San Francisco Shines Bright: Holiday Lights, Sights and Decorations

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San Francisco Shines Bright: Holiday Lights, Sights and Decorations

San Francisco lights up this holiday season with decorations and activities that add to the city's stunning and magical atmosphere.


Oct. 21, 2018 - San Francisco lights up this holiday season with decorations and activities that add to the city’s stunning and magical atmosphere.   

San Francisco Travel offers a complete guide to San Francisco during “the most wonderful time of the year” at  Here you’ll find trip ideas and tips including:

  • Eight Must-Sees in San Francisco This Holiday Season
  • Seven Holiday Treats in San Francisco
  • Eleven Unusual, Quirky Gifts You Can Only Find in San Francisco
  • Seven Ways to Shop Small® in San Francisco This Holiday Season
  • Best Areas to Stay in San Francisco for New Year's Eve

Here are some highlights of the festive lights, sights and decorations in the City by the Bay:

Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center and Building Lighting Ceremony & Carnival

Nov. 5, 2018–Jan. 6, 2019, Ice Rink open, Embarcadero Plaza.  Nov. 16, 2018, 4 –7 p.m., Lighting Celebration

Embarcadero Center is brightening the holidays this year with the 32nd Annual Building Lighting Ceremony & Carnival. The festivities begin at 4 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 official lighting leads up to the illumination of One, Two, Three and Four Embarcadero Center featuring 17,000 lights - followed by a grand fireworks display.

The Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square presented by Alaska Airlines                

Nov. 7, 2018- Jan. 21, 2019, Union Square Park, 333 Post St.

San Francisco’s favorite holiday tradition, The Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square returns for another festive season of unique events, holiday festivities, and outdoor skating in the bustling and festive locale that is quintessential San Francisco. Featuring new events and holiday festivities, the anniversary season kicks off on Nov. 7, 2018, at 9:30 a.m. with the Icebreaker Opening Ceremony with local celebrities and festivities.  Additionally, The Safeway Holiday Ice Rink’s roster of highly anticipated events, including Drag Queens on Ice, Silent Skate, Flashback Fridays, Learn to Skate mornings and the Polar Bear Skate will return this year. open daily from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

“Curious Contraptions” at the Exploratorium

Nov. 8, 2018-Jan. 20, 2019, Exploratorium, Pier 15

“Curious Contraptions” explores small, surreal worlds through the charming, often hilarious mechanical sculptures known as automata. These whimsical machines are brought to life by intricate arrangements of handmade cams, cranks, and other simple mechanisms. Each sculpture performs an absurd miniature drama—sometimes a myth or fairy tale—while also reflecting its maker's worldview and sense of humor. Exposed inner workings and low-tech mechanisms invite the viewer to understand how each automata comes to life.

“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” Christmas Show

Nov. 10, 2018-Jan. 6, 2019, Children’s Creativity Museum Theater, 221 4th Street.

Eric Carle’s beloved stories are the inspiration for this holiday treat that features colorful giant puppets in a  lavish new production for the whole family. Bay Area Children’s Theatre in association with Rockefeller Productions, presents this show which includes   Carle’s classic stories: “Dream Snow”, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” “What Do You See?” and, of course, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”. Performances at weekends, 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. Recommended for ages 3-8.  

Steve Silver’s “Beach Blanket Babylon Holiday Extravaganza”

Nov. 15 –Dec. 31, 2018, Club Fugazi, 678 Beach Blanket Babylon Blvd. (formerly Green St.)

Featuring iconic holiday characters - including Christmas King Louis, Mr. Peanut Santa, and a chorus line of tap dancing Christmas trees - “Beach Blanket Babylon’s Holiday Extravaganza” features parodies of traditional Christmas carols, hilarious spoofs of pop culture and political characters, and the legendary gigantic Yuletide Hat.  The world’s longest running musical revue rings in 2019 with two special performances on Sunday, December 31, 2018. Both the 7 and 10:15 p.m. New Year’s Eve shows will feature a pastiche of the best and worst of 2018 - Beach Blanket Babylon style. Guests at each show will receive champagne and truffles. The second show - ending at the stroke of midnight - will feature post-show dancing until 1:30 a.m.

“Home for the Holidays at Carolwood”

Nov. 15, 2018-Jan. 7, 2019, Walt Disney Family Museum, 104 Montgomery St.

The Walt Disney Family Museum continues its annual tradition of “Home for the Holidays at Carolwood,” an immersive seasonal installation celebrating Walt’s family as well as his love of trains.  An elaborate, three-dimensional model of the Disney family home, which once stood on Carolwood Drive in the Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles, is the most prominent element of the exhibition and even features a miniature version of Walt’s steam locomotive, the Lilly Belle, traveling around his Carolwood Pacific Fair Weather Route—a half-mile track that crisscrossed the home’s lawn and flowerbeds. Decorated with seasonal lights and greenery, this colorful and intricate scale model will be ceremoniously illuminated for the first time on Walt’s birthday, Dec.  5, which coincides with the museum’s next free admission day. 

“Volta” By Cirque Du Soleil

Nov. 15, 2018–Feb. 3, 2019. Under the Big Top at AT&T Park, 74 Mission Rock St,

Cirque du Soleil returns to the San Francisco Bay Area with “Volta”, an energetic, urban and contemporary acrobatics spectacular inspired in part by the adventurous spirit that fuels the culture of street sports, “Volta” celebrates the differences and unique qualities in a world where technology often isolates people from one another rather than freeing them. “Volta” weaves acrobatics in a visually striking world driven by a stirring melodic score, composed by Anthony Gonzalez from the international electronic group M83.

Macy’s Union Square Holiday Window Unveiling with SF SPCA      

Nov. 16, 2018, 5 p.m., Macy’s Union Square, Corner of Stockton and O'Farrell St.

Voted one of the “10 Best Places to Press Your Nose” by USA Today, Macy’s unveils their holiday windows chock full of adorable, adoptable cats and dogs who need loving homes. The San Francisco SPCA invites window watchers into their Cuddle Dome, where a $10 donation to SF SPCA will give you 10 minutes of cuddles.  The window unveiling ceremony includes a special performance by the De Marillac Academy Choir and after the unveiling, the public is invited upstairs to Holiday Lane on Level 7 where Amy Gutierrez, sports reporter for NBC Sports Bay Area, will be signing her newest children's book, Macy’s visitors who stop by Holiday Lane after the window unveiling can also pick up their Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade gift.

‘Tis The Season for Science

Nov. 16, 2018-Jan. 6, 2019 California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park

Outdoor snow flurries, a hands-on polar-themed exhibit, and a festive ice rink make the Academy a holiday destination for science lovers of all ages. Life on Ice, the Academy’s annual holiday exhibit, celebrates the remarkable adaptations that allow Arctic and Antarctic animals to thrive in snowy ecosystems. See how another animal adapts to life on ice: You! Lace up your skates and take a spin around the newly expanded outdoor ice rink. Museum-goers can also attend the Snowman Theater, a snowman-shaped digital dome screening a kid-friendly short film about the dazzling geometry of snowflakes.

The San Francisco Opera’s “It's A Wonderful Life”

Nov. 17-Dec. 9, 2018, The War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave.

Based on Frank Capra’s beloved holiday film, The San Francisco Opera’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” is most certainly a perfect choice for anyone’s first opera experience. Along with Handel’s “Messiah”, Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” and Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, the 1946 film is synonymous with the holiday season. Capra’s classic tells the story of George Bailey, who, on Christmas Eve, is contemplating suicide until an angel, training for her wings, hears his plea and journeys through his memories to save his soul. The reconceived story has a female angel, allowing the opera to have a soprano voice and a tenor voice (George Bailey) instead of two male voices.  This timeless story of second chances debuts just in time for the holiday season with a libretto by Gene Scheer. Sung in English with English supertitles.

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party

Nov. 17-Dec. 23, 2018, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Ave., Daly City

Under colorful swags of Union Jacks and boughs of holly, a cherished Bay Area tradition returns for five weekends amid the theatrically–lit halls of the historic Cow Palace to offer visitors a delightfully immersive holiday experience unlike any other. An annual tradition for Bay Area natives and visitors alike, The Great Dickens Christmas Fair’s 800 Victorian characters, from waltzing royals to scrappy chimney–sweeps, populate over three acres of twilight–lit shops, pubs, stages, and dance halls. This season’s event will include the expansive new children’s area, new juried crafts, and the return of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta “Trial by Jury” – the perfect setting to revel in the joy of the season.

Make Hanukkah

Nov 18, 2018, 1–3 p.m. Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum hosts an afternoon of hands-on crafting workshops. Choose one of five concurrent maker sessions which offer a constellation of themes related to the spiritual opportunities of Hanukkah (or challenges presented by the holiday). Each workshop is designed and facilitated by a team of master educators and expert makers and each session will weave together Jewish sources and art making in light of shared existential questions of meaning that require all of our unique perspectives.  Open to all (although geared to adults) and requiring no prior background in text study or art making, this is an opportunity to develop your own richly informed understanding of the holiday of Hanukkah and bring home a personal creation that will deepen and enliven your Hanukkah experience.

“Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce”

Nov. 21-Dec. 1, 2018, Curran Theater at 445 Geary St.

Playwright-actor–cabaret performer–performance artist Taylor Mac takes on the holidays in “Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce”, the latest installment of the artist’s sensation–causing A 24–Decade History of Popular Music project. Celebrating the holiday season in all of its dysfunction, Mac (a 2017 MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer Prize finalist) is joined by longtime collaborators, designer Machine Dazzle and music director Matt Ray, with a spectacular band and special guests to reframe the songs you love and the holidays you hate. “Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce” will mark his first San Francisco appearance since the now legendary 24–hour performance at the Curran last fall. This production is presented in association with Pomegranate Arts.

Happier Holidays at Pier 39

Nov. 21, 2018 –Jan. 1, 2019 Pier 39, Beach St. & The Embarcadero

PIER 39 is unwrapping a new nightly tree lighting show on its 60-foot Christmas tree at the top of each hour from 5–10 p.m. every evening, bringing hourly holiday cheer to the waterfront. Synchronized to holiday music, the tree becomes a kaleidoscope of swirling color, adorned with thousands of specialty lights and ornaments.  Along with opportunities to shop, dine and stroll, pier visitors can also enjoy local community performances, writing letters to Santa and fun social sharing activities.  Those who bring a gift for those less fortunate will receive a special holiday treat.

Ghirardelli Square’s 54th Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony       

Nov. 23, 2018, 4–9 p.m., Ghirardelli Square (in the West Plaza), 900 North Point St.     

The annual tree lighting ceremony will take place in the West Plaza and there will be carolers, snow, and Mr. Claus himself, as well as other holiday festivities throughout the square.

Macy’s Annual Great Tree Lighting and Holiday Parade       

Nov. 23, 2018 at p.m. Union Square

The 29th Annual Macy’s Great Tree Lighting Ceremony takes places in the heart of the plaza in Union Square. The holidays kick off when the 83–foot tree is lit with more than 33,000 twinkling lights and 1,100 shining ornaments. Enjoy performances by American Conservatory Theater’s renowned Young Conservatory, the Grammy award-winning San Francisco Boys Chorus, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, the cast of San Francisco Playhouse’s Mary Poppins, Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and music legend, Darlene Love plus a visit from the one and only Santa.

Meet Santa at Santaland

Nov 23, 2018, Macy’s Union Square, Corner of Stockton and O'Farrell St. 7th Floor

Have Santa hear your holiday wishes and take a picture with the man himself. This magical holiday wonderland is designed to delight children of all ages. During the season, write (or email) your letter to Santa and help make wishes come true. Macy's will count all the letters received nationwide and donate $1 for each letter to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, up to $1,000,000.

Holiday Lights Tour

Nov. 23–Dec. 30, 2018 Tour times start at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Pick–up location: 2899 Hyde St.

Experience the magic of San Francisco’s festive Christmas season on a two–hour Holiday Lights Tour by San Francisco Love Tours. Enjoy the best holiday lights views and Christmas displays, while singing along to holiday-themed songs. Cuddle up with friends and loved ones as you hitch a ride through San Francisco. The unique VW Hippie buses are even more festive than usual as they’re decorated with holiday cheer. See amazing views of the city, Macy’s Christmas Tree, Fisherman’s Wharf holiday lights and so much more. Six people maximum per VW Bus and up to five buses can go out at once, making this a great intimate setting holiday experience, even in large groups.

Pinkmas at the Museum of Ice Cream

Nov. 23-Dec. 30, 2018, 1 Grant Ave.

Pinkmas is anew holiday tradition by Museum of Ice Cream San Francisco. The 12,000-square-foot enchanted winterscape serves as place to gather, connect, and feel the magic of the holidays.  The journey through this super selfie friendly attraction kicks off with a glowing pink forest and leads through reimagined holiday spaces packed with frosty, holiday treats. Visitors will explore a gingerbread house, dance under disco lights, and discover festive surprises around every corner.  Guests also get a first taste of Museum of Ice Cream's new "Gingerbread Disco" flavor and treats from MyMo Mochi, La Michoacana, and Ghirardelli. After recently announcing its permanence in the Bay Area, Museum of Ice Cream is excited to invite and unite the community for a new annual, illuminating event unlike any other.

Carousel Lighting at Yerba Buena Gardens

Nov. 24, 2018, 4:30 – 6:30 pm. Yerba Buena Gardens, 221 Fourth St.

Celebrate the lighting of San Francisco's historic carousel. Enjoy free carousel rides and Lantern Luminaries makings.

Fairmont San Francisco Presents its Largest-Ever Giant Gingerbread House

Nov. 24, 2018, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 950 Mason St.  

Fairmont San Francisco invites guests from near and far to celebrate holiday festivities at the iconic hotel, which has delighted guests with dazzling festivities for more than a century. This year, Fairmont San Francisco’s world-famous, life-sized gingerbread house is bigger and better than ever, featuring thousands of house-made gingerbread bricks and gallons of royal icing adorned by hundreds of pounds of candy.  On Nov. 24 the hotel lobby will transform into one of the world’s most beloved holiday destinations, welcoming guests to take photos with Santa that day.  Visitors can also enjoy the lobby’s 23–foot Christmas tree and a nearby Moet & Chandon Champagne Bar as well as a Gift and Hot Cocoa Pop–Up Shop. Fairmont San Francisco’s talented culinary and engineering teams have partnered with Santa’s Elves to meticulously plan and build the enormous Gingerbread House, which now features a semi-private extension.  This new space seats up to 10 and is ideal for a Gingerbread Holiday Tea, any meal or a special occasion.–Francisco   

Odc/Dance's Presents “The Velveteen Rabbit”

Nov. 24–Dec. 9, 2018, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard at Third St.

This year marks the 32nd annual performance of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” a poignant tale of a toy rabbit that becomes real through the love of a child. Choreographed by ODC’s co-artistic director KT Nelson, the story is a lively retelling of Margery Williams’ classic tale celebrating the enduring power of love. Told through music, dance and narrative, this beloved Bay Area holiday tradition captivates both children and adults. The performance features recorded narration by Geoff Hoyle, a musical score by Benjamin Britten, and a stunningly powerful performance by the internationally renowned company ODC/Dance. Returning this year is the post-performance Milk & Cookies party on Sunday, November 25th at 3:30 p.m.  The YBCA–hosted party will serve yummy treats, face painters and the chance to meet (and dance) with your favorite characters from “The Velveteen Rabbit.”

Holiday Nights and Lights Double Decker Night Tour

Nov. 25-Dec. 31, 2018

Gray Line of San Francisco Tour starts at 2800 Leavenworth St. and Jefferson St.

Get the best views of San Francisco's holiday lights from atop of a brightly decorated open-top double-decker holiday lights and sights adventure Be dazzled by the best of San Francisco's holiday displays and celebrate the festive season with a Santa hat and candy cane. On this 90-minute guided and narrated tour, you'll hear stories about the rich history, tradition, and pageantry of some of the finest San Francisco holiday displays.

Castro Merchants Holiday Tree Lighting           

Nov. 26, 2018, 6–7 p.m., at the big 28' Holiday Tree, (Castro at 18th St.), 501 Castro St.

A tree lighting event with Santa and his elf will be emceed by First Lady of the Castro, Donna Sachet, and include a Holiday sing–along with Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, Lesbian/Gay Chorus, Gay Men's Chorus, Golden Gate Chorus and brief remarks by local officials.  Castro Merchants will be open late, with holiday specials.  During the Holiday season lighted sidewalk trees along Upper Market from Castro to Dolores are proudly sponsored by PG&E and local merchants, bright red and silver bows will adorn Upper Market median palm trees; and a Hanukkah Menorah Lighting with Sha'ar Zahav will take place on an early–December evening at Jane Warner Plaza at Castro at Market–17th St.

The San Francisco Symphony Annual Holiday Concert Season

Nov. 27-Dec. 31, 2018, Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave. 

The San Francisco Symphony’s (SFS) 2018 holiday season at Davies Symphony Hall offers a festive array of concerts for all ages, from traditional Christmas classical concerts including Handel’s “Messiah” and Holiday Brass to family-friendly events including the circus feats of Cirque de la Symphonie, the Orchestra’s annual Deck the Hall concerts, and the SF Symphony Youth Orchestra’s annual performance of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.” The star-studded concert series includes Pink Martini, Vanessa Williams, and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir in Holiday Soul, Mariachi Sol De México® de José Hernàndez in A Merry-achi Christmas, and Midtown Men (the original cast of Jersey Boys) in their program of holiday hits. “‘Twas the Night” is a special festival of carols, and “New Year’s Gaiety” rounds out the year with Peaches Christ, comedian Jane Lynch, Cheyenne Jackson, members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and more.   

San Francisco Symphony Holiday Decorations        

Nov. 27-Dec. 26, 2018 Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave.

Throughout the month of December, the lobbies of Davies Symphony Hall are transformed into a holiday wonderland, complete with towering trees decorated with handmade ornaments made by children and volunteers from local schools and community groups.

Holiday Lighting San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Nov. 27, 2018. 5 p.m.

The illumination of exterior lighting at SFO has been a holiday tradition for more than 10 years.  A ceremony, open to the media and the public, will be held on Dec. 5 at 5 p.m. to turn on the holiday lighting.  The event will be held on the connecting bridge between Garages “A” and “G.”  Pedestrian access is available from Level 3 of Garage “G.”

Ingrid Michaelson Trio Presents: Songs for The Season

Nov. 29, 2018, 8 p.m. The Masonic, 1111 California St.

Indie singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson performs songs from her new album, “Songs for the Season” a collection of holiday classics including “White Christmas,” “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree,” “Auld Lang Syne,” and “Christmas Time is Here.”

“Mortified Live: Bar Mitzvah Show”

Nov. 29, 2018, 7 p.m. The Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California St.

Celebrate thirteen years of “Mortified Live”, the funniest and most outlandish storytelling experience in the Bay. As featured on Netflix’s new hit series “The Mortified Guide,” and heard on the “Mortified” podcast, “Mortified” is a cultural phenomenon in which adults relive their awkward adolescence by reading their embarrassing and hilarious teen diaries, poems, letters and more in front of total strangers. Part comedy, part theater, part therapy, participants range from professional performers (comics, celebrities, singers) to amateurs (architects, ad execs, salesmen) all in the noble pursuit of self-degradation.

EXIT Theatre Presents “Vampire Christmas”

Nov. 29-Dec. 15, 2018, EXIT Theatre, 156 Eddy St.

In EXIT Theatre’s irreverent holiday show, former princess Marjean has been hosting her friends’ Christmas for almost a century but this year it’s different: Theodore has abandoned her for a werewolf, Georgette is dating a swamp creature, the Twins won’t stop fighting, and Daisy Horchester is “Dead for Good.” How can you live your best unlife, when the unlife you have is hardly alive? Co-written by longtime EXIT veterans Allison Page and Stuart Bousel and directed by Alejandro Emmanuel Torres, “Vampire Christmas” provides an escape from the usual Christmas-time fare, for the living and the undead alike.

The Winter Park at Civic Center

Nov. 30, 2018 – Jan. 6, 2019. Civic Center Plaza, 355 McAllister St.

Opening celebration from 11 a.m.–12 p.m.

All new this year, this festive winter wonderland includes a 100’ x 60’ ice rink and track which will weave through a lighted tree forest steps away from San Francisco’s City Hall. The Winter Park makes its debut with on-ice entertainment, guest appearances from local dignitaries and notables, family-friendly activities, and more. Part of an exciting new enterprise to revitalize the Civic Center and make it a family-friendly holiday destination for locals and visitors alike. The Winter Park will continue to expand, evolving into an adventure park on ice with new interactive elements for the whole family added each year. Weekly events include iHeart Radio’s themed dance party on the ice, Learn to Curl sessions and First Responders Appreciation Days.

“Avenue Q”

Nov. 30, 2018–Jan. 6, 2019 in NCTC's Decker Theatre, 25 Van Ness Ave at Market St.

Ushering in the furriest holiday season ever, New Conservatory Theatre Center presents its 6th annual production of the hit Tony Award-winning musical “Avenue Q.” The show, now a San Francisco holiday tradition, is a laugh–out–loud musical that tells the timeless story of a recent college grad named Princeton who moves into a shabby New York apartment all the way out on Avenue Q.  Once there, he meets Kate (the girl next door), Rod (the Republican), Trekkie (the internet sexpert), Lucy the Slut (need we say more?) and other colorful types who help Princeton finally discover his purpose in life.

Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas”—Feature Film with the San Francisco Symphony

Nov. 30, Dec. and Dec. 6, 2018 Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave.

The Symphony’s Film Series features the San Francisco Symphony performing film scores live as the movies are projected on a large screen above the stage.  The wintertime pairing includes Tim Burton’s animated musical dark fantasy “The Nightmare Before Christmas, in which Jack Skellington plots to take over Christmas. Bellow the big screen, the Symphony performs Danny Elfman’s delightfully quirky score.

PIER 39 Winter Wine Pour

Nov. 30, 2018, 4–8 p.m. Pier 39, Beach St. and The Embarcadero

Round up your friends and head to The PIER for an evening of wine, music, and fun at the PIER 39 Winter Wine Pour. Sip wine, toast the holidays with friends and family and enjoy The Pier’s dazzling new nightly tree lighting moments throughout the evening. The 60-foot tree is a kaleidoscope of swirling color, adorned with thousands of specialty lights and ornaments.  stop by participating businesses to enjoy wine tastings featuring wine from the Livermore Valley Wine County. The Livermore Valley Wine Country, located in the Tri-Valley – 35 miles east of PIER 39, is one of California’s oldest wine regions.  Wine Pour attendees will receive wine tastings, discounts at participating businesses, a commemorative wine glass and enjoy festive holiday entertainment.

San Francisco Choral Society performs Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio”

Nov. 30—Dec. 1, 2018, 8 p.m. St. Ignatius Church, 650 Parker Ave.

The San Francisco Choral Society will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s brilliant and most beloved piece, the “Christmas Oratorio.” The 135-voice chorus, with the accompaniment of period instruments provided by the Jubilate Orchestra, will perform this marvelous Christmas classic in the stunningly beautiful and acoustically rich St. Ignatius Church.  They will perform the first three cantatas this Christmas Season, and the remaining cantatas next December.

Holiday Textile Bazaar

Dec. 2, 2018, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. The Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St.

On the first night of Hanukkah, The Contemporary Jewish Museum will be transformed into colorful market of textiles, ornamentation and unique holiday gifts. Local artisans and touring craftspeople will bring work to The Museum for a day of shopping, music, food crafts, and more. The market will reflect the luscious variety of textiles and craft techniques on view in the current exhibition “Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress”, from the Collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Vendors include Mimbres, Mira Blackman and her hand-woven indigo pieces, Masha Archer, Carrie Vawter contemporary quilts, and Britex.

Night Bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers
Dec. 2, 2018-Jan. 6, 2019, Golden Gate Park, 100 John F. Kennedy Dr.

Light up the season with Night Bloom, a five-week light and sound exhibition. Immerse yourself in an illuminated Conservatory of Flowers bursting with vibrant and luminous displays. Light and sound will transform the iconic San Francisco landmark into a glowing landscape of interactive experiences this holiday season. Guests are invited to embark on a journey through the tropics where cotton candy sunsets abound, rare and unusual flowers blossom in the moonlight, and fireflies come out to play. Revel in the Conservatory of Flowers as never before seen, with an illuminated Conservatory and interactive displays welcoming guests. Food from local food trucks and seasonal beverages will also be available.  

Alamo Drafthouse’s Elf Movie Party

Dec. 3, 4, 5, 8, 2018, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema-New Mission, 2550 Mission St.

Enjoy an interactive holiday spectacular, packed with games, props and even an in-theater snowball fight.  Will Ferrell’s take on a North Pole elf trying to figure out Manhattan is a modern classic. The Alamo’s “Elf” movie party features all sorts of fun props, a themed contest before the film, and a “real” snowball fight in the theater. They’ll supply jingle bells for everyone, bubbles for a few key scenes, and a special scratch n' sniff card so you can even Smell-Along with Buddy and his family. The cast also features Zooey Deschanel, Bob Newhart and James Caan.

“Bat Out of Hell, The Musical”

Dec. 4-23, 2018, Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market St.

Based on the music of ‘70s heavy metal rocker Meatloaf, “Bat Out of Hell,” the rock musical comes to the Orpheum theater at the start of the show’s North American tour.  The 1977 album is one of the all-time best-selling records and Meatloaf followed it up with two sequel albums. The musical, written by Jim Steinman, is based on the Bat Out of Hell trilogy and is a loose retelling of Peter Pan and Wendy, set in post-apocalyptic Manhattan. For heavy duty hard rockers, there’s a midnight performance on December 7.

“Dear Evan Hansen”

Dec. 5–30, 2018. Curran Theater at 445 Geary St.

A letter that was never meant to be seen, a lie that was never meant to be told, a life he

never dreamed he could have. “Evan Hansen” is about to get the one thing he’s always wanted: a chance to finally fit in. Both deeply personal and profoundly contemporary, “Dear Evan Hansen" is a new American musical about life and the way we live it. The winner of six 2017 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, “Dear Evan Hansen” features a book by Tony Award–winner Steven Levenson, a score by Academy Award and Tony and Grammy Award-winning composers Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, and direction by four–time Tony Award nominee Michael Greif.

Civic Center Plaza Holiday Tree Lighting

Dec. 5, 2018, 5-7 p.m.

This festive lighting of the Civic Center tree features live entertainment, a toy giveaway, take and make crafts and goodies for the kids to enjoy.

“Eighth Annual Drag Queens On Ice”

Dec. 6, 2018 from 8–9:30 p.m., Union Square Park, 333 Post St. 

At the Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square, “Drag Queens On Ice” is San Francisco’s fabulous holiday tradition. Now in its ninth year, “Drag Queens On Ice” will feature San Francisco’s fiercest drag queens as they don their most gay apparel for an evening of special performances. The event is open to all ages and free to watch. Tickets to skate alongside the queens and have the best seat in the house for the performances are $25 for adults and $20 for children.

Night at the Jewseum: Shimmer

Dec. 6, 2018, 6-9 p.m. The Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St.

Dance, drink, decorate, and dazzle on the fifth night of Hanukkah for a very special Night at th Jewseum.  Play gallery games in the current exhibition Lew the Jew and His Circle: Origins of American Tattoo. Stitch goldwork embroidery with the San Francisco Embroidery School in the Textile Lab. Pulse to the universal sounds of DJ CHLORA. Strut along with the cosmic Fashion Show. Ask a Rabbi with Maggid Jhos Singer. Nosh at La Cocina’s yummy Latke & Brisket Bar, and sip a specialty Tonic cocktail (all food and drink available for purchase).

American Conservatory Theater Presents “A Christmas Carol”            

Dec. 6–29, 2018, A.C.T.’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary St.

Featuring a lively cast of dozens, delightful music, gorgeous costumes, and those deliciously spooky ghosts, the Bay Area’s favorite holiday tradition returns with American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.)’s celebrated production of the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol.” Now in its 41st year, this version of “A Christmas Carol” –adapted by Paul Walsh and Carey Perloff –stays true to the heart of Dickens’s timeless story of redemption and brings a playful sensibility to his rich language.

Michael Feinstein’s “A Holly Jolly Holiday”

Dec. 6­–9, 2018 Feinstein’s at the Nikko within Hotel Nikko 222 Mason St.

Two-time Emmy and five-time Grammy Award-nominated Michael Feinstein returns to his own nightclub, Feinstein’s at the Nikko with “A Holly Jolly Holiday”, an all-new show celebrating the holiday season. Michael Feinstein, Ambassador of the Great American Songbook, has built a dazzling career over the last three decades bringing the music of the Great American Songbook to the world. Feinstein has played The White House, Buckingham Palace, Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, and Sydney Opera House and his work as an educator and archivist define Feinstein as one of the most important musical forces of our time.

Opera Parallèle’s “The Little Prince”

Dec. 7-Dec. 9, 2018 (7 p.m. on Dec. 7 and 8 and 2 p.m. on Dec. 8 and 9),  Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St.

Opera Parallèle, the Bay Area’s innovative contemporary opera company returns with their colorful and engaging production of Rachel Portman’s “The Little Prince” Academy Award-winning English composer Rachel Portman’s magical opera is based on the classic French novella by Antoine de Saint–Exupéry about a young prince who travels from his tiny planet to Earth’s Sahara Desert. Produced in collaboration with the award-winning San Francisco Girls Chorus with a libretto in English by Nicholas Wright, this production casts women and girls in the principal roles. There will be pre-performance, interactive activities for families and children including an invitation to join the cast in the final chorus of the opera.

San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus Presents “Brassy and Sassy”

Dec. 7 and 8, 2018 at the Nourse Theater, 275 Hayes St.

Few performing groups present the full spectrum of holiday revelry better than the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. SFGMC welcomes guest star coloratura soprano Marnie Breckenridge (San Francisco Opera, English National Opera, Los Angeles Opera), who will bring her own sass and class to the stage. In collaboration with a brilliant brass quintet, the Chorus will dash from glorious classical fare to swing to Big Band. Plus, the Chorus adds a few new twists on holiday classics. Sing along with your favorites and delight in the breathtaking sound of men’s voices performing everything from “Silver Bells” to “Santa Baby,” as well as the audience favorite rendition of “Silent Night.”

Hanukkah Shabbatikah Fryday

Dec. 7, 2018, The Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California St.

The JCCSF will host its annual Hanukkah Shabbat celebration, inviting guests of all ages to gather together to light the menorah and Shabbat candles. Guests will celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah, and the end of the work week with drinks, donuts and live music by a local band

Old First Holiday Concerts                       

Dec. 7 –Dec 23, 2018, Old First Church, 1751 Sacramento St.

The holiday concert series at Old First Church offers a multiplicity of musical styles from classical solo piano to Celtic to Eastern European.  On December 7, Lawrence Ferrara and Shiqi Li perform festive and romantic music for guitar and cello in the classic style.  On December 9, The Ragazzi Boys Chorus' present "For the Beauty of the Earth", a holiday concert that honors composers through the ages who have contemplated natural surroundings, giving thanks through music for nature's gifts. On December 14, Golden Bough performs rare versions of Celtic songs of winter, as well as their unique take on better known Christmas carols. Performing traditional folk music as well as original compositions, their vocal harmonies are accompanied by Celtic harp, penny-whistle, violin, mandolin and other acoustic instruments, On December 21, Kitka Women's Vocal Ensemble brings back Wintersongs, their critically-acclaimed winter holiday program showcasing seasonal music from a wide variety of Eastern European ethnic and spiritual traditions.  And on December 23 Steinway Artist Sandra Wright Shen presents a special Christmas-themed concert with music ranging from Bach's G major Partita to a movement from Messiaen's Vingt Regards Sur L'Enfant-Jésus, with Romantic works by Liszt and Chopin, and more.

Holiday Lights: The Presidio’s Annual Tree-Lighting Ceremony

Dec. 7, 2018, 5:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m., Main Post, across from Presidio Community Y (corner of Lincoln and Funston)

Light the tree and sing holiday classics along with the Golden Gate Carolers. Light refreshments and kids’ activities will follow in the Presidio Community Y gymnasium. After the tree lighting, don’t miss the lantern-lit evening forest walk at 6 pm. Partners include the Presidio Y, National Park Service, US Park Police, SF Fire Department, Presidio Residences, and Art Seed.

“A Very She & Him Christmas Party”

Dec. 8, 2018, 8 p.m. The Masonic, 1111 California St.

Together country-folk artist M. Ward and actress/singer/songwriter Zooey Deschanel (TV’s “New Girl”) are She & Him, the folk/indie rock duo. They haven’t performed together in over 5 years but will reunite for a Christmas time concert featuring music from their two-holiday albums—2011’s “A Very She & Him Christmas” and 2016’s “A Christmas Party”. The albums feature covers of classic holiday songs— from oldies popularized by Sinatra, Crosby, and Garland to new Christmas classics from The Beach Boys.

SantaCon 2018

Dec. 8, 2018, Starting in Union Square

This is a gathering of Santas, Mrs. Clauses, Elves, Reindeer, and even Grinches. The annual event includes Christmas carols, a Best Dressed Contest and more.  Last year, more than 10,000 people participated collected 764 toys for the Toys for Tots program.  SantaCon event is free to attend and welcomes those ages 21 and over.

2018 “Dance-Along Nutcracker: Clara Potter and The Elder Baton”

Dec. 8, 2018, at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Dec. 9, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, 701 Mission St.

Each year, the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band blends Tchaikovsky’s classic “Nutcracker Suite” with a fun theme. The result: a fun-filled musical production brimming with wit, artistry, and ingenuity. The talented cast sings and dances their way through a parody version of “The Nutcracker." And when the “Dance-Along” sign flashes, the audience is invited to tug on their tutus and sashay along with the cast. Even audience members who don’t want to dance have a blast!  This year’s theme is Harry Potter with a fun-filled musical adventure, featuring secret riddles, an evil school board, kazoos, a three-ish headed dog.  This show has something for witches and wizards of all ages.

Christmas at Grace Cathedral

Various dates, 1100 California St.

Grace Cathedral’s Christmas concerts are a San Francisco tradition.  The performances this season feature everything from classic Christmas carols with Grace Cathedral’s Choir of Men and Boys, the nostalgic brass and organ sounds of Bay Brass, the American Bach Soloists’ performance of Handel’s timeless “Messiah,” to the festive, family-friendly sing-along Christmas show “Sing You a Merry Christmas.” On Dec. 8, there is a special Snowflake Tea with a private pre-show reception with members of the cast and holiday refreshments.

Light the Menorah at Ghirardelli Square

Dec. 9, 2018, 4 p.m., Ghirardelli Square 900 North Point St.

Light the Menorah at Ghirardelli Square with free children’s activities, music and lighting of the

“Love Actually”—Feature Film with The SF Symphony

Dec. 11 and Dec 12, 2018, Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave

Next up is the romantic Christmastime classic, “Love Actually,” with the full, live orchestra performing Craig Armstrong’s evocative score. The 2003 rom-com stars Hugh Grant and an ensemble cast with interweaving love stories that culminate on Christmas Eve.

San Francisco Ballet’s “Nutcracker”       

Dec. 12–29, 2018 War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave.

San Francisco Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” is a rich and spellbinding production set in 1915 San Francisco, Travel with Clara as she journeys to the Land of Snow and beyond. This holiday season, join us as the lights dim, the music soars, snowflakes swirl, flowers dance, and a little girl dreams about a whole new world in a Nutcracker that is as unique as it is magical. On Christmas Eve 1944, the audience at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House experienced the American premiere of “The Nutcracker.” An instant sensation, the ballet launched a national holiday tradition.

Alamo Drafthouse’s Love Actually Movie Party

Dec. 12, 2018, 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.mAlamo Drafthouse Cinema-New Mission, 2550 Mission St.

Forget About “The Miracle On 34th Street.” “Love Actually” is the best way to celebrate Christmas, because, without this masterpiece of a romantic comedy, we'd all be stuck singing "Jingle Bells" instead of everyone's favorite carol, "Christmas Is All Around." At this interactive screening, you're encouraged to cheer along, cry along and, of course, dance along with Hugh Grant's sweet moves, plus your ticket includes themed props to ensure that you truly feel Christmas all around you.

“I Touch My Elf”

Dec.13, 2018, at 8 p.m. Feinstein’s at the Nikko, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St.

The “undie-rock” comedy in this outrageous evening-pop duo The Skivvies bring their holiday show to the Nikko for one performance only.  Lauren Molina and Nick Cearley perform stripped-down, mashed-up versions of holiday favorites. The Skivvies strip down to their underwear and perform stripped down music—cello, ukulele, glockenspiel, melodica, and a surprising array of other zany instruments.  

Countess Katya Smirnoff-Skyy "Sure to Make Your Yuletide Gay”

Dec. 14-15, 2018 at 8 p.m. Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 222 Mason St.

The Countess Katya Smirnoff-Skyy has enthralled Bay area audiences for years with her unique blend of opera pop and booze. Join The Countess for a holiday show that is sure to make your yuletide gay. Hailed as best drag act by the Bay Guardian, Katya will delight with a fun-filled evening of belting, banter, and ball gowns to bolster your holiday spirit(s)! With songs ranging from classic holiday fair to Popera, and disco, there is something for everyone in this heartwarming and brilliantly funny journey through Katya's holiday misadventures.

Ugly Sweater Party with Musicians On Call

Dec. 15, 2018, Hard Rock Cafe Pier 39, Beach St. & The Embarcadero

Hard Rock San Francisco, Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Musicians on Call will rock the holiday season with a night of music, fundraising and celebration of the ugliest sweaters around.   A $5 donation of each ticket sold will be made and matched by Tito’s Vodka to Musicians on Call, which brings live and recorded music to the bedsides of patients in healthcare facilities.

Kim Nalley and Tammy Hall present Gospel Christmas

Dec. 16­, 2018 Feinstein’s at the Nikko within Hotel Nikko 222 Mason St.

This yearly Christmas tradition features acclaimed vocalist Kim Nalley performing all your favorite holiday songs accompanied by the swelling soulful Hammond B3 Organ played by the incomparable Tammy Hall with Michael Zisman (electric bass) and Kent Bryson (drums). Expect special guests and a few sing-a-longs at this rollicking joyous family-friendly concert.

The 26th Anniversary of “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy”

Dec. 23 –25, 2018, 5 p.m. Dinner Show and 8:30 p.m. Cocktail Show, New Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific Ave.

Answering the age-old question, “what’s a Jew to do on Christmas?” this comedy show delivers Jewish comedy in a Chinese restaurant.  This year’s headliner is Carol Leifer (Seinfeld writer, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” consulting producer) along with Vietnamese Jewish comedian Joseph Nguyen ("You're Funny, But You Don't Look Jewish"),

Jordon Ferber (Last Comic Standing, the podcast “Where’s The Grief?”) and Kung Pao’s creator and M.C. Lisa Geduldig.

This Chinatown show is San Francisco’s longest running comedy show, and no doubt, the world’s only comedy show that serves fortune cookies with Yiddish proverbs.

San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus’ “Home for The Holidays”

Dec. 24, 2018, 5 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St.

San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus returns to San Francisco’s iconic Castro Theatre for the annual “Home for the Holidays” concert. On Christmas Eve 1990, the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus gathered for the first time at the Castro Theatre to bring the holidays home to those who had none. Thus, began the annual tradition of joining together every Christmas Eve at the Castro Theatre for this night of joyous music and heartwarming festivities. 

13th Kwanzaa Celebration, Umoja (Unity)

Dec. 26, 2018-Jan. 1, 2019, 16 free events in eight different neighborhoods.

The Village Project will present their 13th annual Kwanzaa celebrations throughout San Francisco, with seven days of community events in venues such as The Jazz Heritage Center and the  Museum of the African Diaspora. Striving to heal, unite and strengthen the family, community, and nation, the community celebrates each of the seven principles of Kwanzaa (the Nguzo Saba). 

“New Year’s Gaiety: Peaches Christ and The SF Symphony”

Dec. 31, 2018, 8 p.m. Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave.

Ring in 2019 with San Francisco’s famed drag sensation Peaches Christ, Edwin Outwater, and the SF Symphony! Featuring a star-studded lineup of surprise guest stars, delectable vocalists, and drag queens galore, you’ll be regaled by big laughs, big fun, and even bigger hair.  Before the ball drops, kick off your New Year’s celebrations at Davies Symphony Hall with a festive evening of wicked sass and fabulous flair fit for a queen.

The San Francisco Travel Association is the official destination marketing organization for the City and County of San Francisco. For information on reservations, activities and more, visit, read The San Francisco Traveler or call 415-391-2000. 

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