Christmas in San Francisco is not to be missed! There is just something extra special about “The City by the Bay” during the holidays. San Francisco Christmas events include ice skating, candy decorations, Victorian-era villages, and Nutcracker teas.
There are even light peeping opportunities aboard a red fire engine, in a groovy 70s-style VW van, or from a trolley car! Check out our favorite holiday events in San Francisco. Updated for 2022!
Christmas in San Francisco 2022- The Best San Francisco Christmas Events
Union Square Holiday Attractions
Many of the most classic Christmas events in San Francisco center around Union Square. An elegant outdoor plaza, it is rimmed by upscale stores where Christmas wishes come true. We’re talking Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus.
Never fear, there’s more than retail therapy to enjoy! Once the square’s massive Christmas tree is officially lit, the area transforms into a holiday wonderland. Here’s a rundown of Christmas events in San Francisco you shouldn’t miss:
Looking for more Christmas events in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond? Check out our guide to Christmas events in Northern California.
Light the Menorah
If your visit coincides with Hanukkah, then you’re in for a treat! Many shoppers take a break from the Union Square holiday hustle and bustle to gather around the stunning 25-foot-tall mahogany Menorah.
Built by the late Bill Graham, a well-known Bay Area concert promoter, a candle is lit for each day of the eight-day Jewish festival of light. Readings, songs, activities, and children’s arts and crafts are also a part of this hopeful occasion.
The Menorah lighting will occur from December 18 through December 25, 2022.
The Macy’s Christmas Tree and Safeway Holiday Ice Rink
Situated right in the center of the Christmas events in Union Square, the Safeway Holiday Ice Rink is a perfect blend of winter fun and holiday magic.
Located at the base of Macy’s Christmas tree, you can take a spin amid the twinkle of 33,000 twinkling LED lights. The ice rink is open from November 20, 2022, through January 16, 2023.
Be sure to book tickets in advance online, this activity will surely sell out – especially on the weekends.
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Adopt a Pet from the Macy’s Windows
What better Christmas gift could there be for a child than a cute puppy or a cuddly kitten? One of the most touching Christmas events in San Francisco occurs in Macy’s store windows.
They become an adoption center for dogs and cats in need of loving families! This event has placed over 8,800 animals in forever homes and raised nearly $400,000 for the San Francisco SPCA.
It’s not easy to walk by these colorful windows and resist the temptation to take a sweet creature home with you! Kittens play amid specially constructed sets and puppies look in bewilderment at all of the human faces pressed up against the exterior of the store windows. They are just too cute!
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair
One of the greatest Christmas events in San Francisco could also be classified as a time travel portal. You will swear you’ve been transported to Victorian London when the Great Dickens Christmas Fair takes over the San Francisco Cow Palace. This year’s event takes place November 19 – December 18, 2022.
Complete with period holiday decorations and costumed actors, visitors also enjoy food, shopping, and entertainment that are all in keeping with the spirit of the Victorian Era.
Get a taste of The Great Dickens Christmas Fair from the comfort of your car! Enjoy street scenes and enchanting tableaus from ‘A Christmas Carol’, lively music, an enticing selection of hearty English foods, and handcrafted holiday gifts available for purchase as you drive through an outdoor version of the Fair’s Grand Concourse!
This year’s event takes place November 19 – December 18, 2022.
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The Nutcracker Ballet
Another opportunity to revisit Victorian Christmas traditions arrives at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House in the form of the Nutcracker.
Audiences have made the San Francisco Ballet’s sparkling production featuring young Clara and a cast of characters from the Kingdom of Sweets, a holiday tradition dating back to 1944. The Nutcracker runs from December 8 -27, 2022.
Walk Through Gingerbread House at the Fairmont Hotel
Afternoon tea has been a time-honored tradition at the Fairmont Hotel since the establishment opened its doors in 1907. The hotel offers afternoon tea service in the same style it was served 100 years ago. Make your reservations soon! Holiday teas are offered from November 25, 2022- January 2, 2023.
Don’t miss the two-story, life-sized Gingerbread House in the hotel’s grand lobby! It has become a must-see attraction for guests from near and far.
The two-story Victorian Gingerbread house is 22 feet high, 23 feet wide, and made with hundreds of bricks of real gingerbread baked by the hotel pastry team and pounds of See’s Candies, a ton of royal icing, and candy décor.
Visit the Sugar Castle at Westin St. Francis
The Sugar Castle at Westin St. Francis is back! It will debut in the hotel lobby on November 23, 2022, and will be on display throughout the season.
If you visit on the weekend you can purchase treats from the Sweet Boutique pop-up shop next to the castle.
Families with young children will also want to sign up for Breakfast with Santa on December 10th or a “Dollie and Me” tea on December 17 and 18.
View Christmas Lights from a VW Bus or Fire Truck
Experience the holiday lights and magic of San Francisco aboard a shiny red fire engine or in a 70s-style VW van. Both will take you all around town, beginning with the Christmas tree at Pier 39, along the waterfront of Fisherman’s Wharf,
Experience the holiday lights and magic of San Francisco aboard a shiny red fire engine or in a 70s-style VW van. There are quite a few far-flung locations that make holidays sparkle and lights one of the grand Christmas events in San Francisco.
This is a great way for getting to some of those truly special spots without having to think about navigating traffic or dealing with parking!
Dress warmly particularly if you select the fire truck experience! An open-air ride traversing the city’s famous hilly landscape is bound to be chilly.
San Francisco Fire Engine Holiday Lights Tour is a 90-minute city excursion that includes seasonal sights in Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, Presidio, Embarcadero, and Market Street. You’ll also have the option to wear firefighters’ gear for warmth if you didn’t wear enough layers! Just imagine the great photo opportunities with an outfit like that!
Another option is to hitch a ride aboard a VW Hippie bus! San Francisco Love Tours take groups of six out for a festive drive to the best holiday lights views and Christmas displays on Lombard Street, the Palace of Fine Arts, the Embarcadero, the Castro, and more.
It’s a two-hour guided tour where you can cuddle up with the family and sing along to holiday-themed songs! This year’s tours run from November 25 through December 30, 2022.
Christmas Events at the San Francisco Zoo
The San Francisco Zoo puts on some special holiday events that will delight the elementary school set. Among them:
- Reindeer Romp: Santa’s reindeer friends, Belle, Holly, and Peppermint return for a visit through New Year’s Day.
- Zoo Lights: The zoo is lit up with magical holiday lights on selected dates. There is also seasonal entertainment and hot beverages to enjoy.
The San Francisco Zoo has not yet published its offerings for 2022.
Let’s Glow SF
There are four buildings in the Financial District that have light displays on them nightly from December 2 -11, 2022. Let’s Glow SF shines on the Pacific Stock Exchange, One Bush Plaza, Station J, and the Hobart building from 5pm – 10pm. The shows are 5 minutes long and play every 10 minutes. They are accompanied by music.
Pier 39 HapPIER Holidays Celebration
Pier 39 is one of the most popular destinations for tourists in San Franciso, so it is no surprise that they have a special 60-foot Christmas tree that comes to life every half hour from 5pm – 10pm, November 22, 2022, through January 8, 2023. The tree has thousands of lights and ornaments which are synchronized to holiday music.
Fisherman’s Wharf Lighted Boat Parade
Not all Christmas events in San Francisco take place on land! This is the “City by the Bay”, after all! Head to San Francisco’s famous wharf area for a festive boat parade.
The vessels are decked out in seasonal decorations and covered in lights. They can be seen from iconic spots such as Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason, and Crissy Field. This year’s parade will take place on December 16, 2022, at 6pm. After, stop in Ghiradelli Square for a sweet treat.
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