Holiday Events in San Francisco to Enjoy with Kids

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San Francisco’s got it all for the holidays: ice skating, candy decorations, Victorian-era villages, Nutcracker teas, and even light peeping aboard a trolley car! Check out our favorite holiday events in San Francisco. Updated for 2018!

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Union Square

Holiday events in San Francisco
Photo by Drew Altizer/San Francisco Travel

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

Light the Menorah

If your visit coincides with Hanukkah, then you are in for a treat! Leaders, community members, and others 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
Photo by Scott- Chernis/San Francisco Travel

Situated right in the center of the 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 7, 2018 until January 21, 2019.

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 on November 2.  It will include a snow-covered village and pond plus two running trains in the Landmark Lobby on November 21 at 11am! It will be on display from November 21 – January 2.

The hotel’s popular St. Francis Sweet Boutique in the Landmark Lobby from 11AM-4:00PM during weekends from November 24-December 22. A variety of freshly-baked decorative cookies, orange-scented shortbread, gingerbread men, and holiday Parisian macarons will be available for purchase.

Adopt a Pet from the Macy’s Windows

Macy’s has made a holiday tradition out of turning its store windows in an adoption center for dogs and cats in need of loving families. This effort has helped find homes for over 8,800 animals and raise nearly $400,000 for the San Francisco SPCA. It’s not easy to walk by these colorful windows and resist the temptation to take one of these sweet animals home with you! Kittens are playing amid specially constructed sets and puppies are looking in bewilderment at all of the human faces pressed up against the exterior of the store windows. They are just too cute to walk away from.

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The Great Dickens Christmas Fair

Holiday events in San Francisco
Photo by Robin Fadtke

The San Francisco Cow Palace becomes an exercise in time travel when the Great Dickens Christmas Fair comes to town. You will swear you’ve been transported to Victorian London complete with period holiday decorations and costumed actors. Enjoy food, shopping, and entertainment that are all in keeping with the spirit of the Victorian Era.

The Nutcracker Ballet & Tea, Fairmont Style


Holiday events in San Francisco
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- Classic Cable Cars & The San Francisco Zoo

Holiday Events in San Francisco
Photo by Flickr/

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.

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.

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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, 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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