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The Best Time to Visit San Francisco

When is the best time to visit San Francisco? The answer is, geography plus wind and water determine the hard-to-predict climate.

San Francisco is seven square miles of uniquely diverse and sharp topography, consisting of numerous microclimates. The winters are mild with a fair amount of precipitation and the summers are dry, which liken it to other Mediterranean climates found at the Southwestern tip of Africa, the West coasts of Chile and Australia, and the region surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. Situated at the North end of a peninsula, and containing peaks over 900 feet (Mount Davidson is tallest at 938), winds are channeled over and around the city by the terrain, resulting in pronounced differences in weather across relatively short distances.

Summer is typified by coastal fog. Rising hot air in California's interior valleys creates a low pressure area which pulls winds from the Pacific Ocean through the Golden Gate. The westernmost parts of the city such as Outer Richmond and Outer Sunset are pummeled with the full brunt of the Westerly winds, which can reach up to 20 miles per hour in the afternoon. With the wind comes dense fog and if you like Scotland in the Winter, this part of San Francisco in the summer, should be right up your alley. Meanwhile, hop a cab and head for Noe Valley, further East and protected by hills to the West, and you will be surprised to find yourself enjoying the sunshine where the air is warm and still. Go figure. The morning fog will burn off first in the Eastern neighborhoods of the city while the Western portions might only get a brief peek at the sun throughout the day.

So when is the best time to visit San Francisco? April and May are fairly predictable. Rainfall is rare except for Western parts of the city, where heavy marine layers can produce drizzle. High temperatures hover around 64 degrees, with a low of about 51. June, July and August are definitely not what you would expect. While the rest of the country is sizzling, the high temps here reach 69 degrees with a low in the mid-fifties. Just when you think you're dressed properly for doing up the town, a chilling fog billows across the land and freezes your flip-flop exposed toes. There are of course warm spells or mini heat-waves that last maybe a day and then it's back to socks and beanies. Lafayette ParkSeptember and October arrive and tend to be the warmest, sunniest months of the year, with highs around 70 and lows around 54. By the time November rolls around, weather seems to be arriving from the North and Northwest more frequently, and temps start dropping as the rainy season is heralded in. December, January, February and March offer up variable weather with storms blowing through and some nighttime temperatures in the 40's. Overall, however, one can see that really bitterly cold weather doesn't exist here. Year-round there is little fluctuation compared to say, the Northeast United States.

This being the definition of a Mediterranean climate, there really is no bad time for a visit to San Francisco. It's good to know how weather evolves here, and to dress appropriately, not allowing oneself to be caught shivering in the middle of July. Layer up, city folk, and have a blast!

Early March/Residents Strip as Temperature Hits 65 Degrees in Lafayette Park, Pacific Heights!