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Christmas in San Francisco: an Epic Guide to the Most Festive Holiday Happenings and Attractions

Christmas in San Francisco is the most magical time of the year! Looking for all the best things to do in the city to get you in a jolly holiday spirit? Read on for the most festive Christmas attractions and activities in San Francisco!

Christmas in San Francisco: the ultimate guide to the best and most festive holiday attractions and activities

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style (is that song stuck in your head now?  Because it sure is stuck in mine!)…Christmas in San Francisco is one of my favorite times of the year! It’s just so magical to see the city dressed up in festive lights, and to see the holiday spirit abuzz all around you.

There are so many ways to celebrate Christmas in San Francisco, from tree lightings, to outdoor ice rinks, to special events and performances. Looking for the best ways to experience Christmas in San Francisco? Read on for the ultimate list of must-dos in the city during the holiday season!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase or booking, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Christmas in San Francisco: Enjoy high tea, or just a beverage, at the Garden Court restaurant inside the iconic Palace Hotel

TIPS FOR CAPTURING AMAZING PHOTOS OF SAN FRANCISCO AT CHRISTMAS

If you want to step up your photo game, you may want to invest in a fast lens with a low f-stop to help you capture those lights at night. This allows more light to be captured which is a must when trying to shoot in low light! A great, affordable lens for this purpose is the 35mm f1.8 – here are the NikonCanon, and Sony versions.

If you prefer a zoom lens, you may also consider a 24-70mm f2.8 lens – here are the Nikon, Canon, and Sony versions. These are a bit of an investment, but are a professional quality lens, and the quality you get will be unparalleled! If you want a more budget-friendly option of this lens, you can consider the Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 lens – Nikon, Canon, and Sony versions – this is a similar lens at a fraction of the cost. It stays on my camera about 90% of the time!

Having such a lens will allow you to capture bokeh, or that blurred background that make perfect portraits – this is especially clutch during Christmas in San Francisco because it makes those twinkly lights look sooo magical! Be sure to shoot at the lowest f-stop as possible to get this effect – you can use the aperture priority mode.

You can also used portrait mode or fixed focus mode on your smartphone to get the same effect.

Also consider getting a tripod to help with long exposure shots and to really capture the lights in all their glory – I travel with this one because it is super lightweight and easy to set up on the go, which mean it’s not a burden when I’m walking all over the city.

Christmas in San Francisco: lots of holiday fun is to be had at Union Square, with ice skating, a giant Christmas tree, and more.

 

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO AT UNION SQUARE

I always love Union Square during the holiday season because it becomes the heart of all things Christmas in San Francisco. The holiday spirit of the city truly comes alive here. There are lots of festive things to do and see here – here is a rundown of some of the highlights:

Christmas in San Francisco: one of the city's best and most popular outdoor ice skating rinks is at Union Square

Union Square Ice Rink
The festivities here kick off when the Union Square Ice Rink officially opens for the season in early November, and stays put until Martin Luther King Day the following year (the rink is open this year from 11/6/2019 – 1/20/2020). The rink is open from 10am to 11:30pm daily, and each 90 minute session starts at the top of every even hour.  Admission is $18 for adults, and $13 for children 8 and under, and includes skate rental.

This is by far the most popular (and crowded) outdoor ice rink in the city, and it’s easy to see why as it is definitely one of the best ways to celebrate Christmas in San Francisco! The best time to skate is after the tree goes up so you get sort of that Rockefeller Center vibe. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance as they tend to sell out during peak times, especially during the weeks surrounding Christmas. The rink also has some fun special events and sessions, such as a polar bear skate, and a drag queen night.

Union Square Christmas Tree
Union Square truly comes alive after the tree is lit. The 83-foot tall tree has some 40,000 twinkling energy-efficient LED lights and 700 ornaments, and is one of the largest and most recognizable symbols of Christmas in San Francisco.

The tree lighting ceremony takes place every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving (in 2019, this is on Friday, November 29 at 6pm, and marks the 30th year of the tradition). Performances by various local acts take place leading up to the main event, in which the dazzling lights of the tree are finally illuminated and stay on through the end of the year.

Union Square also has a giant Menorah, and daily lighting ceremonies take place at 5pm on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. On the first night, there are musical performances by various acts leading up to the lighting ceremony, much like the Christmas tree ceremony.

Christmas in San Francisco at Macy’s
One of the most iconic sights during Christmas in San Francisco is the wreaths in the windows of the flagship Macy’s store at Union Square. Not only do they make a perfect photo op from across the street, but they are for a good cause as well – each of these windows houses adoptable dogs and cats who need loving homes, in partnership with the San Francisco SPCA.

This has become one of the most beloved annual traditions during Christmas in San Francisco (I mean, adorable puppies and kitties – how could it not?!), and more than 8500 animals have found loving homes throughout the event’s 30 year history. There is even a live web cam here – cuteness overload! The decorations and adoption event runs mid-November through New Year’s Day.

In addition to getting your holiday shopping done at Macy’s (or just window shopping…or buying presents for yourself), you can also say hi to Santa, convince him that you’ve been good this year, and take a photo with him at Santaland, located on the sixth floor.

The store’s top floor also transforms into Holiday Lane, and you can shop for festive decor and gifts here. You can also drop off letters to Santa at the Believe mailbox (http://www.macys.com/believe) through Christmas Eve – for every letter collected, Macy’s will donate $1 to the Make-a-wish Foundation (up to $1 million).

Be sure to also stop into the Cheesecake Factory, also located on the top floor – you can get a unique bird’s-eye view of all the festivities down below from the patio here!

Christmas in San Francisco at Neiman Marcus
Just across the street from Macy’s is Neiman Marcus, which is also the home of a four-story tall Christmas tree in the store’s foyer. Be sure to look up to take truly appreciate the size of the tree, and to also look at the beautiful Art Deco stained glass ceiling.

You should also go up to the Rotunda on the fourth floor to get a unique view of the tree and to be up close to that ceiling. If you also feel like having a fancy Christmas in San Francisco, you can also opt to do high tea here – one of the best in the city! Afternoon tea service starts at $50 per person, but you can order a la carte as well.

Westfield San Francisco Centre
While technically a few blocks away from Union Square itself, the Westfield mall on Market Street plays host to numerous holiday events at its fourth floor atrium. The real attraction here is the 50-foot Christmas tree, which hangs upside-down from the mall’s signature dorm. The tree is covered in crystals and almost looks like a giant chandelier, making it one of the most unique sights in Christmas in San Francisco!

The mall hosts an annual lighting ceremony, as well as various holiday performances, and Santa visits – check this page for updated event info.


CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO AT THE EMBARCADERO CENTER

The Embarcadero Center, right across from the Ferry Building on the city’s waterfront, also plays host to a number of holiday events, and is another great place to experience Christmas in San Francisco!

Christmas in San Francisco: glide across the eyes while taking in gorgeous views of the Ferry Building and Bay Bridge at the Holiday Ice Rink at the Embarcadero Center

Embarcadero Center Holiday Ice Rink
Another place to get your skate on during Christmas in the city is at the Embarcadero Center Holiday Ice Rink, located at Justin Herman Plaza. I personally prefer this rink over the Union Square rink, because it is larger (it is the largest outdoor rink in the Bay Area) and feels much less crowded.

The best time to skate here is at night, when you can see the twinkling Bay Bridge Lights and the glowing Ferry Building as you glide across the ice. Even better is if you come around sunset, because you can see the lights dance against the sky as the colors transform from light to dark.

The rink is open from early November (it will return in 2019 on November 6) until early January. Hours are 10am to 9:30pm Sunday-Thursday, and 10am to 11:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays, with each 90 minute session starting at the top of every even hour. Admission is $12 for adults, and $7 for children 7 and under; skate rental is an additional $5.

Embarcadero Center Building Lighting and Carnival
The Embarcadero Center’s four towering buildings, illuminated with over 17,000 holiday lights, is another iconic sight symbolizing Christmas in San Francisco. The official lighting of the building takes place in late November (the 2019 event is on November 22), and is celebrated with a carnival, complete with an ice skating show and a fireworks display. The lights stay on through the end of the year, and make See here for more information.

Christmas in San Francisco: The Winter Park at Civic Center is home of the city's newest outdoor ice skating rink

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO AT WINTER PARK AT CIVIC CENTER

I’m all about the outdoor ice rinks (fun fact about me: I did a few years of lessons when I was younger, and picked up adult figure skating again recently), so I was super excited when they announced Winter Park at Civic Center in 2018 – and brought it back for 2019! The rink is open from late November into early January (this year’s dates are 11/22/2019 – 1/5/2020).

What sets this rink apart from all the others that pop up during Christmas in San Francisco is a 400-foot track that splits off the main rink and weaves through a lighted tree forest – this was inspired by internationally-famed Wiener-Eistraum ice rink located in the City Hall Square of Vienna.

TRUE STORY: This photo by the awesome 415 Guy just happens to be of yours truly!

Winter Park is right in front of City Hall, so you get an awesome view of its Christmas tree and of the building lit up in red and green (or blue for Hanukkah). City Hall also has its own tree lighting ceremony and festivities in the first week of December (the 2019 event takes place on Wednesday, December 4 from 5pm to 7pm), with live music and kids’ activities. The rink will also host a number of special events, including weekly curling lessons every Sunday from 10:30am – 11:30am.

The rink is open daily from noon to 9:15pm daily, with each 75 minute session starting at the beginning of each even hour. Admission is $18 for adults, and $13 for children under 8, which includes skate rental.

Christmas in San Francisco: The iconic Fairmont Hotel is famous for its life-sized gingerbread house

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO AT THE FAIRMONT HOTEL

One of the best ways to experience Christmas in San Francisco is at the Fairmont – one of the city’s most iconic hotels. The main highlight here is a two-story gingerbread house, which stands at 25 feet tall and is made from 6000 pieces of house-made gingerbread, 1650 pounds of candy, and 3300 pounds of icing.

The house is on display in the Fairmont lobby during the end of November until New Year’s Day (2019 dates are November 30-January 1). You can stroll through and admire all the details on the exterior of the house – it is a pretty impressive sight (and yes, you can actually smell the gingerbread) – but did you also know that you can also have afternoon tea inside the house? This is one of the most popular spots to have high tea during Christmas in San Francisco. Tea service costs $129 per adult, or $89 per child; reservations are a must and can be requested here.

Christmas in San Francisco: Enjoy a holiday drink under the Christmas tree at the Fairmont Hotel

For an extra special experience with the gingerbread house, you can also opt to have a private tea service or dinner (for up to 10 people) – details here. Or, if you are looking to pop the big question to your special someone, they also have proposal packages here!

While the gingerbread house is the main draw at the Fairmont, the lobby also features a gorgeous 23 foot tall tree. The hotel will also have a new holiday-themed bar named Cirque with festive decor and cocktails – did you know that the original Cirque bar at the hotel was the first bar in the city to open after Prohibition?

Want an all-out Christmas in San Francisco celebration? The hotel also has a Christmas-themed Santa Suite, complete with Santa-inspired decor, a selection of classic holiday movies to watch, a “candy and hot beverages bar” (with an adult beverage for adults in the party), and more. Rates start at $1599 – you can read more details and find out how to book here.

Want to stay at the Fairmont in order to truly experience Christmas in San Francisco? Check and compare rates here.

Christmas in San Francisco: Gaze at the beautiful Christmas trees at the Palace Hotel, one of the city's most iconic and luxurious hotels

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO AT THE PALACE HOTEL

The century-old Palace Hotel has had a longstanding reputation as one of the city’s best and most luxurious hotels, so it is no surprise that it is also one of the best places to experience Christmas in San Francisco.

I make a stop here every year to gaze at the trio of trees in the hotel’s elegant atrium – its is definitely a must-see during Christmas in San Francisco. The trees are not particularly big, but they definitely stand out against the stunning glass ceilings, breathtaking chandeliers, and shiny marble floors.

Christmas in San Francisco: Enjoy high tea, or just a beverage, at the Garden Court restaurant inside the iconic Palace Hotel

The hotel’s Garden Court restaurant hosts a popular holiday tea service during Christmas in San Francisco, where you can admire the trees while enjoying some scones and sandwiches (with your pinkies up of course!) served on fine china and silver.

For an extra festive tea service with the little ones, the Garden Court also hosts a Santa tea service, with the man in red himself! The lounge also offers a Holiday Prince and Princess Tea service, where little guests take home a jeweled crown and candy scepter.

Holiday tea at the Palace Hotel isn’t cheap – it costs $90 per adult, and $60 per child. On a budget but still want a similar experience? You can still come to the Garden Court outside of afternoon tea hours and enjoy a cup of (pricey) coffee or glass of wine, while gazing at the trees and taking in the soft piano music.

Spending a night or two at the Palace hotel would also make for a special time during Christmas in San Francisco – the hotel is renowned for its luxury and world-class service. Compare rates here.

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO AT THE RITZ CARLTON HOTEL

The Teddy Bear Tea at the Ritz Carlton has been one of the most beloved annual traditions for San Francisco for many years. Created as a way to bring families together in true holiday spirit, this tea service also gives back a portion of each ticket sale to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. During the service, children are served teddy bear-shaped sandwiches and hot chocolate while enjoying a holiday show, and receive a teddy bear photo to take home; adults can also enjoy specialty cocktails. Be sure to reserve your spot in advance here as this is one of the most popular Christmas in San Francisco tea services. The cost is $130 per person.

The Ritz Carlton also hosts its traditional afternoon service with a holiday twist – this starts a $80 per person. The hotel also has a gorgeous 40 foot tall Christmas tree in the lobby, along with an annual lighting ceremony. At the event, which takes place at the end of November, the tree is illuminated by a local family from the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Santa also makes an appearance for photos.

Looking for a luxury hotel to stay at during Christmas in San Francisco? Compare rates for the Ritz Carlton San Francisco here.

Christmas in San Francisco

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO: MORE HIGH TEA OPTIONS

Still can’t get enough afternoon tea during Christmas in San Francisco? Also check out these options:

Sir Francis Drake Hotel’s Tea Under the Tree
This annual holiday tea service is presented in collaboration with Crown & Crumpet, one of the city’s most popular tea houses. The festive tea service takes place in the historic Union Square hotel, all decked out for the holidays! The cost is $125 for adults, and $85 for children. Keep your eyes peeled here for updated dates and menu for 2019.

Westin St. Francis Holiday Tea
Enjoy fine artisan teas from Mighty Leaf or Red Blossom Tea Company along with a selection of English tea sandwiches and sweet treats inside one of San Francisco’s most iconic hotels. Tea service takes place every Saturday and Sunday throughout December and starts at $60 for adults and $40 for children 12 and under. In the past, the Westin St. Francis has also displayed elaborate sugar castles in their lobby, created from sugar and pastries by their pastry chefs, along with a pop up sweet shop selling holiday treats. Unfortunately, the display was cancelled for 2018. For 2019 updates and for additional information about holiday tea service, keep your eyes peeled here.

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO AT FISHERMAN’S WHARF

The Fisherman’s Wharf area may be one of the most touristy spots in the city, but it is also one of the best places to experience Christmas in San Francisco. Fisherman’s Wharf and its surrounding attractions are play host to numerous holiday events, which are perfect for getting into the holiday spirit!

Christmas in San Francisco at Pier 39
Experience holiday magic at Pier 39, which comes alive with festive decorations and a giant Christmas tree. Each of the 13,000 energy-efficient LED lights, 400 ornaments, and 150 bows are individually secured onto the 60 foot tree, which takes about 3 weeks to decorate. A dazzling light show will also illuminate the tree every 30 minutes from 5pm to 10pm every night from November 26 to January 5. Pier 39 also hosts an annual tree lighting ceremony – more details about the event, as well as other holiday happenings, will be posted here.

Lighted Boat Parade at Fisherman’s Wharf
Watch as boats adorned with festive lights and decor parade around the San Francisco Bay in the oldest and largest lighted boat parade in the San Francisco Bay. The parade is presented by the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District and the St. Francis Yacht Club, and is a unique way to experience Christmas in San Francisco.

The parade starts just off Pier 39 and continues along the waterfront past Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason, the St. Francis Yacht Club, and Crissy Field. The 2019 parade takes place on December 13, but the boats will remain lighted throughout the season (the best place to view them is at Sport Fishing Harbor between Jones and Taylor Streets). You can find more information about the parade and fleet here.

Christmas in San Francisco at Ghirardelli Square
Ghirardelli Square is the home of another giant Christmas tree in San Francisco; this 50-foot tree is decorated with oversized Ghirardelli chocolate bars because, well, duh. There is also a tree lighting event that takes place Thanksgiving weekend, with musical performances, puppet shows, and stilt walkers. Check this page for updated event info for 2019.

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO AT THE PRESIDIO

San Francisco’s own National Park also comes alive during the holiday season, and is home to its own Christmas tree and festive events. The 2019 tree lighting takes place on December 6 at 5:30 at the park’s Main Post, and will have carolers, kids’ activities, and light refreshments. A lantern-lit forest walk will take place afterwards at 6pm. Check here for more information and to RSVP.

For more holiday fun, head on over to the Walt Disney Family Museum which presents a double feature screening of Christmas With Walt Disney and Mickey’s Christmas Carol. See schedule and ticket info here.

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO AT GOLDEN GATE PARK

America’s largest urban park is also one of the best places to experience Christmas in San Francisco, with a Christmas tree and several holiday events.

Christmas Tree Lighting + Winter Carnival
Golden Gate Park’s Christmas tree is a live one – the 100 year old cypress tree resides at McLaren Lodge right at the eastern entrance of the park. The tree is illuminated at an annual tree lighting ceremony and winter carnival that usually takes place on the first Thursday in December. The event also transforms the area into a festive winter wonderland, with a snow play area and tobboggan rides, live entertainment, carnival rides, cookie decorating, a visit with Santa, and more! You also get free admission into the neighboring Conservatory of Flowers on the day of the event. Keep an eye on the park’s event page for more information and updates.

Night Bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers
Speaking of the Conservatory of Flowers – it is another magical sight during Christmas in San Francisco, with its iconic white facade illuminated with dazzling lights during its Night Bloom installation. Inside the conservatory, vibrant lights completely transform the galleries and rainforest, allowing the plants to shine in a new light.

Other special installations include a highly-instagrammable geometric light art display by Oakland-based artists HYBYCOZO and a Bloom Lounge, where you can eat, drink, and be merry inside an inflatable dome.

Night Bloom takes place from November 22 to January 5 from 5pm to 11pm; tickets start at $29 for adults, and are free for children 8 and under. More information and tickets available here.

Christmas in San Francisco at California Academy of Sciences
Science and holiday merriment come together at the California Academy of Sciences’s annual ‘Tis the Season for Science exhibit, making it a fun and educational way to experience Christmas in San Francisco. Learn about how animals thrive in polar and Antarctic climates, meet a reindeer, and enjoy live music as you get into the holiday spirit! The exhibit also included an outdoor ice rink in 2018 – cross your fingers this makes a return for 2019! See here for updates on the 2019 exhibit.

The museum also puts a festive spin on NightLife, its Thursday night 21+ after dark event. Personally, I think that NightLife is the best time to visit the museum because admission is cheaper and each weekly soiree has a fun theme. The holiday NightLife events also feature seasonally inspired cocktails and a Christmas bazaar for extra holiday fun! Check here for more information and upcoming holiday themes.

Christmas in San Francisco: The SF Ballet's rendition of the Nutcracker is a must-see!

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO: PERFORMANCES AND SHOWS

One of the best ways to experience Christmas in San Francisco is to watch a holiday performance from one of the city’s award-winning performing arts institutions. Many of these performances have become a treasured holiday tradition for many in San Francisco! I list some of the highlights below:

The Nutcracker by the San Francisco Ballet
Did you know that this holiday classic was first performed in America by the San Francisco Ballet? After the enormous success of the first performance, part of the Pan Pacific Expo in 1944, the Ballet has debuted several new productions of it over the years, and it has become an annual holiday tradition for many San Franciscans. The 2019 season marks the 75th anniversary since the premiere!

After living in San Francisco for 10 years, I finally got to see the SF Ballet’s rendition of the Nutcracker last year and I have to say – it was a dazzling and magical performance! The best thing about this version is that it takes place in San Francisco, so the sets have the city’s iconic Victorian facades. It is definitely something that puts a unique spin on the iconic holiday ballet and definitely one of the best performances to see during Christmas in San Francisco!

The 2019 performances take place from December 11 through 29. For more information and to purchase tickets see here – I definitely recommend buying them ASAP as they tend to go quick (part of the reason it took me a whole 10 years to finally go see it)!

Holiday Performances by the San Francisco Symphony
You can also celebrate Christmas in San Francisco with the Grammy award-winning San Francisco Symphony, which also puts on a number of festive concerts, including movie play-alongs, and performances of both classic and modern holiday numbers.

Join the Symphony as they play the score live from popular holiday movies such as Love Actually (absolutely dying to see this one as it’s my all-time favorite!), It’s a Wonderful Life, and a Charlie Brown Christmas. Other performances include Handel’s classic Messiah, Holiday Soul, and a Merry-achi Christmas. For more information and to buy tickets, see here.

Beach Blanket Babylon
The longest-running musical revue in the world is also a great time during Christmas in San Francisco! It is also your last chance to see it, as the show (which has put on 17,000 performances to over 6.5 million people) is closing on December 31, 2019.

The show’s long-running success is partly due to the fact that it is constantly changing and evolving, and this is even more true with the Christmas version! The holiday showings of the high energy pop culture satire feature outrageous festive characters, parodies of popular carols, a legendary gigantic Yuletide hat, among other hilarious holiday spoofs!

Because alcohol is served, evening shows are 21+ only; minors are allowed during matinees. For more information on tickets and schedule see here.

A Christmas Carol at the American Conservatory Theater
Now in its 43rd year, the ACT’s rendition of the classic Dickens holiday tale has become a favorite during Christmas in San Francisco! Performances take place from Black Friday (November 29) until Christmas Eve. You can find out more information or buy tickets here – also keep your eyes on Goldstar as they often have discounted tickets.

Holiday Performances and Events at the Grace Cathedral
The Grace Cathedral, the city’s own cathedral, also plays host to a number of holiday performances and events, which is a wonderful way to celebrate Christmas in San Francisco. Some of the concerts include the American Bach Soloists’s rendition of Handel’s Messiah, a singalong for children and families, a brass and organ Christmas, and a choral performance by the church’s Choir of Men and Boys.

The cathedral is also home to the Rainbow World Fund’s World Tree of Hope. The tee, which boasts more than 17,000 origami ornaments, is a gift to the city and the LGBTQ community. There are also wishes that are sent in from all around the world and are printed and folded into cranes, which are displayed on the tree, which is displayed until January 3. You can find out more information about the tree here.

The Grace Cathedral also hosts Christmas services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. More information about the church’s Christmas events and services is here.

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO: FESTIVALS AND EVENTS

It’s the most festive of the year and that means some extra fun events and festivals throughout Christmas and San Francisco! These events are perfect for being extra jolly and getting into the holiday spirit, or even getting some of your Christmas shopping done!

Great Dickens Holiday Fair
Take a step back in time as you celebrate Christmas in San Francisco at the Great Dickens Holiday Fair. The festival is staged to look as if you’re in Victorian-age London (Dickens’s London Town) with winding alleys and theatrically-lit music halls, pubs, dance floors, and Christmas shops, along with hundreds of costumed characters. It also features holiday shopping, treats, and entertainment.

The event takes place every weekend from November 23 to December 22 (along with Black Friday), and tickets are $32 for adults and $14 for children (you can also save if you purchase tickets for the first two weekends with early bird pricing through October 15). More information and tickets available here.

Santacon
Get your ho-ho-ho on along with thousands of Santas who will fill the streets on December 7, 2019. The annual event and pub crawl, which also takes place in cities all over the world, is always a jolly good time! It can be a bit rowdy and crazy at times, but it is a spectacle and definitely something that is super fun to experience during Christmas in San Francisco at least once in your life!

The festivities start at “north pole” aka Union Square at 11:30am, and Santas disperse through the city from there. There is also a toy drive taking place, and it is requested that you bring a new, unwrapped toy to participate. Many bars throughout the city have drink specials on this day (although some bars also don’t welcome the Santacon shenanigans and have signs that say “no Santas” – please be respectful).

Updated info will be posted here.

The Great Santa Run
Need another use for that Santa costume, and want a way to work off all that extra holiday weight from all those treats you’ve been consuming? The Great Santa Run 5k race is a festive way to get a holiday workout in, as well as support a good cause – proceeds benefit the Ronald McDonald House Charities.

The race takes place on December 8 and starts at the Crissy Field East Beach parking lot. Participants receive a medal and a five-piece Santa suit. More information and sign up here.

Christmas in San Francisco: Craft Fairs and Markets
San Francisco also plays host to a number of holiday craft fairs and markets, which is an excellent way to find unique gifts while supporting local makers and merchants. Some of the most popular events are listed below:

Renegade Craft Fair: The 2018 holiday version of the twice yearly fair will be held on November 16 and 17 at Fort Mason, and will feature wares from over 200 makers and designers. This one is always a favorite of mine and I’ve found tons of unique gifts here (for both me and my loved ones)! More information, as well as a list of vendors, here.

SFMade Holiday Fair: This holiday market is a collaboration between SFMade and Pinterest, and features a curated list of 38 local makers. The 2019 event takes places on November 9 at the Pinterest HQ at 651 Brannan St. More information and vendors are listed here.

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO: POP-UP BARS

For an extra jolly time, be sure to have an extra festive drink at one of the holiday-themed bars that pop up during Christmas in San Francisco! These bars, which are open for a limited time only, are decorated in extra festive fashion, and feature holiday-themed cocktails that celebrate the season!

Be sure to get your drink on at these bars while you can!

Miracle
The holiday themed Miracle popped up in New York several years ago to smashing success, and soon expanded across the country – including in San Francisco! The drinks are inventive and tasty, and the decor will put even Scrooge into the holiday spirit. Miracle pops up inside Pacific Cocktail Haven (580 Sutter Street @ Mason), located near Union Square. This has been confirmed for 2019, but opening date hasn’t been announced yet – keep your eyes peeled here for updates.

Deck the Halls
Have a fa-la-la-la-la jolly good time at Deck the Halls, which features festive drinks and decor much like Miracle. Also part of the celebration is a Driedel Bar, which features Hannukah-themed drinks as well. Deck the Halls popped up inside the former Roasted Mule bar location (1217 Sutter Street @ Polk); the 2019 dates are November 22-December 25. See more details here.

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO AT SF ZOO LIGHTS

Watch as the San Francisco Zoo becomes illuminated with festive lights during their annual Zoo Lights event. Holiday light displays, Santa, and Santa’s reindeer are the main attractions at the special evening event, where you can also enjoy seasonal holiday treats while sipping on hot cocoa. Zoo Lights runs from 5-10pm on select evenings throughout December; keep an eye out on the Zoo’s calendar here for more information and updated 2019 dates.

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO AT ILLUMINATE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS

San Francisco’s streets become illuminated with extraordinary light sculptures at the Illuminate Festival of Lights, which runs throughout the city from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. The event features 39 works by over 30 artists, displayed in 17 neighborhoods, showcasing the extraordinary local light art scene. For a list of features artists, works, and locations, see here.

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO: HOLIDAY LIGHT TOURS

San Francisco at Christmas comes alive with festive light displays throughout the city – one of the best ways to see them is to go on a tour that takes you to all the most beautifully decorated spots in the city!

Some of my favorite picks for Christmas in San Francisco tours are below:

Christmas Theme Cable Car Tour: This 90 minute tour takes you around to all the best places to see Christmas decor in the city in an iconic cable car-style vehicle. See some of the most iconic spots in San Francisco be transformed with magical holiday lights, including Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, Nob Hill, Union Square, Pacific Heights, the Embarcardero, and more!

Holiday Lights on a Tuk-Tuk Tour: See the most festive sights in San Francisco on a fun tuk-tuk tour! In this 2-hour tour, you will see some of the most beautiful holiday displays throughout the city, going through Fisherman’s Wharf, the Marina, Pacific Heights, Union Square, Civic Center, Nob Hill, and more. You will enjoy commentary from a fun, entertaining guide, while sipping on some hot chocolate and snacking on candy canes!

Christmas Day Dinner Cruise: If you are looking for a fun, unique way to celebrate Christmas on the day itself, why not enjoy a dinner cruise around the bay? Enjoy beautiful views of the bay, the Bay Bridge, and the Golden Gate Bridge on this 3-hour cruise, as you sip on complimentary champagne, sing along to your favorite Christmas carols, and enjoy a delicious Christmas dinner!

CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO: MORE PLACES TO SEE CHRISTMAS DECOR

The city has no shortage of Christmas lights and displays! Here are a few more locations where you can see some more festive decor (because one can never get enough, amirite?):
Christmas in San Francisco at 100 California
Christmas in San Francisco: The festive decorations at 100 California make the perfect backdrop to your holiday photos
The decorations in front of the office buildings at 100 California St. are one of my favorite photo spots during Christmas in San Francisco! Those giant red ornaments make the perfect backdrop for all your holiday Instagram photos. The flower pots which usually adorn the steps out front are also replaced by poinsettias, which also add a festive touch to your photos.
The uniquely San Francisco display of Christmas spirit known as “Tom and Jerry House.” 🎄 ⠀ Follow our account about life in Paris @pariscityworld ! New photos every day!😉✨ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀ 📷Amazing shot by @the415guy 🌌Mark your photo with tag #sanfranciscoworld and we’ll post it!⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #SanFrancisco #SanFranciscogram #USA #America #California #UnitedStates #city #citylife #Sanfran #SanFranciscoCity #onlyinsf #goldengatebridge #ilovesf #baybridge #sanfranciscocalifornia #visitcalifornia #southerncalifornia #photoftheday #photogrid #photo #xpro #ocean #megapolis #urban #urbanporn #architectureporn #skyscraper #westcoast #americana
A post shared by SAN FRANCISCO|Travel community (@sanfranciscoworld) on Dec 24, 2018 at 9:13pm PST

Christmas in San Francisco at Tom & Jerry’s House

Quite possibly the most extra house you’ll see during Christmas in San Francisco. Tom Taylor and Jerry Goldstein have been together for 43 years, and they have put together spectacular holiday display in front of their house, located at 3650 21st St., for almost 30 years.

**NOTE** Please, PLEASE remember that this is a private residence in a quiet residential neighborhood. Be respectful of the property and its inhabitants, as well as its neighbors. Be quiet and courteous, don’t block driveways, and pick up after yourself.

Want to see more decorated houses this year? See this site for listings of the most festively decorated houses throughout the city (and California).

WEATHER IN SAN FRANCISCO AT CHRISTMAS

While you won’t be getting a white Christmas in San Francisco (although the city’s higher elevations do get a slight dusting of snow every once in awhile), the city’s Mediterranean climate means that it never gets *too* cold around here.

The average high around Christmas in San Francisco is 58 F/14 C, with lows at 47 F/8 C. That means that if you’re from a colder climate, you won’t find it very cold at all; however, if you hail from one of the warmer parts of the world, or even from Southern California, you may swear that it’s freezing cold (I grew up in So-Cal and still feel like I’m freezing my butt off every winter).

While you probably won’t see snow, chances are likely that you will experience rain around Christmas in San Francisco. December is the city’s wettest month of the year, with up to 8 inches of precipitation.

WHAT TO PACK FOR YOUR CHRISTMAS IN SAN FRANCISCO TRIP

A warm jacket: A warm, weatherproof jacket is key to help you beat the cold and rain during your Christmas in San Francisco trip! Bonus is if it’s lightweight and you can roll it up and toss in your bag if you get too warm from walking around – I love this jacket for women, and this one for men.

Comfortable shoes or boots: You will want to wear comfortable shoes (let’s face it – getting up those hills is a lot of work!) that keep you dry from the rain, and keep you warm. I wear these boots almost every day in the winter – they are comfy even when walking around the city all day, waterproof (I’ve even worn these in the snow), and help me stay warm because they are tall boots!

A power bank + adapter: You’ll want to stay connected to help you get around the city and document all those festive sights around San Francisco at Christmas, and this power bank will help ensure that your phone never runs out of juice! I never leave home without mine, and it is a MUST on every single trip that I take – both in the US and internationally! If you’re from abroad, you may also need a power adapter to charge your devices – I always travel with this one.

Reusable water bottle: Staying hydrated is essential, especially after all that walking, and well, after drinking a few holiday cocktails. Be nice to the environment and avoid buying plastic bottles of water – in fact, you won’t even be able to buy plastic bottles of water at the SFO airport. Be sure to carry a reusable water bottle – this is the one I carry with me at all times. I love that it is screw top but has a spot so it’s easy to take quick sips without spilling all over yourself. The great thing is that San Francisco has excellent tap water quality – our water comes from the Heth Hetchy Reservoir up in the Sierras, near Yosemite and doesn’t have that chemical aftertaste that is so common in tap water in other cities.

Some festive celebration essentials: You might want to pack some festive garb to help you get into the holiday spirit while celebrating Christmas in San Francisco! A santa hat will definitely make you feel holly jolly, and you may want to pack a santa suit (for men, women) for taking part in all of the Santacon shenanigans.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase or booking, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

What are some of your favorite things to do during Christmas in San Francisco? Throw them out in the comments below!

Christmas in San Francisco: the ultimate guide to the best and most festive holiday attractions and activities





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