Time in San Francisco
Spring is a very attractive time to visit San Francisco with temperatures averaging 16°C (61°F). The city gets busier during the spring break – there are 17 colleges in the area and lots of students take spring break here – but visitor numbers are still not as high as the middle of the summer. The parks look their best at this time of year – now is a great time to climb Bernal Heights Hill and enjoy the view of the city below or to hop across the Golden Gate bridge to the Marin Headlands.
Summers in San Francisco can reach highs of 23°C (73°F), and often higher with July and August seeing 12-14 hours of sunshine a day. This is a great time to explore the beaches of the Bay Area, and even if it isn’t warm enough to swim, there are plenty of other activities from watching wildlife (Rodeo Beach) to flying a kite (Ocean Beach is a favourite for this) or enjoy people watching at Baker Beach, San Francisco’s most popular.
As most tourists go home and the schools and colleges return, San Francisco becomes less busy. This is a great time to enjoy the museums and art galleries – there are some fantastic permanent pieces at SFMoMA including artworks by Jasper Johns, Frida Kahlo and Henri Matisse. Thanksgiving, the third Thursday of November, may affect certain opening times, so always check first. Plenty of restaurants do set Thanksgiving menus that are well worth checking out – there are places to suit all budgets.
The Beach Boys may have sang about California’s famous sun, but winter temperatures in San Francisco can dip as low as 9°C (48°F). Popular attractions such as Alcatraz and museums such as SFMoMA, have lower visitor numbers in the winter however and the city feels slightly quieter than it does in the summer. Hire a car, and then just three hours drive north of San Francisco are the ski resorts of Lake Tahoe if you want to embrace the snow and hit the slopes.
If you’re a citizen of a country covered by the Visa Waiver Programme (such as the UK), you will need to have a valid e-Passport along with an approved ESTA to enter the USA. You can identify an e-Passport by the ‘chip’ symbol on the front cover.
You can apply for an ESTA online, and should receive approval straight away, although we recommend applying at least 72 hours before departure, in case any travel authorisation is denied. An ESTA is valid for multiple journeys and lasts for two years, or until your passport expires.
You will no longer be able to enter the USA using an ESTA if you have dual nationality, with one passport being issued by a country eligible under the Visa Waiver Programme and the other issued by Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria.
UK citizens can also fast track US passport control by joining Global Entry, the US Customs and Border Protection programme. Membership lasts for five years and the application process includes background checks and a face-to-face interview at an official enrolment centre.
Remember, it’s your responsibility to ensure that you have the right documents to be allowed entry into the USA when flying into San Francisco.
When you land at San Francisco International, there are plenty of options for getting into the city and to your hotel. You can catch a cab from one of the taxi rank or prebook a cab either using a company such as Green Cab or Yellow Cab Company. Rideways links you with only the most reputable cab companies. Alternatively hire a car at the airport, which gives you the freedom to take road trips when and where you want to. If you’re travelling from Oakland to San Francisco, take the BART to Oakland Coliseum station and then change on to the BART line for San Francisco, it takes 35 minutes from Coliseum to Embarcadero and costs $4.80. Why not take the hassle out of your transfer by booking your shuttle or transport when you book your flight or holiday with us? Simply add it to your booking when prompted.
You can hail cabs on the streets of San Francisco, but there are also plenty of cabs you can book by phone including the Yellow Cab Company and Green Cab. There are also cab apps you can download including YoTaxi and Flywheel. You can always ask the hotel concierge to book a cab for you, too.
The bus and train services in San Francisco are run by BART. Tickets can be bought at automatic vending machines at the station or online. A ClipperCard will keep the cost down, and can be bought and topped up online or in the stations. Most trains run from 04:00 until 00:30 and fares cost from $1.75.
Bike hire and cycle tours are popular in San Francisco and there are several companies to choose from including Blazing Saddles and San Francisco Bicycle Rentals. It is a great way to see the city and ensures you see neighbourhoods and sights you may well miss otherwise. Walking is easy around San Francisco, it’s an attractive city and easily accessible on foot. There are several website dedicated to walking routes around the city and many well-known urban hiking trails.
Tipping in San Francisco isn’t just for good service – it’s a part of the culture here, as many service industries such as hotels, restaurants and transportation factor tips into their staff’s wages – but that doesn’t mean you have to go crazy with it. Our guide will help simplify who, when and how much to tip when you’re out and about in the Bay area.
For most restaurants in San Francisco, a tip between 15 and 20 per cent on the pre-tax total is standard. If you feel your service was exceptional, a tip of 22 per cent would be recommended. An easy way to calculate the tip is just to double the tax – which works out to be roughly 18 per cent. If you’re eating at a hotel restaurant or with a big group (usually six or more), the tip is sometimes already included in the bill as a service charge or gratuity – however, this might not go to your server, so check it carefully before leaving any additional money.
If you order a beer or wine, a $1-$2 tip per drink is typical in San Francisco. Even if you order a soft drink, a tip of about 50 cents per drink is expected. For cocktails, $2-$3 should suffice, although if you’re drinking in an upscale bar, where bartenders take time to create your drink, it’s better to leave $3-$4 per drink.
On short rides around San Francisco, it’s common to round up the fare, while the average tip for a longer journey should be around 15 per cent. If you’re travelling to and from the airport and your driver helps you load and unload your bags, it’s recommended to tip around 20 to 22 per cent.
Tipping is also expected at hotels in San Francisco. It’s best to tip the person directly at the time of service. If the porters help you carry your bags, expect to tip $1 or $2 per bag. If the doorman hails a cab for you, you should tip $1. And hotel maids might also expect $1 or $2 for a few days of cleaning.