20 Of The Best Light Displays, Ice Rinks, And More To Put On Your Winter Bucket List

Jamie Ferrell Jamie Ferrell

20 Of The Best Light Displays, Ice Rinks, And More To Put On Your Winter Bucket List

Winter is here, and the Bay Area is going all out! We’ve rounded up our favorite local light displays, ice rinks, and activities happening this season. Whether you want to stay close to home, or you’re willing to venture out a bit, there’s no shortage of ways to celebrate the holidays in the Bay!

Courtesy of Westfield SF Centre

Holiday trees

1. Origami tree at Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral is home to the largest origami Christmas tree in the world! They partner with Rainbow World Fund to decorate it with over 17,000 handmade origami cranes and stars, each of which is inscribed with wishes and hopes for the future. You can send your wish to be inscribed on a crane for free and added to the tree. They’re accepting volunteers to help trim the tree, and you can see the installation process throughout November. The tree will be lighted on December 6 and stay there until January 7.

2. Upside-down tree at Westfield SF Centre

This mind-blowing 50-foot inverted crystal tree is back for its 5th year at Westfield SF Centre! The glittering tree is like an enormous cone-shaped chandelier, and it’s especially jaw-dropping beneath the famous building’s historic glass dome and 100-foot-high ceilings.

3. Civic Center tree

San Francisco will ring in the holiday season at the Civic Center Tree Lighting on Wednesday, December 1 from 4-7pm. Don’t miss a free, festive afternoon in the city to kick off the holidays!

4. Macy’s tree at Union Square

Macy’s has put up their 32nd annual Great Tree, but there will be no lighting ceremony this year. Check it out alongside the giant menorah and ice rink!

5. Uncle John’s Tree at Golden Gate Park

The holiday tree at McLaren Lodge will be illuminated in a lighting ceremony officiated by Mayor London Breed at 6pm on December . There will be a post-tree lighting celebration with live music from the George Washington High School Choir, as well as carnival rides, food trucks, and live entertainment.

yhelfman via Shutterstock

Light art and displays

6. Grace Light at Grace Cathedral

Illuminate and Grace Cathedral present an enormous light installation by George Zisiadis, accompanied by an original score by Gabriel Gold. See a 100-foot-tall shifting beam of light shine down onto the labyrinth. Tickets are released at 12pm on the 15th of each month for the following month.

7. Entwined at Golden Gate Park

From December 2 until February 1, we will once again enjoy a massive immersive meadow, this time with even more interactive elements. 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 ranch from 8-20 feet tall, accompanied by dozens of glowing flower clusters and bushes to create a beautiful meadow landscape.

8. Conservatory of Flowers

The Conservatory of Flowers‘ lighted façade is an essential stop on any nighttime romp through Golden Gate Park!

9. Giant menorah at Union Square

The Bill Graham Menorah Project is gearing up for their 46th annual giant menorah lighting and display! A 25-foot menorah will go up in Union Square from November 28 until December 6. Nightly lighting ceremonies will accompany the display, plus some Chanukah activities.

10. Garden of d’Lights in Walnut Creek

The Ruth Bancroft Garden has rolled out 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.


11. Christmas in the Park in San Jose

Christmas in the Park is back this year! Starting November 26, San Jose will be decked out in tens of thousands of sparkling lights. Blinky’s Illuminated Holiday is their beloved drive-thru experience, 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.

12. Glowfari Lantern Festival at Oakland Zoo 

See hundreds of enormous animal lanterns throughout the Oakland Zoo! Standouts include an 8-foot crocodile head and a 65-foot Queen Ant tunnel.

13. All is Calm, All is Bright in Woodside

The Filoli Estate and Gardens are worth a visit any time of  year, but during the holidays they really take it up a notch with gorgeous festive holiday lights adorning the sprawling gardens. Check out the themed nights on Mondays!

Photo by Kirk McCoy. Courtesy of Meritage Resort & Spa

Ice rinks

14. Snoopy’s Home Ice in Santa Rosa

There’s a legendary ice rink just north of San Francisco! Snoopy’s Home Ice is a must, whether you’re a kid looking to get their skate on or an adult wishing for some cartoony nostalgia. The Snoopy-themed ice rink was founded in 1969 by Charles Schulz, cartoonist and creator of the brilliant comic strip Peanuts, and you can’t miss his influence throughout the entire skating complex.

15. Union Square ice rink

The beloved Union Square ice rink is open through January 17, 2022. Don’t miss fun events like Drag Queens on Ice, Flashback Fridays with 80s music, and the silent disco skate party.

16. Ice rink with igloos and fire pits in Napa

The beautiful Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa is hosting an absolute spectacular winter village throughout the holiday season! Merry Meritage is a gorgeous sparkling winter escape in wine country, complete with an ice rink, fire pits and s’mores, VIP igloos, Christmas carol karaoke, an artisan holiday market, and much more.

Candlelight Concerts at St. Ignatius Church

Activities and music

17. Holiday train rides

  • Napa Valley Wine Train: Check out these spectacular holiday journey packages that will make your 2021 celebrations absolutely unforgettable. Think winter feasts, private holiday parties, an epic New Year’s Eve celebration, and more!
  • Holiday lights train in Santa Cruz: Roaring Camp recently announced the return of their beloved holiday lights train in Santa Cruz! See the gorgeous vintage train decked out with sparkling holiday lights and decorations.

18. Holiday markets and craft fairs

The crafters of San Francisco are working at full throttle to sell their wares for gifting 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.

19. Recurring musical performances at Grace Cathedral

  • A Cathedral Christmas (Dec 11, 12, 18, 19, 21): The Choir of Men and Boys will perform classic Christmas carols accompanied by a full orchestra and organ.
  • Sing you a Merry Christmas (Dec 11, 18, 21, 22, 23): A family sing-along event led by toys brought to life from St. Nicholas’s workshop!

20. Classical candlelight concerts

The extremely popular concert series known simply as Candlelight is turning heads right now in San Francisco! You’ll enjoy works from Beethoven, Mozart and more played by a talented string quartet, in an intimate environment surrounded by hundreds of luminous candles. The Bay Area’s top musicians perform classical music in lovely settings including St. Ignatius Church and the InterContinental hotel’s covered rooftop.


Featured image: Photo by Jonathan Condit, courtesy of SF Parks Alliance

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