Bay Area holiday 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! From Oakland Zoo’s hand-painted animal lanterns to the Union Square Menorah Lighting, this list has you covered for the brightest shows in and around San Francisco.
Now through Jan. 2023 around SF
The 10th annual Illuminate SF Festival of Light celebrates a total of 62 temporary and permanent glowing installations around SF. Some new permanent displays to see include !melk Design Studio’s The Wind-Baffles, which are sculptural glowing windbreakers in SF’s 5M neighborhood; and Yu-Wen Wu’s Lantern Stories, a collection of hand-painted lanterns depicting famous Chinese-Americans suspended over Grant Avenue. Additionally, Studio DRIFT’s drone show Franchise Freedom will take to the skies over the Embarcadero during 5 nights in January (specific dates TBA – stay tuned).
Now through Jan. 29, 2023 at Oakland Zoo
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.
Nov. 17 – Jan. 29 at the Exploratorium in SF
The Exploratorium is bringing back its popular light sculpture exhibition in all its 2022 glory. See brand new and expanded installations created by six different artists, including Jen Lewin’s The Last Ocean, an interactive landscape made from reclaimed ocean plastic; and Anila Quayyam Agha’s All the Flowers are For Me (Turquoise), a suspended steel cube with intricate patterns that cast an immersive shadow.
Starting Nov. 18 at Embarcadero Center in SF
SF’s Embarcadero Center will be outlined with 17,000 bright lights for its characteristic look during the holidays. Festivities include the 36th annual building lighting ceremony and carnival on November 18th starting at 4pm, with games, face painting, and special guests.
Nov. 19 – Jan. 8 at Filoli Estate & Gardens in Woodside
Holidays at Filoli is one of the Bay Area’s most beautiful and lesser-known light displays, taking place at Filoli Estate & Gardens in Woodside. Thousands of glittering lights will adorn the garden’s trees, plants, and hedges for a must-see experience with countless photo ops. You can also reserve a private fire pit, bring your kids to meet Santa, or make your own holiday wreath while sipping on mulled wine.
Nov. 25 – Jan. 1 in San Jose
San Jose will be decked out in tens of thousands of sparkling lights for Christmas in the Park. Blinky’s Illuminated Holiday is their beloved drive-thru experience starting November 26th, where guests can take a trip through a magical glowing winter wonderland. There will also be a tree lighting and other events at Cesar Chavez Plaza.
Nov. 25 – Jan. 8 at Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek
The Ruth Bancroft Garden is bringing back its whimsical Garden of D’Lights holiday event. Each year, they deck out the plants with multicolored lights, lasers, and more, transforming the already spectacular 3.5 acre space into an otherworldly outdoor adventure. Guests can stroll through the beautiful glowing gardens for 1-1.5 hours to discover countless photo ops and exciting displays.
Dec. 1 – Mar. 12 at Golden Gate Park’s Peacock Meadow in SF
Charles Gadeken’s popular Entwined light display is coming 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.
Dec. 2-11 around SF’s Financial District
Downtown SF is once again pulling out all the stops with Let’s Glow SF, the nation’s largest holiday projecting mapping event which transforms buildings around the Financial District. The displays 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.
10. The Tree Twins
December 3-8, 12-24 around San Francisco
We’re not sure if this qualifies as an installation, but San Francisco’s Tree Twins are so beloved that it feels categorically Grinchy not to include them here. 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.
Dec. 18-25 at Union Square in SF
The Bill Graham Menorah Project is back this year with nightly giant menorah lighting ceremonies every night of Hanukkah. See the famous 25-foot menorah alight over Union Square and be sure to check out the special events happening on December 18th, which include kids’ crafts and performances.