Best Time to View Sunsets in San Francisco

By Jodi Thornton O'Connell

Sundown in San Francisco: Get there on time for a groovy, gorgeous glow

Best Time to View Sunsets in San Francisco

San Francisco got its nickname, Fog City, with good reason. The cold current that flows down the Pacific coast, the moist marine air, airborne particles kicked up by ocean spray and westerly winds create a perfect recipe for fog to envelop the city at almost any time. But that doesn't mean you won't get to see perfectly breathtaking sunsets in the city. Here's how to increase your odds.

The best sunset seasons

Winter: Let's face it, Karl the Fog, as the San Francisco marine layer is sometimes called, can crash your party without any warning. The odds are least likely during winter, however, when colder inland air keeps the fog from rolling in. Plan on watching the sunset before dinner. The sun sets as early as 4:50 p.m. during the first week of December and 5:00 on New Year's Eve.

Autumn: Some of the Bay Area's mildest weather is in fall. If you're doing autumn leaf-peeping at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Arboretum or in Tilden Park in Berkeley, 14 miles northeast of SF city limits, plan for sunset around 6:30 in mid-October to 5:00 in early November. The dramatic time shift coincides with daylight saving time on the first Sunday in November.

Spring: Sunny weather and mild temperatures in the mid-60s from late March through late June are some of the best times to hit the beach. Stick around to watch the golden sun dip into the sea. Daylight savings time affects sunset viewing times, so look for the sunset just after 6:00 p.m. in early March. After the clocks spring forward on the second Sunday of the month, viewing time is closer to 7:15, making for a nice long day at the beach.

Summer: Fog in summer is most common in San Francisco, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to catch a sunset. The fog often rolls in during the late afternoon, coming right up to the shoreline without enveloping the whole city. Being in the right place means dramatic sunset photos of the sun as it sinks into a golden fog bank, and bridges and boats peer out from the mist.

Check out the sunset here

Golden Gate Bridge: With 746-foot towers, gracefully sweeping cables and orange art deco design that catches the sun's glow, this world-famous bridge is a dramatic place to watch the sunset. The bridge closes at 6:30 p.m. to pedestrians in winter, so you'll have plenty of time to watch those early sunsets. During daylight saving time, the bridge stays open until 9. Parking is available at overlooks on each end of the bridge.

Crissy Field: Bring your picnic basket and blanket to get a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from this picturesque park. Beaches and tidal marshes overlook the bay and the bridge. Walk out on Torpedo Wharf to catch memorable photos of the sun glimmering across the water or set a sunset table at the West Bluff picnic area.

Ocean Beach: Golden Gate Park is where you'll find a hotbed of family-friendly activities like a playground, lawn bowling, botanical gardens and an aquarium. Extend your afternoon at the park to linger until sunset and walk out on adjacent Ocean Beach. The 3.5-mile stretch of sand is ideal for building sandcastles and is the westernmost point in the city.

Thornton State Beach Vista: Watch the fog roll in or check out a classic ocean sunset on clear days at Thornton State Beach just a mile south of the city limits in Daly City. Enjoy the view from the overlook, but don't let kids play on the cliff's edge or try to go down to the beach – the cliff faces are unstable from erosion. If you want to wander along the shoreline, trek 0.2 miles north along dirt trails to a wide access point at Mar Vista Stable. Get to the beach early as parking is limited. Alternatively, pick up picnic items at Westlake Shopping Center a mile away and walk from there.

Go Prepared

The area's Mediterranean climate means you can expect strong sea breezes that can make summer days feel more like winter. Bring a fleece jacket or wool sweater to avoid the chill. A thermos of clam chowder, hot apple cider or other warm beverage is an ideal addition to your sunset picnic menu.

About the Author

Indulging her passion for vacation vagary through the written word on a full-time basis since 2010, travel funster Jodi Thornton-O'Connell guides readers to the unexpected, quirky, and awe-inspiring.