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Best Time to Visit San Francisco - How Long to Stay

Step #2: Planning a San Francisco Vacation

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Find out when hotels are cheapest, when the city has the best weather, how much you can see.

Golden Gate Bridge in the Fog

©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.
San Francisco can be fun in any season and the best time to visit depends on your personal preferences.
  • Weather: Many people think San Francisco has sunny skies and warm weather 365 days a year, but in fact, it's often foggy, temperatures over 80°F are considered a heat wave, and the water is too cold year round for all but the heartiest souls to venture in. It rains in the winter, but seldom the rest of the year. April and October have the clearest skies and moderate temperatures. Check the climate for the time you plan to visit.

  • Crowds: In summer, the top sights are crowded with tourists. Spring and fall are busy but not hectic and winter is least busy except around Thanksgiving1 and Christmas through New Year's, making it a great time to get around without having to elbow your way through crowds.

  • Costs: Hotel rates are lowest in winter (except when a big convention comes to town).

  • Annual Events: Whether you're looking for a special event to attend or just trying to avoid the crowds that gather for the Bay to Breakers race, this Annual Event Guide will give you a month-by-month summary of what's going on.

How Long to Stay

Our list of San Francisco sights A to Z is more than 40 items long and we reckon it could take you a couple of weeks to see them all. Throw in some tours and a couple of day trips and it could take even longer. According to the San Francisco Visitor's Bureau, people stay just 4 to 5 nights on the average and you may have even less time than that, so some prioritizing is essential. These are the highlights:

If you have just one day, use our guide to make the most if it. Using those tips, you can ride a cable car, see Union Square, visit Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf, North Beach (Little Italy) and Pier 39 and drive down crookedy Lombard Street.

If you have a weekend, you can slow down a bit. Plan a weekend getaway and you can add a bay cruise, a visit to Golden Gate Park, a walk at Crissy Field or tour the city on wheels with a plan that turns 49-Mile Drive into a short spin.

If you have 3 to 4 days, add a side trip. You'll find plenty of ideas for them in the Day Trips Around San Francisco section of this guide. You'll also have time to visit Alcatraz, go to a museum or take a walk on the Golden Gate Bridge. To get a taste of life in San Francisco, take a walking tour or visit one of its neighborhoods - Fillmore Street, the Marina (centered at Chestnut and Scott) or Haight-Ashbury (starting at the intersection of those two streets) are good choices.

If you have 5 to 6 days, you can fit in another side trip and also take a day off. Spend a couple of hours people-watching at a North Beach sidewalk cafe, amble down the street to lunch, take a nap or find a shady spot in Golden Park and relax. You'll also have time to visit Angel Island and take a day trip by ferry to Sausalito or take the train south to Palo Alto.

1 Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

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