Christmas in San Francisco: 15 Things to Do for the Holidays

Each year around Christmas I like to go an explore all of the new Christmas related attractions you can find throughout the state. While in the previous years I have focused most of my time on Christmas in Southern California, this year I headed up to San Francisco and tried to find all of the best holiday spots in the city. You can see my list of 15 below and be sure to let me know what I left off that you like doing for Christmas in San Francisco in the comments.

Union Square

Union Square is the heart of all things Christmas in San Francisco. Each year it is covered in lights and all of the stores that surround the square put up extravagant displays in their historic buildings. Here are some of the things to do in Union Square for Christmas.

Ice Skating

Right in the middle of the square, there is a large ice rink that sits in the shadow of the historic Westin St Francis (great place to stay for Christmas). This is an excellent spot for the whole family to ice skate, and it is especially popular at night when all of the lights come on.

Macy’s

Macy’s Department Store is the most popular place to visit in Union Square during the holidays. The exterior is adorned with wreaths and lights, while half of the top floor is dedicated to Christmas related souvenirs. You can even write a letter to Santa or sit on his lap while you walk around the store. I never buy anything, but I always like looking around.

Nieman Marcus

Across the street from Macy’s, Nieman Marcus has a four-story-tall tree that you can see from the road. What’s especially fun about this tree though is that you can see it from multiple floors, so as you go up you get different views of it.

Also, you can get a reservation for the restaurant right next to the top of the tree and sit down for a meal while overlooking it.

Winterwalk SF

Winterwalk SF happens during December, and the street between Macy’s and Nieman Marcus is closed to cars. You can walk along the astroturf they lay down over the road, eat at food trucks, relax on the lighted benches or browse the Macy’s storefront windows where there are animals to adopt.

Westin St. Francis

The Westin St Francis is a historic hotel right in Union Square. This hotel has been here since the early 1900’s, and each year they have elaborate sugar castles that are decorated and on display for Christmas. The sugar castles are right in the main lobby, and you have to check them out as they have to be seen to be believed.

They also have a Sweet Shoppe with cookies, macaroons and other delicious treats (open weekends from 11 AM – 4 PM) in the lobby.

Westfield Mall

While this is technically a little off of Union Square, I am going to put this in the Union Square portion of the post since it is close enough to walk. On the top floor of the Westfield Mall, under the dome, there is a massive LED Christmas tree hanging upside down. It is a really fun spot for photos.

Events

If you are looking for a fun event to visit in San Francisco, here are a few I recommend.

A Christmas Carol

The A.C.T. in downtown San Francisco puts on theater productions of A Christmas Carol each year. Seeing the play is a great way to start a new tradition with your family in the city. Book early though as shows sell out in advance.

Great Dickens Fair

Another Charles Dickens related recommendation, the Great Dickens Fair is an annual event that happens during five weekends in November and December. This fair takes over the Cow Palace in Daly City (south of San Francisco), and it includes food vendors, shopping, performances, fair games, and more all set in the backdrop of mid-1800’s London. It is a blast to visit the city and experience the fun culture they create. Don’t leave without trying the buttered rum.

SantaCon

SantaCon is one of the craziest Christmas events in the city (happens in many other cities as well). Basically, thousands of people dressed as Santa descend on the streets of San Francisco for a day of singing, drinking, exploring and just having an overall good time. Even if you don’t want to participate, it is still a pretty fun day to be in the city as everywhere you look you will see someone dressed as Santa.

Deck the Halls Pop Up Holiday Bar

While this is not an annual thing, each year there are many holiday pop-ups, so you can see what is happening this year if you visit the city. When I went, the pop up that was drawing the most attention was Deck the Halls pop up holiday bar in North Beach. This bar was changed entirely for Christmas, complete with penguins and an igloo on the wall, reindeer on the fake roof and a Christmas tree in the back. Even the drinks were inspired by the holiday.

Museums

California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park is a fun spot to visit with your family any time of the year. They have a large dome that houses a rainforest and has butterflies that flutter around you as you walk. During Christmas though, they have an ice skating rink, exhibits dedicated to arctic animals, a snowman theater for children and bands that play Christmas music. Plus, you can often see it snow in the main exhibit as well.

Walt Disney Family Museum

In the Presidio, the Walk Disney Family Museum is a fun, quick stop. They put up a “Home for the Holiday’s” exhibit which features a reproduction of Walt Disney’s home and a railroad track that goes around it. This exhibit is free, but the rest of the museums does cost. I wouldn’t go here just to see the holiday exhibit but if you are into Walt Disney at all this is a great museum to visit.

Other Christmas Spots in the City

Fairmont Hotel Gingerbread House

Inside the historic Fairmont Hotel in Nob Hill, they have a two-story gingerbread house made out of real gingerbread. This yearly attraction is always popular, and people come from all over to see it. You can walk through the house and have tea in the large dining room if you are looking to stay longer. Also, don’t miss the big Christmas tree in the lobby.

Tom and Jerry’s House

Tom and Jerry’s House is a privately owned house in the southern part of the city. This house gets decked out every year for the holidays, and people come from all over to see it. This is their 35 year creating this fun Christmas activity for the community to enjoy. Be sure to be respectful if you visit.

Ghirardelli Square

No trip to San Francisco is complete without visiting the historic Ghirardelli Square. During Christmas though, the square is transformed with lights everywhere, holiday decorations and a massive Christmas Tree. It is a great spot to come with your family, get some hot chocolate and just walk around the area.

Fisherman’s Wharf

There is not a lot that happens here for Christmas, but it’s still worth walking around to see the lights on the buildings and the Christmas lights on the Fisherman’s Wharf sign. Plus, Boudin has a place where children can sit on Santa’s lap during specific nights as well.

Video

Here is a video I made spotlighting all of these recommendations.

So there you have it, my recommendations for spending Christmas in San Francisco. Be sure to let me know what I left off in the comments!

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Thanks for checking out the blog, I am happy to be sharing my adventures with you! You can get to know me by reading my about me, which includes a video and additional information on the site, myself and my full disclosure. Also, follow along on Twitter here or read all of my posts on this blog here.