Visitors in other cities may swelter in summer's heat. Not in San Francisco.
Weather reports often forecast "coastal fog reaching into the bay will burn off by late morning, then clear skies until late afternoon when fog rolls in again.” But this white wispy stuff won’t dampen your vacation plans.
Summer fog is common, but not an everyday event, so a bit of spontaneity works in favor of those in pursuit of a fog adventure. Morning and evening fog rolls into San Francisco Bay from June to August, pushing its way through the Golden Gate Bridge towers, drifting and swirling up and over the Marin Headlands, and nestling up against shoreline piers. Then, more often than not, it magically stops before consuming the city itself. It's a picturesque show of nature that changes each day as the elements of the sea, sun and wind interact.
Whether one is beside it, above it or in the thick of it, fog is a mystical and magical drama of nature to behold. Here are a few suggestions on where to find the most beautiful spots from different vantage points for fog viewing picnics:
Beside the Fog
Just below the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge and Vista Point lies East Fort Baker. This secluded recreation area with views of the bay is often sunny when the western park areas are fogged in. Walk from the nearby Golden Gate Transit bus stop or drive down Bunker Road to East Fort Baker to find this treasure complete with a fishing pier, the innovative Bay Area Discovery Museum, the luxury lodge Cavallo Point, historical brick fortifications of Battery Cavallo and concrete gun emplacements of Battery Yates.
Eye-level views of cargo ships, tankers, luxury liners, yachts and sailboats passing are accented with blasts of a traditional air fog horn from the Golden Gate Bridge which looms almost overhead. The grassy parade grounds and coastal bluffs of East Fort Baker combine to make a protected picnic spot that is out of the wind, but still offers pristine fog bank views.
Above the Fog
For a peak experience, rise above the mist atop a Bay Area hill and look down upon the shroud of fog as it penetrates the entrance of the bay. First as wispy tendrils, then as a blanket of fleece, fog sometimes covers even the tips of the Golden Gate Bridge towers and stretches itself out into the Bay. In the same glance take in the city skyline with the unmistakable silhouettes of Coit Tower and the Transamerica Pyramid reaching upward. Breathtaking is an understatement.
Just 15 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands, sits Mt. Tamalpais (nicknamed “Mt. Tam”) with a summit just less than a half-mile high. Mt. Tam rises almost straight up from sea level and offers 360-degree views of the entire Bay Area and west to the Pacific Ocean. On foggy days, the meadows, grasslands, forests and creeks at lower elevations are sometimes enveloped in a dreamlike fog, yet other peaks are visible just above. The park has numerous parking areas, trailheads, scenic overlooks and two drive-in picnic areas with day-use facilities. During May and June, it offers The Mountain Play, a natural amphitheatre built at the top of Mt. Tam in 1913, and draws more than 4,000 patrons per performance to see classics such as Guys and Dolls or West Side Story.
The 20-minute descent on West Ridgecrest Boulevard on the northern flank of Mt. Tam affords a great road for a sunset drive when the fog is in.
Across the bay and atop the Berkeley-Oakland hills lies Tilden Regional Park. Magnificent views are the reward for ascending the Sea View Trail. Eucalyptus and Monterey pine trees line the trail that runs south from Inspiration Point off Wildcat Canyon Road and can be reached by car or AC Transit from the Berkeley BART station.
The weather at Angel Island, Sausalito and Alcatraz isn't as predictable for fog fans; they can be terrific view spots or be totally socked in. However, bay cruise companies offer a choice of destinations and can usually give sure-fire suggestions for getting into or out of a fog bank.
In The Thick of the Fog
When the tide of fog is in, a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge is for the hearty and adventurous. The Marin Headlands are equally fog-friendly. Along Crissy Field, the Golden Gate Promenade, Marina Green and Fisherman's Wharf, the wetness and wind may be a bit less chilling, but bundle up and bring the hot chocolate.
Picnic a la San Francisco Cuisine
The ultimate recipe for a successful foggy day picnic is equal amounts of 1) morning or evening fog in June, July, August and sometimes early September, 2) warm and layered clothing, and 3) genuine San Francisco cuisine in the picnic basket. Those who want to see it but not feel it can opt to stake out a window seat in one of San Francisco's many view restaurants for fog-watching thrills without the chills.
Picnic Breakfast Sampler:
- Italian pastries and a thermos full of cafe latté from North Beach
- Bagels, cream cheese and cured salmon with red onions and capers
- Fresh seasonal fruits and blackberry scones with cloud-like whipped cream
- Fresh-squeezed orange juice, hot herbal tea and cranberry-orange muffins.
Sunset Picnic Sampler:
- Thermos of steaming cioppino or clam chowder
- Smoked ham and brie on a sourdough French bread baguette
- Roasted eggplant and Portobello mushrooms on foccacia
- Dim sum packed to go from Chinatown
- Fresh seafood cocktails from Fisherman's Wharf
- Burritos from one of San Francisco’s street food vendors
- Bottle of California wine, locally brewed beer or a reusable bottle filled with tap water (San Francisco is known for its Hetch Hetchy Sierra Nevada water source).
Fun Fog Facts
How Does It Happen? Though fog can occur sporadically year-round, it mainly blankets the coastal Bay Area in the summer when hot inland temperatures create a low-pressure zone over Northern California's Central Valley. The hot inland air rises and the heavier cold ocean air rushes in to replace it. This flow from the high to the low pressure zone pulls the fog through the Golden Gate passage and into the Bay. More fun facts about San Francisco fog.