The Best Christmas Events in San Francisco for Families [in 2019]!

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Christmas in San Franciso is not to be missed! There is just something extra special about “The City by the Bay” during the holidays. Christmas events in San Francisco include ice skating, candy decorations, Victorian-era villages, and Nutcracker teas. There are even light peeping opportunties 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 2019!

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Christmas Events in San Francisco

Union Square Holiday Attractions

Holiday events in San Francisco in Union Square
Union Square | Photo by Drew Altizer/ San Francisco Travel

Many classic Christmas events in San Francisco center around Union Square during the month of December. An elegant outdoor plaza is rimmed by upscale stores like Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus. Crowned by the Union Square tree, the area transforms into a holiday wonderland. Never fear, there’s more than retail therapy to enjoy! Here’s a rundown of Christmas sights and experiences you shouldn’t miss.

Looking for more Christmas activities 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 take time away 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 Macy’s Christmas tree and the Safeway Holiday Ice Rink

holiday events in San Francisco
Safeway Holiday Ice Rink | Photo by Scott- Chernis/San Francisco Travel

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 the Macy’s Christmas tree, take a spin amid the twinkle of 33,000 twinkling LED lights. The ice rink is open daily November 6, 2019 until January 20, 2020.

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Check out the Christmas Kingdom of Sugar

The Landmark Lobby at the Westin St. Francis will certainly tickle your sweet tooth this holiday season.  Located just steps from ice rink on Union Square, Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Francois Houdré and his team will unveil a sugar fantasy of a Medieval Castle each year

These masterpieces have required hundreds of pounds of sugar and hours of attention to detail to bring every turret and tower to life.  One castle, standing about 12-feet high, has a snow-covered village and pond plus two running trains. There is also a gorgeous two-story gingerbread house inside the lobby of The Fairmont in Nob Hill

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. Macy’s has made a Christmas tradition out of turning its store windows into 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!

Look for the best prices on Family Friendly Hotels in San Francisco

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair

Holiday events in San Francisco
The Great Dickens Christmas Faire | Photo by Robin Fadtke

The one of the greatest Christmas special 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.

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. This event takes place on weekends from November 23- December 22, 2019.

Like free? We do! Here are our favorite free things to do in San Francisco

The Nutcracker Ballet & Tea, Fairmont Style

 

Holiday events in San Francisco
The San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker | Photo by Flickr/ScillyStuff

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. There are also opportunities afterward to capture selfies with the cast and enjoy gingerbread and hot cocoa.

Afternoon tea has been a 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. It also presents a seasonal twist on this timeless tradition with its Gingerbread Holiday Tea.

A great complement to catching the ballet performance or capping off a day of shopping, the children’s package includes a nutcracker trinket and gingerbread cookie to decorate.  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.

Christmas Lights

Holiday Events in San Francisco
Cable Car | Photo by Flickr/TimeLapseBlog.com

View Christmas Lights from a Cable Car, VW Bus, or Fire Truck

Experience the holiday lights and magic of San Francisco aboard a classic Cable Car. Dress warmly for this 70-minute ride traversing the city’s famous hilly landscape. The experience includes seasonal music and a complimentary Santa hat.  Tickets for the Cable Car experience can be booked in advance.

Two more fun options for experiencing Christmas lights in San Francisco include riding on 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, to the Palace of Fine Arts, the Embarcadero, Lombard Street, Chinatown, and North Beach.

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.

Fisherman’s Wharf Lighted Boat Parade

Head to San Francisco’s famous wharf area to enjoy boats parading about covered in lights on December 13, 2019 from 6-8pm. The parade can be seen from iconic spots such as Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason, and Crissy Field.

Check for amazing deals on family-friendly hotels in San Francisco.

Find more Christmas events near you! Trekaroo has guides for dozens of cities across the country.

Pin this to bookmark all the holiday fun; we update it yearly:

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Featured photo by: Shutterstock

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About the author

Kristine Dworkin is one of Trekaroo’s Travel Experts located in Northern California. She's also a mom to a gifted girl athlete and a special needs charmer. Like almost everything in her house, traveling is a competitive sport (I'm getting on the plane first...no, I'm getting on the plane first!). With a triathlete, a soccer star, and a baseball player in the house what else could one expect? Since her active family obviously doesn't do sitting still very well, they're always out exploring the world.

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