Happy New Year, San Francisco! 2023 has officially arrived and January is a great time to take stock of all the amazing activities, events, and more happening around the Bay Area. Read on to discover how to start the new year on the right foot.
1. Classical 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 a few we’re especially excited about, but you can always nab a gift card valid for any show if you’re not sure.
- Jan. 5 – Candlelight Oakland: A Tribute to Beyonce
- Jan. 12 – Candlelight: A Tribute to Radiohead
- Jan. 14 – Candlelight K-Pop: A Tribute to BTS
- Jan. 19 – Candlelight: A Tribute to Taylor Swift
- Jan. 20 – Candlelight: The Best of Hans Zimmer
- Jan. 21 – Candlelight: A Tribute to Adele
- Jan. 27 – Candlelight: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac at Grace Cathedral
Jan. 12, 7-9pm
Revered archaeologist Dr. Zahi Hawass will present a captivating lecture about the secrets of ancient Egypt and the latest research happening as we speak. Learn about Ramses the Great, the tunnels under the Great Sphinx, the Lost Golden City, and much more. At the end, guests can participate in a Q&A session and get their books signed.
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.
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.
5. Save on a trip to the movies with the AMC Black Ticket
For the cinephile in your life, the AMC Black Ticket grants admission to any 2D movie at any time in participating AMC Theatres®. Take advantage of this discounted price for a movie ticket that never expires, so you can save it for a rainy day or catch the next big blockbuster.
6. Catch the last of the Bay Area’s best 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 they’re gone!
- Garden of D’Lights in Walnut Creek (through Jan. 8) – This gorgeous garden in Walnut Creek will be decked out with lights, lasers, and special effects.
- Holidays at Filoli in Woodside (through Jan. 8) – 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 (through Jan. 29) – SF’s Exploratorium has brought back its popular exhibition of light art.
- Glowfari at Oakland Zoo (through Jan. 29) – A mile-long display of hand-painted animal lanterns is up at Oakland Zoo.
- Illuminate SF Festival of Light in SF (through Jan. 31) – The 10th annual event celebrates a total of 62 temporary and permanent glowing installations around SF.
- Entwined in Golden Gate Park (through Mar. 12) – Charles Gadeken’s crowd-favorite glowing meadow is back in Golden Gate Park.
7. Escape to a magical winter wonderland
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).
- Merry Meritage (through Jan. 9) – The beautiful Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa is hosting an absolutely spectacular winter village for just a bit longer. Enjoy an ice rink, fire pits and s’mores, and VIP igloos.
- Après Village (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!
- And more
8. Take stock of January free admission days at SF museums
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.
- Jan. 1, 10 – SF Botanical Garden
- Also free daily for SF City & County Residents
- Also free daily between 7:30-9am for the general public
- Jan. 3 – de Young Museum & Legion of Honor
- Also free every Saturday for Bay Area residents
- Jan. 3 – Conservatory of Flowers
- Also free daily for SF City & County Residents
- Jan. 4 – GLBT Historical Society Museum
- Jan. 5 – SFMOMA
- For Bay Area residents only, 1:30-8pm
- Jan. 6 – Contemporary Jewish Museum
- Jan. 8 – Asian Art Museum
- Jan. 14, 16 – Museum of the African Diaspora
- 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
9. Check out these museum exhibitions before they close
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.
- Diego Rivera’s America at SFMOMA – through Jan. 3
- Tikkun: For the Cosmos, the Community, and Ourselves at the Contemporary Jewish Museum – through Jan. 8
- Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book: Making a Masterpiece at the Walt Disney Family Museum – through Jan. 8
- Hung Liu: Golden Gate (金門)at the de Young Museum – through Jan. 8
- New Work: Toyin Ojih Odutola at SFMOMA – through Jan. 22
- Kongkee: Warring States Cyberpunk at the Asian Art Museum – through Jan. 23
10. Experience this otherworldly light installation at Grace Cathedral
Reopening Jan. 9
Grace Cathedral and SF nonprofit Illuminate are bringing back the popular Grace Light installation, a 100-foot-tall shifting beam of light created by artist George Zisiadis and accompanied by an original musical score by Gabriel Gold. The free, site-specific installation took a hiatus during the holidays, so we can’t wait to see it back on the calendar starting in January.
11. Celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year
The Chinese New Year Festival and Parade is one of the most iconic events on San Francisco’s cultural calendar. The festival has been happening since 1851, making it the oldest and largest celebration of its kind outside of Asia.
Lunar New Year is on January 22, 2023 this year, although the parade is on February 4. Save the dates for all the festivities coming up:
- Jan. 14-15 – Flower Market Fair
- Jan. 22 – Chinese New Year / Choy Sun Doe Day
- Jan. 28 – Basketball Jamboree
- Feb. 3 – Miss Chinatown Pageant and Coronation Ball
- Feb. 4 – Chinese New Year Parade
- Feb. 4-5 – Community Street Fair
- Mar. 5 – Chinatown YMCA Run
12. Take a spin on these Bay Area ice skating rinks
Is it really winter time without a day of ice skating at a charming local rink? See how much skill you’ve retained since last year by zooming (or hobbling) around one of the Bay Area’s most popular ice rinks.
Holiday ice rinks
- Kristi Yamaguchi Holiday Rink in San Ramon – open through Jan. 8
- San Mateo on Ice in San Mateo – open through Jan. 8
- Merry Meritage rink in Napa – open through Jan. 8
- Union Square Ice Rink in SF – open through Jan. 16
- Walnut Creek on Ice in Walnut Creek – open through Jan. 16
- Apres Village synthetic ice rink in Palo Alto – open through Feb. 25
- Winter Lodge in Palo Alto – open through Apr. 8
Year-round ice rinks
- Yerba Buena Ice Skating in SF
- Oakland Ice Center in Oakland
- Nazareth Ice Oasis in San Mateo
- Snoopy’s Home Ice in Santa Rosa
13. Visit the elephant seals around California
January is the beginning of elephant seal breeding season on the coast of California, an exciting natural phenomenon that’s iconic to our state. Northern elephant seals inhabit the waters from Baja California, Mexico to the Gulf of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. They generally breed from December to March at Point Reyes, Año Nuevo, the Channel Islands and Piedras Blancas.
14. Catch the magnolia bloom at SF Botanical Garden
Every year, the San Francisco Botanical Garden explodes into a beautiful spectrum of deep magentas and bright pinks. The “Magnificent Magnolias” event occurs in late January through March, so be sure to find a day soon to see these spectacular blossoms at their best.
15. Keep an eye out for gray whales migrating along the California coast
California’s coastline is the perfect spot to catch several whale migration seasons, and we can expect gray whales to appear between January and April. Even from land, you’re likely to see them spouting, slapping their tails (known as “lobtailing”) or even breaching. Read our guide for the best places to see them around the Bay Area.
16. Walk beneath a waterfall at SF’s inspiring Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is on Monday, January 16. Consider honoring Dr. King with a visit to San Francisco’s magnificent waterfall memorial, which is the second-largest such memorial in the country. The 50-foot memorial features an enormous reflecting pool and a granite walkway behind the waterfall where visitors can contemplate inscribed quotations from Dr. King’s speeches.
17. Spend an evening 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 feature live DJs, outdoor bars, ambience lighting, and more alongside the Academy’s nearly 40,000 animal residents.
Here’s what’s on the docket this month:
- Jan. 12 – NightLife: MOVE – An evening devoted to the science of motion, with everything from breakdancing to boxing sessions.
- Jan. 19 – NightLife – No set theme
- Jan. 26 – NightLife: Lunar Underground – Ring in the Lunar New Year with a tattoo pop-up, mahjong parlor, and local eats.
18. … or at the Exploratorium
The Exploratorium at Pier 15 in San Francisco is an exciting place for discovery any time of the day, but these 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.
- Jan. 12 – After Dark: Sharing Places – Explore the way in which cultural objects and spaces foster a sense of community.
- Jan. 19 – Moon and Stars – Learn about celestial bodies, satellites, and more through song and science.
- Jan. 26 – Ice Stories – Enjoy Jen Lewin’s interactive The Last Ocean light installation before it leaves the Exploratorium, complete with a dance performance on the installation by Mix’d Ingrdnts.
19. Check out a Brew Festival and new art installations at Fort Mason Center
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.
- Fort Mason Center Farmers’ Market (recurring Sundays, 9:30am-1:30pm) – The Fort Mason Center For Arts & Culture (FMCAC) Farmer’s Market with over 35 vendors.
- Bay Area Brew Festival (Jan. 28) – A day of all things beer with over 50 breweries, DJs, and food trucks.
- Marco Castillo: Parlor Games (through Jan. 7): An exhibition of sculptures and more by Cuban artist Marco Castillo.
- A Year With Frog & Toad (Jan. 7-15): Bay Area Children’s Theatre presents a beloved Broadway adaptation.
- Sunny A. Smith: The Compass Rose (Jan. 13 – Mar. 12): A free exhibition exploring the intricacies of lineage and inheritance through material objects.
- Christo Oropeza: Aun así, pienso en ti (through Jan. 23): Fort Mason Center’s newest outdoor mural recreates former army loading docks. See it in the “Corridor Gallery” between Landmark Buildings B & C.
- This Present Moment (through Jan. 31) – Alicia Eggert’s neon sculpture exhibit presented by the Long Now Foundation.
20. Check out Lunar New Year events and Hearts in San Francisco 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.
- Lunar New Year Performances (Jan. 22, 11am-1pm): Lively performances celebrating the Lunar New Year by the Grant Ave Follies and Chung Ngai Lion Dancers.
- Lunar New Year Calligraphy (Jan. 22, 11am-1pm): Jojo’s Calligraphy will lead a calligraphy demonstration and guests will receive a personalized red paper scroll for Lunar New Year.
- Hearts in San Francisco (Jan. 25 – Feb. 28): The SF General Hospital Foundation’s 19th annual Hearts in San Francisco art project showcases 24 heart sculptures at the Ferry Building, which will be auctioned off to benefit the Foundation.
- Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market (Recurring Tues & Thurs 10am-2pm / Saturdays 8am-2pm): This popular market is regarded as one of the finest farmers’ markets in the country, and is frequented by high-profile chefs and farmers alike.
21. Warm up around these cozy fireplaces in SF
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.
22. Indulge in a piping hot 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.
23. 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!
24. 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.
25. 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.
26. Warm up at these local saunas and hot tubs
San Francisco is known for its famously chilly weather but is luckily also home to some world-class saunas and spas. From Finland to Mexico, saunas have been used for thousands of years. Beloved for their health and therapeutic benefits, especially popular in colder climates. Whether you’re looking for a quiet spa day by yourself or to sweat it out with the whole squad, there’s a sauna for every occasion.
27. Go for a memorable day trip around the Bay Area
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 and into nature.
28. Add these natural wonders in NorCal to your 2023 bucket list
California is home to some of the most incredible nature spots in the world, from towering mountain ranges, to pristine beaches, to ancient redwood trees. Northern California in particular is beloved for its dramatic rocky beaches and mountainous terrain, making for some magnificent natural spectacles! This list of essential places to see in NorCal includes both small- and large-scale natural wonders, so there may be a few you haven’t heard of.