There are so many holiday activities happening in and around San Francisco, that it can be hard to know where to start! While adults might get their fill of Christmas spirit at seasonal pop-up bars, holiday markets, or the Guardsmen’s annual crab dinner, we can’t forget about the joy this time of year brings to the under-18 crowd. Read on for a full breakdown of our favorite kid-friendly holiday activities in the Bay Area, ordered by date.
1. Let’s Glow SF holiday light projections in FiDi
Downtown SF is once again pulling out all the stops with Let’s Glow SF, their popular holiday light display that uses projection mapping on four buildings around the Financial District. The displays will be up are easily viewed via a self-guided walking tour. Let’s Glow SF was a total hit for its inaugural event last year, so we can’t wait to see how they’ll step it up this time around.
2. Christmas movies at The Cut Outdoor Cinema
The Cut Outdoor Cinema recently opened at The Crossing at East Cut in Downtown SF. This December they’re amping up the holiday spirit with an epic lineup of classic Christmas movies. Here are the currently scheduled holiday movies rated PG-13 and lower.
- Dec. 3 – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (PG-13)
- Dec. 4 – It’s A Wonderful Life (PG)
- Dec. 9 – Scrooged (PG-13)
- Dec. 10 – Home Alone (PG)
- Dec. 16 – Miracle on 34th St (PG) and The Santa Clause (PG)
- Dec. 17 – A Christmas Story (PG) and Elf (PG)
- Dec. 18 – The Muppet Christmas Carol (G) and The Grinch (PG)
- See the rest of the schedule.
3. Holiday voyages aboard Roaring Camp’s vintage train
Dec 3-4, 10-11, 17-23
Roaring Camp’s Santa Cruz train route always has fun seasonal events throughout the year, and the holiday voyages are always a big hit. See the gorgeous vintage train decked out with sparkling holiday lights and decorations and continue the fun at the Boardwalk.
4. Dancing around SF with the Tree Twins
Dec. 3-8, 12-24
This pair of anonymous well-wishers makes the rounds in SF dressed as luminous Christmas trees, spreading holiday cheer to all who are lucky enough to encounter them. Although the Twins haven’t revealed specific times and locations for their SF appearances (this type merriment is more effective when spontaneous), you can follow @treetwins on Instagram for clues.
5. Holiday Craft Making at the Ferry Building
This series of kid-friendly crafting workshops is completely free! Sprinkle some fun and creativity into your gift-shopping errands at the Ferry Building.
- December 4 – “Snowflake Crafts” – Decorate snowflakes with beads, gems, and pasta
- December 11 – “Deck the Halls” – Make mini holiday wreaths, ornaments, snow globes and more
- December 18 – “Pretty Presents” – Make hot chocolate ornaments, personalized mugs, and more
6. Welcome Winter Night at the Academy of Sciences
Two live reindeer named Nicky and Butterscotch will visit the California Academy of Sciences. Kids can enjoy music and magic shows from The Hornman, hear exciting stories from underwater photographer Kayvon Malek, decorate cookies, get their face painted, stargaze at the Planetarium, and more.
Don’t miss a free, festive afternoon in the city to kick off the holidays! Civic Center Plaza will be taken over by food tents, DIY activities, entertainment and more. Enjoy “snow” flurries and interact with special guests including Christmas elves, Santa, and the Grinch. Don’t forget a massive toy giveaway from 4-5pm for the first 400+ children under 12.
8. Sing you a Merry Christmas at Grace Cathedral
Dec. 10, 17, 21, 22
Grace Cathedral is putting on countless Christmas concerts and events throughout the season, but the most kid-friendly one is Sing You A Merry Christmas, a family-friendly sing-along event led by toys brought to life from St. Nicholas’s workshop!
9. The Great Dickens Christmas Fair in Daly City
Weekends through Dec. 18
After a two-year hiatus, The Great Dickens Christmas Fair and Victorian Holiday Party have returned to Daly City. This beloved annual event drops you into Victorian London, brought to life by hundreds of costumed players and a plethora of shops, stages, pubs, parties, and memorable performances. New additions to the 2022 fair include a pre-show area known as Vauxhall Gardens, which features an indoor skating rink in an ornate Victorian park-like setting.
10. Santa visits, crafts, and movies at Ghirardelli Square
One of the coziest escapes in the city is Ghirardelli Square, which is a must for shoppers on any day of the year, but turns up the charm during the holidays. Read on for a summary of the most kid-friendly events and activations happening there through December.
Crafts and activities
- Dec. 13, 17, 21, 23 – Photos with Santa
- Dec. 13 – Ornament decorating at Gigi & Rosie
- Dec. 14 – Card decorating at Lola
- Dec. 18 – JCCSF’s Glowing Hanukkah Party
A free community event from 5-8pm, at Ruth Williams Memorial Theater in San Francisco. Stock up on essentials from gift vendors such as Belle Noire, Clarks Handmade Gifts, Ice Body Skincare, and more. Other attractions include $1 ice skating, snowman building, and snow sculpting; s’more making, live music and performances, and pictures with Santa.
12. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s at Thrive City
Thrive City’s 2022 Winter Wonderland is here! Check out the tallest holiday tree in the Bay Area at 90 feet tall, plus a North Pole mailbox to send letters to Santa, nightly “snowfall,” and a series of special events. Make sure you RSVP for the free events in advance.
- Dec. 16 – Holiday Spectacular (3-6pm) – Enjoy festive arts and crafts, take pics with Santa, and eat seasonal treats.
- Dec. 17 – Holiday Spectacular (1-4pm) – Same activities as Friday.
- Dec. 18 – Holiday Spectacular (1-6pm) – Same as Friday and Saturday, but with a special Hanukkah celebration from 4:30-6pm featuring the menorah lighting, rabbi reading, and Hanukkah treats.
- Dec. 31 – Kwanzaa & Noon Year’s Eve – Ring in 2023 and celebrate the culture of Kwanzaa with a midday ball drop and countdown, arts and crafts, treats, and music by Fela Kuti from The Rock and Roll Playhouse.
13. Giant menorah lightings at Union Square
The Bill Graham Menorah Project is gearing up for its 47th annual giant menorah lighting and display! A 25-foot menorah will glow over Union Square every night of Hanukkah, from December 18-25.
On the first night (Dec. 18), you can enjoy fun activities, food, music and more for “Bill Graham Menorah Day” from 2-6pm. This celebration will accompany the first lighting ceremony at 5pm. Enjoy a variety of kids’ crafts and shows, plus performances from Jerry’s Kosher Deli, Saul Kaye, and Ari Lesser.
14. Christmas in the Park in San Jose
Through Jan. 1
Christmas in the Park is back this year! San Jose is decked out in tens of thousands of sparkling lights, decorations, and more prepared by community groups. Blinky’s Illuminated Holiday is their beloved drive-thru musical journey, which takes you through a mind-blowing light tunnel and a synchronized light show with millions of colors.
15. Special events at Union Square Ice Rink
Open through Jan. 16
Union Square Ice Rink has some fun events on the calendar that are enjoyable for all ages. Here are some to keep an eye out for.
- Let it Go Wednesdays – Skate to songs from Frozen and arrive in costume for a chance at winning prizes.
- Flashback Fridays – The rink will blast awesome ’80s music for a nostalgic night of skating.
- Silent Skate Party (Dec. 8) – A silent disco provided by complimentary headphones will shake up your typical ice skating experience.
- Polar Bear Skate (Jan. 1) – Ring in the New Year with this popular Canadian tradition, in which skaters don their favorite bathing suit or beach attire to “take the plunge” on the ice! Prizes will be given for best costumes.
16. Glowfari animal lantern festival at Oakland Zoo
Now through Jan. 29
Hundreds of gigantic hand-painted animal lanterns have been placed throughout the Oakland Zoo’s campus, making for a totally unique tour of the zoo by night. The spectacular lanterns are arranged throughout a mile-long pathway, taking you through a landscape of kangaroos and koalas; a tour of the California coast featuring jellies, otters, and whales; and a trip back in time with a megalodon shark tunnel and an enormous T. rex.
17. Entwined LED meadow at Golden Gate Park
Through Mar. 12
Charles Gadeken’s popular Entwined light display is back this year, bigger and better than ever before. The whimsical installation transforms Peacock Meadow into an otherworldly ecosystem of glowing trees, bushes, and other natural elements created from colorful pixel-like LED lights. The trees range from 8-20 feet tall, accompanied by dozens of glowing flower clusters and bushes to create a beautiful meadow landscape.
18. 22-foot gingerbread house at the Fairmont Hotel
One of San Francisco’s most celebrated holiday installations is the two-story gingerbread house at the Fairmont Hotel. The fascinating creation is 22 feet tall, composed of thousands of gingerbread bricks and gallons of royal icing.
19. Essential Bay Area ice skating rinks
If you want to look beyond Union Square, there are plenty of other fantastic ice skating rinks that are worth a visit in the Bay Area. We found a mix of seasonal and permanent rinks that offer the chance to strap on a pair of skates and hit the ice.
20. Most beautiful holiday trees in San Francisco
San Francisco has so many gorgeous holiday trees in December, it’s hard to keep track. We decided to round up the best ones so you can catch them all before the season ends! Whether you’re totally feeling the Christmas spirit or you could just use some holiday cheer, these displays around the city are worth seeking out.
21. Try the best hot chocolate in SF
You don’t have to be a kid to know that hot chocolate is one of the most underrated drinks on any cafe’s menu. As we head into the fall and winter seasons, it’s a great time to compile some spots to visit next time you’re craving this delicious drink.