Thinking of visiting San Francisco during the winter? Fear not—While February does tend to be wetter than other months, it also is a great time to interact with marine animals, attend festivals, and check out unforgettable exhibits at the city’s world-class museums. Be sure to toss your rain boots and a light jacket in your suitcase, as a few inches of rain are to be expected, but with temperatures averaging in the low 60s, it’s much more pleasant than most other places in the U.S. this time of year. Locals say the key to enduring San Francisco’s unpredictable weather and microclimates is to dress in removable layers and sturdy shoes. T-shirts, scarves, jeans, and sweatshirts will keep you comfortable during your stay, whether you’re biking across the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset or checking out vibrant murals in the sunny Mission District. Just remember your umbrella and you’re good to go!
San Francisco’s marine life abounds this time of year! One of the most redeeming qualities of the Pier 39 tourist trap is the sea lions. Winter is the best time to see these barking beauties, since the population can increase to nearly 900 sea lions during the cooler months. The knowledgeable staff from the nearby Marine Mammal Center Kiosk can answer any questions about the flippered attractions.
A number of whales migrate through California coastal waters in the Bay Area. Take a trip with San Francisco Whale Tours and keep your eyes open for Grey Whales and Sperm Whales, two species known to frequent the area in February. Since it can be chilly, especially on the open sea, dress for success by donning warm gear—you’ll need it! If braving the great outdoors isn’t your style, a trip to the Aquarium of the Bay will give you ample opportunities for sightings of roughly 20,000 sea animals, and is open year-round. The aquarium also allows visitors to touch Leopard Sharks—a move too daring to attempt in the wild!
San Francisco is a city of celebrations; it seems that no matter the time of year, the Bay Area is booming with a myriad of festivals. February marks the start of the San Francisco Independent Film Festival, which screens hundreds of films across the city annually. This year, take in more than a dozen creative animated shorts, compelling documentaries on organic food and the history of LSD, and full-length narrative features with engaging stories on the silver screen.
Craving aural sensations? You’re in luck—Noise Pop, an annual festival honoring indie culture since 1993, kicks off its weeklong lineup of concerts at the end of February. The Flaming Lips, Built to Spill, and more than 100 other performers are on standby to help you get your groove on at this year’s festival, in addition to scheduled art exhibits, pop-up shops, and films. If you fancy yourself a foodie, don’t miss San Francisco Beer Week, which launches on February 10. Sample some of the Bay Area’s best craft microbrews paired with chocolate, grilled cheese, and more at hundreds of the festival’s exciting events.
If you’re interested in the San Francisco art scene, this time of year prides itself on some fantastic events. With beauty, grace, and emotion the San Francisco Ballet sets its 2012 season in motion starting in February and continuing to late spring. The New York Times praises it as “the most impressively diverse ballet company in America,” and it has continued to wow audiences since 1933, so check its website for a schedule of the season’s offerings.
For some visual delights, a day spent at San Francisco’s famed de Young Museum will surely warm you, no matter how blustery it may be outside. Feast your eyes on more than 1,000 paintings by American artists, in addition to photography, textiles, sculptures, and regular rotating exhibits from a number of countries. For a once-in-a-lifetime chance at being surrounded by some of the most exquisite and delicate flowers in the world, head to Fort Mason toward the end of February for the annual Pacific Orchid Exposition. The event features more than 150,000 prized orchids from around the globe in every color, shape, and size imaginable. Don’t forget your camera on your way to this memorable event!
Whether you plan to meet and greet sea lions or spend your days strolling through art exhibits, February certainly provides every opportunity to take in the culture and beauty of San Francisco. Every year boasts more excitement than the previous year, so check the local papers for the most up-to-date information on the season’s hottest happenings.
By Joni Sweet: Joni Sweet is a San Francisco-based food and travel writer who loves exploring the Bay Area’s hidden gems