Because I travel frequently between San Francisco and Boston, I get a lot of weather-related questions from Boston friends about SF. Typically, these follow along the lines of “wow isn’t it cold there?” or “Doesn’t it rain all the time there?”
Let me set the record straight – the answer is yes and no to both of those questions most of the time. If that answer is not helpful to your understanding of SF climate, let me explain further.
Because of the geology, of which I am not an expert, there is often a huge cloud of fog that hangs over the north side of the city and over the Golden Gate Bridge. This tends to make that part of the city cooler – neighborhoods such as The Marina, Lands End (Seacliff), and the Presidio all tend to be cooler and often cloudy.
Also, the west side of the city, bordering the open ocean, also tends to be cooler and very windy. The current off the coast of SF is not warm so the neighborhoods bordering the western shore like Outer Richmond and Outer Sunset can have temperatures 10-20 degrees (F) cooler than other parts of the city. And coming from the east, one can often see a line of Fog that covers the western third of the city even while the sun is shining in the east.
On the eastern side, especially SOMA (South of Market) and particularly SOBE (South Beach – there’s no beach there, but it is where I stayed when I visited), along with Mission Bay, the sun is often out and shining with very comfortable temperatures between 60-75 degrees. I have been coming to SF since 2006 and I have never been disappointed long term in SoBe weather.
The “middle” of the city is a mixed bag – I have often been lucky and have enjoyed sunny weather in neighborhoods such as Japan town (lower Pacific heights) where I was today, under the sun. Twin Peaks can be wild and Noe Valley can be weird. The Castro and the Mission can also be mixed. The South side of the city, Lake Merced, Ingleside, St Francis Wood, Glenn Park and other neighborhoods have been sunny when I have gone there.
It is my opinion though that the best weather is on the east side. even north of Market Street on the east side, in the Financial District (FiDi), Chinatown, North Beach (Italian neighborhood -where I got married), Telegraph Hill, and Fisherman’s Wharf (tourist area), can often be sunny and comfortable.
An anecdotal story – once while staying in South Beach, in July, where the weather started out in the 60s and warming up to the low 70s, I was invited to a roof top barbecue in the Marina. I arrived there and enjoyed a dropping temperature as I eventually ended up shivering and hovering over the barbecue trying to stay warm. My hands were numb – the temp was likely around 50 degrees. I couldn’t get back to SoBe fast enough to warm up.
And this wasn’t the only time that I experienced such a climate differential on the same day. This is quite typical and it’s why if you ask me if SF is cold, rainy, sunny, windy, calm, cloudy, foggy or clear, I will simply answer YES.
Note: if you are visiting SF, and you want to stay where the weather is warm (either in a hotel, airbnb, or you’re simply choosing the friend with the best location), consider South Beach for warmth, safety, proximity to BART (the main train line) and proximity to the highway. However, since this is the hottest (RE: desirability) neighborhood in a hot city, it may be tough to find something. If money isn’t an object, consider FiDi for nice hotels. if money is an issue, consider airbnb. Also, if closeness to trains & highways is important but safety isn’t, try the rest of SOMA (basically 5th Street on down to 11th or so). Or better yet, just contact me and I’ll do my best to offer an opinion.
FYI: Here is a more detailed neighborhood map from Justinsomnia.org (he credits Burrito Justice for the link). See how crazy it is getting there? Why so many neighborhoods? One reason is stigma. Check out this map – see “Tendernob” in between Nob Hill and Tenderloin? That’s a recent creation – so that “classy” people don’t have to tell their friends they live in the Tenderloin. And why would they want to hide that fact? I’ll explain with another anecdote: The Tenderloin is the neighborhood, where, on the cab ride from the airport to my wedding (or to her hotel first), my sister saw a pimp dragging a woman by the hair for a least a city block while slapping her the whole time.
Yeah nice place – however, it is where some of the best Vietnamese food is in the city and in all fairness, as bad as this neighborhood is, it isn’t close to bad neighborhoods in LA, NYC, DC or Oakland. I’ve walked through there and there’s no way you’d get me to walk through Compton – good Viet food or not!