Despite being the largest estuary on the west coast of North America, no in-depth survey of microbial communities in San Francisco Bay (SFB) waters currently exists. In this study, we analyze bacterioplankton and archaeoplankton communities at several taxonomic levels and spatial extents (i.e., North versus South Bay) to reveal patterns in alpha and beta diversity. We assess communities using high-throughput sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene in 177 water column samples collected along a 150-km transect over a 2-year monthly time-series. In North Bay, the microbial community is strongly structured by spatial salinity changes while in South Bay seasonal variations dominate community dynamics. Along the steep salinity gradient in North Bay, we find that operational taxonomic units (OTUs; 97% identity) have higher site specificity than at coarser taxonomic levels and turnover (“species” replacement) is high, revealing a distinct brackish community (in oligo-, meso-, and polyhaline samples) from fresh and marine end-members. At coarser taxonomic levels (e.g., phylum, class), taxa are broadly distributed across salinity zones (i.e., present/abundant in a large number of samples) and brackish communities appear to be a mix of fresh and marine communities. We also observe variations in brackish communities between samples with similar salinities, likely related to differences in water residence times between North and South Bay. Throughout SFB, suspended particulate matter is positively correlated with richness and influences changes in beta diversity. Within several abundant groups, including the SAR11 clade (comprising up to 30% of reads in a sample), OTUs appear to be specialized to a specific salinity range. Some other organisms also showed pronounced seasonal abundance, including Synechococcus, Ca. Actinomarina, and Nitrosopumilus-like OTUs. Overall, this study represents the first in-depth spatiotemporal survey of SFB microbial communities and provides insight into how planktonic microorganisms have specialized to different niches along the salinity gradient.