Skip to Content

Christmas in San Francisco- The Best Christmas Events for 2021

Christmas in San Francisco- The Best Christmas Events for 2021

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 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 2021!

Christmas in San Francisco 2021- The Best San Francisco Christmas Events

Union Square Holiday Attractions

Christmas in San Francisco
Union Square, Photo by Drew Altizer/ San Francisco Travel

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 in person as well as virtually this year from November 28 through December 6, 2021. 

The Macy’s Christmas Tree and the Safeway Holiday Ice Rink

Christmas Events in San Francisco at the holiday ice rink
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 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 3, 2021, through January 17, 2022. 

Be sure to book tickets in advance online, this activity will surely sell out – especially on the weekends.

Spend more time in SF. Discover the top 10 things to do in San Francisco with kids

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!

There will be no pets dispensing live cuteness in the store windows this year.  This event will take place virtually.   

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

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair

Christmas in San Francisco- The Best Christmas Events for 2021 2
The Great Dickens Christmas Faire, Photo by Robin Fadtke

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.

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 is a drive-thru-only event for Christmas 2021, organizers hope to return to an indoor event in 2022.

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!

Three weekends, Saturdays, and Sundays, December 4-19, 2021 at the Cow Palace Lower Exhibition Halls from 11 am – 5 pm (last vehicle entry at 5 pm).

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

The Nutcracker Ballet

Christmas in San Francisco includes the Nutcracker
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. The Nutcracker runs from December 10-30, 2021.

To attend the performance, all audience members aged 12 and up must present proof of full vaccination. Children under 12 must present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48-hours of performance they’re attending. Masks are required.

Walk Through Gingerbread House at the Fairmont Hotel

Fairmont San Francisco Lobby during Christmas
The Fairmont’s Grand Lobby is all ready for Christmas, photo by Kristine Dworkin

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  26, 2021- January 2, 2022.  

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 thousands of bricks, a ton of royal icing, and candy décor. A ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11AM on November 27, will open the house for the holiday season.

Christmas Lights in San Francisco

Christmas in San Francisco- The Best Christmas Events for 2021 3
Check out the holiday lights from this groovy ride, photo courtesy of San Francisco Love Tours

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 sparkles 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!

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.

Note: The San Francisco Zoo has not announced plans for 2021. Please check back soon for updates!

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.

Note: Fisherman’s Wharf has not announced plans for 2021. Please check back soon for updates!

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:

Christmas-and-Holiday-fun-for-families-San Francisco

Featured photo by: Shutterstock