The holiday season has begun in San Francisco and if you’re looking for fun events and attractions, you have plenty of options. As a matter of fact, there are so many things to do, you’ll have no trouble getting into the holiday spirit. Take a look at some of the best attractions you can enjoy this important holiday season.
Christmas at Grace Cathedral
1100 California St.
San Francisco, CA 94108
San Francisco’s largest and certainly among the most prominent churches is hosting several events during the holiday season. Indeed, there are more than 10 celebrations in December that are collectively known as A Cathedral Christmas. At this time, tickets remain available on multiple dates for the Choir of Men and Boys and Sing You A Merry Christmas. In addition, on the single night events A Brass and Organ Christmas and Soulful Joy. During your visit, you can also see the Rainbow World Fund Tree of Hope, the world’s largest origami-decorated holiday tree. Even if you can’t make it to Grace Cathedral, you can purchase tickets to watch livestream performances of “Sing You A Merry Christmas”. Lastly, there will be special services on Christmas Eve and Christmas.
Peacock Meadow, Golden Gate Park
240 John F. Kennedy Drive
San Francisco, CA 94117
Like many other top attractions, San Francisco’s largest public park will be hosting events to celebrate the holidays. In this case, Entwined, a part of Illuminate SF, is likely the most beautiful and Instagram friendly of all. First held during the period of social distancing, Entwined is filled with colorful light displays designed by Charles Gadeken. In addition, there will be live performances held twice and week such as the Christmas Tap Dancing Trees. What’s more, it’s admission free, pet friendly and continues into the New Year. On the other hand, the San Francisco Park Alliance is accepting donations online towards this now iconic event. You can find Peacock Meadow not far from the similarly spectacular Psychedelic Photosynthesis at the Conservatory of Flowers. Please note that peak times with the largest crowds are from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
If you visit Entwined during the holidays, you should also see Uncle John’s Tree in Golden Gate Park. Just a short walk from Peacock Meadow, this magnificent Monterey cypress tree is the official Christmas tree of San Francisco. You can see this historic tree at McLaren Lodge, on the eastern border of the park off Stanyan Street. Coincidentally, Uncle John’s tree is named after John McLaren, the former superintendent of the park. Despite its status as the official Christmas tree, it’s not among the best known San Francisco holiday attractions.
Fairmont Hotel San Francisco
950 Mason St.
San Francisco, CA 94108
One of the more recent holiday traditions in San Francisco is a visit to the Gingerbread House on Nob Hill. Although not nearly as historic as the Fairmont itself, this magical two-story creation is truly a sight for you to see. After all, it’s made of over 8,000 gingerbread bricks, is 25 tall and 35 feet wide. What’s more, it takes several months to put the Victorian-style house together and complete with decorations and Christmas tree. If that’s not enough, there’s an even larger Christmas tree in the Fairmont’s opulent lobby. Lastly, the Fairmont also hosts Holiday Tea service as well as holiday dining by reservation.
Related: America’s Best Christmas Markets
Holiday Events at Davies Symphony Hall
201 Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94102
The holiday season has already begun at Davies Hall with performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. However, there is a full slate of concerts and events for nearly every day in December. For instance, the San Francisco Symphony will perform Handel’s Messiah on December 9 and 10. Equally important is a matinee performance of “Peter and the Wolf” with the SF Symphony Youth Orchestra December 11. Even more events follow, such as filming of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Elf”, both with live orchestral accompaniment. Of course, there even more concerts like “Cool Yule Christmas” and “Holiday Gaiety”. Similarly, you can further enjoy events like a “Merry-Achi Christmas” and a matinee performance by the famed music artist Harry Connick Jr.
Illuminate Festival of Light
San Francisco, CA
If you happen to be in San Francisco during the holiday, you likely won’t miss Illuminate Festival of Light. That’s because in more detail, it’s not something you will see at just one single location. Indeed, Illuminate is a collection of over 60 permanent and temporary light art installations spread across the City. Moreover, you might even see a few if you fly into San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Of course, some are so obvious that you can’t really miss it. For instance, there’s “Day for Night” that dazzling light installation at the top of Salesforce Tower, the tallest building in the City. On the other hand, there are other attractions you should see during San Francisco’s holiday season. In particular are the holiday light displays of Let’s Glow SF 2022. From December 2 to December 11, 2022, you will marvel at these light creations at spots like the Pacific Stock Exchange and One Bush Plaza. Now in its second year, Let’s Glow is said to be the largest of its kind in the country.
Performing Christmas Tree at Pier 39
Beach St. & The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94133
Extending across three miles, the Embarcadero is already lit up with spectacular holidays colors. Although there are several events going on at the Ferry Building, don’t overlook other attractions further along the bay. For one, there is Glow, yet another light installation next to the Exploratorium. That’s to say nothing of the enormous Performing Christmas Tree on display at Pier 39. In other words, you can see a 60-foot-tall Christmas tree “perform” with holiday lights and music. Performances begin nightly at 5 p.m. and run every half hour until 10 p.m. By the same token, you can further enjoy the Festival of Lights menorah at Pier 39 from December 18 to December 26. On the first night of Hanukkah, the first branch of the menorah will be lit. Then each night, another branch will be lit over eight days of this important Jewish celebration. Of course, many other holiday events are happening along the Embarcadero at Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square.
The Nutcracker – The San Francisco Ballet
San Francisco War Memorial Opera House
301 Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94102
One of the most popular family-friendly events during the holidays in San Francisco and elsewhere is a performance of “The Nutcracker”. By far the most popular ballet during Christmastime, it tells the story of a nutcracker that comes to life on Christmas Eve. But did you know that the first performance of “The Nutcracker” in America was in San Francisco? That was back in 1944 but since then has grown to a production that you know and love today. The San Francisco Ballet will present Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” throughout December. Each performance is accompanied by the equally renowned San Francisco Orchestra. Tickets remain available for purchase online for evening and matinee performances.
Thrive City Winter Wonderland
Thrive City-Chase Center
1725 Third St.
San Francisco, CA 94158
Dates: Dec 16-18
Just when you think you know where all important holiday and attractions are in San Francisco, don’t overlook Winter Wonderland at Thrive City. In the first place, you can see San Francisco’s tallest Christmas tree that’s already in place in front of the Chase Center. However, the biggest celebration at thrive City arrives December 16 with Winter Wonderland. A festive and family friendly event, it will feature holiday decorations, entertainment and photo ops with Santa Claus. Also on hand will be activities like face painting and hopefully the return of the very popular live reindeer. On December 18, you can also celebrate Hannukah, including the lighting of the menorah. Please note that you must RSVP in advance for any of the days of Thrive City’s Winter Wonderland. Unfortunately, event organizers say that registration does not guarantee admission.
Union Square Holiday Ice Rink
333 Post St.
San Francisco, CA 94108
For many people, no holiday season would be complete without skating at an ice rink. Although there are a few options for ice skating locally, the clear favorite is in Union Square. Now in its 15th year, the Safeway Holiday Ice Rink presented by Kaiser Permanente is one of San Francisco’s most popular holiday attractions. Even better is that the ice rink will be open well into the New Year, allowing you plenty of time to visit. However, please note that ice skating tickets must be purchased online in advance. At the same time during the holidays, Union Square is filled with holiday lights, including the towering Macy’s Christmas tree. Of course, you will have plenty of photo opportunities of the rink and the Macy’s incredible storefront. Additionally, Union Square will once again feature a giant menorah in conjunction with the Bill Graham Menorah Project. The Union Square Menorah lighting schedule runs from December 18 through December 25, 2022.
Salesforce Park Main Plaza
425 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94105
Dates: Friday, December 16 through Sunday December 18, 2022
Last but certainly not the least is WinterFest, a family friendly event at Salesforce Park, one of the newest parks in San Francisco. To be held on the Main Plaza, the holiday event will feature live music performances, face painting and arts and crafts. Winter Fest is admission free and will also a Christmas tree and an Ugly Sweater Silent Disco. You can find Salesforce Park on the rooftop above the Grand Hall of the spectacular Salesforce Transit Center. Inside the Transit Center, you can also see the “White Light” permanent exhibit and part of Illuminate SF.
Bonus Holiday Attraction
Great Dickens Christmas Fair
2600 Geneva Ave.
Daly City, CA 94014
Dates: Weekends from November 19 through December 18, 2022
Times: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair is not technically within the city limits of San Francisco. On the other hand, it’s literally right across from the border between SF and Daly City. However, what’s most important is that this Victorian-style holiday fair is a magical place to visit. Always mentioned among America’s best Christmas markets, it’s like a walk back into 19th century London. In other words, it’s a time when Dickens characters like Ebenezer Scrooge and Christmas ghosts roamed the cobblestone streets. In fact, you will see these iconic characters, along with ongoing musical performances and unique arts and crafts. Above all, the Great Dickens Christmas Fair a delightful, family friendly event and well worth spending the day. Remaining tickets are only available online.
About The Author
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across 23 CBS websites, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a reported digital audience reach of 489 million and 5.5 million monthly visitors. Additionally, his stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS News, CBS Radio, Engadget, NBC.com, NJ.com and Radio.com. He earned a Media Fellowship from Stanford University in 2012.