Beekeeping in San Francisco

A Guide for Proper Etiquette and Practices in an Urban Setting

City beekeeping is critical for maintaining and promoting the year-round blooms that make San Francisco beautiful. However, managing bees in a crowded city also comes with certain responsibilities so that beekeepers can provide their essential services without alienating neighbors. For this reason, the SF Beekeepers Association, in consultation with the city Department of the Environment and other advisors, has adopted the following guidelines to help new and veteran beekeepers understand the best practices of the craft. We ask that SFBA members and others follow these guidelines in handling their bees and hives. And we welcome your comments and/or suggestions here.


The San Francisco Department of the Environment recognizes that bee pollination plays an important role in agriculture contributing to productive crop yields and diverse ecosystems. San Francisco (City) currently allows urban beekeeping without any specific permit or registration requirements. However, in some cases bees can pose significant health and safety risks. To avoid conflict, beekeepers should manage their colonies in a way that is sensitive to surrounding areas and neighbors. The San Francisco Beekeepers Association (SFBA) is committed to provide training and support for urban beekeepers to successfully manage their hives in the City. The SFBA is ready to assist local agencies to handle issues that arise with respect to bees.

Section 581 of the San Francisco Health Code states, no person shall have upon any premises or real property owned, occupied or controlled by him or her any public nuisance except for harborage of honey-producing bees regulated by the CA Ag Code Sec 29000 et seq. which are determined not to be a nuisance under State law.

Section 29000 of the California State Department of Agricultural Code pertaining to bee management and honey production states, a healthy and vibrant apiary industry is important to the economy and welfare of the people of the State of California. Protection and promotion of this important industry is in the interest of the people of the State of California.

The following guidelines and best practices are aligned with appropriate sections of the San Francisco Health Code and the California State Department of Agricultural Code and to be followed when keeping honeybees in San Francisco.

History of Honeybees in San Francisco

European Honeybees have been a part of San Francisco’s natural environment for many decades. The original founders of the San Francisco Beekeepers Association kept managed hives in the City during the 1960’s and there were likely other beekeepers and feral hives prior to that time. San Francisco’s mild climate and year round availability of flowers provide nectar and pollen that allow honeybees to thrive.

Currently in San Francisco, managed colonies of European honeybees can be found in residential backyards, on rooftops of homes, businesses, hotels, in community gardens, public and private schools, universities, museums, the zoo and churches. Feral colonies can be found in trees in city parks and open spaces throughout the City. The number and location of honeybee colonies in San Francisco varies from year to year due to beekeepers ceasing to keep bees while others take up the craft. Colonies die out while new colonies become established.

The recent concern about the decline of honeybee colonies and awareness of the importance of honeybees for pollination has increased interest in beekeeping.  It is a mission of the San Francisco Beekeepers Association to promote responsible urban beekeeping. This document outlines best practices and etiquette beekeepers in San Francisco should use as they plan, set up and manage one or more honeybee hives in the City.


The San Francisco Beekeepers Association conducts a series of classes every year to prepare individuals for becoming responsible urban beekeepers. A key to success for keeping bees in San Francisco is to be educated with the knowledge and resources necessary for setting up, managing and maintaining a colony of honeybees. Every beekeeper should have a basic understanding of honeybee lifecycles, colony social organization and division of labor. Beekeepers need to be familiar with the equipment, supplies and tools commonly employed in beekeeping. The goals for educating beekeepers are to provide them with knowledge and best practice skills for hive management. The following sections highlight some of the topics covered in the San Francisco Beekeepers Association introductory beekeeping classes for achieving these goals.

Hive Placement

Honeybee hives should to be located in areas so that they do not create a nuisance for neighbors or the public. The hive entrance and flyway for bees leaving and entering the hive should be oriented or designed so that the people, pets and nearby property are not adversely affected by the flight pattern if the bees. When possible, the hive and entrance should be situated to receive sunlight as early as possible during the day yet away from wind, rain and damp conditions. There should be sufficient room for the beekeeper to open, inspect and manage the hive. The SFBA is available to examine locations where new hives are planned or established hives are placed. Recommendations about the site suitability and orientation of hives can be suggested for proper setup of a hive.

Honeybee hives located on private land not owned or leased by the beekeeper must have approval from the property owner.

Hives located or maintained on any public land must have the expressed oral or written approval of the entity which owns or administers the property. Hives located or maintained on public land without lawful consent is a public nuisance and may be subject to seizure by the director or the county agricultural commissioner.

The name and contact information of the of the beekeeper or person responsible for the hive must be prominently displayed on hives maintained on public property or locations not owned by the beekeeper.

Hive Density

The number of hives in any location depends on the size of the lot or parcel and the beekeeper. In general, for a typical 25’ X 100’ lot in San Francisco, a limit of two 8 or 10 frame Langstroth hives or two topbar hives are recommended. Larger lot sizes, community gardens and other public lands may be able to provide for a larger number of hives.

Queen and Colony Characteristics

Since all the honeybees in a colony are the offspring of the queen, the characteristics of a colony reflect the genetic qualities of the queen. Queens and their colonies should be gentle to manage, resistant to disease and pests and less likely to swarm. For these reasons, colonies and queens should be obtained from reputable, established sources that are as close to San Francisco as reasonably possible. Colonies that exhibit undesirable characteristics should be requeened to restore favorable behavior or healthy properties. As part of the beekeeper education classes held every year, the SFBA arranges for purchase of honeybee queens and bee packages for beekeepers who want to set up hives. Consideration is given to sources of bees that exhibit favorable qualities for urban beekeepers.

Hive Management

Honeybees should be maintained in hives with removable frames that enable assessment and treatment of the condition of the colony, including absence of disease and monitoring of pests. Hive inspections should be of sufficient frequency during the year to adequately assess health and activity of the colony. Any evidence of colony weakness, disease or pests should be treated or managed appropriately to maintain the health, vigor and gentle temperament of the colony. Hives that die out or are abandoned are considered a public nuisance and need to be removed.

Swarming Behavior

During months when swarming is probable, beekeepers should inspect their mature colonies regularly for signs of swarming. Management methods should be practiced to minimize or eliminate the possibility of swarming. These methods can include splitting or providing more hive brood space. Removing new queen swarm cells is not an effective method for preventing swarms. If a colony does swarm, the beekeeper should make attempts to capture the swarm and relocate the swarm to a new location in an appropriate hive. Members of the SFBA experienced in swarm management and capture are available to assist beekeepers with swarming behavior.

Robbing Behavior

Robbing behavior is not appropriate in urban neighborhoods. Honey comb should not be left exposed. Extracted frames and comb should be placed in an active hive for bees to clean or stored in a secure container or building inaccessible to bees. Harvesting from honeycomb should be done in a clean location not accessible to honeybees.

Controlling Honeybee Pests & Diseases

Currently, the most serious problem for bees and beekeepers in the Bay Area is the presence and spread the ectoparasitic Varroa mite, the viral diseases transmitted by Varroa and the bacterial disease American Foulbrood. Some of the other pests and diseases that affect bees in the City include nosema and the Phorid fly parasite Apocephalus and wax moths. Beekeepers should inspect their hives regularly throughout the year to become aware of the presence of these and other threats to honeybee health and be ready to remediate problems so that the condition does not spread to other hives in the City. Hives that die out or are abandoned should be removed as they may be reservoirs of latent disease or pests and may pose an attractive nuisance for other pests including rodents.

Africanized Honey bees

Colonies of Africanized Honey Bees (AFB) are not currently established in San Francisco or surrounding areas. Yet beekeepers in the City need be to vigilant of that possibility in the future and prepared to report any suspected occurrence of AHF to the county Agriculture Commissioner. Aggressive swarms or feral colonies should be reported to local agencies. Managed hives that become unacceptably aggressive should be requeened with queens reared from gentle genetic stock. The county Agricultural Commissioner may declare an overly defensive hive of honey bees to be a public nuisance and require the hive moved, destroyed or otherwise abated.


The San Francisco Beekeepers Association and its members follow responsible and respectful beekeeping practices.  Our mission is to promote honeybee health and compatibility in a crowded urban environment. If any hive is determined to become a public nuisance by the city Agricultural Commissioner or other qualified City official, the San Francisco Beekeepers Association will work with individual beekeepers and public agencies to address and help resolve or abate the particular situation. Examples of how the SFBA can aid in maintaining safe and healthy neighborhoods for people and bees in the city include removing abandoned or unidentified hives on public or private property, requeening and or moving aggressive hives, capture and relocate swarms and address complaints by neighbors about specific problems with nearby hives.

The SFBA maintains a swarm phone call number for reporting swarms. Calls to the swarm line are responded to by beekeepers with the necessary experience and equipment to remove and relocate most swarms that occur in San Francisco. SFBA responders are usually able to abate problems with bumblebees or wasps as well as honeybees. The SFBA can provide environmentally friendly suggestions in situations they are unable to resolve.