December in the SF Bay Area brings us countless holiday displays and seasonal activities to enjoy. End 2022 on a high note with the best holiday concerts, ice skating rinks, light displays, and more. Scroll through to get inspired for your best December yet!
1. Classical holiday concerts by candlelight
The extremely popular concert series known simply as Candlelight is turning heads right now in San Francisco! You’ll enjoy works from Beethoven, Vivaldi and more played by a talented string quartet, in an intimate environment surrounded by hundreds of luminous candles. Below are some holiday experiences we’re especially excited about, but a Candlelight gift card also makes for a great present if you’re unsure what to choose.
- Dec. 9 & 13 – Candlelight: Holiday Special feat. The Nutcracker and more at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco
- Dec. 21 – Candlelight Oakland: Holiday Special feat. The Nutcracker and more at Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland
Enjoy an unforgettable New Year’s Eve party with tickets to this ultimate SF bar crawl. Don your most festive 2023 outfit and enjoy admission-free entry to participating bars, plus drink specials and endless champagne toasts. Get tickets here.
Now through Dec. 31
Experience an art gallery like no other at San Francisco’s Verse: Art of the Future. The one-of-a-kind augmented reality experience will transform the space around you into a compelling exhibition of glimmering, shifting, and dynamic NFT artworks. You’ll see spectacular holograms and famous pieces from some of the metaverse’s top-selling artists at SF’s Palace of Fine Arts. Get tickets here.
Now through Dec. 31
San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts transforms into a one-of-a-kind mythical petting zoo at this unique augmented reality experience. The Impossible Zoo is a magical world created through special holographic headsets, which allow you to interact with unicorns, dragons, and more whimsical creatures. Follow an extraordinary interactive quest with high-definition graphics that feels like a real-life video game. Get tickets here.
Now through Jan. 2
San Francisco has welcomed its own true-to-life adventure replicating key scenes and moments from the 90s sitcom FRIENDS™. The experience features interactive activities, collectible merch and 12 realistic rooms replicating the show’s set. Ready to literally step into your favorite FRIENDS™ episodes? Get tickets here.
Now through Jan. 29
Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion recently welcomed Space Explorers: THE INFINITE, an exciting virtual reality space adventure. The acclaimed experience uses EMMY award-winning film footage to recreate the International Space Station, where you can interact with other guests in the form of avatars. After 60 magical minutes in this hyper-realistic journey in outer space, guests can then explore the work of Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda, whose eclectic art pieces make for the perfect photo op. Get tickets here.
Now through Jan. 28
Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion has welcomed this poignant VR experience by five-time Academy Award-winning director Alejandro G. Iñárritu. CARNE y ARENA explores true stories of refugees, giving guests a unique way to witness their personal journeys on a visceral level. See how virtual reality can blur the lines between subject and bystander for this one-of-a-kind experience. Get tickets here.
8. Catch these SF holiday tree lightings and displays
Dec. 1 – This exciting afternoon is the ultimate kick-off for December and the holiday season, as Golden Gate Park will be decked out with endless festive activities. Families can enjoy a snow play area, kids’ activities, carnival games, live music and performances, and Santa visits. The annual lighting of Uncle John’s Tree will take place at McLaren Lodge,
Dec. 5 – 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. The tree will be lit on December 6 and stay there until January 7.
Dec. 7 – San Francisco will ring in the holiday season at the Civic Center Tree Lighting on Wednesday, December 7 from 4-7pm. Civic Center Plaza will be taken over by food tents, DIY activities, entertainment and more. A full bar will be on hand serving up seasonal drinks, and you can chow down on festive bites while browsing the booths.
9. Snag last-minute tickets to SF Free Museum Weekend
Thanks to some generous anonymous donors, 21 SF museums will be free for the public to visit during SF Free Museum Weekend on December 3-4. Participating locations include both small museums, such as the American Bookbinders Museum and the Cartoon Art Museum, and larger institutions, such as the California Academy of Sciences and SFMOMA. Tickets are sold out online, but a limited number will be available in-person at participating museums.
10. December events at Union Square Ice Rink
Drag Queens on Ice
Dec. 1 – The 12th annual Drag Queens on Ice will feature fabulous performances and lip syncs by Bay Area drag queens.
Silent Skate Party
Dec. 8 – A silent disco provided by complimentary headphones will shake up your typical ice skating experience!
Dec. 9 – The rink will blast awesome ’80s music for a nostalgic night of skating! Legwarmers and unitards are encouraged.
11. Christmas events at Grace Cathedral
Dec. 5 – The world’s largest origami tree will be lit with 17,000 origami cranes.
Dec. 10, 17, 21, 22 – A family sing-along event led by toys brought to life from St. Nicholas’s workshop.
Dec. 12 – A holiday performance from the Bay’s best brass musicians and the cathedral’s 7,466-pipe organ.
12. Let’s Glow SF holiday projection mapping display
Downtown SF is once again pulling out all the stops with Let’s Glow SF, their popular holiday light display that uses projection mapping on four buildings around the Financial District. The displays will be up from December 2-11 and 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.
13. Movies, concerts, and 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,
- Dec. 4 – Christmas con Salsa at Barrio
- Dec. 18 – JCCSF’s Glowing Hanukkah Party
- Dec. 22 – MeloDious’s Live Holiday Concert
Crafts and activities
- Dec. 13, 17, 21, 23 – Photos with Santa
- Dec. 13 – Ornament decorating at Gigi & Rosie
- Dec. 14 – Card decorating at Lola
14. Explore the Bay’s best ongoing holiday light displays
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!
Entwined in Golden Gate Park
Dec. 1 – Mar. 12 – Charles Gadeken’s crowd-favorite glowing meadow is back in Golden Gate Park.
Christmas in the Park in San Jose
Now through Jan. 1 – Spend a day at San Jose’s glittering winter wonderland or take a drive through Blinky’s Illuminated Holiday drive-through.
Garden of D’Lights in Walnut Creek
Now through Jan. 8 – This gorgeous garden in Walnut Creek will be decked out with lights, lasers, and special effects.
Holidays at Filoli in Woodside
Now through Jan. 8 – One of the Bay Area’s most beautiful and lesser-known light displays, taking place at Filoli Estate & Gardens in Woodside.
Now through January – The 10th annual event celebrates a total of 62 temporary and permanent glowing installations around SF.
GLOW: Discover the Art of Light at the Exploratorium
Now through Jan. 29 – SF’s Exploratorium has brought back its popular exhibition of light art.
Glowfari at Oakland Zoo
Now through Jan. 29 – A mile-long display of hand-painted animal lanterns is up at Oakland Zoo.
15. Halo Halo Holidays Filipino Christmas Crawl
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.
16. Winter Wonderland at Thrive City
Thrive City’s 2022 Winter Wonderland presented by Fanatics is here! Check out the tallest holiday tree in the Bay Area at 90 feet tall, plus a North Pole mailbox to send letters to Santa, nightly “snowfall,” and a series of special events. Make sure you RSVP for the free events in advance.
- Dec. 16 (3-6pm) – Enjoy festive arts and crafts, take pics with Santa, and eat seasonal treats.
- Dec. 17 (1-4pm) – Same activities as Friday.
- Dec. 18 (1-6pm) – Same as Friday and Saturday, but with a special Hanukkah celebration from 4:30-6pm featuring the menorah lighting, rabbi reading, and Hanukkah treats.
Dec. 31 – Ring in 2023 and celebrate the culture of Kwanzaa with a midday ball drop and countdown, arts and crafts, treats, and music by Fela Kuti from The Rock and Roll Playhouse.
17. Giant menorah lightings at Union Square
The Bill Graham Menorah Project is gearing up for its 47th annual giant menorah lighting and display! A 25-foot menorah will glow over Union Square every night of Hanukkah, from December 18-25.
On the first night (Dec. 18), you can enjoy fun activities, food, music and more for “Bill Graham Menorah Day” from 2-6pm. This celebration will accompany the first lighting ceremony at 5pm. Enjoy a variety of kids’ crafts and shows, plus performances from Jerry’s Kosher Deli, Saul Kaye, and Ari Lesser.
18. Fairmont Hotel’s 2-story 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.
19. Bay Area winter wonderland escapes
If you’re looking for an even more immersive holiday experience in the Bay, these winter wonderland escapes will make your heart grow three sizes (no roast beast required).
Now through Jan. 9 – The beautiful Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa is hosting an absolutely 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, Santa story time, and much more. Read on to discover some of our favorite experiences.
Now through Feb. 25 – The Four Seasons in Palo Alto has created a gorgeous pop-up winter wonderland called Après Village, which is the ultimate holiday escape. Whether you’re looking for awesome photo ops, a festive party, amazing food, or fireside movies, this is definitely worth putting on your list!
20. Enjoy a festive holiday concert
San Francisco is the place to be for holiday-themed concerts, performances, and shows. Read on for our favorite performances coming up this winter, ranging from jaw-dropping orchestral numbers to kid-friendly daytime shows.
SF Symphony Performances
- Dec. 4 – Deck the Hall – A selection of holiday songs from around the world.
- Dec. 6-7 – The Colors of Christmas – All the Christmas carols you can think of, plus some wild cards.
- Dec. 15 – Holiday Gaiety – A merry and gay variety show by SF’s best drag queens.
- Dec. 16-17 – How the Grinch Stole Christmas – SF Symphony performs the live soundtrack for this beloved holiday movie.
SF Ballet’s The Nutcracker
Dec. 8-27 – Experience Tchaikovsky’s breathtaking The Nutcracker from, choreographed by Helgi Tomasson and performed by SF Ballet and SF Orchestra. The timeless show is a hallmark of the holiday season complete with whimsical numbers featuring dancing mice, sugarplum fairies, and fluttering snowflakes.
Final free concerts at the Bandshell
The Lift Every Voice series at Golden Gate Park’s Bandshell is coming to the end of its 2022 season. Here are the final holiday concerts coming up:
- Dec. 1 (5:30-7:30pm) – RPD Tree Lighting with Holiday music from the Washington High School Choir
- Dec. 10 (12-4pm) – Holiday Hootenanny – 10 Singer/Songwriters perform 3 holiday songs each
21. Holiday markets around the Bay Area
Weekends through Dec. 18 – A Christmas Carol-themed fair in Daly City complete with Victorian garb and magical products from a bygone era. Enjoy hearty English cuisine, handcrafted gifts, and wholesome entertainment.
Weekends through Dec. 18 – A market of original drawings, paintings, ceramics and more by neurodiverse and disabled Bay Area artists at SF’s Ferry Building.
Weekends through Dec. 18 – This market pops up in locations around the Bay Area through the holiday season. They celebrate creators and artists as well as small brands, local shops, and local non-profits.
Dec. 10 – A popular outdoor version of WCC at Fort Mason Center with 100+ vendors selling artisan items.
22. Christmas movies at The Cut Outdoor Cinema
The Cut Outdoor Cinema recently opened at The Crossing at East Cut in Downtown SF. This December they’re amping up the holiday spirit with an epic lineup of classic Christmas movies. Here’s what’s on the calendar so far, but see their full schedule for non-holiday movies as well.
- Dec. 2 – The Night Before
- Dec. 3 – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Love Actually
- Dec. 4 – It’s A Wonderful Life
- Dec. 9 – Scrooged
- Dec. 10 – Home Alone
- Dec. 16 – Miracle on 34th St and The Santa Clause
- Dec. 17 – A Christmas Story and Elf
- Dec. 18 – The Muppet Christmas Carol and The Grinch
23. Holiday pop-up bars
SF’s beloved holiday pop-up bar near Union Squarereturns with even more exciting cocktails and thousands of colored lights.
Another popular holiday pop-up bar returns with three locations on Union Street in Cow Hollow — and three different special themes.
A glittering holiday escape on a tented outdoor patio, with views of the 80-foot Christmas tree at 555 California.
24. Holiday train rides
The all-new Santa Train Jolly Journeys offer splendid views of wine country accompanied by gourmet meals, holiday cookies, Santa visits, and more.
The Roaring Camp steam trains will once again jingle through Santa Cruz and Bear Mountain with hot cocoa, decorations, and Santa visits.
25. December free admission days in SF
We love San Francisco for its vibrant culture, history, and resources, but it’s no secret that living here costs a pretty penny. Whether you’re a college student on a budget, or a bargain hunter wanting to see the sights, this list will certainly help you get started.
- Dec. 1 – SFMOMA
- For Bay Area residents only, 1-8pm
- Dec. 2 – Contemporary Jewish Museum
- Dec. 4 – Asian Art Museum
- Dec. 6 – de Young Museum
- Also free every Saturday for Bay Area residents
- Dec. 6 – Legion of Honor
- Also free every Saturday for Bay Area residents
- Dec. 6 – Conservatory of Flowers
- Also free daily for SF City & County Residents
- Dec. 7 – GLBT Historical Society Museum
- Dec. 10 – Museum of the African Diaspora
- Dec. 13, 25 – SF Botanical Garden
- Also free daily for SF City & County Residents
- Also free daily between 7:30-9am for the general public
- Wednesdays – Museum of Craft and Design
- “Pay what you can” Wednesdays
- MWF before 10am – Japanese Tea Garden
- Also free daily for SF City & County Residents
26. Current and upcoming museum exhibitions in SF
As we enter a new month in San Francisco, many local museums are refreshing and replacing their temporary exhibitions. Now’s a great time to take stock and plan ahead to see some of these wonderful displays before they’re gone.
- Dec. 17 – 2022 SECA Art Award Exhibition at SFMOMA
- Dec. 17 – Bernd & Hilla Becher at SFMOMA
- Dec. 17 – Lhola Amira: Facing the Future at the de Young Museum
- Dec. 17 – Bookworks: Selected Recent Acquisitions, 2012-2022 at the Legion of Honor
- Dec. 17 – Paperworks: 15 Years of Acquisitions at the Legion of Honor
- Dec. 11 – Contemporary Optics at SFMOMA
- Dec. 11 – Excavation: Past, Present, and Future at Museum of the African Diaspora
- Dec. 31 – VERSE: Art of the Future at the Palace of Fine Arts
- December – Mythic Constructions: Carlos Mérida and Paul Klee at SFMOMA
27. December events at the California Academy of Sciences
NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences is one of our favorite ongoing events, and we’re thrilled to see more of these awesome themed soirees on the calendar. The popular Thursday night festivities have two events left for 2022:
- Dec. 1 – NightLife: Holiday Bazaar – The Academy’s holiday NightLife event features an eclectic holiday market curated by SF Bazaar, plus screen-printing from San Franpsycho.
- Dec. 8 – NightLife – No set theme.
Dec. 6 – Two live reindeer named Nicky and Butterscotch will visit the Academy, along with magic shows, face painting, cookie decorating, and more to welcome the winter season.
28. After Dark at the Exploratorium
The Exploratorium’s 18+ After Dark events are a must for some epic kid-free fun at their exhibits. After Dark happens each Thursday from 6-10pm with a different theme every week, featuring guest speakers, films, great music, and more.
- Dec. 1 – After Dark: Light Science
- Dec. 8 – After Dark: Fire of Love, presented by National Geographic Documentary Films
- Dec. 15 – After Dark: Bioluminescence
- Dec. 22 – After Dark: See for Yourself
- Dec. 29 – After Dark: See for Yourself
29. Fort Mason Center’s holiday tree lot and more December events
When’s the last time you paid a visit to San Francisco’s amazing Fort Mason Center? The popular art center hosts numerous exhibitions and events throughout the year, and there are some special ones coming up.
Open daily through Dec. 16 – Purchase holiday trees, wreaths, garlands, and decorations. Special events include the following:
- Dec. 2-3 – Rock the Lot! – Comedy, classic rock, and craft beer.
- Dec. 9 – Crab Feed – Enjoy cocktails and a crab and pasta dinner.
- Dec. 17 – Guardsmen Tree Lot Party – A glamorous evening with live music and six bars.
Dec. 3-18 – A 50-minute production of classic holiday ballet.
Dec. 4 – A holiday concert with five acclaimed a cappella groups.
Dec. 17 – A popular outdoor version of WCC with 100+ vendors selling artisan items.
30. December events at the Ferry Building
San Francisco’s Ferry Building is one of the city’s most iconic buildings, serving as a hotspot for tourists and locals alike. It’s a center for events, pop-ups, a farmers’ market, and countless excellent merchants who sell their wares daily in the building’s many stalls.
A series of free kid-friendly craft workshops. Sundays through December 18.
- Dec. 4 – “Snowflake Crafts” – Decorate snowflakes with beads, gems, and pasta
- Dec. 11 – “Deck the Halls” – Make mini holiday wreaths, ornaments, snow globes and more
- Dec. 18 – “Pretty Presents” – Make hot chocolate ornaments, personalized mugs, and more
- Dec. 4 – Head West Holiday Market
- Fri-Sun through Dec. 18 – Gardeneur Holiday Plant Pop-Up
- Sat-Sun through Dec. 18 – Creativity Explored Holiday pop-up
31. Warm up around these cozy fireplaces
A homey, roaring fire is a hot commodity during winter (and basically any other season) in SF’s characteristic foggy weather. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite fireplaces in San Francisco, ranging from outdoor patios to neighborhood bars to fine dining restaurants.
32. Take an unforgettable trip to Lake Tahoe
Winter has arrived in Tahoe and the ski mountains are quickly reopening. Whether you’re visiting for a ski/snowboarding weekend, a quiet getaway in a cozy cabin, or just want to see a little snow, here are a few things to put on your list.
33. Enjoy a delightful snow day
San Francisco is a magical, beautiful, exciting place, with one caveat – there’s never any snow. Lucky for us, California is home to dozens of different climates and it’s not so difficult to pack up the car for a drive out to the snowy mountains in the distance.
34. Sip your way through the best hot chocolate in the city
You don’t have to be a kid to know that hot chocolate is one of the most underrated drinks on any cafe’s menu. As we head into the fall and winter seasons, it’s a great time to compile some spots to visit next time you’re craving this delicious drink!
35. Warm up with a bowl of ramen
A steaming bowl of ramen is perhaps the most comforting and filling food we can think of! San Francisco, with its plethora of delicious and authentic Asian food, is one of the best places to enjoy this amazing dish.
36. Go thrifting at a vintage shop
Vintage clothing is always in. Whether you’re trying to channel the bright ’80s vibe of Stranger Things, nail that ’60s Summer of Love look, or want to step into a hip speakeasy in your best ’20s flapper dress, San Francisco has a vintage clothing store for that.
37. Enjoy some delicious seasonal goods from a local bakery
Who’s hungry? San Franciscans with a sweet tooth have it easy in this glorious city, because SF bakeries absolutely do not mess around. We wanted to get to the bottom of where San Franciscans get their baked goods, so we posted an Instagram poll asking for recommendations and got some great ones.
38. Enjoy seasonal treats from SF’s best Jewish restaurants and bakeries
Famously delicious and nourishing, “Jewish food” can refer to a variety of dishes found across the Jewish diaspora. Some but not all of the restaurants on this list are kosher, and you’ll find culinary traditions that range from Tel Aviv to New York City and beyond. It’s a good place to start for anyone looking to explore and enjoy Jewish food traditions here in SF.
39. Best places to eat and drink near Union Square
Complement a day of ice skating with a visit to these must-try spots near Union Square.The neighborhood is packed with overpriced and underwhelming restaurants, but there are a few spots that we think are worth a visit.
- Pacific Cocktail Haven (now hosting a pop-up holiday bar, Miracle at PCH)
- Del Popolo
- The Rotunda
- And more
40. Take an unforgettable day trip from SF
We love San Francisco for its countless activities to enjoy everywhere you go. But anytime there’s a long weekend or a free day, we’re quite well-located to check out some neighboring California gems. Be sure to put these day trips on your to-do list for the next time you want to get out of the city for a well-earned mini vacation.