Travel & Day Trips

The Worst Time of Day for San Francisco Traffic

San Francisco, the iconic city by the bay, is known for its charming cable cars, steep hills, and stunning views. However, just like any major urban area, it is also notorious for its traffic congestion.

As a Bay Area resident, I’ve spent as long as three hours stuck in traffic trying to get out of San Francisco!

In this blog post, we will dive into the worst time of day for San Francisco traffic, based on traffic patterns, common commuter routes, and even tips on how to avoid the dreaded gridlock. We’ll also share some tips for beating the traffic.

The Morning Commute: 7 AM to 9 AM

The first peak of San Francisco traffic typically occurs during the morning rush hour, when people are heading to work, school, or other daily activities. This period usually runs from 7 AM to 9 AM, with the worst congestion occurring around 8 AM.

During this time, you can expect slow-moving traffic on major highways, like the US-101, I-80, and I-280, as well as heavy congestion around Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge toll plazas.

Additionally, downtown San Francisco streets can become clogged with cars and buses, especially around popular business districts like the Financial District, South of Market (SoMa), and Mission Bay.

The Afternoon Rush: 4 PM to 7 PM

The evening commute, or the afternoon rush, takes the cake as the most congested time of day for San Francisco traffic. This period usually begins around 4 PM and lasts until 7 PM, with peak congestion happening between 5 PM and 6 PM.

During this time, drivers can expect heavy traffic on the same major highways as in the morning, with longer travel times and stop-and-go conditions. In addition to commuters, the evening rush also sees an influx of tourists and locals heading to popular attractions, restaurants, and events, further contributing to the congestion.

SoMa and the Financial District in the afternoon are crazy. It can take as long to get out of downtown as it takes to make the whole rest of your drive home.

One of the worst times for traffic is on Friday afternoon. People start leaving the office early, so traffic has a longer time to build, and streets can get congested as early as 2pm.

Why the Afternoon Rush is the Worst

There are a few factors that make the afternoon rush the worst time of day for San Francisco traffic:

  1. Longer duration: The afternoon rush tends to last longer than the morning commute, as people leave work at different times and engage in various post-work activities, such as shopping or going out to eat.
  2. More vehicles: The evening hours also tend to see higher overall traffic volume, as more people are out and about, whether for work, errands, or leisure activities.
  3. Tourist traffic: San Francisco is a popular tourist destination, and visitors often contribute to traffic congestion during the afternoon rush, as they navigate unfamiliar streets and head to popular spots around the city.

Tips to Avoid the Worst Traffic

While traffic in San Francisco can be a headache, there are a few strategies to minimize your exposure to the worst of it:

  1. Adjust your schedule: If possible, try to travel during off-peak hours, such as mid-morning or early afternoon, when traffic is typically lighter.
  2. Use public transportation: San Francisco has an extensive public transportation network, including buses, light rail (Muni Metro), and the regional BART system, which can help you bypass much of the city’s congestion.
  3. Ride the Ferry: If you’re going to the North Bay or to Oakland, there’s a unique option: the ferry! Riding a ferry lets you sidestep the traffic by taking to the Bay.
  4. Carpool or rideshare: Sharing a ride with others can not only reduce the number of cars on the road but also grant you access to carpool lanes, which often have less traffic.
  5. Choose alternate routes: Familiarize yourself with secondary roads and neighborhood streets that might be less congested than major highways and thoroughfares. Keep in mind, though, that lots of other people are probably using those routes!
  6. Plan your trips: If you know you’ll be traveling during peak traffic hours, give yourself extra time to reach your destination, and use navigation apps to find the quickest and least congested routes.


In conclusion, the worst time of day for San Francisco traffic is during the afternoon rush, between 4 PM and 7 PM. The combination of longer duration, more vehicles on the road, and increased tourist traffic all contribute to the heightened congestion during this period.

However, by employing strategies like adjusting your schedule, using public transportation, carpooling, exploring alternate routes, and planning your trips, you can minimize your exposure to the worst of the city’s traffic.

While it may be impossible to entirely avoid traffic in a bustling city like San Francisco, staying informed about peak traffic hours and adopting smart commuting strategies can help you save time and reduce stress.

Remember that a bit of patience and flexibility can go a long way in navigating the busy streets of the City by the Bay. Happy driving!

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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