Choosing when to visit San Francisco, as well as deciding when to book, can determine the quality of the experience you'll have. Weather, crowds, and other seasonal factors play a significant role in how much your vacation will cost.
In general, good weather and big crowds mean higher prices and lower availability. Nevertheless, as San Francisco is packed with year-round activities and mild weather, any time can be a good time.
Typically, July and August have the highest citywide hotel occupancy rate, and business travel is at its height in September and October, when many of the largest conventions take place. These surges in visitor popularity reflect the American vacation system. With upswings during holidays and summer, hotels near popular tourist destinations such as Fisherman's Wharf will be booked up early. At these times, there will also be larger crowds at attractions, museums, and events.
- high season: May to October
- shoulder season: November to April
The temperature doesn't fluctuate much, so to visitors, San Francisco seems warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Summers tend to be foggy, though the fog burns off eventually, which can lead to stretches of great weather. The nicest time of year tends to be during August and September, when days are often warmer and the fog isn't as prevalent. Insider advice: Just remember to layer.
Summer is a popular time with visitors, so expect crowds, especially on weekends. Most hotels and tourist attractions see high visitation during the summer months. The Moscone Center/South of Market (SoMa) area gets busy during the fall convention season.
Attractions may have reduced winter hours, and some close on major winter holidays. Some museums are closed one day per week, often on Mondays or Wednesdays. Except for a night bus, public transportation stops running around midnight or 1:00 a.m.
When to Save
Travel providers such as hotels will sometimes offer deals to entice travelers during the off-peak months of December (except around the holidays), January, and February. Food prices and attraction admissions, however, remain constant throughout the year, with the exception of Dine About Town in June, when meals at some of the city's most prestigious restaurants are available at a discounted price.
When to Book
While the general rule is to book early during peak times, different components of the booking process might require specialized approaches.
Air travel is often cheapest when booked at least 21 days in advance. For travel during June, July, and August, it's a good idea to book a few months ahead.
According to many area hotel employees, more and more people tend to book only a few weeks in advance. But remember, weekends in summer can still fill up early, as do other popular holiday periods. Also, how far in advance you should book accommodations depends on where you want to stay. If you're looking at hotels in a popular tourist area such as Fisherman's Wharf in the summer, it's best to book well ahead. The same is true for the area around Moscone Convention Center during September or October, when business travel peaks.
Information provided by the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau.