The 10 Essential Winter Activities in the San Francisco Bay Area

|November 14, 2017

This post was updated January 2, 2019 to include current information and recommendations.

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 rainfalls and winds that freeze you right down to your bones. All that just gives us another opportunity to 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.

And during those chilly winter months, we get a few seasonal treats that make everything worthwhile. And let’s be honest, fresh Dungeness Crab does make 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 restaurant weeks and the beach (yes, the beach!). 

Eat Dungeness Crab. 

Dungeness Crab San Francisco Bay Area Winter

If it’s winter in the Bay Area, you know we’re all talking about Dungeness crab: who’s fishing it, who’s cooking it, and who makes the best. The fishing season for this sweet crab is typically open from November through June which means local restaurants can often offer whole roast crabs through the winter and sometimes into spring. To start planning your crab crawl in the city, check out our guide Where to Eat Whole Dungeness Crab 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. Recently, the competition was purchased by the World Surf League who added it to their Big Wave Tour

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 and your warm weather gear!

Tour a local 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, 14 of The Bay Area’s Quirkiest Museums and The 11 San Francisco Museums That Offer Free Admission Days

Explore a winter 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. And Holiday in the Park at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is celebrating its 11th year of life-sized toys, Santa’s Workshop, larger-than-life candy canes and lollipops, a fragrant Christmas Tree Forest and so much more. 

Stroll under the lights at local events. 

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 ZooLights at the Oakland Zoo.

Hit the ice (seasonally and year-round!). 

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. Whether you and your kids are hockey fanatics, hoping to become figure skating pros, or looking for a new holiday tradition, our guide, 16 Places for Seasonal + Year-Round Ice Skating in the Bay Area, has the seasonal and year-round spots for all that and more.

See the sea lions at Pier 39. 

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!

Eat during California Restaurant Month. 

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, Vacaville Restaurant Week and more.

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 at SF Sketchfest. 

One of the Bay Area’s most popular (and laugh out loud) festivals has occurred every January since 2002. In 2019, you can catch SF Sketchfest January 10th through 27th. 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 and Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco or Comedy Oakland across the Bay Bridge!

Drink craft beer during SF Beer Week. 

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 2019.

Then, check out a few of our favorites listed on 32 Craft Breweries Within a 20 Minute Walk From BART, learn about four local favorites in our exclusive interview blog post How These Bay Area Breweries Got Their Names, and pair your beer with food at The 14 Best Brewpubs in San Francisco.

Enjoy the season!  

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

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McGuire Real Estate

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