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!
San Francisco is now home to the world’s most popular display of LEGO® art! See over 70 brilliantly intricate works including colorful animals, recreations of classic paintings, and brand-new never-before-seen sculptures. Tickets are on sale now – you don’t want to miss this!
Tokyo-based artist Ryotaro Muramatsu has made his US debut of DANDELION right here in San Francisco’s Japantown. This free interactive art installation is a stunning way to unite people around the world, in which visitors can “blow” on the dandelion installation, sending virtual seeds as a symbol of peace to another dandelion elsewhere in the world. It’s up now in the Japan Center West Mall, Suite 315, from 12-7pm Friday-Sunday until January 21.
Now through January 9, 2022, you can explore the stunning details of Michelangelo’s iconic work at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition. It showcases the awe and wonder of arguably one of mankind’s greatest artistic achievements, while allowing its visitors to experience this art from an up-close, life-sized, and never-before-seen perspective. Get tickets before they’re gone!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
Light art and displays
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.
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.
The Conservatory of Flowers‘ lighted façade is an essential stop on any nighttime romp through Golden Gate Park!
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.
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.
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.
See hundreds of enormous animal lanterns throughout the Oakland Zoo! Standouts include an 8-foot crocodile head and a 65-foot Queen Ant tunnel.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Activities and music
20. 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.
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.
22. 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!
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