San Francisco Weather
can be a Puzzling Phenomenon...
Especially if you have never been here before. That said, preparing yourself for San Francisco weather is actually quite simple.
There is just one thing that you need to remember.
Always wear layers.
San Francisco weather can change a lot from day to day, as well as from neighborhood to neighborhood. The great thing though, is that throughout the year it will rarely dip below 50°F or rise above 70°F, keeping it a very mild climate to hang out in.
The other thing that can be confusing when visiting this city for the first time, is that our seasons are a bit different. Our summers tend to be very foggy (and therefore frequently cool), our fall is often the warmest time of year, and our winters can have several pleasantly sunny days.
Case in point, here are two images:
This image was taken in January....
...and this image was taken in August!
“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
You have probably heard this famous saying about San Francisco weather, rumored to have been uttered by Mark Twain, but which is actually from an unknown source.
Even though it’s probably not as cold as winter for most, when the fog rolls in, and the breeze from the bay picks up, it can definitely get chilly.
It's truly something unique to experience, and most people don’t believe how cool the weather in San Francisco can get during the summer, until they experience it for themselves.
(Clue: It's usually easy to spot tourists, because they are frequently the only ones wearing shorts.)
That said, it's definitely not like that all the time.
How warm or cold the summer feels, depends a lot on where you are in the city, as well as whether or not you are in the fog zone.
View of San Francisco Fog from Twin Peaks
It's good to know which parts of the city experience more fog!
Especially since the San Francisco weather forecast rarely accounts for it!
The fog layer comes from the ocean (west) and moves inward (east) towards downtown, sometimes creeping in and out all day long.
This means that the neighborhoods on the west side of town spend significantly more time in the fog than the neighborhoods on the east side of town.
Generally, downtown, Potrero Hill and the Mission tend to be much sunnier (and warmer), while some of the foggiest neighborhoods are the Richmond and Sunset districts, as well as Twin Peaks.
San Francisco weather and that mysterious fog layer
What many people find incredible, myself included, is how extreme the temperature change can be from inside the fog zone to outside of it, and how clearly marked the border between the two is.
Here is an image to help illustrate the point -
one side of the bridge is foggy, and the other is sunny.
Sometimes, while fully engulfed in a white misty blanket, you can look down the street to see that the fog layer ends just 5 blocks down the way. You can literally just walk to meet the sunshine.
And if you want to really experience some warm California sunshine, a 15-20 minute drive can often place you in a temperature jump of almost 20 or 30 degrees! It’s mind-blowing really...
How to dress appropriately for San Francisco weather
As I mentioned above, dressing in layers is the best way to stay comfortable. The weather can change quickly throughout the day, as well as be drastically different from neighborhood to neighborhood.
It's usually a good idea to carry some kind of jacket or windbreaker, and I personally rarely leave the house without one. That said, if you find yourself without the right clothing, there are many tourist shops that cater to visitors' need for warmer clothing. It might just be the perfect excuse to do some shopping, and buy yourself a souvenir.
A pair of comfortable shoes for walking is also essential for getting around. Even if you drive somewhere, you may have to park several blocks away from where you are going. I can tell you from personal experience that it is not easy climbing down some of San Francisco's steep hills in a pair of tall heels!
San Franciscans are generally fairly casual. This is a disappointment to some I know, but it also makes things pretty convenient. Whatever you choose to wear while sightseeing during the day, is often also appropriate for grabbing an evening bite.
San Francisco’s Seasons
Many people think that San Francisco doesn't have seasons - that it's either foggy or it's not. Although this is not far from the truth, there are some subtle seasonal distinctions.
- Summer is the foggiest time of year, as well as the busiest tourist season. Although fog can appear at anytime during the year, summer is the most consistently and predictably foggy. It's because of this that summertime San Francisco weather temperatures usually hover around 60°F. Don't be fooled by the weather forecast as it never accounts for the fog!
- Fall is usually the nicest time of year. If you are flexible with when you can take a vacation, consider visiting the city during the months of September and October. The wind is calmer, the sea more mellow, there will be fewer tourists, and it is usually during these months that we experience “our summer” - with warm to hot spells lasting from several days, to (if we're lucky) several weeks.
- Winter is our coolest time of year, however, while many places in the rest of the world are battling snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures, San Francisco’s climate hangs out in a very manageable range of 50-60°F. A scarf and extra layer may be added to the normal San Francisco outfit, as well as an umbrella if there is rain in the forecast.
- Spring can be a bit misleading. Often very sunny, it is usually quite windy, and therefore rarely as warm as it looks.
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