What to Do in San Francisco When it Rains

By Teo Spengler

Dealing with drizzle and downpour in the City by the Bay

What to Do in San Francisco When it Rains

They say it never rains in Southern California, but nobody makes any promises about San Francisco. Might it rain during your vacation to this most decidedly Northern California city? It might, especially in winter, so you'd better be prepared with clothing and activities to see you through. Here are some ideas on what to wear and where to go if the downpour starts.

Rainy day blues

After years of terrible drought, California is finally seeing rain again. While this is certainly better for the state overall, you may not be so focused on the big picture when the skies open up during your two-week visit.

When does it rain in San Francisco? There are no hard and fast rules, but generally, summer is cool and foggy, spring and fall are clear and winter brings rain. In non-drought years, winter rain can be abundant in San Francisco. Storms from the south can bring sprinkles or downpours during December, January and February. The silver lining is that the periods between storms in winter can be cool, sunny and beautiful.

If you find yourself caught in a storm, there's no need for rainy day blues if you've come prepared. Follow these tips to get you ready for winter's worst.

Packing for rain

If you are visiting the City by the Bay in winter, pack for rain. That means a rain coat, rain hat and, most definitely, rain boots. San Francisco is a great city to explore on foot and keeping those toes dry goes a long way toward being a happy hiker. Residents often don knee high rubber boots, in chic colors of course, on days when downpours seem possible.

What about umbrellas? Umbrellas are difficult in wind and inconvenient on public transportation. Bring one if you must, but don't be surprised if you leave it high and dry at the hotel.

Tips for rainy day exploring

If you are dressed for rain, a light drizzle shouldn't put a crimp in your plans. Just put on your rain gear and go see the sights. When more rain is falling than you care to deal with, what to do depends on where you are.

If you are in or near Golden Gate Park:

  • Pop into the De Young Museum. It's free on the first Tuesday of the month, and you can always get up to the observation deck free for stellar views of the coast.
  • Duck into the Conservatory of Flowers, also free on the first Tuesday of the month.
  • Visit the Academy of Science for its great planetarium show. The adults-only evening is Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m.

If you are on the other side of town, near Fisherman's Wharf or the Embarcadero:

  • Go to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, free the first Tuesday of every month.
  • Hop a ferry and tour Alcataz, warm and dry.
  • Check out the Exploratorium "After Dark" program without kids running around: Thursdays 6 to 10 p.m.

If you are near Union Square:

  • Shop until the rain stops.
  • Grab a cable car and sit inside; avoid the long line at the Cable Car turnaround at Powell and Market St. by walking up Powell a few blocks to the next stop.
  • Pick up discounted show tickets at the Tix Bay Area booth on Union Square Park (on the Powell St. side).

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Spengler splits her time between French Basque Country and California.