San Francisco is full of wonderful things to see and do, with popular attractions such as the California Academy of Sciences, activities like a California sunset cruise, and wonderful parks to enjoy. But even if the weather should turn sour and the rain start to fall, there is nothing to fear, as San Francisco is replete with top attractions and activities to take advantage of. So, to help put you on the right path, and highlight a few of the options available, take a look at the below list of things to do when it rains in San Francisco.
Advice and suggestions from San Francisco Travel
The San Francisco Travel Association are the people to ask regarding fun things to do in the city, and as such, we asked SF Travel what their rainy day suggestions would be for visitors:
“Like London, San Francisco offers plenty to do, even on a rainy day. Many of the city's top attractions are not weather-dependent: museums and galleries, shopping, performing arts and of course San Francisco's outstanding restaurants (San Francisco now has more Michelin three-star restaurants than New York City).
“Some museums like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the de Young Museum, the Walt Disney Family Museum or the Asian Art Museum, can consume a full day or even two. Others like the San Francisco Railway Museum or the newly-reopened Cartoon Art Museum, are an excellent way to spend an hour or so.
“Several retail-rich neighbourhoods allow visitors to pop from shop to shop without much time to feel any raindrops. In addition to Union Square, with its major department stores like Macy's and top designer boutiques, popular shopping areas include Union Street, Fillmore Street, Chestnut Street and Haight Street, home of the Summer of Love. PIER 39 and Fisherman's Wharf combine shopping, dining and entertainment with the sounds of sea lions and buskers. The San Francisco Centre is a multi-story mall with top brands and Nordstrom department store.”
While there are many options for rainy days in SF, San Francisco Travel made sure to stress that the weather forecast shouldn’t be anything to fear:
“A rainy day is the worst weather most visitors will experience in San Francisco. Snow and ice are once-a-century occurrences. And the famous fog (heaviest in summer months) only adds to the city's charm, making it even more inviting to pop into a restaurant or bar for a glass of wine, cocktail or Irish Coffee (which first arrived in America at the Buena Vista).”
Image credit: Maria Zilberman (The Exploratorium)
Both a great opportunity to learn and stay out of the rain, Exploratorium is a museum of science and art, encouraging visitors to think for themselves and engage in their curiosity. We asked Exploratorium to explain what makes them a must visit attraction in San Francisco:
“The Exploratorium is one of the most engaging, fun, and inspiring activities in San Francisco. The New York Times has called us ‘the most important science museum to open since the mid-twentieth century’ and we literally wrote the book on experiential learning. As a museum of science, art, and human perception, we've been an important part of the Bay Area's innovative ecosystem since our founder Frank Oppenheimer first opened the doors in 1969. There's something here for everyone, and we haven't met a visitor yet who didn't walk away filled with wonder and inspired to see the world a little differently.
Image credit: Maria Zilberman (The Exploratorium)
And on the specifics of what visitors can expect to find at Exploratorium, the museum said: “Our more than 650 exhibits are all designed to engage visitors with a chance to explore, discover, and understand the world around them. The exhibits are organized by the types of phenomena they demonstrate, with areas such as ‘Time & Motion,’ ‘Living Systems’ and ‘Science of Sharing’ giving visitors hands-on ways to explore physics, biology, and the social sciences.
“We have one of the only research-grade biology labs in the country devoted entirely to education and visitors can view everything from zebrafish embryos to human heart cells with the same high-powered microscopes used in scientific research. Our Fisher Bay Observatory gives visitors a chance to explore San Francisco Bay and to investigate environmental data collected via sensors right here on the Exploratorium's campus.”
When the weather turns against you in San Francisco, a truly great spot to visit is Fisherman’s Wharf on the waterfront, an attraction that offers a great range of activities, shops, food and drink. We asked Fisherman’s Wharf what makes them such an attractive proposition for visitors:
“Views, ambiance and atmosphere are three of the top things visitors cite as being the reasons they love coming to Fisherman’s Wharf. Our tag line is ‘something for everybody’ as that is quite literally true. Museums, historic ships, a National Park Visitor Center, sea lions, attractions, boat cruises, PIER 39, Ghirardelli Square, numerous restaurants, art galleries, and a budding nightlife scene means that anybody can find something to do here that is of interest to them.
“Altogether, the Wharf has over 100 restaurants, eateries, food trucks and crab stands so there are seemingly endless choices for visitors. Don’t assume that it’s all seafood either, we have one of the most popular Korean restaurants in the city (per Yelp), BBQ, burgers (In-n-Out), and pizza from recognizable names like Hard Rock Cafe to locally owned and operated establishments.”
Grace Cathedral’s indoor labyrinth
Image credit: Niall Battson
A labyrinth inside a cathedral? It sounds odd but that’s exactly what’s on offer at Grace Cathedral and stopping by is highly recommended when in SF.
“Grace Cathedral is home to not just one but two labyrinths,” the cathedral told us, “we even started the Modern Labyrinth Movement that has revived the ancient tradition of labyrinths as a place for walking meditation, a spiritual practice or simply an opportunity to calm the mind and enjoy peace, quiet and reflection. Our indoor labyrinth is a must visit because it is surrounded by our soaring nave and sparkling stained glass windows that people come from all over the world to visit.”
Regarding what else visitors can expect, the cathedral told us: “Grace Cathedral is an Episcopal church on Nob Hill in the heart of San Francisco. It is a renowned landmark, visitor destination and a regional magnet where diverse people come to celebrate, find solace, peace and quiet, connect with others, serve and be served and learn.
“We have beautiful worship services every day of the week, and a famous Choir of Men and Boys that you can often hear perform for free. There is no entrance fee to visit the cathedral (though we welcome donations) and everyone is welcome, always.”
One iconic and historic attraction in San Francisco that is well worth the visit on a rainy day is the reimagined Ghirardelli Square. This vibrant destination offers a great variety of boutiques, top restaurants, fun activities, and seasonal events that appeal to both visitors and locals alike.
Offering some marvellous panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars from its waterfront location at Beach & Larkin, Ghirardelli Square, located at 900 North Point Street, is undoubtedly a fantastic location to spend your rainy day in the city.
Aquarium of the Bay
To discover the beauty and wonder of Northern California’s aquatic life, why not head to Aquarium of the Bay, located on the San Francisco waterfront? Home to over 20,000 marine animals, this is a truly top day out and perfect for any rainy day.
“The Aquarium of the Bay is dedicated to showcasing and educating about local waters only, from the Sierras to the sea” the aquarium told us. “It is our mission to make each visitor more conscious of their connection with and impact on the marine ecosystem by entertaining and engaging them through our presentations at the aquarium. We explain the importance of feared predators like sharks to the balance of life in the bay and why little fish, like the spiny lumpsucker, have a big impact on the environment by eating some of the pollutants, including sea lice.”
Delving into some of the specifics of what visitors can expect to enjoy, Aquarium of the Bay explain:
“The Aquarium of the Bay has multi-lingual QR codes that greatly enhance the experience for the casual visitor. We also have guided tours, behind the scenes tours, special areas for people to touch bat rays and other local aquatic creatures – and the stars of the show are our river otters. Adjacent to the sea lions on PIER 39, we host the Sea Lion Center where we explain some of the sea lion behaviour and illustrate the effect of pollutants and climate change on the health of the larger population.”
San Francisco Botanical Garden
Image credit: Kathryn Rummel
To become ensconced in some nature during your San Francisco holiday, make sure to visit San Francisco Botanical Garden, a location that truly comes alive during the wetter seasons. One of the city’s premium attractions, the botanical garden is able to recreate the conditions of tropical cloud forests in Central and South America as well as Southeast Asia.
Brendan Lange, Director of Visitor Experience and Marketing at San Francisco Botanical Garden, went into further detail for us about what visitors can look forward to, even on rainy days:
“San Francisco Botanical Garden’s unique climate allows it to grow, conserve, and share over 8,500 beautiful plants from all over the globe, including many that are rare and endangered. You will certainly see plants here that you have never seen before!
“During San Francisco’s rainy season, it’s possible to see the Garden’s many seasonal highlights including the fall bloom of its unique Mesoamerican, Andean and Southeast Asian Cloud Forest collections; the winter flowering of its magnificent Magnolia collection, the most significant for conservation purposes outside China; and the early spring wildflower bloom in the California Native Garden. With 55 peaceful acres to stroll, it’s a tranquil and restorative get away for any weary traveller.
“With the appropriate gear, the Garden in the rain has its own unique beauty. You can almost feel the plants perking up with fresh energy, and they glisten after a cleansing bath. The feel and sound of the rain is very special in a place like our 100-year-old Redwood Grove, where the towering trees softly drip water down into the ferns below. If you are unbothered by a rainy day in the outdoors, you are almost certain to have most of the Garden to yourself, which heightens the level of peacefulness even further.”
California is known the world over for its wine, and as such, enjoying a spot of wine tasting at one of San Francisco’s many great establishments is a wonderful way to spend your time in the city.
One such wine room to visit while in SF is Dogpatch WineWorks, located on 2455 Third Street. This event venue, winery, and Sunday tasting room is able to offer visitors a multifarious range of fine wines that are made in their cellar. Available for bookings two weeks out from your desired Sunday, groups of over six are required to give advanced notice of their arrival.
At Dogpatch WineWorks you can even enjoy the experience of making wine via their Private Barrel Program, with visitors being able to be as involved in the process as they wish, guided along by their winemaking experts.
A rainy San Francisco day can still be fun
This has been just a taste of rainy day activities in SF, but, as you can see, there are many wonderful options available to ensure that your holiday to San Francisco isn’t spoilt by a spot of bad weather. So, even after taking advantage of your Disney tickets in Florida, there’s no need to worry about the San Francisco leg of your American adventure. Hope for the best, enjoy your trip, and make sure to visit one or two of the great locations we’ve highlighted above.