December in the SF Bay Area brings us countless holiday displays and seasonal activities to enjoy. End 2023 on a high note with the best ice skating rinks, holiday markets, Christmas tree 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. 16 – Candlelight: Holiday Special at IAMA
- Dec. 21-22 – Candlelight: Holiday Special at St. Ignatius Church
2. Catch these SF holiday tree lightings and displays
December brings so many magnificent Christmas trees to San Francisco, it’s hard to keep track. We decided to round up the best ones so you can catch them all before the season ends! Whether you’re totally feeling the Christmas spirit or you could just use some holiday cheer, these San Francisco holiday tree displays are worth seeking out.
3. December events at Union Square Ice Rink
Who’s stoked to get back on the ice? Layer up and break out your favorite wintery garb, because the Union Square Ice Rink is the place to be during SF’s holiday season. Union Square Ice Rink will be open for skaters of all ages and abilities through January 15, 2024. Here are some special events to keep in mind:
- Dec. 7 – Drag Queens On Ice
- Dec. 8 – Flashback Fridays
- Dec. 14 – Silent Skate Party
- Select Saturdays and Sundays – Learn to Skate
4. Christmas events at Grace Cathedral
Grace Cathedral is one of the most iconic churches in San Francisco, famous for its gorgeous stained glass windows, mosaics, floor labyrinths, and overall French Gothic design. It’s a beautiful place to attend for any church service, but at Christmastime it is especially spectacular. Watch their event calendar for upcoming tree lightings, concerts, art installations, and more.
5. Let’s Glow SF holiday projection mapping display
Dec. 1-10, 2023
Downtown SF is once again pulling out all the stops with Let’s Glow SF, the largest holiday projection mapping display in the United States. The displays will be up in the Financial District and easily viewed via a self-guided walking tour from 5-10pm each night.
Each building’s façade will be brilliantly illuminated with a dynamic light show designed specifically for that location. The Financial District is totally transformed with eleven 4K 32,000-lumen projectors and two 4K 22,000-lumen laser projectors.
6. Santa visits and concerts 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. This December get ready for special events at the square including a Peppermint Bark Day on Dec. 1, a menorah lighting on Dec. 10, and Santa visits throughout the month.
7. Embark on the most unique picnic experiences in the Bay Area
AmazingCo plans the most unique picnics where you’ll solve clues, pick up artisanal treats, discover hidden neighborhood gems along the way, and finally make it to your destination for a dreamy picnic experience. Whether you’re with a group of friends, your family, or a significant other, it’s definitely not your ordinary picnic.
8. 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!
- Christmas in the Park in San Jose – Nov. 29-Jan. 1 – Spend a day at San Jose’s glittering winter wonderland or take a ride through the drive-through.
- Garden of D’Lights in Walnut Creek – Nov. 24-Jan. 6 – This gorgeous garden in Walnut Creek will be decked out with lights, lasers, and special effects.
- Holidays at Filoli in Woodside – Nov. 18-Jan. 7 – One of the Bay Area’s most beautiful and lesser-known light displays, taking place at Filoli Estate & Gardens in Woodside.
- GLOW: Discover the Art of Light at the Exploratorium – Nov. 16-Jan. 28 – SF’s Exploratorium has brought back its popular exhibition of light art.
- Glowfari at Oakland Zoo – Now through Jan. 28 – A mile-long display of hand-painted animal lanterns is up at Oakland Zoo.
- Discover more light displays in the Bay Area.
9. Plan your month with our ultimate Bay Area holiday guide
San Francisco draws endless crowds at during the holidays, and it’s no wonder why — from the Union Square ice rink to the Fairmont’s two-story gingerbread house, there’s enough holiday spirit in the air to cheer up even the grumpiest Scrooge. For those who seek some inspiration to start planning around Christmas time, we’ve made a list and checked it twice. Read on for your ultimate guide to the holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area.
10. Winter Wonderland at Thrive City
Thrive City’s 2023 Winter Wonderland is going to be a hit all month long. In addition to its brand-new synthetic ice rink, here are some events to keep in mind there.
- Nov. 29 – Tree Lighting Ceremony – Thrive City’s third annual tree lighting ceremony will celebrate the Bay Area’s tallest holiday tree which towers 90 feet into the air. The two-hour celebration features holiday food and drink, live music from Darryl McDaniels, performers from the Warriors Dance Team, holiday choirs, and more.
- Dec. 7 – Hanukkah Celebration – Celebrate the Festival of Lights with a menorah lighting ceremony, live entertainment, festive arts and crafts, and Jewish treats.
- Dec. 31 – Kwanzaa and Noon Year’s Eve Celebration – Celebrate Kwanzaa and ring in 2024 with a daytime concert featuring Soji Sai Afrobeat.
11. Pick up the perfect holiday gift for your loved ones
San Francisco is full of independently owned shops and boutiques where you can find the perfect items for friends, family, and a little retail therapy for yourself. Instead of heading straight to the mall, take a scroll through our lists of shopping neighborhoods and unique shops.
12. Giant menorah lightings at Union Square
Dec. 7-15, 2023
The Bill Graham Menorah Project is gearing up for its 48th annual giant menorah lighting and display! A 25-foot menorah will glow over Union Square every night of Hanukkah.
On Saturday, Dec. 10, you can enjoy fun activities, food, music and more for “Bill Graham Menorah Day.” Enjoy a variety of kids’ crafts, shows, and performances.
13. 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.
14. 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).
Nov. 17-Jan. 7 – 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.
Nov. 17-Jan. 28 – 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!
15. 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.
16. Here’s when all the Lake Tahoe ski resorts open
Lake Tahoe is always a popular spot for Bay Area residents to ski and snowboard. It has the highest concentration of ski resorts in the U.S. in a 100-mile radius. Most of the resorts open between Dec. 1-15 — head to our article for the full list of projected openings.
Read our Lake Tahoe guide for more pointers including our favorite restaurants, bars, and destinations.
17. See the jaw-dropping 2023 rendition of Entwined in Golden Gate Park
Charles Gadeken’s Entwined, a sprawling immersive LED light installation in Golden Gate Park’s Peacock Meadow, has been delighting San Franciscans since it first opened in 2020. This year, the art installation is returning better than ever with a new iteration of the beloved installation. Entwined: Elder Mother centers around the Elder Mother tree. Standing at 30 feet tall and casting a 25-foot canopy of light that welcomes people to sit and enjoy its glow.
18. Celebrate SantaCon 2023
Grab your red coat and reindeer because SantaCon 2023 will return to SF on Saturday, December 9th, starting at 12:00 pm. Celebrating its 28th year, SantaCon is hosted in 70+ cities around the world, with the vast majority of them taking place around the US.
19. Holiday markets around the Bay Area
Holiday spirit is already in the air and the crafters of San Francisco are working at full throttle to sell their wares! We’ve gone ahead and rounded up some of the best holiday markets, craft fairs, and more in the San Francisco Bay Area for December 2023. Think Bay Area Christmas markets with homemade pastries, decorations, and innovative products. Or holiday craft fairs with all the handmade jewelry, pottery, and art you could wish for.
20. 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.
21. Holiday pop up bars to discover in SF
The holidays have arrived in San Francisco and these seasonal pop-ups will be serving up Christmas cheer all winter long. Holiday pop-up bars in San Francisco capture the joy, nostalgia, and celebratory atmosphere of the season, plus lots of tasty cocktails. Don your most festive attire, round up your friends, and belt out Mariah Carey to your heart’s desire.
22. 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.
23. Coolest December 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.
24. 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.
25. 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. Look for the Guardsmen Tree Lot, open through Dec. 15 (use promo code SECRETSF-23 for 10% off event tickets at checkout!) and West Coast Craft Holiday on Dec. 2 and 16.
26. Look for monarch butterflies fluttering along the California coast
The monarchs are back! At many places along the California coast, monarch sanctuaries are starting to see thousands of butterflies congregating together at overwintering sites due to the fact that they can’t fly well at temperatures below 55 degrees. If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of this fascinating phenomenon, consider visiting these monarch butterfly hotspots.
27. 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. Look for the Creativity Explored Holiday pop-up on Saturdays and the Ferry Building Holiday Open House on Dec. 6.
28. Scroll through our Bay Area concert guide for December
We’re lucky to experience some highly-anticipated Bay Area concerts this month, from Depeche Mode and Stevie Nicks at Chase Center; to The Roots at Fox Theater; to Enrique Iglesias, Pitbull, and Ricky Martin at the Shark Tank. With a wealth of historic music venues in and around San Francisco you can count on creating some memories no matter who’s playing. Read on for a list of our favorite local venues for Bay Area concerts along with upcoming 2023 dates.
29. Cheer on your home teams at these December major league sports games
Warriors basketball season is in full swing at Chase Center and Levi’s Stadium is hosting some thrilling 49ers games. Down in San Jose, hockey season is here for the Sharks. Read on for a breakdown of our home teams in the SF Bay Area, plus details about where to see them play this month.
30. Pay a visit to Salesforce Park over the holidays
San Francisco’s Salesforce Park is an amazing modern marvel in the Financial District with free activities happening every single month. Don’t miss out on Winterfest from Dec. 8-10, where guests can watch the park come to life with thousands of holiday lights and enjoy festive activities including performances, music, and crafts.
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. 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.
33. Start looking ahead and save the dates for these 2024 events
A new year has started and we can’t wait to see what it has in store for San Francisco. Here we’ve rounded up some of the best exhibitions, events, festivals, parades, and concerts coming up in 2024. For events with no date yet announced, we’ve put the month they usually occur in so you can be on the lookout. Grab your calendar and jot down your favorites!
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. Make the most of your visit to Union Square
San Francisco’s Union Square is ground zero for Christmas and holiday experiences in the city. They’ve officially rolled out their Winter Wander-Land which includes the 25-foot Bill Graham Menorah, the 83-foot Macy’s Tree, the popular Safeway Holiday Ice Rink, the Miracle at PCH pop-up bar, and the Winter Walk (back by popular demand!). If you’re planning a visit Downtown SF this year and don’t know where to start, read on for the ultimate guide to Union Square holiday events and attractions.
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.