San Francisco shines even brighter this holiday season with decorations and activities that add to the city’s natural scenic beauty and magical atmosphere. Here’s 40 things to do in San Francisco filled with festive lights, sights and decorations in the City by the Bay during the holidays.
Embarcadero Lighting Celebration & Ice Rink
Nov. 2, 2016 – Jan. 8, 2017, Ice Rink Open, Justin Herman Plaza
Nov. 18, 2016, 4 p.m. – 7 p.m., Lighting Celebration
Embarcadero Center is brightening the holidays this year with the 30th Annual Building Lighting Ceremony & Carnival. The festivities begin at 4:00 p.m. with the Carnival that includes children’s activities, entertainment, visits with Santa and a very special appearance by Mickey Mouse. The Building Lighting Ceremony at Embarcadero Center kicks off at 6:00 p.m. with live performances from Disney On Ice. The countdown to the 30th anniversary official lighting leads up to the illumination of One, Two, Three and Four Embarcadero Center featuring 16,000 lights – followed by a grand fireworks display. Delighting families, couples and ice-skating enthusiasts for more than 25 years, the Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center opens each winter for nine fun-filled weeks. www.embarcaderocenter.com
The Safeway Holiday Ice Rink at Union Square & Icebreaker Opening Ceremony
Nov. 2, 2016 – Jan. 16, 2017, Ice Rink Open, open daily from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, 9 a.m. – 10 a.m., Icebreaker: Opening Ceremony
The Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square presented by Alaska Airlines, a San Francisco holiday tradition, kicks off the ice skating season on Nov. 2, 2016 with 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 on Oct. 24, 2016 at www.unionsquareicerink.com.
Disney’s “The Lion King” Roars into the Orpheum Theater
Nov. 2 – Dec. 31, 2016, 1192 Market St.
Giraffes strut. Birds swoop. Gazelles leap. The entire Serengeti comes to life as never before when Disney’s “The Lion King” returns to San Francisco’s SHN Orpheum Theater. More than 85 people around the world have experienced the awe-inspiring visual artistry, unforgettable music and unique storytelling of this Broadway spectacular. www.shnsf.com
Butterflies and Blooms at the Conservatory of Flowers
Nov. 17, 2016 – June 30, 2017, Golden Gate Park
This holiday season, a magical exhibit takes flight at the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. Butterflies and Blooms returns by overwhelming demand to San Francisco’s beloved Victorian greenhouse, transforming its Special Exhibit gallery into a beautiful and intimate cottage garden aflutter with hundreds of butterflies on the wing including magnificent monarchs, western swallowtails, painted ladies and more. www.conservatoryofflowers.org
Walt Disney Family Museum – Enjoy Walt’s Home at the Holidays
Nov. 17, 2016 – Jan. 9, 2017, 104 Montgomery St., The Presidio
The Walt Disney Family Museum invites visitors to be a part of our new seasonal tradition by experiencing Walt’s home for the holidays, an exhibition celebrating Walt’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 ceremonially ignited on Walt’s birthday, Dec. 5, and beginning Dec. 7, the museum will invite one lucky family to be the first to flip the switch each morning following. www.waltdisney.org
Cirque du Soleil’s “Luzia” Under the Big Top at AT&T Park
Nov. 17, 2016 – Jan. 29, 2017, AT&T Park, 24 Willie Mays Plaza
Making its U.S. premiere in the San Francisco Bay Area, “Luzia” is Cirque du Soleil’s new Big Top production. Inspired by Mexico, “Luzia” has been described as a waking dream where light (“luz” in Spanish” quenches the spirit and rain (“lluvia”) soothes the soul. Featuring a cast of 44 performers from diverse artistic backgrounds, “Luzia” is performed under a redesigned white-and-gold Big Top at AT&T Park. www.cirquedusoleil.com
San Francisco SPCA and Macy’s Partner for 30th Annual Holiday Windows
Nov. 18, 2016 – Jan. 2, 2017, Stockton and O’Farrell streets
In celebration of the 30th anniversary, the Macy’s Union Square Holiday Windows will be filled with 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 special 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. www.sfspca.org
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party
Nov.19 – Dec.18 (including Friday, Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving), 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Ave., Daly City
A cherished Bay Area holiday tradition returns to the historic Cow Palace. Each holiday season, over three acres of exhibition halls is 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 and colorful characters out of Victorian life and fiction, including, of course, Mr. Dickens’ lively imagination. www.dickensfair.com
PIER 39 Tree Lighting
Nov. 19, 2016. PIER 30
Welcome the holiday season with a day of holly-jolly magic and merriment at PIER 39’s Tree Lighting Celebration! This holiday tradition will feature live entertainment performing seasonal favorites. Bring the whole family to sing, shop and swoon at the 60-foot tree. The fun culminates at approximately 5:30 p.m. as PIER 39’s majestic 60-foot tree, adorned with glistening ornaments, bows, and twinkling lights is illuminated against a stunning backdrop of the San Francisco city skyline. www.pier39.com
Snowflakes on Market
Nov. 22, 2016 – Dec. 31, 2016. Market St.
The Path of Gold lights that run the length of Market Street from Steuart 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 are to 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 p.m.
Westin St. Francis – Two Spectacular Castles
Nov. 23 at 11 a.m., Unveiling event – On display through Jan. 2, 2017, 335 Powell St.
Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Francois Houdré and his team will unveil not one, but two one-of-a-kind castles in the Landmark Lobby! Back by popular demand and in celebration of hotel tradition is the stunning Sugar Castle, originally created in 2005. Resembling a French Chateau inspired by Chef Houdre’s travels, this life-like magical castle features grand circular towers, individual rooms, colorful illuminated windows, and is surrounded by holiday sugar cakes. Adding a touch of modernity, the 12-foot St. Francis Enchanted Castle is a rotating winter wonderland of elaborate gift boxes, gingerbread trees and brilliantly colored candies. Elves can be spotted climbing all the way up to a towering sugar castle. This event is open to the public and will feature complimentary coffee and tray-passed cookies.www.westinstfrancis.com
California Academy of Sciences presents “’Tis the Season for Science“
Nov. 23, 2016 – Jan. 2, 2017, Golden Gate Park
This popular seasonal exhibit features a bevy of holiday science fun including indoor snow flurries, festive holiday performances, a giant “Snowman Theater,” and its famous live reindeer display. It includes interactive stations that teach visitors about the fascinating adaptations of reindeer as well as 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. www.calacademy.org
Fourth Annual Illuminate SF Festival of Light
Nov. 24, 2016 – Jan. 1, 2017
Experience San Francisco as a shining gallery of light during the fourth annual Illuminate SF Festival of Light, from Thanksgiving 2016 through New Year’s Day 2017. Art and technology lovers alike may embrace the power of light and tour San Francisco’s public art installations by a diverse range of local and world renowned light artists.
The 39-day event celebrates 32 dramatic, eco-friendly light art installations—5 more than last year and three times the number of the inaugural celebration in 2013—accessible by public transit and free for all ages. Held during the longest nights of the year, Illuminate SF Festival of Light features the now permanent Bay Lights, four vibrant installations in the new SMOMA, free neighborhood light art tours, artist studio and neon walking tours, a stargazing party at the Presidio and more interactive experiences. Many of San Francisco’s intimate neighborhoods will also light up shopping districts, streets and galleries, and host participatory holiday activities.
For locations, dates, times and more information, visit www.illuminatesf.com.
Macy’s 27th Annual Great Tree Lighting
Nov. 25, 2016, 6 p.m. – Union Square
Enjoy live performances from Aloe Blacc, the San Francisco Boy’s Chorus, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and the cast of San Francisco Playhouse’s ‘She Loves Me.’ Plus a visit from Santa! Be sure to visit the San Francisco’s SPCA holiday windows, featuring lovable animals for adoption at the Macy’s Adoption Center on Level 1. Don’t forget to stop by the Aflac Tent and purchase the 2016 Aflac Duck. 100 percent of net proceeds benefit children’s cancer hospitals across the country. For details, visit www.social.macys.com.
Union Square Winter Walk SF
Nov. 25, 2016 – Jan. 1, 2017, Stockton St. between Geary and Ellis streets
The Union Square Business Improvement District presents Winter Walk SF – an inviting pop-up plaza in the heart of Union Square. For one month, two blocks of Stockton Street are open for winter merriment with daily events. Visitors can expect caroling, food vendors, and other wintery surprises. www.visitunionsquaresf.com
The Fairmont San Francisco’s Gingerbread House
Nov. 26, 2016 – Jan. 1, 2017, 950 Mason St.
Welcome the holiday spirit by celebrating the opening day of the Fairmont’s famous gingerbread house! Once again, the Fairmont elves are working overtime to transform the hotel lobby into one of the world’s most beloved holiday destinations, where cherished memories for locals and visitors alike are created. The highlight of this awe-inspiring exhibit will be the two-story giant gingerbread house in the hotel’s grand lobby. Lovingly built with a completely edible exterior, this delectable abode will be unveiled during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the annual Gingerbread House Opening Day on Saturday, Nov. 26 at 11 a.m. The event offers guests the opportunity to enjoy complimentary holiday refreshments and heart-warming music while taking photos with Santa Claus, a Christmas fairy, elves and carolers. www.fairmont.com
24 Holidays on 24th Street
Nov. 26 – Dec. 24, 2016, Noe Valley
The Noe Valley Merchants promotes and celebrates the holiday season with 24 Holidays on 24th Street. Beginning on the last Saturday in November – Shop Small kicks off the 24 days until Dec. 24th. Activities range the gamut of San Francisco Chorus, musicians, carolers and dancers. Santa makes appearances and Noe Valley merchants host holiday events and promotions. Meters and poles are candy striped and the sidewalk trees are lit for the holidays. There are two holiday hayrides, a holiday tree lighting, a menorah lighting and a Holiday Wine Walk all along 24th Street. www.24on24th.com
Westin St. Francis Sweet Boutique
Open Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 26 – Dec. 18, 2016; 11 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., 335 Powell St.
Visions of sugarplums will come to life when The Westin St. Francis opens the St. Francis Sweet Boutique for the holiday season. Located in the Landmark Lobby, Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Francois Houdré and his team will satisfy sweet tooths with a selection of freshly-baked decorative cookies, orange-scented shortbread, gingerbread men, and rice crispy treats, all available for purchase. There will also be a surprise treat available for purchase. For those who want to take home some extra treats, boxes of Chef Houdre’s famous macarons and assorted holiday cookies are available for purchase including a surprise “special of the day.” www.westinstfrancis.com
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) Holiday Lighting Celebration
Nov. 29, 2016 – Jan. 1, 2017 (subject to change)
The illumination of exterior lighting at San Francisco International Airport has been a holiday tradition for more than 10 years. Featuring over 150 miles of wiring and more than 3.3 million LEDs, holiday lighting at SFO is one of the largest public displays of lights in the entire Bay Area. A ceremony, open to media and the public, will be held to turn on the holiday lighting. Visit www.flysfo.com for details.
San Francisco Symphony’s 2016 Holiday Concerts
Nov. 30, 2016 – Feb.4, 2017, 201 Van Ness Ave.
The San Francisco Symphony is offering a festive lineup of concerts, performances and musical events for all ages to enjoy during the 2016 holiday season. Holiday programs begin on Nov. 30 with “For Ella: Patti Austin Sings Ella Fitzgerald with the San Francisco Symphony” and closes with the “Lunar New Year Concert and Imperial Dinner.” The Symphony’s holiday schedule features concerts by an array of award-winning artists, including Mariachi Sol De México® de José Hernàndez, Gladys Knight and Sweet Honey in the Rock performing holiday favorites with the Orchestra, as well as “Handel’s Messiah,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas—Live!” and many other special holiday-themed events. www.sfsymphony.org
The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco Tree Lighting Ceremony
Dec. 1, 2016, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. 600 Stockton St.
A favorite among the Bay Area community, the Tree Lighting Ceremony at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco ignites the holiday season at sundown, when the 40-foot holiday tree outside the hotel is illuminated by Santa Claus and his little helper from the Make-A-Wish® Greater Bay Area. Hosted by KRON Channel 4 anchor Vicki Liviakis, this annual tree lighting ceremony begins with Dickens-era costumed carolers and trumpeters performing holiday favorites throughout the hotel while guests and locals alike enjoy holiday beverages and treats. After the ceremony, children are invited to take photos and visit with Santa. The Tree Lighting Ceremony is complimentary and open to the public. www.ritzcarlton.com/sanfrancisco
Hilton San Francisco Union Square Aglow in Red and Green
Nightly Dec. 1-31, 2016, 333 O’Farrell St.
Hilton San Francisco Union Square’s Tower 1, which stands 46 stories tall, will light up the city’s holiday skyline with red and green gels that will illuminate San Francisco’s Union Square neighborhood and highlight the hotel’s new Cityscape sky view lounge. www.hiltonsanfranciscohotel.com
Presidio Trust Holiday Lights: Tree Lighting Ceremony
Dec. 2, 2016, 5:30 – 7 p.m., 63 Funston Ave.
The Presidio’s popular Holiday Lights Tree Lighting takes place where the new Visitors’ Center is undergoing its reconstruction to open late December. Light the tree and sing holiday classics along with the Golden Gate Carolers. Light refreshments and kids’ activities will follow in the Presidio Community YMCA gymnasium. After the tree lighting, a lantern-lit evening forest walk starts at 6.15 p.m. Meet in the gym. www.presidio.gov
Union Street Fantasy of Lights
Dec. 3, 2016, 3 – 7 p.m. on Union Street between Gough and Steiner streets, and Fillmore Street from Union to Lombard streets.
Enjoy San Francisco’s Union Street transformed into a magical backdrop of holiday cheer with the historic buildings and trees decorated in twinkling lights. Kids can meet Santa and enjoy live ponies dressed up like reindeer. Face painters, balloon artists, costumed characters, entertainers and singers are featured. See Union Street holiday style, ride the free horse drawn carriage, take a photo with Santa at the Cudworth Mansion (2040 Union St.). And, to celebrate the season of giving, all guests are encouraged to bring new toys for the San Francisco Firefighters’ Toy Program. www.unionstreetsf.com
“A Day of Silents” at the Castro Theatre
Dec. 3, 429 Castro St.
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s “A Day of Silents” may be just the after-Thanksgiving tonic. Six silent film programs with live musical accompaniment will include Gloria Swanson as a San Francisco prostitute in “Sadie Thompson” and Emil Janning who won the first-ever Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of an exiled Russian general turned Hollywood extra in “The Last Command.” www.silentfilm.org
The 31st Annual Dance-Along Nutcracker
Dec. 10 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., Dec. 11 at 11 p.m. and 3 p.m., 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 as “Best Bets for Holiday Dance,” the Dance-Along Nutcracker® is a zany audience participation show perfect for the whole family. www.sflgfb.townalive.com
Sausalito’s Lighted Boat Parade
Dec. 10, 2016, Boarding at 5:45 p.m., Departing at 6 p.m.
Parade starts at 6 p.m., Fireworks at 7:30 p.m., Return to the dock at 9 p.m.
This holiday season, board the classic schooner Freda B for Sausalito’s famous Lighted Boat Parade and Fireworks show on Dec. 10, 2016. This year the theme is Winter of Love. Come ready for retro tunes, good eats, and a whole lotta love! (Summer of Love turns 50). There is nothing like being on the water for this event and it sells out every year. www.eventbrite.com
Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” returns to Golden Gate Theatre
Dec. 14-24, 2016, 1 Taylor St.
The stage adaptation of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” returns to San Francisco where it had its world premiere in 2004. Slated for the SHN Golden Gate Theatre, “White Christmas” tells the tale of two showbiz buddies putting on a show in a quaint Vermont Inn. This brand new production is produced by Work Light Productions. Full of dancing, romance and some of the greatest holiday tunes ever written, including the title song, the show promises to be merry and bright. www.shnsf.com
Zoo Lights Returns to San Francisco Zoo & Gardens
Dec. 16 – 30, 5-8 p.m. Please note: Zoo Lights is closed Dec. 24 – 25, 1 Zoo Rd.
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 – with Santa Claus, reindeer and a holiday marketplace with food and seasonal delights. Sweet music from carolers singing fills the air and bright lights shine 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. www.sfzoo.org
Fisherman’s Wharf Lighted Boat Parade
Dec. 16, 2016 at Fisherman’s Wharf, 6 – 8 p.m.
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.www.visitfishermanswharf.com
14th Annual Parol Lantern Festival & Parade
Dec. 10, 2016 at 5 – 9 p.m. at Jessie Square, Mission Street and Yerba Buena Lane
Celebrate in festive Filipino style at the annual Parol Lantern Festival & Parade, held in Yerba Buena Gardens and Jessie Square, where traditional, star-shaped Filipino Christmas lanterns called parols are carried through Yerba Buena Lane, along with live music, art, games and performances. www.bayanihancc.org
San Francisco Ballet – “Nutcracker”
Dec. 10 – Dec. 29, 2016 at the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco Ballet’s sparkling production of “Nutcracker,” set here in the “City by the Bay,” has introduced audiences of all ages to the magnificent world of ballet. This holiday season experience the beauty and athleticism of SF Ballet’s international cast of world-class dancers in Nutcracker, a San Francisco tradition since 1944. www.sfballet.org
24th Annual “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy” – Wacky Antidote to Gingerbread Overload
Dec. 23-25, 2016, New Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific Ave.
Tickets will go on sale Oct. 31, 2016 for the 24th annual “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy,” subtitled as “Jewish comedy on Christmas Day in a Chinese restaurant.” While not new to the local scene it is so wacky and wonderful, it had to be included in this roundup. Dinner and cocktail shows are scheduled for the New Asia Restaurant in the heart of Chinatown. Featured comedians this year include Elayne Boosler, Eddie Sarfaty, Alex Edelman and Lisa Geduldig. www.koshercomedy.com
Victorian Home Walk Tour’s Yuletide Tour in Pacific Heights
Visit the inside of a period Queen Anne Victorian and discover the opulent history and grandeur of San Francisco. The walk is easy, the pace leisurely and there are no hills to climb. Established in 1996, Victorian Home Walk Tour has become a highlight of the San Francisco landscape and a favorite of tourists and locals alike. www.victorianhomewalk.com
Hornblower Classic Cable Cars – Holiday Nights & Sights Tour
A Holiday tradition for more than nine years, the 70-minute Tour begins at the kiosk at Taylor and Jefferson Streets in Fisherman’s Wharf. Complimentary Santa hats and the songs of the season make the ride on an authentic motorized cable car a very special journey. Purchase tickets at www.hornblowerclassiccablecars.comstarting in mid-November.
Selected evenings between Thanksgiving to Christmas, Pier 40
Kayaking along the San Francisco waterfront is beautiful, but it’s even more amazing to see holiday lighting along the Embarcadero buildings, Transamerica Tower and the Bay Lights from the water at sunset. Receive a high-res photo as a souvenir which will be a great holiday card to your family and friends. Check for dates and times at www.citykayak.com or call 415-294-1050.
The Contemporary Jewish Museum – Dave Lane’s “Lamp of the Covenant”
Dates: Ongoing, 736 Mission St.
Dave Lane’s “Lamp of the Covenant,” an artwork commissioned by The Contemporary Jewish Museum, is located in the lobby space. The massive sculpture, is a 90-foot-long, six-ton work suspended high over the heads of visitors. Attached to an enormous oval of steel are antique objects: world globes, light bulbs, tools such as 19th century apple peelers and blow torches, and various other objects that suggest the unfolding marvels of the cosmos. www.thecjm.org
An Urban Christmas Celebration inside a National Park with Inn at the Presidio
42 Moraga Ave., The Presidio
There is nothing more satisfying than the connection to family, friends and nature during the holidays. And, one can do just that at one of San Francisco’s most talked about hotels, Inn at the Presidio centrally located on the main post of The Presidio and a short walk from museums, restaurants and recreation. As the season draws closer and closer to winter solstice, the days grow short and the winter chill is scented from the park’s eucalyptus and pine forests, celebrate an urban Christmas like no other. A short walk outside to discover where San Francisco began and the nature, heritage, history and culture of this great city. Large lit wreaths, sparkling trees and decorations throughout the public rooms greet guests. The fire is always on and the chocolate chip cookies are fresh from the oven. It’s a warm welcoming Christmas from your family at the Inn at the Presidio. www.innatthepresidio.com