December in San Francisco: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

Christmas Tree in San Francisco's Union Square
Christmas Tree in San Francisco's Union Square. Kevin Lau/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In San Francisco, December is more or less consumed with preparations for Christmas and celebrating the new year. A pre-holiday visit is an excellent way to get your holiday shopping done, and you could probably do it all in the stores around Union Square.

San Francisco Weather in December

You won't have a white Christmas while visiting San Francisco unless you head out of town to Lake Tahoe, but December is in the rainy season and prone to winter storms. It's also one of the coldest months with lots of cloudy days.

In December, you can expect about 9.5 hours of daylight for exploring the city. 

  • Average High Temperature: 57 F (14 C)
  • Average Low Temperature: 45 F (7 C)
  • Water Temperature: 54.5 F (12.5 C)
  • Rain: 3.1 in (7.9 cm)
  • Rainfall: 11.6 days
  • Daylight: 10 hours
  • Sunshine: 5.2 hours
  • UV Index: 2 (lowest of the year)

If you want to compare December weather to other months, check the guide to San Francisco weather and climate. Before you make your final plans and pack that suitcase, check the San Francisco weather forecast a few days in advance of your trip.

What to Pack

Be prepared for moderate temperatures and bring some rain gear just in case. For that, a hooded jacket is a better idea. Umbrellas are hard to carry in a crowd and messy when you're not using them.

Layers are also a strategy, a lot of them, so you can adjust to match the weather. And no matter what your outer layers are, you may be happy you took along a pair of thin tights in your day bag to slip on in case you feel cold.

Be prepared for moderate temperatures, and bring some rain gear just in case. For that, a hooded jacket is a better idea than an umbrella. Layers are also a strategy and bring a lot of them so you can adjust to match the weather.

December Events in San Francisco

Most of San Francisco's December events are holiday-themed and included in the guides linked above, but you can find a few other things to do.

  • Dickens Fair: In December, you can attend a Dickens of a celebration at the Cow Palace. You might be excused for thinking you stepped into a time warp when you walk in the door of this fun celebration of Christmas past.
  • Run WildYou'll see lots of Santa hats among the people who run this 5K race, but the costumes they wear in this race are fun to see, too.
  • Santa's Skivvies Run, San Francisco: If you always wondered what Santa wears under that big red suit, here's where you can find out. Runners strip down to their Santa themed skivvies and run for a good cause.

Things to Do in December

With two big holidays to celebrate, December is jam-packed with things to do.

  • Celebrate Christmas in San Francisco. View the lights that outline the Embarcadero Center every holiday season. They're prettiest when viewed from Treasure Island (halfway across the Bay Bridge) at twilight.
  • Celebrate New Year's Eve in San Francisco. Indoors and out, there will be parties and public celebrations. In San Francisco, that usually includes fireworks at midnight on December 31, which happen behind the Ferry Building at the end of Market Street.
  • Go Whale Watching: December is also gray whale season around San Francisco. Find out how, when, and where in the San Francisco whale watching guide.
  • Watch a Basketball Game: Golden State Warriors play basketball in their new home in San Francisco's Chase Center, starting in 2019.
  • Watch a Football Game: The San Francisco 49ers might be playing at home while you're there, but Levi Stadium is miles south in Santa Clara. Check the schedule on their website.
  • Eat Dungeness Crab: The commercial fishing season for Dungeness crab begins in early November. Forget those pre-cooked frozen crabs at Fisherman's Wharf, and go for the fresh ones instead. You'll find them on the menu at many San Francisco restaurants. Climate and ocean conditions may cancel or delay the season, so it's best to check its current status on the Department of Fish and Wildlife website.
  • Drink Irish Coffee: A cold December day is an excellent excuse to try one of the real San Francisco treats—Irish coffee (a mixture of coffee, cream, and Irish whiskey) first landed on U.S. shores in San Francisco, and the Buena Vista Cafe is still serving it daily.

The annual events listed above happen every year, but they're not all that's going on in San Francisco in December. If you're looking for a fun concert, sporting event, or theatrical performance, check the San Francisco Chronicle's entertainment section.

December Travel Tips