The 10 Essential Winter Activities in the San Francisco Bay Area

|November 14, 2017

Out-of-towners may claim San Francisco doesn’t have a real winter, but we certainly know how to enjoy it. Between the crisp beautiful blue sky days, we get chilling rain falls and winds that freeze you right down to your bones. All that just gives us another opportunity to settle in at our favorite coffee shops and enjoy the city while fewer tourists crowd the streets. And we’re okay with that because we love our foggy, seaside home — in every season.

During those chilly winter months, we get a few seasonal treats that make everything worthwhile. And let’s be honest, fresh Dungeness Crab makes everything better.

To make the most of your winter in the Bay Area, we rounded up the must-attend events and the must-do activities so you can make winter your favorite season in the Bay. So dig out your coats and hit the ice rinks, the wonderlands and the beach (yes, the beach!). Enjoy!  

Eat Dungeness Crab

Dungeness Crab San Francisco Bay Area Winter

Dungeness Crab season runs from November through June, but the most successful harvest occurs during the winter months. As near as we are to the harvests — and as much as we all love sea-to-table crab — there are plenty of ways to celebrate around the region.

In Fisherman’s Wharf, the 14th Annual Crab Feed Fundraiser & Silent Auction on February 16th is a must! Tickets run $120 per person and grant you access to the cocktail party and dinner aboard the Hornblower San Francisco Belle.

In SoMa, don’t miss out on SoMa StrEat Food Park’s annual All-You-Can-Eat Crab Feast. The event is often held in early December and comes complete with crab, food trucks, music and fun! Follow the venue on Facebook for updates on this year’s event.

You can also get tickets for the Special Olympics Northern California Annual Crab Feed in Hayward, the Marin Builders Association Crab Feed and San Jose’s Presentation High School Crab Feed in February.

For daily crab feasts, check out Eater’s Bay Area Dungeness Crab Heatmap and The 15 Best Seafood Restaurants in the Bay Area.

Go surfing (or just watch)

Surfing winter Mavericks Half Moon Bay San Francisco Winter

Mavericks in Half Moon Bay is one of the world’s most notorious big waves. Hitting its height in the winter months, the annual Mavericks Invitational has been a revered contest for years. This year, the competition was purchased by the World Surf League who added it to their Big Wave Tour. Though the date hasn’t been set for the 2017/2018 contest, you can follow WSL on their website and on Facebook for updates! You can also follow Titans of Mavericks on Facebook, the old owners, for updates as well.

When you head to the beach this season, remember that the winter months around the Bay Area are a dangerous time for swimmers and surfers. Riptides are stronger, the waters are colder and the waves are bigger. Don’t hop in unless you’re an experienced rider and remember to bring your wetsuit, your hat and your gloves!

Tour a museum

Because winter means there will be fewer tourists and fewer crowds, Bay Area museums are a great place to escape the winter chill! If you’re not sure where to go, check out The Ultimate Guide to San Francisco’s Most Impressive Art Museums and 14 of The Bay Area’s Quirkiest Museums.

Special events at local museums make them even more enticing and The Walt Disney Family Museum and California Academy of Sciences do not disappoint. During December, you can watch a film, Christmas with Walt, and learn all about Walt’s life during the holidays —at work, at play, and at home with his family. Then, head over to the East Bay between November 23 and January 8 to experience ‘Tis the Season for Science at Cal Academy — complete with live reindeer, snow flurries and caroling!

Explore a wonderland

What to do in San Francisco during winter

If you’re looking for a chance to explore a real winter wonderland right here in the Bay, look no further than a few of our favorite family-friendly attractions!

California’s Great America WinterFest has 25 different holiday rides, themed treats and dining, visits with Santa and spectacular live shows. With tickets as low as $25 you can get access to all the seasonal fun from November 24 through December 30.

Children’s Fairyland Fairy Winterland celebrates Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas, Diwali and Chinese New Year December 15 – 23. Admission includes Storybook Puppet Theater performances, A Festival of Lights Parade each day at 6:15 p.m., storytelling, magic and entertainment, daily visits from Santa himself and unlimited rides in the park! Hours are noon to 7 p.m. each day and Fairyland members are admitted free on the first day of Fairy Winterland, December 15! 

Holiday in the Park at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is celebrating its 10th year of life-sized toys, Santa’s Workshop, larger-than-life candy canes and lollipops, a fragrant Christmas Tree Forest and so much more! Come by through the end of the year to catch a ride down the giant snow-covered sled hill.

Stroll under the lights

There are plenty of illuminated neighborhoods in the Bay Area during the holiday season — from the Illuminate SF Festival of Light throughout the city to the Mickey Mouse Christmas House in San Rafael and down to Los Gatos’ Fantasy of Lights.

Two our favorite holiday light displays combine a couple of our favorite things: holiday fun and exotic animals. Tour San Francisco Zoo and Oakland Zoo this season while they’re illuminated for their annual ZooLights events! Both zoos have their displays through the end of the year. Get specific dates for SF Zoo here and Oakland here.

Hit the ice

Things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area Winter Ice Rinks

Photo courtesy of San Jose Downtown Association

While the Bay Area may not become a winter wonderland itself, there are still plenty of places to strap on a pair of ice skates and pretend. Below, we rounded up a few of our outdoor, seasonal favorites!

The Little Ice Rink at the South Shore Center in Alameda offers 4,100 square feet of ice skating bliss from November 3 through January 8, 2018.

Union Square Ice Rink is nestled under the lights of the huge Union Square Christmas tree and is available for skating through January 15, 2018.

The Holiday Ice Rink at the Embarcadero Center is set amongst some of the city’s best shopping and dining between November 3 and January 7, 2018

Winter Lodge in Palo Alto has been a family tradition since 1956. For just $11 and a $5 skate rental, you can skate all the way through April 15!

Walnut Creek on Ice operates for the season from November 10 through January 15 so the whole family can enjoy a fun, outdoor skate adventure!

Holiday Ice Rink at Santa Clara Central Park is offering open skate in addition to classes and private events through January 15.

Downtown Ice in San Jose is surrounded by a circle of illuminated holiday palm trees so you can really feel the California Christmas spirit! Get on the ice November 17 – January 15 for admission between $10 and $15.

See the sea lions

Sea Lion K-Dock Pier 39 San Francisco January Winter

Though you can usually find a sea lion or two year-round at Pier 39, they’re most active during the winter months. During the summer, they migrate south for breeding, but when January rolls around they’re back to barking and lounging in the Bay. First, read The Sea Lion Story from Pier 39, then head over to the K-Dock to get a look for yourself!

If you want to get to Pier 39 before January, buy tickets to the Pier 39 Winter Wine Pour on December 1st! Or, head over any day to visit one of the city’s most famous tourist locales for shopping, learning and experiencing San Francisco.

Eat all the food

Sushi San Francisco Restaurant Week Bay Area

It’s one of the Bay Area’s favorite things to do, so we promise you’ll never find a seasonal shortage of restaurants and foodie spots in the region. But every year in January, we’re blessed with SF Restaurant Week, Berkeley Restaurant Week, Oakland Restaurant Week, Napa Valley Restaurant Week and Vacaville Restaurant Week. Then, head back up to wine country in March for Sonoma County Restaurant Week!

If you find yourself in between these food-filled weeks, we suggest you stop by The 20 Essential Farm-to-Table Restaurants in Sonoma County, check out The 25 Must-Try Burgers in San Francisco or visit The 17 Best Brunch Spots in the Bay Area.

Laugh your heart out

One of the Bay Area’s most popular (and laugh out loud) festivals has occurred every January since 2002. In 2018, you can catch SF Sketchfest January 11 – 28. The event has grown into a nationally-recognized comedy event and mixes national headliners, local favorites and the best up-and-coming groups from throughout North America for a month of sketch, improv, stand-up and alternative comedy.

While you wait for Sketchfest, warm up your laugh at a few Bay Area comedy clubs like Punch Line, Doc’s Lab and Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco or Comedy Oakland across the Bay Bridge!

Drink craft beer

Lagunitas Petaluma Craft Beer Winter San Francisco Bay Area

Over the years, the Bay Area has become a craft beer capital in the United States — rightly so, we think. People flock from all over the world to try local brews, but in winter, those crowds disperse and you can grab a flight at any one of our hidden gems or national award-winners. Get a taste for all of them during SF Beer Week in February 2018.

Then, check out a few of our favorites listed on 32 Craft Breweries Within a 20 Minute Walk From BART and learn about four local favorites in our exclusive interview blog post, How These Bay Area Breweries Got Their Names.

Enjoy the season!  

In the comments below, let us know how you spend your Bay Area winters.

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McGuire Real Estate

McGuire Real Estate

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