San Francisco shines even brighter during the holiday season, thanks to festive decorations and activities that add to the city’s natural scenic beauty and magical atmosphere. Consider a long weekend visit in November or December, when you can enjoy all the delights of winter, from ice skating in Union Square to a Victorian-style Christmas market. Here are eleven wonderful ways to celebrate the holiday season in the City by the Bay.
1. Skate Union Square
Ice Rink open daily from 10 AM to 11:30 PM from Nov. 2, 2016 – Jan. 16, 2017. Icebreaker Opening Ceremony Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, 9 AM – 10 AM.
Don your hat, mittens, scarf, and ice skates and twirl and glide to your heart’s content at the Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square, a uniquely San Francisco holiday tradition. This year’s ice skating season kicks off on Nov. 2with an exciting lineup of festive activities for all ages. The ice rink in Union Square, which the “TODAY” show calls one of the “Best Ice Skating Rinks in the U.S.,” is the premier location for outdoor ice skating amongst the vibrant lights and popular shopping destinations in San Francisco. A portion of this year’s proceeds benefit the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. Advance tickets go on sale online Oct. 24, 2016. The rink is popular so expect a wait; you can reserve a time slot then have lunch or do some window shopping while you wait.
2. Catch Disney’s “The Lion King” at the Orpheum Theater
Nov. 2 – Dec. 31, 2016, 1192 Market St.
Make a holiday theater date with the Lion King at San Francisco‘s SHN Orpheum Theater. The entire Serengeti comes to life thanks to the awe-inspiring visual artistry, unforgettable music, and unique storytelling in this Broadway spectacular.
3. Enjoy Walt Disney’s Home at the Holidays at the Walt Disney Family Museum
Nov. 17, 2016 – Jan. 9, 2017, 104 Montgomery St., The Presidio
The Walt Disney Family Museum invites visitors to be a part of a new seasonal tradition this year with a exhibition celebrating Walt Disney’s family and love of trains. This exhibition will include an elaborate three-dimensional model of the Disney Family home on Carolwood Drive in Los Angeles—including Walt’s personal steam locomotive, the Lilly Belle. The immersive model will be decorated with seasonal lights that will be turned on for the first time on Disney’s birthday, Dec. 5th. Starting on Dec. 7th, the museum will invite one lucky family to flip the switch each morning.
4. See the 30th Annual Holiday Windows at Macy’s
Nov. 18, 2016 – Jan. 2, 2017, Stockton and O’Farrell streets
This year, a popular holiday tradition celebrates its 30th anniversary: Macy’s Union Square Holiday Windows will be filled with adorable and adoptable animals from the San Francisco SPCA. Last year, 261 animals found forever homes, bringing the total Holiday Windows adoptions to more than 8,500. Join the SF SPCA on the corner of Stockton and O’Farrell Streets on Nov. 18 at 5 p.m. as they unveil the adoptable cats and dogs during this holiday season. San Francisco pastry chef, Yigit Pura will be the featured guest, and children from the De Marillac Academy Choir will be performing classic holiday songs. It’s a great way to kick off the season’s festivities.
5. Step Back in Time at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party
Nov.19 – Dec.18 (including Friday, Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving), 10 AM – 7 PM, Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Ave., Daly City
This cherished Bay Area holiday tradition returns to the historic Cow Palace. Each holiday season over three acres of exhibition halls are transformed into the delightfully lively world of Charles Dickens’ London. Cheerful calls of street vendors meld with songs of holiday carolers, enticing aromas of roasted chestnuts and hearty foods fill the air, and inviting shops overflow with one-of-a-kind Christmas gifts. Guests are surprised and amazed at every turn by the vibrant street scenes, colorful characters, and tasty fare.
6. Stroll beneath the Snowflakes on Market
Nov. 22, 2016 – Dec. 31, 2016. Market St.
The Path of Gold lights that run the length of Market Street from Stuart to Castro streets were originally installed in 1916 and cast a distinctive amber glow on one of the city’s main thoroughfares. This year, 28 new snowflakes were added, bringing the total to 298 on 149 lampposts stretching from Beale to Ninth streets. Additional snowflakes will be added in years to come. The public is invited to the lighting ceremony at Powell and Market streets near the cable car turnaround on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 at 6:30 PM.
7. Celebrate the Season with Science at the ‘‘Tis the Season for Science“ Exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences
Nov. 23, 2016 – Jan. 2, 2017, Golden Gate Park
This popular seasonal exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences features a bevy of holiday science fun including indoor snow flurries, festive holiday performances, a giant “Snowman Theater,” and a popular live reindeer display. The event includes interactive stations that teach visitors about the fascinating adaptations of reindeer and other holiday-related science facts. And back by popular demand: the Tap Dancing Christmas Trees make their grand, tap-tastic return to the Academy. They are part of a packed lineup of live performers, including carolers, musicians, theater groups, and more.
8. Dance to the Nut Crackin’ Beat at the 31st Annual Dance-Along Nutcracker
Dec. 10 at 3 PM and 7 PM, Dec. 11 at 11 PM and 3 PM, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St.
The San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band presents “The Fantastic Adventures of Captain Nutcracker” at the 31st Annual Dance-Along Nutcracker. Clara and her brother Fritz take everyone on a wild and crazy adventure into the world of villains and superheroes. Named “Best Bets for Holiday Dance,” the Dance-Along Nutcracker® is a zany audience participation show that’s perfect for the whole family. Don’t forget your tutu!
9. See the San Francisco Zoo & Gardens under the Glow of Festive Holiday Lights
Dec. 16 – 30, 5-8 PM, 1 Zoo Rd. (Closed Dec. 24 – 25)
Experience the wonder of the holiday season and enjoy this 100-acre park, conservation center, and zoo under twinkling lights. Zoo Lights 2016 takes you on a magical trip to a destination like no other – featuring Santa Claus, reindeer, and a holiday marketplace with food and seasonal delights. Christmas carols fill the air and bright lights illuminate the way as you leave the city behind and retreat to a holiday hideaway. The zoo is located at Sloat Blvd. at The Great Highway.
10. Experience the Fisherman’s Wharf Lighted Boat Parade
Dec. 16, 2016 at Fisherman’s Wharf, 6 – 8 PM.
A holiday tradition since 1994, the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District and the St. Francis Yacht Club will join once again to present the oldest and largest lighted holiday boat parade on San Francisco Bay. More than 60 boats, each festooned with lights and holiday decorations, will parade along the waterfront.
11. Celebrate an Urban Christmas inside a National Park at the Inn at the Presidio
42 Moraga Ave., The Presidio
There is nothing more satisfying than connecting with family, friends, and nature during the holidays. You can do this at the Inn at the Presidio, which is centrally located on the main post of The Presidio, a short walk from museums, restaurants, and recreation. If you’ve never visited the Presidio, you’ll be stunned by its expanse and beauty, and the delicious scent of its many eucalyptus and pine trees. Take a short walk outside and you’ll learn about San Francisco’s history; you can also visit the Disney Museum (see above) or take a brisk walk along the bay for a cup of tea at the Warming Hut. At the Inn, you’ll be greeted by large lit wreaths, sparkling trees, and other holiday decorations. The fire is always on and the chocolate chip cookies are fresh from the oven. You’ll enjoy an urban Christmas like no other at the Inn at the Presidio.
For more information on celebrating the holidays in San Francisco, visit www.sftravel.com/holidays.