15 Fun Things to Do in San Francisco This Winter

Spend the “indoor season” at Broadways shows, museum exhibits, music festivals and eating Dungeness crab.

Courtesy of FOG Design + Art

Hi there, friends. How about that weather? Everyone drying out from those atmospheric rivers? We’re pleased to report that the sun (remember the sun?) has indeed returned, allowing us to resume our regularly scheduled proceedings. California winter –that time of year when we get to gloat over the rest of the country –is back and the weather is mild enough for us to spend our days taking advantage of parks, hiking trails, beaches, and more, not to mention the city’s great restaurants, neighborhood dives, and renowned museums. Plus, there’s a bunch of seasonal-specific things to do, including local festivals, glowing art exhibits, amazing stage productions, and more.

Keep reading for all of the fun stuff to do in San Francisco this winter, and for more ideas of how to live your best life, check out our date ideas and weekend guide.

Chinese New Year Parade | Photo by Knight Lights Photography

Celebrate the Lunar New Year with Food and Fun

Now through February 5
$ to $$$$

Various Locations
San Francisco’s Lunar New Year celebrations are always worth planning around, whether you’d like to herald the arrival of the Year of the Rabbit with a concert and banquet courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony (February 5), a truffle, caviar, and lobster-filled feast at Empress by Boon (January 23-27), or joining the Warriors-endorsed Thrive City celebration, complete with a rabbit petting zoo, drum performances and lion dances (January 21-22). Whatever you do, don’t miss the Chinatown Community Street Fair (February 4-5) and the truly legendary Chinese New Year Parade (February 4), which is the largest parade celebrating the Lunar New Year outside of Asia.

R & G Lounge

Eat as Much Local Dungeness Crab as You Can Handle

Now through June 30
$$ to $$$$

Various Locations
Delays in San Francisco’s commercial Dungeness crab season have become as common as summer fog, meaning the traditional Thanksgiving dish is increasingly becoming a winter delicacy. Seize the crustacean moment and feast on the real deal San Francisco treat at as many locales as possible. We love the dead-simple preparation at the legendary Swan Oyster Depot and Woodhouse Fish Co., the cioppino at Anchor Oyster Bar and Scoma’s, any of the eight (eight!) crab preparations at R&G Lounge in Chinatown, and, of course, the roast crab with garlic noodles at Thanh Long in the Outer Sunset. Some other must-tries include the pitch-perfect crab salad with shaved fennel at Nopa, the coconut-laced ensalada at Abaca, on toast with anchovy sambal at The Anchovy Bar, and the lemongrass-rich crab porridge at The Morris.

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Photo: Courtesy of San Francisco Ballet

Discover the wonderful world of dance with San Francisco Ballet’s 2023 Repertory Season. Experience a captivating performance of Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella at the War Memorial Opera House running March 31 through April 8. The tale follows a hopeful heroine and a noble prince as they engage with magical elements such as an enormous billowing tree, whimsical creatures, and a carriage whose magical creation onstage will take your breath away. Don’t miss this stunning display of storytelling — purchase your tickets today.

Courtesy of FOG Art + Design

Hone Your Art Appreciation at New Exhibits, Museums, and Art Fairs

$ to $$

Fort Mason Center, SFMOMA, ICASF
San Francisco’s known as a world-class art city for good reason, and there’s no time like a chilly winter day to soak up the scene’s newest exhibits and offerings. FOG Art + Design Fair at Fort Mason Center (January 19-22) is a great place to check out up-and-coming artists alongside established creators, and even add to (or start!) your own collection. ICA SF, the newest museum in the city, boasts free admission and a stunning slate of exhibitions including Resting Our Eyes, which focuses on, “the liberation and celebration of Black women through the lens of leisure and physical adornment” (January 21 through June 25). The SFMOMA is pulling its weight, per always, with a fascinating retrospective dedicated to San Francisco artist Joan Brown (through March 12) and the return of Ragnar Kjartansson’s captivating video exhibition, The Visitors (through January 2, 2024).

Dear Evan Hansen

Ongoing through March
$$ to $$$

Golden Gate Theater, Orpheum Theater, New Conservatory Theatre Center,
If you love plays and musicals, you’re going to be very excited about what’s happening on stage in SF this winter. BroadwaySF hosts the return of Dear Evan Hansen, a moving, Tony-winning musical about a teenager with social anxiety and depression who benefits by turning a tragedy into a lie all while affirming the belief that there is room for everyone to feel loved and accepted (Jan 24 through Feb 19); Mean Girls, a hit musical based on the movie with a book written by Tina Fey, so you know it’s actually funny (Jan 31 through Feb 26); and Six, a pop-tastic production that flips the tale of the King Henry VIII’s six wives on its paternalistic head (Feb 21 through March 19).

At the New Conservatory Theatre Center (NCTC), see Getting There, a story about two friends who travel to Paris and have a falling out that sends them on separate journeys that change everyone involved forever (Jan 20 through Feb 26), followed by a production of tick, tick…BOOM!, Jonathan Larson’s semi-biographical, posthumous musical that preceded his smash hit RENT.

Berkeley Rep brings us Tony-nominated Clyde’s, a dramedy which centers around a truck-stop sandwich shop and its formerly incarcerated staff who are attempting to rebuild their lives while on a quest to create the perfect sandwich (Jan 20 through Feb 26), followed by Cambodian Rock Band, which contends with the devastating legacy of the Khmer Rouge’s genocide and family secrets with humor and heart, all set to the beat of Cambodian-American rock legends Dengue Fever.

January 20-February 5

Various locations
SF Sketchfest returns for its 20th year this January with a star-studded lineup and a chance to see well-known comedians, up-and-comers, and local performers in a bunch of intimate venues, like the Great American Music Hall, PianoFight, and Swedish American Hall. Whether you enjoy sketch, stand-up, alternative comedy, music, improv, films, tributes, all-star reunions, live podcasts, or panel discussions, there’s a show you’ll want to snag tix for. Performers include Fred Armisen, Eugene Levy, Christopher Guest, Cheech and Chong, Joel Kim Booster, and more. Shows are already selling out, so don’t sleep on this!

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Courtesy of San Francisco Ballet

Discover the wonderful world of dance with Giselle at the War Memorial Opera House running February 24 through March 5. Giselle tells the poignant tale of a peasant girl with a gentle heart and a passion for dance, whose tour de force moment is not one to miss. Experience this unforgettable journey of betrayal, forgiveness, and joyous celebration — purchase your tickets today.

Zinfandel Advocates & Producers

Sip Wine, Drink Beer, Watch Movies, Eat Good Food, and More at Local Festivals

January - February
$ to $$$

Various locations
When in doubt, there is always fun to be had at SF’s plethora of festivals. This January brings the Zinfandel Experience, with three days of wine and food, including a fancy opening night dinner, seminars, and a grand tasting (January 26-28); Bay Area Brew Fest, which is returning to Fort Mason after a three-year hiatus with over 50 breweries, hundreds of beers, food trucks, DJs, and more (January 28); Noir City Film Festival, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary with 10 days of film noir and rare films at the Grand Lake Theater (Jan 20-29); and the 25th Anniversary of SF Indie Fest, which boasts 95 films over 11 days at the Roxie Theater (February 2-12).

February 20-February 26

Various locations
Noise Pop Festival brings indie artists from around the world to SF for a week of concerts, art shows, film screenings, happy hours, and after-hours parties. Phase 2 artists include Yo La Tengo, Boy Harsher, Duster, STRFKR, FIDLAR, Bob Mould, Covet, Tourist, Mareux, No Vacation, and many, many more. They’ll be playing at venues like the Great American Music Hall, Bottom of the Hill, The Chapel, Rickshaw Stop, The Regency Ballroom, August Hall, The New Parish, Gray Area, and Public Works.

NightLife at California Academy of Sciences
Photo courtesy of the California Academy of Sciences

Dance and drink at adults-only parties at two of SF’s most fun museums

Ongoing on Thursday nights
Exploratorium/Embarcadero and California Academy of Sciences/Golden Gate Park
If you like the idea of going to a museum, but would like it a lot more if it involved DJs and drinking, you’re in luck because two of SF’s best museums host Thursday night parties exclusively for adults. Check out After Dark at the Exploratorium, where you don’t have to politely wait for the kids to finish to try out the hands-on exhibits, and NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences, where you can explore the four-story rainforest, sip cocktails in the aquarium, and catch a show at the planetarium.

San Francisco Parks Alliance

Now through Sunday, March 12

Peacock Meadow, Golden Gate Park
Returning for its third year, Entwined” is an immersive forest of illuminated color in Peacock Meadow (just east of the Conservatory of Flowers). LED light sculptures fill the space to create twisting paths among flowering clusters and trees that shift colors and light. There are a few new installations this year, including a “Fallen Tree” seating area and “sapling” trees with “hidden world tree knots.”

Mission Bowling Club
Mission Bowling Club

Score strikes and good grub at a bowling alley

Presidio and Mission
Whether you want classic bowling or a fine-dining lane-side experience, SF has you covered. Presidio Bowl has 12 lanes, an internet jukebox, 45 beers, 19 wines, a full bar, and a pretty typical bowling alley menu. Mission Bowling Club is a little fancier with legit food (including a great burger) and cocktails, but only six lanes, so you’ll definitely need to plan ahead.

Dear San Francisco A High-Flying Love Story show
Photo by Alexandre Galliez

Ongoing through July
Club Fugazi/North Beach
San Francisco could use a little love right now, and it gets more than a little during “Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story,” an immersive performance/homage to this wild town told via how-do-they-do-that acrobatics, including hoop diving, Chinese pole, juggling, spoken word, video projections, shadow play, and original music. And though those things might sound like they’re for kids, this show is definitely more adult-friendly, especially if you order a bottle of wine and some fancy grown-up snacks and desserts to enjoy while you watch. Even if you’ve already seen the show, the performers—and the feats they perform—change, making this a show you can definitely see more than once.

Neil Howard/Flickr

$ to $$
The historic Ferry Building is pretty to look at, but, more importantly, behind those good looks is a fantastic personality in the form of delicious artisan food, including Señor Sisig’s newest location, and Grande Crêperie, a concept from Le Marais Bakery that’s all about savory and sweet crêpes and artisanal all-butter croissants and pastries. Eat lunch by the water at Hog Island Oyster Company or get a delicious burger and milkshake on Gott’s Roadside’s patio. Grab a canned cocktail at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant and a cupcake from Miette to enjoy while sitting on a bench with views of the Bay Bridge. Buy bagels for tomorrow’s breakfast at Daily Driver. The beloved farmers market is still popping up on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, so you can also shop for high-quality products from small, sustainable growers and producers who will appreciate your support.

Golden Gate Park
Thanks to the voters of San Francisco, John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park will now be permanently car-free. Take advantage of the fact that you can walk, run, bike, skip, pogo stick, and more in the middle of the street all winter. Don’t forget to check out “Paint the Promenade,” an ongoing installation from Paint the Void, a non-profit that “brings creativity to everyday urban spaces while supporting local artists.” The installation includes the beloved Doggie Diner heads along JFK Drive between Conservatory Drive West and 6th Avenues, 100 (comfy!) chairs set up for relaxing, two pianos that anyone can play, and more.

Bayview to Outer Richmond
Put on your most comfortable sneakers and head out on the Crosstown Trail, a 17-mile urban hike that takes you through tons of SF neighborhoods, including McLaren Park, Glen Canyon, Golden Gate Park, and Seacliff. The trail is a mix of paved roads/paths and trails, is about 2,600 feet of elevation, and offers great views, cool tiled staircases, a chance to see SF in a whole new way, and satisfaction for having actually done it. 

Mission Bay
Learn the story of California’s Boom and Bust by playing miniature golf at SF’s only outdoor miniature golf course. Put the ball into a Barbary Coast Saloon, through a gold mine, and around “Golden Gate Park,” while reading cool factoids along the way. To help maintain a safe environment, you’ll have to make a reservation, which involves a little planning, but is definitely worth it. Especially because the course is also located within Parklab Gardens (a food truck park and beer garden) so you can celebrate your win (or lament your defeat) with some tasty treats and a cold one.

San Francisco Botanical Garden
San Francisco Botanical Garden

Free for SF residents
Golden Gate Park
This 55-acre urban oasis with more than 9,000 plants from around the world is always a great place to go for a mini escape. Pack a picnic to enjoy on the grounds or wander through the gardens and visit flora from Australia, Chile, South Africa, and more, all in one afternoon. You’ll just have to pop open a plant app to see what you’re enjoying since we aren’t exactly certified botanists.

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Lauren Sloss is a San Francisco-based travel, food, and music writer who has done stints in Philadelphia, New York, London, Istanbul, and aboard a 32-foot sailboat. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.