Things to Do in San Francisco This December
It's the merriest, jolliest, happiest month of the year, and there's no shortage of things to do in San Francisco this December. It's not just holiday festivities that are happening (although we do have plenty of that); we've got everything from awe-inspiring light art to mobile karaoke to adorable otters. There's no better time to visit San Francisco; hotel rates are historically low. So what are you waiting for?
Illuminate SF Festival of Light
The Illuminate SF Festival of Light encompasses 44 dramatic, eco-friendly light art installations, accessible by public transportation and free for all. Through New Year’s Day 2020, art lovers are invited to embrace the power of light and tour San Francisco’s light art installations, created by a diverse range of local and world renowned light artists.
SFMOMA Free Day for the Community
See the popular exhibitions on view at SFMOMA for free on Sunday, Dec. 8. A lively array of programming will be offered including a small press book bazaar, screenings of Nicole Miller's To the Stars and story time. RSVP for their community free day here.
Off the Grid's First Annual Holiday Bazaar
Off the Grid will host the first major public event at Salesforce Transit Center and Salesforce Plaza. Makers, artisans and food creators will come together to enhance the "Emperor Norton's Holiday Bazaar" experience with delicious food and beverages, and unique gifts. See the Salesforce Plaza and Salesforce Transit Center transform into a European-style holiday market through Dec. 24.
No, not the British pop-rock group. We’re talking about a few twirls around the outdoor ice rinks at Embarcadero Center, Union Square and Civic Center. Located at the foot of Market Street, the Embarcadero Center rink is open until Jan. 5 and the Union Square rink is open until Jan. 20. The city's newest ice rink at Civic Center will debut on Nov. 22 and remain through Jan 5, 2020.
Drag Queens on Ice
See San Francisco's fiercest drag queens on ice, now in their tenth year, Dec. 5 and 6 at the Union Square Ice Rink. This year will feature new acts and audience surprises. Put on your skates to lip sync and skate the night away with some of San Francisco's most notable drag queens.
Cirque du Soleil's "Amaluna"
Come see Cirque du Soleil's production of "Amaluna" under the Big Top at Oracle Park's Lot A through Jan. 12, 2020. Performers fly over the audience on straps suspended from the Carousel, launch themselves high into the air, and perform challenging hand-balancing routines. Oracle Park's Lot A is easily accessible by BART, Caltrain and Muni.
Panoramic Night Tour with Big Bus
Starting from Fisherman's Wharf, the night tour of San Francisco takes visitors through iconic neighborhoods like Nob Hill, Treasure Island, the Embarcadero, Union Square and more. See the city's many lights and decorations on one of the two Big Bus nightly departures, at 6:30 and 7 p.m.
Public Building Tour at the Old U.S. Mint
Join the California Historical Society at the historic Old U.S. Mint. Walk through more than 150 years of history with an expert docent who will share unique stories, discuss the architecture, and answer questions about the Old U.S. Mint.
Music for Families at San Francisco Symphony
San Francisco Symphony's Music for Families series kicks off on Dec. 14 with "Holidays Around the World". Journey through an enchanting winter wonderland of music from different cultures. Prior to the music, grab your free elf hat and snap a photo at San Francisco Symphony's conductor station and tinker with musical instruments at the instrument petting zoo.
San Francisco Ballet's "The Nutcracker"
This year, San Francisco Ballet celebrates the 75th anniversary of "The Nutcracker." Passport Performances are one of many ways for families to celebrate the magic of the iconic holiday ballet. Passport Performances offer an enhanced "Nutcracker" experience for theater-goers at no extra cost, treating guests to plush toy prizes, costumed character greetings, a keepsake mini-passport, free treats at intermission, and carolers in the lobby, all with the price of admission. Passport Performances are held at the historic War Memorial Opera House, Dec. 11, 12, 13, 15, 18, and 19.
On Dec. 11, "The Nutcracker"’s opening night, San Francisco Ballet presents a special celebration in honor of the 75th anniversary of America’s first "Nutcracker." Patrons will be joined by record-breaking numbers of “Claras” from the past 75 years and enjoy a celebratory balloon drop inside the hall. Throughout the run of "The Nutcracker," guests will be treated to free commemorative program books and festive décor around the Opera House, including romantic snowfalls and twinkling lights. Tickets start at $25 and "The Nutcracker" runs through Dec. 29.
More "Nutcracker" Fever
Nutcracker season continues with San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band's "Dance-Along Nutcracker: Nutcrackers in Space" at Yerba Buena Center of the Arts on Dec. 7 and 8, 2019. This production will have you out of your seat and singing all of "The Nutcracker"'s classic tunes!
Guided Tour of the R/V Sally Ride
For two days only, the R/V Sally Ride will be docking at Pier 15 and open for public tours. Explore this 238-foot-long oceanic research fleet and its scientific laboratories on Dec. 9 and 10, before it departs San Francisco on its expedition around the world. Register for the free tour here.
"Hamilton" at the Orpheum Theatre
Experience "Hamilton", the hit Broadway musical, at BroadwaySF's Orpheum Theatre through May 31, 2020. Winner of 11 Tony Awards®, this hit Broadway musical that tells an unforgettable tale about America's Founding Father is a true treat for the holidays.
‘Tis the Season for Science
Revel in the wonder of the California Academy of Sciences's annual holiday exhibit, “‘Tis the Season for Science: Life on Ice.” Indoor snow, live reindeer and more will appear through Jan. 5, 2020. On select days, there will also be live holiday performances in the Academy’s Piazza stage.
A Holly Jolly Holiday
Two-time Emmy Award and five-time Grammy Award nominee Michael Feinstein returns to San Francisco, the city where he launched his career, with "Home for the Holidays" Dec. 5 - 8. In this all new show celebrating the magic of the season, Feinstein will perform holiday favorites as well as classic standards from the Great American Songbook at Feinstein's at The Nikko.
"Night Bloom" at the Conservatory of Flowers
Through Jan. 5, 2020, see the lights in “Night Bloom” at the Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park. The city’s beloved Victorian greenhouse will transform its Special Exhibit gallery into an illuminated conservatory. Five interactive experiences will feature colorful beams, glowing ponds and much more.
Visit the Museum of Ice Cream this month and celebrate "Pinkmas", an annual holiday tradition where visitors embark on a winter adventure. This special holiday installation will feature plenty of opportunities for the perfect selfie, ornament making and maybe a few delectable treats! Experience "Pinkmas" now through Jan. 12, 2020.
Whiskers and Puppy Dog Tails
The San Francisco SPCA is once again teaming up with Macy's for their annual event where adoptable cats and dogs are showcased in Macy's windows in Union Square. More than 8,500 cats and dogs have been adopted through this program. Get that warm fuzzy feeling from Nov. 22 to Jan. 1, 2020.
San Francisco Silent Film Festival's "A Day of Silents"
On Dec. 7, 2019, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's "A Day of Silents” offers five silent film programs with live musical accompaniment at the Castro Theater, including "The Marriage Circle" and "The Phantom of the Opera", the oldest surviving film version of Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel.
Belt out your holiday spirit with Extranomical Tours's San Francisco Karaoke Xmas Tour. Specially equipped vehicles will be making the rounds through festive neighborhoods and special holiday displays. Enjoy hot cider, cookies and, of course, songs with your fellow passengers. Book now; tours are offered only on Dec. 20 and 21, 2019.
Off-Season at Oracle Park
Just because it's not baseball season, doesn't mean you can't step foot into Oracle Park! Go on a behind-the-scenes tour and access player and staff facilities and park amenities, such as the field warning track, the visiting team's dugout, luxury suites and much more.
Find the Spirit of the Season at The PIER
From a winter wine pour to nightly tree lightings, and even more in between, PIER 39 is definitely the place to be this holiday season. Enjoy the decorations, live performances, exquisite dining, and unmatched views at San Francisco's most popular attraction.
MoAD: Recipes for Resistance
Join the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) Chef-in-Residence Bryant Terry in conversation with Toni Tipton-Martin and Chef Pierre Thiam on Dec. 14, 2019 about their new books, "Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African-American Cooking: A Cookbook" and "The Fonio Cookbook: An Ancient Grain Rediscovered," respectively. The conversation will be followed by a book signing and reception with recipes from each author's books.
"Black is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite" at MoAD
MoAD's newest exhibition showcases more than forty iconic images representing the second Harlem Renaissance. Brathwaiter's photography addresses how white conceptions of beauty and body image affected black women and how "Black is Beautiful" was popularized in the 1960s. See this powerful exhibition Dec. 4 - Mar. 1, 2020.
Wondering why there’s a gaggle of Santas marching through Union Square or gathered around Grant Avenue’s Buddha Bar in the heart of Chinatown? It’s the annual SantaCon on Dec. 7, 2019. Get your elf or Santa suit out of the closet (t-shirts and a hat don’t count) and show up at noon in Union Square. Bring one new, unwrapped toy that can be donated to the Toys for Tots charity and practice your ho-ho-hos.
Chanukah at the Charles M. Schulz Museum
On Dec. 8, the Schulz Museum will host dreidel spinning contests, marshmallow-dreidel decorating, menorah crafting, and more. Just say "Hands-On Chanukah" at the front desk for free admission.
Chanukah Around the City
From Dec. 22 to 29, 2019, the Bill Graham Menorah will be lit in Union Square. Inaugurated in 1975, this annual tradition was one of the first big public celebrations of Chanukah outside of Israel. Enjoy kids activities and musical performances throughout the week.
Fare Deals on Capitol Corridor
Did you know The Capitol Corridor train travels along a 170-mile route between Auburn/Sacramento and San Jose? Take advantage of Capitol Corridor's Friends & Family deal this holiday season for travel in and around the Bay Area. Buy one full-fare ticket and bring up to five others for 50% off. This deal is good for travel on Capitol Corridor through Jan. 1, 2020.
For those who like to plan ahead (and get their shopping for the holidays done early), December offerings include SF Bazaar’s holiday market, featuring 40 local vendors at Nightlife, the California Academy of Sciences’ weekly after-hours event, held every Thursday beginning Dec. 12, 2019, and the SFMade Gift Fair on Dec. 15, 2019 at California College of Arts, 1111 Eighth St. And if you’re a “lefty,” check out The Left Hand Store at PIER 39. The store even sells left-handed guitars.
Just for Giggles
Tickets are on sale for the 27th annual “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy: Jewish Comedy on Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant.” The shows are scheduled for Dec. 24-26, 2019 at the New Asia Restaurant in the heart of Chinatown. Featured comedians this year include Jackie Hoffman, Mark Maier, and Nathan Habib.
Free Community Day at The Contemporary Jewish Museum
The Contemporary Jewish Museum's Community Day is an admission-free, fun-for-all extravaganza on Dec. 25 that has become an annual tradition for Bay Area families. Explore the galleries, create art, and move and groove to live music, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Wrap up the year with championship football at Levi’s Stadium. The 2019 Foster Farms Bowl will kick off on Monday, Dec. 30, 2019 at 1 p.m. The 18th annual Bay Area bowl game features a matchup between top teams from the Pac-12 and the Big Ten conferences.
Japanese New Year’s Bell-Ringing Ceremony
Ring in the New Year at the Asian Art Museum on Dec. 31, 2019 by taking a swing at a 2,100-pound, 16th century Japanese bell. Rev. Gengo Akiba will begin the bell-ringing after a purification ritual and chanting of a Buddhist Heart Sutra. Participants may then take turns ringing the bell to leave behind any unfortunate experiences, regrettable deeds or ill luck from the previous year. The bell will be struck 108 times to usher in the New Year and curb the 108 mortal desires.
In the age of convenience, how will small businesses continue to thrive? Experience the allure of "Neon Monuments: The One-Stop Shops that Make the Tenderloin" on Dec. 5, 2019 at the Tenderloin Museum. Elliot Bamberger shares his photographic series of San Francisco's neon-lit bars, laundromats and liquor stores that are testaments to ideas surrounding opportunity and resilience.
See the enduring power of love unfold between a little boy and his stuffed rabbit in the 33rd season of the classic tale, "Velveteen Rabbit". Returning to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) Nov. 29-Dec. 8, ODC/Dance tells this touching story through music and dance in a production full of wit, festive costumes and the perfect amount of holiday cheer.
San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus
Celebrate the holiday season with "Holigays are Here: Ring Them Bells", an annual holiday extravaganza that will feature the 300 men of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus and special guests, Velocity Handbell Ensemble. They will hit the stage on Dec. 6 and 7 at San Francisco's Sydney Goldstein Theater.
The Exploratorium will welcome back two annual exhibitions for the holiday season, "Curious Contraptions" and "Glow". Opening Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, "Curious Contraptions" presents a variety of whimsical mechanical sculptures known as automata. These imaginative works rely on the intricate arrangement of handmade cams, cranks, and other simple mechanisms to move and animate fanciful or comical stories. Opening at After Dark on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, "Glow" will once again present a collection of illuminated installations and lighted kinetic sculptures throughout the Exploratorium’s galleries. Both exhibitions will run through Jan. 26, 2020.
Sounds of the Holidays
San Francisco Symphony's holiday concert season never disappoints. On Dec. 3 and 6, San Francisco Symphony's acclaimed film series presents their annual holiday films with orchestral accompaniment with the feature film "It's A Wonderful Life". Drag sensation Peaches Christ will emcee a holiday variety show featuring festive hits played by the San Francisco Symphony and drag queens galore on Dec. 7. Experience Handel's "Messiah," featuring the famous "Hallelujah" Chorus, in a holiday masterpiece performance on Dec. 13 and 14. Get ready for Christmas on Dec. 21 and 22 with a performance of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and ring in the new year in style with Seth MacFarlane and the San Francisco Symphony performing jazz and holiday favorites on Dec. 31.
The Great Dickens Fair
Adventure into Charles Dickens' London, where it's always Christmas Eve. Over 800 performers will deck the theatrically-lit music halls and Christmas shops overflowing with gifts and treats. This year marks the 20th anniversary of this treasured Bay Area tradition, taking place at The Cow Palace Nov. 23 - Dec. 22.
Lucky Tuk Tuk Tours
Experience San Francisco's lights and sights the fun way with Lucky Tuk Tuk Tours. This two-hour tour includes hot cocoa, candy canes, Santa hats and karaoke on board. Each Tuk Tuk (rickshaw) is adorned with holiday lights, decorations, and even heated seats for chilly winter nights. Tours run Nov. 29 - Dec. 30.
Macy's Tree Lighting at Union Square
Take a break from Black Friday shopping to see Macy's 30th annual tree lighting ceremony at Union Square. For best viewing, stake a spot at Union Square between Sutter and Geary streets and Powell and Stockton streets, or reserve a table on the outdoor patio at The Cheesecake Factory. The tree lighting will take place on Nov. 29, 2019 at 5:30 p.m.
Classic Cable Car Holiday Lights Tour
Christmas trees won't be the only things decorated around the city for the holiday season. San Francisco's iconic cable cars will be dressed in their holiday finest and offering 90-minute tours through Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown, Union Square, Financial District, Embarcadero and PIER 39. Grab your Santa hat and hop aboard the cable cars for a special holiday tour, Nov. 22-Dec. 30, 2019.
Fairmont San Francisco's Largest-Ever Gingerbread House
This isn't your average gingerbread house. Fairmont San Francisco's life-sized gingerbread house stands 25 feet high and 35 feet wide, made of more than 6,000 bricks of gingerbread decorated with over a ton of icing and candy. Everyone is welcome to see this massive attraction beginning on Nov. 30, 2019. You can plan a private dining event for up to 10 guests inside the gingerbread house.
The Winter Park at Civic Center
The Winter Park at Civic Center opens Nov. 30. For its second season, The Winter Park at Civic Center will expand the skating track to weave through the lighted tree forest. It's a family-friendly attraction, offering weekly themed events like curling lessons and iHeart Radio's dance party on ice.
Celebrate 10 Years of Magic at Walt Disney Family Museum
Come ready to sing along to classic Disney tunes and wear your Mickey Mouse ears! The Walt Disney Family Museum will host a festive Winter Ball at the Museum on Dec. 12 in celebration of their tenth anniversary. Exclusive performances will be made by Mouseketeers Sharon Bird and Cubby O'Brien and Broadway actress and vocalist Juliana Hansen. All guests will receive an exclusive 10 year anniversary gift. More information about member and non-member tickets here.
Walt Disney Family Museum Double Feature
Throughout the month of December, enjoy a Walt Disney Family Museum double feature this holiday season with a behind-the-scenes peek of "Christmas with Walt Disney" and the holiday classic, "Mickey's Christmas Carol". In conjunction with The Walt Disney Family Museum's 10th anniversary in 2019, see "Mickey Mouse: From Walt to the World," on view through Feb. 17, 2020.
Hanukkah Menorah Lighting in the Castro
Join hundreds for the lighting of the giant menorah on Dec. 18 in the Castro's Jane Warner Plaza. The night will be filled will music, dancing, and traditional sufganyot (jelly donuts). Bring your own menorah and light it for the evening.