Winter in and around San Francisco is a time for getting cozy and leaning into the holiday spirit. Here are some of our favorite cold-weather activities to enjoy during the winter season in the Bay Area, but be sure to see our 2023 holiday roundup for even more festive options around Christmas time. Stay warm and make the most of San Francisco until the spring comes.
1.Warm up around these cozy fireplaces
In SF’s characteristic foggy weather, a homey, roaring fire is a hot commodity during winter (and basically any other season). We’ve rounded up some of our favorite fireplaces in San Francisco, ranging from outdoor patios to neighborhood bars to fine dining restaurants.
- 25 Lusk: Sip on a cocktail around suspended stainless steel fireplaces in 25 Lusk’s lounge area.
- Zeki’s Bar: A popular neighborhood spot with two brick fireplaces and nice craft beers on tap.
- SPARK Social SF: Get a group together and rent a big firepit complete with Adirondack chairs and a s’mores cart.
- Foreign Cinema: A romantic California-Mediterranean restaurant with indoor and outdoor fireplaces, heat lamps, and string lights.
- The Riptide: A popular bar in the Sunset with a small town lodge feel and an open brick fireplace.
2. Check out this winter village with VIP igloos
While winter lasts longer than just the holiday season, this merry winter village at the Meritage Resort and Spa offers the perfect escape for the holidays. With an ice skating rink and VIP igloos, the luxe experience is a great way to treat yourself. Plus, the resort also has dining experiences, a swanky New Year’s Eve Party, and Santa story times for children. The Winter Village is open until January 7.
The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek is decked out with multicolored lights, lasers, and more, transforming the already spectacular 3.5-acre space into an otherworldly outdoor adventure. The magical garden is open until January 6, 2024, and general admission tickets range from $25-29, with lower prices for children and seniors.
This winter wonderland in Palo Alto is meant to simulate an alpine retreat with semi-private chalets and a holiday sweet shop. The luxe village gives you the atmosphere of a cozy winter village after a day on the mountain, but right in the Bay Area. You can skate on their ice rink and enjoy a multi-course meal in the kid-friendly space.
Arguably the most beautiful holiday light display in the Bay Area, Filoli Estate & Gardens in Woodside is adorned with thousands of glittering lights. The historic garden and estate get fully decked out for Christmas, including various holiday events perfect for a day trip.
Napa is famous for its wine, and the iconic wine train is a must-try for the winter. The wine train is fun all year, but they really pull out all the stops for the holidays. They have various themed journeys to choose from, including a gourmet holiday express with a three-course meal, Jingle on the Rails with Santa, and more.
6. Explore Golden Gate Park’s popular LED garden Entwined
The beloved light show is returning to delight visitors for another winter in Golden Gate Park. The light installation is a glowing forest, and this year, a new installation will be added to the already crowd-pleasing art. A massive, 30-foot-tall glowing tree that moves with the wind, called Elder Mother, is included in this year’s installation. The display opens on December 7 and runs until April 28, 2024.
7. Check out GLOW Discover the Art of Light at the Exploratorium
The Exploratorium’s display of 10 light art installations, including 7 new artists. The Exploratorium’s captivating and interactive light installation will run until January 29, so you have plenty of time to check out the glowing display. Plus, unlike many other light installations, this is indoors, perfect for a rainy and cold SF day.
8. Visit Glowfari at the Oakland Zoo
Oakland Zoo’s annual holiday light display returns with hand-painted glowing animal lanterns. The charming display takes you through the forests of North America, complete with a frozen arctic scene and a deep ocean display. The light show runs until the end of January 2024.
9. Let’s Glow SF: The nation’s largest holiday projection mapping light display comes to Downtown SF from December 2-11.
Let’s Glow SF is back for another year of massive projections and light displays in the Financial District. The displays are on view via a self-guided walking tour, and you can see them starting December 1 through the 10th between 5-10 pm each night. In past years, the show has drawn 50,000 people to see the dazzling displays.
10. Take a spin around a Bay Area ice skating rink
Is it really wintertime 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.
- Union Square Ice Rink – SF’s most popular rink, with special events and themed nights all winter long. Open daily through January 15, 2024.
- Snoopy’s Home Ice – This Snoopy-themed ice rink in Santa Rosa was founded by Charles Schulz 50 years ago. Open year-round.
- Merry Meritage – Napa’s Meritage resort and spa has opened its annual winter village, complete with private igloos and fire pits around a totally photogenic ice rink. Open daily through January 7, 2024.
- San Mateo on Ice – At 11,000 square feet, this is the Bay Area’s largest outdoor ice rink. Open daily through January 7, 2024.
11. Enjoy a classical concert by candlelight
The popular classical concert series known as Candlelight showcases intimate performances by local musicians surrounded by hundreds of flickering candles. The beautiful concerts take place in stunning concert venues, and you have plenty of musical options to explore when picking your show. Upcoming highlights include a special Nutcracker performance and holiday pop classics for the Christmas season.
12. 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.
- Heavenly Mountain Resort: This renowned South Lake Tahoe resort offers incredible terrain variety, hidden glades, and 34 miles of skiable land that straddles the California-Nevada border.
- Palisades Tahoe: Palisades Tahoe is the largest skiing complex in Lake Tahoe and was home to the 1960 Winter Olympics. Visitors can enjoy 6,000 skiable acres across 8 peaks in one interconnected network.
13. 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.
- Pinecrest: Pinecrest Lake is a picturesque lake and town located in Stanislaus National Forest.
- Dodge Ridge: A family-owned ski resort in the Stanislaus National Forest, boasting 862 skiable acres and 1600 vertical feet.
- Arnold: Arnold is famous for housing the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Enjoy plenty of mountain sports or take a walk under the dazzling giant sequoias.
- Yosemite: The Valley Loop Trail and Yosemite Falls Trail are favorites during the winter season, as well as the park’s snow play areas and ice skating rink.
14. 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.
- Decades of Fashion: The ultimate vintage shop in the Haight, this shop has perfectly preserved vintage pieces from gorgeous flapper dresses to tailored coats.
- ReLove: A re-sale boutique with a motto of “more style, less waste”. They stand against the excess consumption of poorly made clothing, encouraging you to buy quality pieces that make you and the environment feel good.
- Held Over: Held Over sets itself apart with a strong focus on vintage European fashion, along with substantial American classic vintage offerings.
15. 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!
- Dandelion Chocolate: A top-notch chocolatier with several locations in San Francisco where you can enjoy favorites like the Hojicha hot chocolate mix with green tea flavors or the Mission mix with a spicy blend of cinnamon and chile.
- Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop: When it comes to anything chocolate, you can’t get much better than SF’s own Ghirardelli! Popular flavors include a classic hot cocoa with whipped cream, a sea salt caramel hot cocoa for some extra depth, and a cup of decadent drinking chocolate for the richest flavors of them all.
- La Oaxaqueña: This beloved Mexican restaurant cranks out unbeatable tamales, tortas, pupusas, and more. But they also have an excellent Mexican hot chocolate selection! You can add guajillo chili powder and ginger to yours for an extra kick.
16. 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.
- B. Patisserie: This iconic bakery’s formidable menu is in tune with the seasons, so you’ll find many different flavors year-round in their croissants, Bostock, coffeecake, and quiche.
- Arizmendi: Arizmendi is a worker-owned cooperative famous for its work with Cheeseboard Pizza in Oakland. The menu varies each day and seasonally, meaning you’ll always find new flavor combos.
- Neighbor Bakehouse: Here’s a bright kitchen and cafe where you can see everything being made before your eyes. Pastries have unique flavors like pistachio blackberry, chocolate hazelnut, caramelized banana, guava and cream cheese, blueberry sunflower, and more.
17. 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.
- Marufuku: This legendary ramen spot is one of the most popular ramen restaurants in the city, and the sleek dining room makes it worth a dine-in experience.
- Mensho Tokyo SF: This massively successful ramen chain has popular storefronts all over the world and comes highly recommended by locals.
- Hinodeya: The origins of this ramen bar go all the way back to 1885 when it opened in front of Hasuda train station in Saitama, Japan. It opened in SF in 2016 and quickly rose to popularity.
18. Visit the Legion of Honor’s New Exhibition Botticelli Drawings
The Legion of Honor is currently showing a groundbreaking exhibition featuring famed Renaissance painter’s drawings. Botticelli’s drawings were essential to creating what are now iconic paintings, and the new exhibit gives guests a deeper look into this artistry and creative process. The must-see exhibition will run through early 2024.
19. Visit an SF Jazz Club
Staying out of the cold in an intimate jazz club is a great way to spend a night out in SF and perfect for a good date spot (it is cuffing season, after all). SF has plenty of unique jazz clubs, and here are a few suggestions perfect for a rainy night.
- Black Cat Jazz Club: A classic supper club, Black Cat has world-renowned musicians performing in the intimate venue.
- Mr. Tripple’s Recording Studio: This jazz club pairs delicious dumplings with great music and wine.
- Geelou: Located in the Marina District, Geelou is a laid-back jazz bar with live performances, plenty of spacious seating, and a pool table in the back.
20. Go to the SF Ballet’s performance of Nutcracker
The SF Ballet is performing the holiday classic Nutcracker in December 2023. The show is always a crowd-pleaser, and it takes countless hours of preparation and dedication to put together. Opening night takes place on December 13, and the show runs until the end of December. Sensory-friendly shows will also be offered at select times.
21. Explore Yayoi Kusama’s iconic infinity mirror rooms at the SFMOMA
Yayoi Kusama is well known for her immersive art installations. Namely mirror rooms called Infinity Rooms. The SFMOMA is hosting the artist’s first solo museum presentation in Northern California, and you can immerse yourself in two spectacular rooms. The exhibition is wildly popular, making securing tickets difficult at times. We recommend reserving your tickets in advance this winter if you want to see the exhibition.
22. Play a game of padel on the brand-new courts in SF
Pickleball may have won the hearts of many San Franciscans, but brand new padel courts may tempt many to try the new sport. The sport is a racket game that is very similar to pickleball, tennis, and squash. Brand new courts, called Park Padel, recently opened in Embarcadero and Treasure Island, so now is the perfect time to try the sport.
By Jamie Ferrell and Dana Flynn