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Holiday Season in San Francisco: The Most Wonderful Time

Here are some of the lights, sights and performances that make the City by the Bay a wonderful holiday destination.


In San Francisco, the holiday season could easily be called “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song goes. The city’s neighborhoods are aglow with decorations and abuzz with activities and events — some traditional and some far from it.

The holidays are an especially inviting time for visitors to San Francisco because hotels offer the best rates of the year and there are plenty of rooms available. You can search for accommodations on our hotel deals page.

San Francisco has several “not to be missed” events that are new and special for 2015, some with a holiday flavor and others simply remarkable on their own. This is just a sample. For much more, visit our Holidays section.

San Francisco Opera 2015-2016 Season
Now thru Dec. 13 at War Memorial Opera House
A world-renowned company, San Francisco Opera is a must-see for all serious opera fans. Their current season features a variety of productions, both familiar and shockingly new. See classics like "The Magic Flute" through Nov. 20, "The Barber of Seville," Nov. 25-Dec. 9, and the light-hearted "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg," Nov. 18-Dec. 6. Or experience the gothic chills of "Fall of the House of Usher," Dec. 8-13.

Embarcadero Lighting Celebration & Ice Rink
Nov. 4, 2015 –Jan. 3, 2016: Ice Rink Open
Nov. 20, 4-7 p.m.: Lighting Celebration
The Embarcadero Center's 29th Annual Building Lighting Ceremony & Carnival is the perfect event to share with the family. The festival will have a host of fun activities, including carnival games, interactive arts and crafts booths, musical performances and more. The Holiday Ice Rink opens each winter for nine magical weeks. Get ready to skate under the sun and stars along the beautiful waterfront at the largest outdoor rink in San Francisco.

Nov. 19-Dec. 13 at AT&T Park
"Odysseo," the latest production of the internationally known entertainment company Cavalia, opens under the White Big Top at AT&T Park. The $30 million extravaganza is the world's largest touring company and features 75 magnificent horses and 45 riders, acrobats, dancers and musicians. Equestrian arts and high tech theatrical effects unfold under the largest touring tent on Earth.

SHN Musicals
Dec. 1-27 at SHN Theatres
SHN offers two holiday diversions onstage this season: "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder," Dec. 1-27 at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre, and "A Christmas Story, The Musical," Dec. 9-13 at the SHN Orpheum. "Gentleman's Guide," winner of the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical, tells the tale of a distant heir to a family fortune who decides to eliminate eight pesky relatives (all played by one man) who are between him and riches. "A Christmas Story" chronicles the pursuit of young Ralphie Parker to secure the gift of his dreams: an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Air Rifle.

San Francisco Symphony Holiday Concerts
Dec. 9-10 and Dec. 17-19 at Davies Symphony Hall
Get into the Christmas spirit with the famous San Francisco Symphony. The acclaimed orchestra is offering a number of holiday musical experiences in the month of December. "A Classic Christmas," Dec. 9-10, will feature selections from carols and other traditional favorites. From Dec. 17 to Dec. 19, the Symphony will perform Handel's legendary "Messiah," a holiday standard and one of the most famous pieces of classical music ever composed.

Beach Blanket Babylon’s seasonal extravaganza
Nov. 18-Dec. 30 at Club Fugazi
The long-running North Beach revue that combines topical humor, madcap sketches and enormous head-pieces plays up commercial excesses with a wink and a nod (as well as some tap-dancing Douglas firs).

Macy's Holiday Windows and Union Square Tree Lighting
Nov. 20, 5 p.m.: Window Unveiling
Nov. 27, 6 p.m.: Tree Lighting
Press your nose to the glass to admire the creative decorations as well as the adorable (and adoptable!) puppies and kittens from the San Francisco SPCA. Come back the following week for the Union Square tree lighting, featuring recording artist Jordin Sparks.

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party
Nov. 21–Dec. 20, weekends only, at the Cow Palace Exhibition Halls
Take a trip back in time to gaslit, 19th-century London for The Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party. Roasted chestnuts, carolers and Father Christmas himself harken back to the era's bygone innocence (although the Victorian component can get a little saucy). In a venue stuffed full of gifts and seven stages' worth of live entertainment, this is no abridged version of a Dickens classic.

PIER 39 Tree Lighting Celebration
Nov. 21-22 at PIER 39
One of the most popular spots in the city will host two tree lighting events on Nov. 21 and 22, both at 6 p.m. Welcome the holiday season with magic, merriment and a special visit from some Disneyland celebrities. Enjoy the shops and attractions of PIER 39 with the gorgeously decorated 60-foot tree adding some additional sparkle to the San Francisco skyline.

‘Tis the Season for Science
Beginning Nov. 25 at California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park
Visitors to the California Academy of Sciences can experience " 'Tis the Season for Science," the museum's annual holiday exhibit that explores the science behind winter's most famous phenomena. Meet a pair of live reindeer, brave an indoor snowstorm, compete in quiz shows and enjoy live performances — all under one roof in Golden Gate Park.


The Fairmont San Francisco Holiday Gingerbread Tea at Laurel Court Restaurant & Bar
Nov. 28-Dec. 30 at The Fairmont San Francisco
This legendary hotel atop Nob Hill showcases an enormous holiday-time gingerbread house made with thousands of ginger bricks baked by the hotel, adorned with icing and candy and displayed in the Fairmont's splendid mail lobby. Marvel at the work of the hotel chefs while enjoying tea at the Laurel Court Restaurant & Bar.

The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes
Dec. 3-20 at the Victoria Theater
What better way to say "Thank you for being a friend" this holiday season than "The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes," an annual pageant in which four of San Francisco's biggest drag queens play Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia. They take a few liberties with the scripts, but it all serves to make Christmas in Miami even merrier.

A Christmas Carol
Dec. 4-27 at the American Conservatory Theater
A highlight of every holiday season, this Christmas classic is performed in A.C.T.'s beautifully ornate, century-old structure in the heart of the theater district.

Decorated Boat Parade
Dec. 11 at Fisherman's Wharf
A holiday tradition since 1994, the Fisherman's Wharf Community Benefit District and the St. Francis Yacht Club will once again present the oldest and largest lighted holiday boat parade on the San Francisco Bay. More than 60 boats are expected to be part of the event.

San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus
Dec. 11-12 at the Nourse Theater
The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus will perform a holiday show with new pieces by composers Ernie Lioji, Lawrence Rush and Laura Karpman. It's guaranteed to be uproarious and tongue-in-cheek, but also sweet and sentimental.

A Chanticleer Christmas
Dec. 10-23, various venues
The famed all-male vocal ensemble is bringing "A Chanticleer Christmas," its take on Renaissance music studded with traditional carols and Gregorian chants, to seven major churches across the Bay Area. The acoustics alone are warm enough to chase away any winter chill.

The Nutcracker presented by the San Francisco Ballet
Dec. 16-31 at War Memorial Opera House
Fun fact: Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" made its American premiere at the San Francisco Ballet on Christmas Eve, 1944, and it's been an annual hit ever since. The talented dancers introduce thousands of young minds to the athleticism and grace of ballet. Just don't let the Mouse King's army follow you to the Land of Sweets.

Illuminate SF
Nov. 26, 2015-Jan. 1, 2016, citywide
Illuminate SF shines a light on San Francisco's ever-expanding light art scene. Embrace the power of light any night of the year and enjoy exploring the city's many neighborhoods with luminous public artworks by some of the world's most notable light artists — including Jim Campbell, Ned Kahn, James Turrell and Leo Villareal. Best yet, these brilliant light art installations are accessible by public transport and free for all.