Data are presented on long-term salinity behaviour in San Francisco Bay, California. A two-level, width averaged model of the tidally averaged salinity and circulation has been written in order to interpret the long-term (days to decades) salinity variability. The model has been used to simulate daily averaged salinity in the upper and lower levels of a 51 segment discretization of the Bay over the 22-yr period 1967-1988. Monthly averaged surface salinity from observations and monthly-averaged simulated salinity are in reasonable agreement. Good agreement is obtained from comparison with daily averaged salinity measured in the upper reaches of North Bay. The salinity variability is driven primarily by freshwater inflow with relatively minor oceanic influence. All stations exhibit a marked seasonal cycle in accordance with the Mediterranean climate, as well as a rich spectrum of variability due to extreme inflow events and extended periods of drought. Monthly averaged salinity intrusion positions have a pronounced seasonal variability and show an approximately linear response to the logarithm of monthly averaged Delta inflow. Although few observed data are available for studies of long-term salinity stratification, modelled stratification is found to be strongly dependent on freshwater inflow; the nature of that dependence varies throughout the Bay. Near the Golden Gate, stratification tends to increase up to very high inflows. In the central reaches of North Bay, modelled stratification maximizes as a function of inflow and further inflow reduces stratification. Near the head of North Bay, lowest summer inflows are associated with the greatest modelled stratification. Observations from the central reaches of North Bay show marked spring-neap variations in stratification and gravitational circulation, both being stronger at neap tides. This spring-neap variation is simulated by the model. A feature of the modelled stratification is a hysteresis in which, for a given spring-neap tidal range and fairly steady inflows, the stratification is higher progressing from neaps to springs than from springs to neaps. The simulated responses of the Bay to perturbations in coastal sea salinity and Delta inflow have been used to further delineate the time-scales of salinity variability. Simulations have been performed about low inflow, steady-state conditions for both salinity and Delta inflow perturbations. For salinity perturbations a small, sinusoidal salinity signal with a period of 1 yr has been applied at the coastal boundary as well as a pulse of salinity with a duration of one day. For Delta inflow perturbations a small, sinusoidally varying inflow signal with a period of 1 yr has been superimposed on an otherwise constant Delta inflow, as well as a pulse of inflow with a duration of one day. Perturbations is coastal salinity dissipate as they move through the Bay. Seasonal perturbations require about 40-45 days to propagate from the coastal ocean to the Delta and to the head of South Bay. The response times of the model to perturbations in freshwater inflow are faster than this in North Bay and comparable in South Bay. In North Bay, time-scales are consistent with advection due to lower level, up-estuary transport of coastal salinity perturbations; for inflow perturbations, faster response times arise from both upper level, down-estuary advection and much faster, down-estuary migration of isohalines in response to inflow volume continuity. In South Bay, the dominant time-scales are governed by tidal dispersion.