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Christmas in San Francisco 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 2020!
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.
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.
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 closed for 2020 due to Covid-19.
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Visit the Westin St. Francis website for holiday offerings in 2020 which are limited due to Covid-19.
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 present a sugar fantasy of a 12-feet tall Medieval Castle and a spectacular St. Francis Enchanted Castle. These masterpieces have required hundreds of pounds of sugar and hours of attention to detail to bring every turret and tower to life.
The hotel will also unveil a brand-new holiday experience for hotel guests this year. Kids and their parents can enjoy a festive hotel floor and fun surprises designed just for them as part of the Holiday Hideaway.
At check-in, kids will be welcomed with candy canes, holiday coloring books and crayons, plus a golden ticket redeemable for in-room delivery of sweet and savory goodies and a “Letter to Santa Kit.”
Upon entering the Holiday Hideaway floor in the historic Landmark Building, families will be greeted by two life-size toy soldiers. Families will also enjoy their very own in-room miniature Christmas tree.
Later that evening, magical elves will secretly bring special surprise treats for everyone. Children will awaken the next morning to a delivery from the North Pole of San Francisco-inspired gifts.
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!
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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 has been cancelled for 2020.
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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. Cancelled for 2020.
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. This event is cancelled for 2020.
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.
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:
Note: The San Francisco Zoo has not updated their calendar with holiday offerings as of 11/9/20.
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.
Note: Fisherman’s Wharf has not updated their events page as of 11/9/20. This event may be cancelled.
Featured photo by: Shutterstock