess
Noise Pop Festival| ©Peter Alfred Hess

The Noise Pop Festival is a celebration of music that takes place every year at the end of February in San Francisco. If you like to enjoy all kinds of music, this is the event to attend. You will hear jazz bands, electronic music, rock n' roll and much more.

This week-long festival features more than 160 bands. You will always find an activity that suits your tastes as it has more than 80 events in more than 25 venues. To find out the price of each event and the place where it will be held, you need to consult the official website.

In addition to concerts, you can enjoy art exhibitions of all kinds. Also, if you are attracted to foreign cinema, you can see some screenings of independent films. You will also find talks on artistic trends, parties and much more. In general, the festival is a tribute and celebration of independent art.

Practical Info

  • Location: Noise Pop Industries. 849 Valencia St. San Francisco, CA, is the home base of the company that organizes the festival, but each event has a different location.

  • When to go: late February.

  • Price: each event has a different price. However, it is possible to purchase a general admission ticket to all events which has an average cost of 400 €.

  • Schedule: each event has a specific schedule

13. Celebrate Beer Week

Beer in San Francisco| ©Eugene Kim
Beer in San Francisco| ©Eugene Kim

Do you like beer? If the answer is yes, you can't miss San Francisco Beer Week. It is a celebration that takes place the first or second week of February.

During this week, San Francisco breweries hold educational and promotional events, so the festival does not have a specific schedule or special location. All activities are held in different locations and diners must pay for what they consume. People are usually only gathered during the opening and closing ceremonies.

To find out where each one takes place, I invite you to check their website when you already have your travel dates.

Traveller Tip
Don't forget that your health comes first, so don't drink too much if you are unaccompanied or you have to drive to your hotel. It is best not to overdo it with alcohol.

14. Go ice skating

Ice Skating| ©Jim Smith
Ice Skating| ©Jim Smith

San Francisco has several ice skating rinks that are only open during the winter. Their facilities are out doors and allow you to breathe in the fresh air while you skate. You can choose between the different facilities at the Holidays Ice Rink, located at Embarcadero Center or Union Square.

The first rink is the largest in the Bay Area. You can visit from the first week of November through the first week of January. It is located in Justin Herman Plaza, across from the San Francisco Ferry Building. Tickets cost approximately €10 and skate rentals average €5.

The other skating center is located in Union Square. The most attractive thing about this rink is that you can see the festive decorations in the surrounding area. In addition, you can stroll through the stores on the site and admire the huge Macy's Christmas tree. Ticket prices are similar to the rink installation at Justin Herman Plaza.

Practical Information

  • Location: Justin Herman Plaza and Union Square.

  • When to go: from November.

  • Price: about €10.

  • Hours: during the day or at night until 9 pm.

What is the weather like in San Francisco during the winter?

San Francisco after a rainy day| ©Eric Sonstroem
San Francisco after a rainy day| ©Eric Sonstroem

Winter in San Francisco is not too cold, but it is usually rainy and a bit cloudy. This is why December is not considered high season in the city because it is constantly raining, and it is also cold and a bit dark. Despite this, you won't freeze because it almost never snows.

If December is a rainy month, January is even more so. It is also known for being the coldest month of the year. However, this weather helps whales to appear in the surrounding waters. So it might be a good plan to take a boat around San Francisco to see these amazing animals.

February, on the other hand, is the wettest month of the year, plus it is still a cold month. Therefore, there are not too many visitors during this month. If this type of weather does not bother you, then you will be able to stroll around all the attractions.

Although many do not like the weather during these months, in February it is possible to appreciate the mustard flowers that appear in the vineyards.

Besides admiring the beauty of nature, I invite you to enjoy a hot drink and a cold but beautiful vacation. Be sure to enjoy the view of the snow-capped mountains and explore the city.

What to pack for a winter visit to San Francisco

Mountains in San Francisco in winter| ©Bosque Nacional
Mountains in San Francisco in winter| ©Bosque Nacional

Don't worry about bringing heavy coats to San Francisco, just a raincoat or a comfortable sweater that can keep you warm. As I mentioned before, this season of the year is rather cold and wet, as well as rainy. That is why I advise you to bring with you, in addition to the clothes I mentioned before, an umbrella.

If you are planning to practice any snow sport, do not forget to bring your equipment. Some places will provide you with the necessary elements to practice the sport, but if you want to practice it outdoors, it is best to go prepared.

Although I mentioned before only a few warm clothes, keep in mind that this would only be if you walk in San Francisco. There are other plans that include excursions to the colder areas near this city. In case you are thinking of going there, you'd better bring more warm clothes and special clothing.