Where to Enjoy the Holidays in San Francisco
There’s a reason the span between Thanksgiving and New Year's is called the most wonderful time of the year. No matter which holiday you celebrate, you can find an exciting event for it in San Francisco. Here are some festive ways to get into the holiday spirit this winter.
Restaurants Open for Thanksgiving
Let San Francisco’s top-rated restaurants do the cooking for you this Turkey Day. There are a number of delicious dining spots offering Thanksgiving menus. For a sophisticated location near the Embarcadero, One Market offers a popular four-course dinner. Bluestem Brasserie serves a winter-inspired meal from 2 to 8 p.m., which has included filet mignon and chocolate chestnut torte in past years. The Balboa Café has turkey and all the fixings, along with dishes like pumpkin risotto and New York steak. The Presidio Social Club often adds Dungeness crab and chilled oysters to their Thanksgiving menu. If you want to skip the traditional fare, head to the Michelin-starred Omakase for a multicourse Edomae sushi-style meal served until 9:30 p.m.
Hanukkah Lights in Union Square
From Dec. 22 to Dec. 30, 2019, there will be candle-lighting ceremonies on a giant mahogany menorah in Union Square to celebrate Hanukkah, which commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in the Jewish tradition. Various activities include all-ages fun, such as kids' crafts and reggae bands.
Parol Lantern Festival & Parade
One of the largest Filipino American celebrations in the Bay Area, the Parol Lantern Festival and Parade features live bands, delicious home-cooked food and a colorful competition of handmade lanterns. Hosted at the Yerba Buena Gardens for the past 16 years, there are also lantern-making workshops leading up to the event at the Bayanihan Community Center on Mission St.
Where to Get in the Holiday Spirit
Union Square’s big, bright and beautiful Christmas tree is a must-see, holding court right in the heart of the shopping district and in proximity to some of the city’s most extravagant window displays. Don't miss The 30th Annual Macy’s Great Tree Lighting Ceremony on Nov. 29, 2019 at 6 p.m. in the heart of Union Square, when the 83-foot tree is lit with more than 33,000 twinkling lights and 1,100 shining ornaments. The tree shares pride of place with the handsome mahogany Bill Graham Menorah erected every year to celebrate Hanukkah. After you take care of your holiday shopping at the amazing array of stores and boutiques in Union Square, you can go for a celebratory skate at the on-site ice rink.
Hotels With the Best Gingerbread Houses
Starting in late November, some of San Francisco’s finest hotels pull out all the stops to build magnificent gingerbread house displays. The Fairmont San Francisco and the San Francisco Marriott Marquis both create elaborate, multi-story houses while the Westin St. Francis constructs a sugary, storybook castle.
The Walt Disney Family Museum’s "Home For The Holidays At Carolwood"
At The Walt Disney Family Museum, the seasonal installation celebrating Walt Disney’s family and affection for trains, "Home for the Holidays at Carolwood", is an immersive exhibit that includes an elaborate, three-dimensional model of the Disney home on Carolwood Drive and features Disney’s personal steam locomotive, the Lilly Belle, chugging along the tracks. Along with family keepsakes and works by Disney artists, the exhibition also includes screenings of "Christmas with Walt Disney" in December.
Step onto an open-top double-decker Big Bus for an illuminated tour of the city’s holiday trees and light displays as you enjoy a complimentary treat and holiday music. Tours begin from 99 Jefferson St., nightly at 6:30 and 7 p.m. Or take in the holiday sights and sounds from a firetruck with San Francisco Fire Engine Tours (reservations required). If you prefer the bay, climb aboard a classic schooner with SF Bay Adventures on Dec. 14, 2019, to enjoy Sausalito’s Lighted Boat Parade and Fireworks Show.
Embarcadero Center Lighting Ceremony & Carnival
There’s no shortage of light displays and illumination events throughout the city. One special spot to watch the flipping of the switch is the Embarcadero Center on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. The festivities kick off with a carnival and performance, and then it’s time to count down to the illumination of four buildings with 17,000 sparkling lights, followed up by a grand fireworks show.
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair
From waltzing royals to scrappy chimney-sweeps, 800 Victorian characters will populate over three acres of lantern-lit shops, pubs, stages and dance halls at the Cow Palace, Nov. 23 – Dec. 22, 2019 (weekends and Friday after Thanksgiving). Experience the seasonal aroma of roasting chestnuts as you wander down winding lanes inspired by 19th century London at twilight.
San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus Holiday Program
Embrace the delights of the season with beautiful music and a jubilant production during the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' performances at the Sydney Goldstein Theater on Dec. 6 and 7, 2019. Additionally, the 30th annual Home for the Holidays event is a can’t-miss Christmas Eve spectacular at the Castro Theatre.
San Francisco Ballet's "The Nutcracker"
Ever since "The Nutcracker" made its American debut on Christmas Eve in 1944 at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, it’s been a beloved holiday tradition. Watch as visions of Sugar Plums — the fairy variety, that is — dance before your eyes when the world-class San Francisco Ballet takes the stage, Dec. 11 – 29, 2019.
"A Christmas Carol" At The American Conservatory Theater
The stunning costumes and musical interludes of Charles Dickens’ timeless tale will have any Ebenezer Scrooge checking their “bah, humbugs” at the door. From Nov. 29 to Dec. 24, 2019, this festive staging brings the Yuletide magic to the A.C.T.’s Geary Theater.
San Francisco Symphony's Holiday Programming
Throughout December, Holidays with the Symphony offers something on the calendar for everyone. Whether it’s a screening of "It’s a Wonderful Life" with full symphony accompaniment (Dec. 3 – 6, 2019), Mexican Christmas traditions with "A Merri-achi Christmas" on Dec. 8, 2019, or Handel’s "Messiah" on Dec. 13 and 14, 2019, you’ll be left feeling merry and bright.
"’Tis The Season For Science” At The California Academy Of Sciences
One of the largest natural history museums in the world transforms into a winter wonderland from late November to early January, with an interactive exhibit featuring indoor snow flurries, caroling, visiting reindeer, an outdoor ice rink, live performances and science-y topics like reindeer adaptation and the northern lights.
Kwanzaa In The Bayview
Come celebrate community and faith in the Bayview neighborhood at the annual Village Project Kwanzaa celebration. Running for seven days (Dec. 26, 2019 to Jan. 1, 2020), this annual festival features music from C-Notes, Fillmore Slim and Tia Carroll, as well as a slew of other performances.
Where to Give Back Over the Holidays
Donate and Volunteer
While you’re enjoying the vast shopping options San Francisco offers, pick up a toy or two for local toy drives through the San Francisco Firefighters, California Highway Patrol and the Edgewood Center. Rather volunteer your time? There are many opportunities to prepare and serve meals to San Franciscans who are experiencing difficulties like homelessness and poverty. GLIDE (330 Ellis St.) and St. Anthony’s (121 Golden Gate Ave.) have opportunities throughout the week to volunteer in their dining rooms. Check their websites for openings and to sign up.
Party with a Purpose
You can celebrate and give back across the city at events benefiting local charities, like the Sundance Stompede, Oct. 31 – Nov. 3, 2019. Proceeds from entry to the country-western dance events benefit Larkin Street Youth Services’ work to end youth homelessness. Music fans will love GLIDE'S Annual Holiday Jam at The Masonic on Nov. 4, 2019 benefiting Mo’s Kitchen & GLIDE Programs. The iconic Oracle Park will also play host to charity events this season. Light the Night on Nov. 13, 2019 at Oracle Park will benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and Holiday Heroes on Dec. 10, 2019, hosted by the Wedner Weis Foundation for Children, will provide at-risk youth and families with hope and direction. Can’t make it to the event? There are also opportunities to sponsor a family or at-risk child to attend the fun-filled event.