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San Francisco in winter: six reasons to ditch the cold for some California sun

It’s gray outside; you’re tired of dressing like a polar explorer; and your coworker just sneezed on you again – it’s time to escape winter and head to defiantly sunny San Francisco. Here are six ways to explain your departure so your boss understands – or at least sympathizes enough to approve your vacation request.

1. Dragons demand your immediate attention

Lunar New Year festivals elsewhere may be short and sweet, but celebrations in San Francisco to usher in 2016’s Year of the Monkey will last for weeks. When the celebration of Tet (Vietnamese New Year; see kicks off in early February, flocks of dragons descend right in front of City Hall on United Nations Plaza – and then they dance. Vietnamese San Franciscans aged eight to 75 perform the traditional Lunar New Year dragon and lion dances, and bring this gray corner of Market Street to life in a blur of color. While you’re in the neighborhood, follow dragons around the Asian Art Museum and feed on fantastic pho (noodle soup) in one of the Vietnamese restaurants north of City Hall.

Meanwhile across town, Chinese New Year celebrations begin with the Grant Avenue Flower Market Fair, which very conveniently takes place close to Valentine’s Day…hint, hint. But if you dare to enter a real-life dragon’s den, head into City Lights, where Chinese New Year dragon costumes were once stashed in the cellar, and dragon lore is kept alive today by San Francisco fantasy authors including Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler). San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade isn’t until Feb 20, but it takes 100 highly coordinated performers to animate the parade’s star attraction: the historic 200-foot Golden Dragon. This legendary dance has been performed in Chinatown for almost 150 years – discover more on the history of the celebrations and SF’s Chinese community in general at the Chinese Historical Society of America, and greet the dragon itself with a “Gung hay fat choy!” or “Gong xi fa cai!” (that’s “happy new year!” in Cantonese and Mandarin).

2. Deals like this don’t come along often

While hotel and B&B rates are never exactly cheap in San Francisco, they do dip slightly in February and March as a nod to temperatures being slightly lower than July’s. Winter brings bonus hotel perks too, like spa packages at the waterfront Hotel Vitale (love those rooftop soaking tubs) and Japantown’s Hotel Kabuki (score free passes for all-day steam cleaning at Kabuki Springs & Spa). New San Francisco legislation regulates and legalizes house shares, so when downtown hotels are packed with conference attendees, you might find an apartment, room or couch at off-season rates via San Francisco-based companies Craigslist, Airbnb and Couchsurfing.

San Francisco is also tantalizingly close to Napa and Sonoma, where wine country getaways have midwinter bargains, especially midweek. Fields of yellow mustard are in bloom this time of year, with warm days and cool nights perfect for a warming Cabernet and a dip in a Sonoma hot spring or Calistoga volcanic mudbath.

3. You’re trying to eat and drink better

Right now, brave resolutions to eat more fresh food are being broken by boring winter menus across America, where local, seasonal fare usually means bland root vegetables ­­– parsnips, anyone? But the San Francisco Bay Area seasonal food calendar in midwinter reads like a gourmet dream: Dungeness crab, Meyer lemon, chanterelle mushrooms, leeks, oysters, mizuna, satsumas, and more (check it out at All those bright, ultra-fresh flavors give San Francisco chefs an unfair advantage – but hey, if you can’t beat them, why not join them for dinner? Start with our top restaurant choices, or hit the year-round Ferry Building Saturday farmers market to assemble your own California gourmet meal.

The next obvious question is: how are you going to wash down all that tasty food? The obvious answer is San Francisco Beer Week, which lasts from January 22 to 31 ( If you can’t find your new microbrew of choice after some 20 tasting events a day, you are just not that into beer. In which case, take your pick of 800 award-nominated wines on February 13 at America’s premier wine-tasting competition: San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition ( Industry experts judge these wines blind, so local-favorite Napa and Sonoma vintages sometimes lose top prizes to wines from Michigan or New York. Shocking!

4. The Hillbilly Robot invasion is upon us

From the global epicenter of technology and hippiedom comes yet another unlikely invention: Hillbilly Robot (, a February festival dedicated to San Francisco’s peculiar brand of inventive urban Americana. Featured bands at festival venues including Slim’s and The Great American Music Hall sound like new characters from some old Jack London adventure tale: Hopeless Jack and the Handsome Devil, the No Good Redwood Ramblers, and a truthfully yet misleadingly named jug band: Big Jugs. If you miss the festival, the hillbilly robots will probably find you at shows at Plough & Stars, The Chapel and Amnesia. Today they’ll take San Francisco, tomorrow the world…insert twangy mechanical cackle here.

5. It’s a love thing
Ah, February, when love is in the air. Whether you're after the real deal or an early spring fling, let San Francisco help. The sexual revolution kicked off here with the 1967 Summer of Love, and it’s not over yet. On any given Friday night, there’s someone for everyone. El Rio reigns supreme as the magnet for San Franciscans of every gender and orientation, with a full rainbow spectrum of flirtation on the back patio and free aphrodisiac oysters and burlesque shows to get your weekend started. Other top everyone-shows, anything-goes clubs include Rickshaw Stop, Cat Club, DNA, and Oasis, which also hosts the city’s most outrageous drag shows - if your ability to blush isn’t permanently impaired, they must be having an off-night. The history-making Castro neighborhood might just steal your heart – or at least make you drop it like it’s hot on the dance floor. Straight, lesbian, trans, gay, bisexual, asexual and sundry undecided hipsters share the love for the city’s Mission district. Wild Side West has been a lesbian-owned Mission bar since 1964, making women’s herstory in the beer garden and making out on the pool table (Janis Joplin started it). The Marina area takes the pursuit of the opposite sex to athletic levels, obsessively trolling OKCupid in workout gear at sidewalk cafes – but everyone gets dressed up for the Valentine’s wine walk (

6. You’re researching the definitive cure for winter blues

No existing medical research actually proves that San Francisco can cure midwinter slumps, so you’ll need to pursue your own rigorous research. Do Coastal Trail hikes to Pacific Ocean sunsets take your breath away and fill you with wild hopes for tomorrow? There’s only one way to find out. Does the delicate scent of rare Asian magnolias in bloom bring spring to mind? Investigate at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Do balmy beach days in February inspire everyone to strip down for some full-frontal Vitamin D? Watch and learn at Baker Beach. Your research could be ground-breaking, not to mention vacation-making. Do it for the good of humanity, and report key findings to us on Twitter: #lp @AlisonBing

By Alison Bing  | Lonely Planet


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Travel Magazine: San Francisco in winter: six reasons to ditch the cold for some California sun
San Francisco in winter: six reasons to ditch the cold for some California sun
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