Bay Area holiday light displays are on another level when it comes to their creativity, charm, and photo potential. Whether you need some inspiration to get into the holiday spirit or love a good display, the Bay Area has plenty of options. 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.
1. The Tree Twins 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 make the rounds in SF dressed as luminous Christmas trees, spreading holiday cheer to all lucky to encounter them. Although the Twins haven’t revealed specific times and locations for their SF appearances (this type of merriment is more effective when spontaneous), you can follow @treetwins on Instagram for clues.
2. Union Square Menorah Lighting in San Francisco
Opening December 7
The Bill Graham Menorah Project is back for 2023 with its iconic nightly giant menorah lighting ceremonies every for Hanukkah. The famous 25-foot menorah will have its first lightening ceremony on December 7, 2023, with daily lighting following until December 14. Plus, on December 11, the project will host Bill Graham Menorah Day, a family-friendly affair with crafts and entertainment.
3. Christmas in the Park in San Jose
Opening November 24
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 where guests can take a trip through a magical glowing winter wonderland. The best part is you can be cozy in your car, listening to your favorite music while looking at the dazzling holiday light display. Opening night takes place on November 24, and there will be tree lighting and other events at Cesar Chavez Plaza.
4. Enchant at PayPal Park in San Jose
Opening November 24
When it comes to holiday light displays in the Bay Area, it’s hard to beat this enormous Christmas maze and ice skating rink in San Jose. Enchant is essentially a massive glittering winter wonderland rife with photo opportunities and fun activities. The winter wonderland will have several themed nights this year, including a dog-friendly night and an ugly sweater event. Plus, you can shop for holiday gifts in their charming artisan village. The maze opens on November 24 and runs through December 31, 2023. Tickets cost $38 for adults and $28.5 for kids.
5. Holidays at Filoli at Filoli Estate & Gardens in Woodside
The Filoli Estate and Gardens puts on an impressive holiday light display, perfect for getting in the festive spirit. Thousands of glittering lights will adorn the garden’s trees, plants, and hedges. 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. The historic estate is just a short drive from San Francisco and a year-round destination.
6. Garden of D’Lights at Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek
Opening November 24
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 beautiful lights and exciting displays.
7. Glowfari at Oakland Zoo
Open on select dates starting November 10
Oakland Zoo’s light display isn’t your average holiday string lights. Hundreds of gigantic hand-painted animal lanterns have been placed throughout the Oakland Zoo’s campus, making for a totally unique zoo tour by night. The spectacular lanterns are arranged throughout a mile-long pathway, taking visitors on a tour of North American Forests, complete with glowing wolves and a frozen arctic scene. The Glowfari has already begun and will run through January 2024.
8. GLOW: Discover the Art of Light at the Exploratorium in SF
The Exploratorium is bringing back its popular light sculpture exhibition in all its glory. The reoccurring light installation features 10 works by 7 different artists, an expansion from the past years. Glow expands the Exploratorium’s typical exhibits by playing with light and illumination. This year’s exhibition is very interactive, allowing visitors to compose with light and discover hidden crystals. The exhibition is now open and runs through late January 2024.
9. Entwined at Golden Gate Park’s Peacock Meadow in SF
Opening December 7
Charles Gadeken’s popular Entwined light display is coming back this year, bigger and better than ever before. The whimsical installation is 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. This year, you can look forward to a massive new addition, the Elder Mother tree, which is 30 feet tall and has a canopy of light. The installation opens on December 7 on the JFK promenade in front of Peacock Meadow.
12. Let’s Glow SF in San Francisco
Opening December 1
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 has been a massive hit in past years, so we are excited to see what they will come up with for 2023. The epic holiday light display will kick off on December 1 with a free public event that includes hot chocolate, s’mores, and more.
By Jamie Ferrell and Dana Flynn