Why Fall is the Best Time to Visit San Francisco

23 August 2018

Brigid M. Hughes is a San Francisco writer whose work has appeared in The Rumpus, MissionMission, and Memoir Magazine. 

When I was a kid growing up in San Francisco, we longed for summer days when we could wear shorts or play at the beach. But that’s not how this city works. I grew up and still live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and summer has never been San Francisco’s thing. 

I’ve seen thousands of travelers arrive for holiday only to find the wind blowing hard and the fog blurring the view and wondering how in the world this jewel of a city could be so darn blustery. There’s lots of information out there about how cold and soupy it is in the summer months, but it’s still hard for many to imagine hearing fog horns in July. 

Here’s the good news. The not-so-secret secret: San Francisco has a summer. But like most things around here, it’s just a little bit quirky. Our warmer weather comes in the fall, a phenomenon known as Indian Summer. That means fall is the best season to visit the city of San Francisco in terms of climate. 

Aside from wonderfully sunny days from late August through early November, the fall also has fewer tourists, which means some of the city’s top experiences and events are less crowded. 

groups of people sitting at Alamo Square on a sunny day in San Francisco

As most of the country digs out their scarves and sweaters, San Franciscans are outside and ready to roll. In September and October alone, there’s Opera in the Park, Oktoberfest by the Bay, Fleet Week, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival, the Castro Street Fair, and Litquake (a month-long literature festival taking place all over the city). 

And most of these events are free. There’s always something to do, and these are all great ways to see the city and to interact with the folks who live here. 

Fall is also the time of year when you can most confidently cross the Golden Gate Bridge and actually see Alcatraz, see the big green hills, see the glimmering, shiny bay full of sailboats without a blanket of fog standing in the way. 

You can start at one side of the bridge still in the fog, but about halfway across, it’s as if curtains part just for you. The gray fades and the sun shines and everything appears in brilliant, sparkling technicolor. I’ve experienced it thousands of times, and it still blows me away. 

a woman looking at the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands

To find out what kind of weather you’re in for before you head out on your adventure for the day, I recommend a quick check of the live webcams of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Marin Headlands, or Angel Island. 

These are some of the best sources of information if you are deciding between a day of biking across the Golden Gate Bridge or choosing to visit museums such as the de Young Museum or the Museum of Modern Art. 

If you’re after views, you can also use the shorter days of fall to your advantage. Here’s one of my favorite tips to make the most of the waning daylight: Take the last daily boat out to Alcatraz. View the city from the Rock, watch the evening skyline light up, and return with a story to tell. 

a woman looking out to Alcatraz island in San Francisco

Fall is also the perfect time of year to check out the Marin Headlands. This National Park sits on a stunning peninsula just north of San Francisco and is famous for its local wildlife, hiking trails, rugged beaches, and views of the Bay. 

During the fall, the area is especially warm and fog-free, so it’s the perfect time of year to explore during the day and spend a night or two at the nearby HI Marin Headlands hostel

During off-peak hours, a car-sharing service can get you to or from the city in about 25 minutes. The ability to go from urban city living to Muir Woods, Rodeo Beach, or the Point Bonita Lighthouse is what makes visiting this area so incredibly special. 

If you go, check out one of HI USA’s three San Francisco hostels HI SF Downtown, HI SF City Center, or HI SF Fisherman’s Wharf.


You Might Also Like:

a foggy part of Highway 1 in Northern California

3 Mini Road Trips You Should Take This Fall

If you're planning a trip to a HI USA hostel in a big city this fall, why not add a mini road trip to an underrated destination nearby? Here are just a few of our favorite fall adventures