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

USA, California, San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge at sunset
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Among the reasons to pack your bags for a trip to San Francisco this January are an extraordinary fancy-dress ball, the Chinese New Year Parade, and some exciting art events. And it's the best time of the year to see a beautiful sunset.

San Francisco Weather in January

How cold is San Francisco in January? It's one of the city's chilliest months, on average. But that may not seem cold by your standards. High temperatures will be in the upper 50s most of the time.

January is also the wettest month in SF. But rainfall is far less constant than temperature, year to year, varying from a little to a lot. When it does rain, it's not uncommon to get the entire month's rainfall in just a day or two. It's unlikely to snow, though. The last significant snowfall was in 1976, and there was light snow in 2011.

If the weather tries to dampen your vacation fun, try these ideas for things to do on a rainy day in San Francisco.

  • Average High Temperature: 57 F (14 C)
  • Average Low Temperature: 45.7 F (7.7 C)
  • Water Temperature: 55 F (14 C)
  • Rain: 4.5 in (11.4 cm)
  • Rainfall: 12 days
  • Daylight: 10 hours
  • Sunshine: 6 hours
  • Humidity: 75 percent
  • UV Index: 2

To compare January to other months and get an idea of what things may be like, use the San Francisco weather averages in this guide. 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

Some visitors from colder climates think San Francisco feels like summer in January, and they run around in short-sleeved shirts just because they can. To avoid being instantly identified as an out-of-towner, resist that urge.

If rain is predicted, you should be prepared, Umbrellas are hard to carry on crowded sidewalks and don't protect from wind-driven raindrops. Still, a warm, waterproof jacket with hood is a better choice, especially when it's windy, or you're surrounded by people.

While January is one of San Francisco's cooler months, a mid-weight jacket (or a bit more) will be enough on dry days. Locals often wear gloves, a hat, and a scarf in the mornings. 

January Events in San Francisco

These popular annual events are favorites of locals and tourists alike.

  • The Edwardian Ball: This fancy dress ball is hard to describe, but irresistible once you've been to it. It's a surreal mix of dance, fantasy, steampunk style, and Edward Gorey. Over two days, they offer a variety of experiences from afternoon tea to a formal ball.
  • Chinese New YearLots of San Francisco events celebrate the new year according to the Chinese calendar, including the largest Chinese New Year parade in the U.S. The lunar holiday can happen in January or February, and once in a while, the parade can even be in early March.
  • San Francisco Restaurant WeekSome of San Francisco's best restaurants offer you a chance to enjoy some great meals at reduced prices.
  • SF SketchfestThis comedy festival lasts two and a half weeks and is held at several places around town.
  • FOG Design+Art: The FOG Fair celebrates modern art, architecture, technology, and design. Besides some great exhibits, you'll also find custom installations, pop-up galleries, presentations, and discussions.

Things to Do in January

  • Watch a Basketball Game: The NBA's Golden State Warriors (who once played basketball in Oakland) now have a home in San Francisco's Chase Center.
  • Watch a Football Game: The San Francisco 49ers might be playing at home while you're there, but they play at Levi Stadium miles south in Santa Clara. Check their home game schedule on their website.
  • Go Whale Watching: January is gray whale watching season around San Francisco. Find out how, when, and where to see them in the San Francisco whale watching guide.
  • See the Sea Lions at Pier 39: The crowd of barking pinnipeds that hang out near Pier 39 takes time off from the pier every year, but they come back in January.
  • Drink Irish Coffee: A cold or rainy January day is a good excuse to try one of the real San Francisco treats. Irish coffee first landed on U.S. shores in San Francisco, and the bar that introduced it is still going strong.

The annual events listed above happen every year, but they're not all that's going on in San Francisco in January. If you're looking for a fun concert, sporting event, or theatrical performance, check the San Francisco Chronicle's entertainment section. You'll also find an extensive list of events at SF Weekly.

January Travel Tips

  • January is a great time to get the best prices for hotels in San Francisco. With demand for hotels low this time of year, room rates become low as well. Making it an even better reason to visit.
  • Before you choose travel dates, avoid the hotel sellouts and high prices conventions can cause. Check the convention calendar and try to avoid dates of events with more than 10,000 attendees.
  • Sign up for a free account with Goldstar to get access to discounted tickets for local performances and save on some San Francisco attractions.
  • Any time of year, you can use these tips and become a smart San Francisco visitor who has more fun and puts up with fewer annoyances.
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