How to Avoid the Crowds in San Francisco This Summer
Summer is a terrific time to visit San Francisco. There are many special festival and events, our temperatures are cooler than other destinations, and there's more fun to be had with your family. Having said that, it's also a very popular time to visit San Francisco—and if you're looking to cross everything off your Bay Area bucket list, you might want to take our tips for avoiding the crowds. Here are a few helpful hacks that will hopefully make your visit a smoother one.
Getting Around (Affordably)
Avoid That: They can take you just about anywhere in the city, but riding BART or Muni during busy times, like morning and afternoon commute hours, won't be much fun. Though prices remain low, you'll be lucky to squeeze in the door, let alone get a seat.
Dining in San Francisco
Avoid That: If you want to eat at San Francisco's best restaurants, don't simply arrive there. You'll most likely end up waiting longer than you'd like, if you get seated at all.
Do This: Instead of winging it, plan your meals. Reserve a table in advance through OpenTable. You should reserve a table at least two to four weeks ahead of time, as some of the most popular restaurants fill up well in advance.
Avoid That: Though strolling along Grant Ave. is a must, Chinatown has much more beyond its main drag. Don't spend all your time here.
Do This: Full of alleys and hills, Chinatown gives the curious wanderer much to discover. Take a guided tour with a local expert who will show you the things most visitors never discover. All About Chinatown Tours gives you an inside look at numerous local gems, including an herbal pharmacy, food markets, and a Buddhist temple.
Riding the Cable Cars
Avoid That: Don't lose precious time waiting at the Powell St. turnaround. 7.5 million passengers ride the cable cars each year, and many choose to get on here in the summer.
Do This: Hop on the California St. line at its terminus (California and Drumm streets). Lines hardly ever take long, and the ride up to Nob Hill presents you with beautiful views of the city.
Walking San Francisco's Crooked Streets
Avoid That: Lombard St., as iconic as it is, has an incredible amount of foot traffic. Zigzagging down Lombard without brushing someone's shoulders is near impossible, especially in the summer. And your photos will undoubtedly feature lots of other visitors.
Do This: Head to Potrero Hill, a favorite local neighborhood. There, you'll encounter another crooked street: Vermont St. Some experts say Vermont St. may actually be the crookedest street in town. It boasts sharper turns and a steeper decline. It's also the site of one of San Francisco's most unusual and amusing annual events: the Bring Your Own Big Wheel Race. Every Easter Sunday, kids and kids-at-heart careen down Vermont St. on their big wheels, hoping to make it to the bottom without taking a spill.
Seeing the Redwoods
Avoid That: We're all for the spirit of adventure and frontier optimism, but don't just roll up the the famous Muir Woods thinking you'll be alone with nature. The park is incredibly popular, and unplanned visits are discouraged.
Do This: Make a reservation for Muir Woods. The advantage is two-fold: parking is limited and, as a natural habitat, the area is very sensitive to overtourism. Reservations make the visit easier for you while protecting the natural wonders you came to see. You can make your own reservation or go as part of a tour. For instance, if you plan to visit Muir Woods with Big Bus Tours, you'll get dropped off right by the gate with ticket in hand.
Viewing the Golden Gate Bridge
Avoid That: Cars and people line the north and south vista points in the summer, creating a logjam that makes you feel rushed. You won't get to appreciate the view, and you might not get the photos you want.
Do This: Alternative viewing points in the Marin Headlands are significantly less packed with people. Check out the bridge from Fort Baker or climb Conzelman Road for epic views. Crissy Field, a former U.S. army airfield in the Presidio, has wonderful views too.
Visiting Wine Country
Avoid That: Sure, Napa Valley and Sonoma County get all the attention—and rightfully so. They have some of the best wineries in the world. With them come heavy crowds, especially during summer holidays and on the weekends.
Do This: Visit lesser-known wineries like those in the Tri-Valley region. Located in East Bay, the Tri-Valley has 55 wineries within a short distance of one another. Much like Napa and Sonoma, you get to taste a collection of great wines, but without the crowds. Among the vineyards you must visit in the Tri-Valley is Wente Vineyards, which is the country's oldest continuously operating family-owned winery.
Weekend Museum Visits
Avoid That: While they're well worth a visit, some of San Francisco's most popular museums, like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Exploratorium, can get very crowded on Saturdays and Sundays.
Do This: Use your weekends to visit lesser known institutions, like the San Francisco Railway Museum, the Cartoon Art Museum, and the Wells Fargo History Museum. Then visit the others during the less active weekdays. Some of them will even stay open late on certain weekday nights!
Catching Summer Sun in San Francisco's Parks
Avoid That: While offering jaw-dropping views—of both our architectural and human scenery—Dolores Park in the Mission can get very full on the weekends. Nearly 10,000 people have been seen there when the weather's nice.
Do This: Go where you can find serenity. Yerba Buena Gardens doesn't get too packed, despite sitting in the heart of San Francisco. Also, Golden Gate Park is an urban oasis. Even though lots of people may be there, you can easily find peaceful spots in its 1,000-plus acres. Try the San Francisco Botanical Garden and Japanese Tea Garden to start.