There are a lot of things that you might expect when visiting San Francisco, but snow is probably not one of them. If you’re interested in the weather around the city then you might be wondering – does it snow in San Francisco?
It does not often snow in San Francisco. Some flurries might occur over the winter, but it is very rare for snow to actually settle on the ground. In fact, there have only been ten recorded snowfalls in the city in the last 170 years, where one inch or more accumulated. In the surrounding hills, snow is more common, particularly in the higher mountains.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about the likelihood of seeing snow in San Francisco, the climate of the city, and where to go if you want to find some snow nearby.
How Much Does It Snow In San Francisco?
San Francisco gets an average of 0 inches of snow per year, meaning it is very uncommon for snow to settle and accumulate on the ground. To be measured as an average quantity, there only needs to be a minimum of 0.01 inches of snow in the ground, which tells you how little snow the city ever actually sees.
Though some snow may fall, it is generally too warm for it to build up on any surface in the city. In fact, there have only been 10 measurable snowfalls in San Francisco since 1852.
Where Is San Francisco?
San Francisco is located on the western coast of California, in a region known as the Bay Area. With over 800,000 residents, it is the 17th most populous city in the United States and is the 4th largest city in the state, behind Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose.
The San Francisco Bay Area (more commonly known as just the Bay Area) surrounds the estuaries of San Francisco, San Pablo, and Suisun Bay. San Francisco itself is almost entirely enclosed by the waters of the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay.
San Francisco is 37 degrees north of the equator. This is around the same latitude as the border between Utah and Arizona, the Caspian Sea, and the Southern tip of Spain.
Why Doesn’t It Snow In San Francisco?
The main reason why it doesn’t snow in San Francisco is because of the climate of the city. It is described as “Mediterranean with cool summers”, meaning is it dry but not too hot in the summer, and wet and mild in the winter. Temperatures rarely reach below freezing even in the coldest months of the year.
One of the most significant factors that affect the climate of San Francisco is its proximity to large bodies of water. With the Pacific Ocean to the west and the San Francisco Bay to the east, the city is practically surrounded.
Cool currents coming from the water keep the temperatures relatively mild all year long, without much variation over the seasons. The average minimum temperature occurs in the months of December and January, but it is only as low as 44 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius) – which is well above freezing.
Has It Ever Snowed In San Francisco?
Although it is a highly unlikely event, there have been some instances of significant, accumulated snowfall in San Francisco. In the last 170 years, there have only been 10 different occasions where snow built up enough to be at least one inch deep.
The most snowfall on record in the city occurred on February 5th, 1887. In downtown San Francisco, 3.7 inches of snow was measured and to the west of the city, where the elevation is higher, it reached depths of 7 inches. This was during a decade of winter storms; San Francisco saw four seasons of snow throughout the 1880s.
Was of the only times that snow has actually accumulated on the ground in San Francisco within living memory, was on February 9th, 1976, when the Golden Date Bridge was covered in snow and it reached a depth of 5 inches in the higher hills, like Twin Peaks.
More recently, on February the 25th, 2011, a light snow started falling over the city in the middle of the night. It did not build up enough to be measured, but it was an exceptional enough event to be reported on by news stations all over the region.
When Do The Seasons Fall In San Francisco?
Most of the major snowfalls that have ever happened in San Francisco occurred in the middle of winter, around February. The seasons in the city fall on:
- Winter: December, January, February, Early March
- Spring: Mid-March, April, May
- Summer: June, July, August
- Autumn: September, October, November
Although most of the snow days that San Francisco has seen happen in February, it is actually December and January that tend to be the coldest months of the year.
Does It Snow Around San Francisco?
Although the city itself almost never experiences any snow, there are higher altitude areas around San Francisco that do get a bit of snowfall. In fact, some of the taller peaks that you can see from the city will get snow on them once or twice every year.
It is not too much of a surprise to see snow on Mount Diablo, Mount St. Helena, Mount Tamalpais, and Mount Hamilton, for example. Usually, snow is more likely in the region at 2,000 feet or more above sea level.
Does It Snow In California?
San Francisco may not be a snowy city, but the state of California does see quite a significant amount of snow every year, if you know where to look. The state is home to several high-altitude national parks and the northern regions get a lot colder in the winter.
Where Can You Go To See Snow From San Francisco?
If you want to experience some fun in the snow, there are a lot of places that you can visit nearby. You might travel to one of the mountains that are visible from the city, on a particularly snowy day, or you can go a bit further afield to find somewhere that is consistently covered in winter snow.
High Sierra – Leland Snowplay
Just a few hours from the Bay Area and you can be in the High Sierra, the home of three different national parks and many beautiful lakes. One fun place to visit is Leland Snowplay, which offers a lot of different snow-based activities for all the family.
Sierra Nevada – Hope Valley
Large parts of the Sierra Nevada get a good amount of snowfall every year, and one of the nicest places to visit is Hope Valley, to the northeast of Carson Pass. There are lots of fields and hills that get covered in snow, and you can hike along several trails or visit the nearby lakes.
Echo Lake Sno-Park
For some easily-accessible snow-based activities, you can visit the Echo Summit snow play area. You need to get hold of a permit (costing around $5) to park your car at the Sno-Park, but you will be able to play in large amounts of plowed and maintained snow, and there are even restrooms available.
Northern Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a very popular place to visit no matter what time of year you go, but the area is often covered in snow over the winter months. North Lake Tahoe is the easiest part of the lake to access from the Bay Area and there are all kinds of spas, restaurants, hotels, and resorts to enjoy.
Bear Valley – Spicer Reservoir
Spicer Reservoir is a popular location all year round for camping, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding, but it also receives a good amount of snow in the winter. You can even take part in various snowy activities, like cross country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, and tubing, at the Bear Valley Adventure Company.
Dodge Ridge Ski Resort
If you want to be sure of some snow, there are many ski resorts around California that are always snow-covered over the winter. The closest resort to the Bay Area is Dodge Ridge and it boasts 863 acres of skiable land and 67 different trails.
In Summary: Does It Snow In San Francisco?
So, does it snow in San Francisco? Not really. It is incredibly rare to see any snowfall in the city, at least to the point where it actually collects on the ground. In the last 170 years, there have only been ten recorded snowfalls that reached a depth of one inch or more.
The last time there was a measurable amount of snow in San Francisco was in 1976, when up to 5 inches was recorded in the western hills.
The areas around the city, however, do see some snow. It is not uncommon for there to be snow on the peaks of the higher mountains, like Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais, once or twice every year.
If you do want to see snow from the Bay Area, you generally need to get in the car. There are many mountains and high-altitude lakes in areas like the Sierra Nevada, that are covered in snow every winter.
About the author: Marta Kovachek graduated from the university with a master’s degree in Economics. Marta enjoys writing about the current economic situation and loves helping our readers to find their next "destination". From places to live to complex social and economic topics, we always enjoy Marta's work. Please contact us in case of any questions.