San Francisco draws endless crowds at during the holidays, and it’s no wonder why — from the Union Square ice rink to the Fairmont’s two-story gingerbread house, there’s enough holiday spirit in the air to cheer up even the grumpiest Scrooge. For those who seek some inspiration to start planning around Christmas time, we’ve made a list and checked it twice. Read on for your ultimate guide to the holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area.
1-5. Explore our favorite holiday gift experiences for a last-minute present
If you’re feeling stuck when it comes to gift shopping, consider giving an unforgettable experience to your friends and family. These immersive experiences, unique concerts, and food excursions are at the top of our wish list — read on to get inspired.
6-10. Take a spin around a festive Bay Area ice rink
Is it really winter time without a day of ice skating at a charming local rink? See how much skill you’ve retained since last year by zooming (or hobbling) around one of the Bay Area’s most popular ice rinks.
- Union Square Ice Rink – SF’s most popular rink, with special events and themed nights all winter long. Open daily through January 16, 2023.
- Snoopy’s Home Ice – This Snoopy-themed ice rink in Santa Rosa was founded by Charles Schulz 50 years ago. Open year-round.
- Merry Meritage – Napa’s Meritage resort and spa has opened its annual winter village, complete with private igloos and fire pits around a totally photogenic ice rink. Open daily through January 8, 2023.
- San Mateo on Ice – At 11,000 square feet, this is the Bay Area’s largest outdoor ice rink. Open daily through January 8, 2023.
- The Great Dickens Christmas Fair – Explore an indoor ice rink in a Victorian park-like setting at this popular Christmas fair in Daly City. Open weekends through December 18.
11-15. Scout out some of the most stunning SF holiday trees.
San Francisco has so many gorgeous holiday trees up these days, it’s hard to keep track. We decided to round up the best ones, so you can catch them all before the season ends! Have you seen all of these glittering trees? Here are some of our favorites.
- Palace Hotel – The Palace Hotel has one of the most beautiful lobbies in the city, made even more impressive with its three colorful and ornate Christmas trees.
- Thrive City – This blue and gold tree dedicated to the Golden State Warriors is the tallest in the Bay Area.
- Uncle John’s Tree in Golden Gate Park – This Monterey Cypress dates back to 1880 and makes for a gorgeous and unconventional Christmas tree.
- World Tree of Hope at Grace Cathedral – The largest origami Christmas tree in the world.
- Pier 39 – A 60-foot live tree with shifting light patterns and colors.
16-25. Get lost in a glittering holiday light display
Bay Area light displays are on another level when it comes to their creativity, charm, and photo potential. You’d better start planning if you want to see them all before the season’s over!
- Let’s Glow SF – The nation’s largest holiday projection mapping display will take over the Financial District in SF from December 2-11.
- Entwined – Charles Gadeken’s crowd-favorite glowing meadow is back in Golden Gate Park from December 1 – March 12, 2023.
- Illuminate SF Festival of Light – The 10th annual event celebrates a total of 62 temporary and permanent glowing installations around SF, now through the end of January 2023.
- Embarcadero – SF’s Embarcadero Center will be outlined in its characteristic holiday lights starting November 18th.
- GLOW: Discover the Art of Light at the Exploratorium – SF’s Exploratorium has brought back its popular exhibition of light art from November 17 until January 29, 2023.
- Glowfari at Oakland Zoo – A mile-long display of hand-painted animal lanterns is up at Oakland Zoo through January 29, 2023.
- Christmas in the Park in San Jose – Spend a day at San Jose’s glittering winter wonderland or take a drive through Blinky’s Illuminated Holiday drive-through — starting November 25th.
- Union Square Menorah Lighting – The Bill Graham Menorah Project is back this year with nightly giant menorah lighting ceremonies every night of Hanukkah.
- Garden of D’Lights at Ruth Bancroft Garden – This gorgeous garden in Walnut Creek will be decked out with lights, lasers, and special effects from November 25th through January 8th, 2023.
- Holidays at Filoli – One of the Bay Area’s most beautiful and lesser-known light displays, taking place at Filoli Estate & Gardens in Woodside from November 19th through January 8th, 2023.
26-30. Go gift shopping at a holiday craft market
The crafters of San Francisco are working at full throttle to sell their wares for gift-giving season! Think seasonal markets with homemade pastries, decorations, and innovative products. Or craft fairs with all the handcrafted jewelry, pottery, and art you could wish for.
- HEAD WEST – This market pops up around the Bay Area through the holidays, showcasing work from both local artisans and small shops.
- The Great Dickens Christmas Fair – A Christmas Carol-themed fair in Daly City complete with Victorian garb and magical products from a bygone era.
- Creativity Explored – A market of original drawings, paintings, ceramics and more by neurodiverse and disabled Bay Area artists at SF’s Ferry Building.
- La Cocina Holiday Market – La Cocina’s annual holiday fundraiser is back for a market centering BIPOC- and women-owned small businesses.
- Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair – Over 200 local artisans take over Telegraph Ave near the UC Berkeley campus for the 39th annual rendition of this popular fair.
- Agency Oakland’s Black and Brown Holiday Market – A two-day market in Oakland celebrating BIPOC creators of all disciplines including food, art, and crafts.
31-35. Escape to a sparkling winter wonderland
- Merry Meritage – The beautiful Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa is hosting an absolutely spectacular winter village complete with an ice rink, VIP igloos, fire pits, and more.
- Holiday train rides
- Après Village – A winter wonderland at the Palo Alto Four Seasons with a holiday sweet shop, private fire pits, photo ops, gourmet s’mores, and more.
- Christmas in the Park – Spend an afternoon at San Jose’s Cesar Chavez Plaza and then head to Blinky’s Illuminate Hoiday drive-thru for 2 acres of immersive light installations.
36-40. Enjoy some festive concerts and performances
- Candlelight concerts – These stunning classical concerts by candlelight are excellent, especially during the holidays.
- Grace Cathedral performances – Grace Cathedral is bringing a great lineup of musical performances, both Christmas-related and not.
- Free concerts at the Bandshell – Golden Gate Park’s Bandshell will host its final free concerts of 2022 through December 10th, including several holiday-themed shows.
- SF Symphony – You can’t go wrong with a performance by SF Symphony, and their lineup for the holidays is unparalleled! In particular, look for Deck the Hall (a selection of holiday songs from around the world), The Colors of Christmas (all the Christmas carols you can think of), Holiday Gaiety (A lively performance from SF’s best drag queens), and live soundtrack performances of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Elf.
- SF Ballet’s Nutcracker – Experience a breathtaking performance of Tchaikovsky’s beloved Nutcracker performed by SF Ballet and the SF Orchestra.
41-42. Party it up at these festive holiday pop-up bars
The holidays have arrived and bars across SF are dressing up for the occasion. These holiday pop-up bars capture the joy, nostalgia, and celebratory atmosphere of the holiday season, plus lots of tasty cocktails.
- Miracle at PCH – SF’s beloved holiday pop-up bar returns with even more exciting cocktails and thousands of colored lights.
- Deck the Halls bar – Another popular holiday pop-up bar returns with three locations on Union Street — and three different special themes.
43. Explore the Fairmont Hotel’s lobby and gingerbread house
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.
A team of engineers, builders, and of course pastry chefs began planning this year’s gingerbread house back in July. Each year, the life-size Victorian structure takes 520 hours to build, light, and outfit with thousands of pieces of candy. It’s created using over 8,000 baked 12×4 inch gingerbread cookie bricks, cemented together and decorated with a mountain of royal icing which requires 150 gallons of egg whites and 1,000 pounds of powdered sugar to make.
44. Spend a lovely afternoon at Halo Halo Holidays in SoMa Pilipinas
San Francisco will soon welcome Halo Halo Holidays on December 10 from 11am-8pm across SOMA Pilipinas. The event will celebrate Christmas Filipino-style with plenty of art and cultural exhibits, amazing food, the Parol Lantern Festival, and a DJ party, among other things.
45. Don’t miss Christmas movies and DIY crafts 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 events and activations happening there through December, from Christmas movie screenings to DIY crafts and live concerts.
46. Look for these giant ornaments on Powell Street
The Union Square Alliance has partnered with 8 local artists to design and paint these larger-than-life ornaments on display along Powell Street between the Cable Car turnaround and Union Square.
As part of the experience, participants can download an Ornament Trail booklet and mark the locations of the ornaments that they find along with other fun activities for kids and families.
47. Enjoy a crab dinner and more at the Guardsmen Tree Lot
The Guardsmen Holiday Tree Lot has opened its doors at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco! The lot is now open daily from 9am-9pm through December 16 at the Festival Pavilion, where you can stock up on holiday essentials including trees, garlands, wreaths, and ornaments.
You don’t want to miss their lively crab and pasta dinner, and giant holiday party with live music. Proceeds from these special events go to benefit at-risk youth.
48. Watch Christmas movies at The Cut Outdoor Cinema
The Cut Outdoor Cinema recently opened at The Crossing at East Cut in Downtown SF. As the Bay’s first year-round outdoor cinema, it’s promising some amazing weekend movie nights featuring everything from cult classics to local indie films on a jumbo LED screen. This December they’re amping up the holiday spirit with an epic lineup of classic Christmas movies from Home Alone to The Muppet Christmas Carol.
49. Indulge in SF’s most mouthwatering holiday desserts
The holiday season calls for something sweet, and bakeries across SF are baking delicious holiday desserts and other treats just for the occasion. Ranging from rich chocolate babka to powdered sugar-dusted stollen, these treats are sure to be a hit at your next holiday gathering.
50. Find the perfect Christmas tree to decorate your home
The holiday season is here and for many folks that means that it’s time to decorate. Whether you’re looking for a festive wreath or a full Christmas tree to take over your living room, read our list to find the perfect fit.