IMG_6685The holidays are here and whether your are a San Francisco native looking to soak up a little holiday cheer or visiting the city by the bay for the first time. There are endless activities to keep your spirits soaring in San Francisco. San Francisco embraces the holiday season in its own vibrant way with events and activities that embody the city’s spirit of tradition, surprise and innovation.

On the traditional side, there’s the San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol at American Conservatory Theater, the vocal virtuosity of Chanticleer plus outdoor ice skating, holiday teas and shopping galore. For the offbeat, catch Beach Blanket Babylon, Kung Pao Kosher Comedy and Dance-Along Nutcracker® Goes Hollywood! Or see the city’s holiday finery on a guided bicycle tour.

San Francisco is also celebrating light as art with truly brilliant, eco-friendly light art exhibits. This convergence is being called Illuminate SF and consists of six temporary and/or permanent installations. From skyscrapers lined with lights to glimmering trees to sparkling decorations throughout the city’s neighborhoods, San Francisco becomes a city aglow during these shortest days of the year.

Holiday Tea

Holiday Tea at the historic Top of the Mark at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins

999 California St, San Francisco, CA 94108

For hours and menu Click Here!

Holiday Lights

Hyatt Regency San Francisco’s “Home for the Holidays”

Nov. 22 – Dec. 31, 2013, Hyatt Regency San Francisco

Although it never snows in San Francisco, the Hyatt Regency San Francisco is predicting snowfall throughout the holiday season in its dramatic, Guinness Book of World Records’ Largest Atrium Lobby in the world.  Complementing a 1,000-piece Department 56 Snow Village, thousands of cascading lights and a dramatic 45-foot tree, snow will fall three times a day in the hotel’s lobby, from Nov. 22 through Dec. 31, 2013. Free.

555 California St. Holiday Tree Lighting

Dec. 3, 2013, 5 p.m.

Former 49er and  NFL legend Ronnie Lott and current 49ers Marcus Lattimore and  Alex Boone will do the honors at this 7th annual event featuring a musical performance from multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated recording artist Carly Rae Jepsen.  The ceremony also includes family holiday entertainment from the Dick Bright Orchestra and the Pacific Boys Choir.  555 California will once again feature one of the tallest holiday trees in the region.  This year’s white fir tree is over 80 feet tall and comes from Mt. Shasta, CA.

27th Annual Embarcadero Lighting Ceremony and Carnival 

Nov. 22, 2013 at Justin Herman Plaza; carnival will run 4 to 6 p.m.; lighting ceremony at 6 p.m.

Kicking off the holiday season, Justin Herman Plaza will be the site of this year’s Winter Carnival, a family-friendly event at the Embarcadero Center where kids can meet Santa and participate in cookie decorating, interactive arts and crafts booths, balloon twisters, caricature artists, and musical performances. The Embarcadero’s building lighting ceremony will begin at 6.p.m. and there will be a special pre-show performance from Disney On Ice. The event concludes with a spectacular pyrotechnic finale. Receive four hours of free parking with the parking sticker available from any of the information booths starting at 4 p.m. Free.

PIER 39 Tree Lighting Celebration

Nov. 23-24, 2013 from noon-6:30 p.m., PIER 39

Welcome the holiday season with a day of holly-jolly magic and merriment at PIER 39.  Engage in fun for the whole family with interactive exhibits, special meet-and-greets, and live holiday music sing-alongs. Events begin at 6 p.m. as PIER 39’s majestic 60-foot tree adorned with glistening ornaments, bows and twinkling lights is illuminated against a stunning backdrop of the San Francisco city skyline. Free.

Snowflakes on Market Street Lighting at Powell and Market streets

Nov. 26, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. 

Everyone is welcome to attend the “Snowflakes on Market Street” lighting ceremony in front of the cable car turnaround at Powell and Market streets. The countdown to the lighting will be led by Mayor Edwin Lee, Spencer Christian of ABC News and the San Francisco Ballet students. The 232 “Path of Gold” lights that run the length of Market Street from Steuart to Castro Street were originally installed in 1916 and cast a distinctive amber glow on one of the city’s main thoroughfares. This year, 20 new snowflakes are being added, bringing the total to 202 on 101 lampposts stretching from First Street to Seventh Street. Free.

Bill Graham Menorah Lighting

Nov. 27 – Dec. 4, 2013 at Union Square

Thirty-eight years ago the Menorah was lit in Union Square for the first time in any outside, public area celebrated outside of Israel. This year the traditional celebration continues in Union Square where a candle will be lit each day for eight days starting Nov. 27. Snacks and warm drinks will be provided to guests for each lighting ceremony with activities for children. The time of the ceremony varies on each night. Please check the schedule listed for each day. Free.,

49th Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony at Ghirardelli Square

Nov. 29, 2013 at 5:30 p.m., at Ghirardelli Square

Visitors enjoy free, live entertainment throughout the day culminating with the lighting of the Ghirardelli Square tree at 5:30 p.m. In addition, Lola Toy Stop will be offering a small gift for each child ages nine years old and under who visit the Toy Stop from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Ghirardelli Chocolate will also be passing out Peppermint Bark Squares after the ceremony. Free.

Macy’s Great Tree Lighting  

Nov. 29, 2013 at 6 p.m. at Union Square

The 24th annual illumination of Macy’s Great Tree includes more than 1,500 ornaments adorning the tree. This year there will be a special performance by Chris Mann as well as a visit from Santa. Visitors can enjoy live music, dance performances, and a visit to the SFSPCA’s holiday windows, featuring lovable animals up for adoption. Also this year, the department store encourages visitors to drop by the Aflac tent and purchase the new Macy’s Aflac duck with 100 percent of net proceeds to benefit local children’s hospitals. Free.

The Ritz-Carlton Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony

Dec. 4, 2013 at 5:30 p.m.
The holiday season begins at twilight, when the hotel’s 40-foot holiday tree is illuminated by Santa Claus and his little helper from The Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish Foundation as part of The Ritz-Carlton Community Footprints program. The nonprofit organization has been granting the wishes of children with life threatening medical conditions for more than 27 years. This special evening in the porte cochere includes Dickens-era costumed carolers, hot apple cider, holiday confections and visits with Santa in The Terrace Courtyard Tent after the ceremony. Free.

Union Street Fantasy of Lights

Dec. 7, 2013 at 3–7 p.m. on Union Street, Cow Hollow

Union Street kicks off its annual Fantasy of Lights holiday celebration where thousands of holiday lights set off the Victorian buildings, transforming Union Street into a magical backdrop for Santa and a team of elves to celebrate along with jugglers, live ponies dressed as reindeer, face painters, balloon artists, costumed characters, singers and live entertainment. New this year will be a Union Street Holiday Hayride. Visitors are also invited to Cudworth Mansion at 2040 Union St., to decorate a cupcake from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Santa will arrive in front of the Cudworth Mansion at 5:30 p.m. where he will be available for pictures until 7 p.m. Throughout the month, Union Street will offer visitors validated parking, store open houses, evening shopping, and holiday lights; merchants will stay open until 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays. Free.

11th Annual Parol Lantern Festival and Parade

Dec. 14, 2013 at 5 p.m. in Jessie Square 

Celebrate in festive Filipino style and join this amazing event. More than 25 local organizations will march through Yerba Buena Lane with traditional Christmas lanterns, or parols, lighting up the neighborhood. Following the parade there will be music, games and entertainment. Free.

Outside San Francisco

25th Annual Festival of Lights, Yountville

Nov. 29, 2013 from 2-6 p.m.

The world-famous culinary and wine destination located in the heart of Napa Valley, kicks off the holiday season with the 25th Annual Festival of Lights featuring gourmet food and wine, holiday entertainment, carriage rides, shopping, a visit with Santa and much more.  The celebration culminates with the lighting of the town at 5:30pm when Yountville is set aglow with thousands of twinkling lights adorning trees and shops along Washington Street.  The Villagio Inn & Spa and Vintage Inn will participate in the annual Festival of Lights with both hotels, V Marketplace and the Groezinger Estate light up with thousands of tiny white holiday lights throughout the 2013 holiday season. Free.

Santa Cruz Holiday Lights with Roaring Camp

Nov. 29-30, Dec. 7, 8, 14-15, 20-21, 22-23, 2013

Take a nostalgic look at Christmas from beautifully lit Pullman and open-air excursion railroad cars which travel through Victorian Santa Cruz as carolers sing.

14th Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony at Jelly Belly Visitor Center, Fairfield

Nov. 30, 2013, 3 p.m., lighting ceremony begins at 5:30 p.m.
A winter wonderland begins with a sing-along and comes to life when Santa and friends turn on the lights of the tree at the Jelly Belly Visitor Center. Santa leads a parade of fun and frolic. Musical performance, entertainment and evening candy factory tours. Free candy factory tours daily, 9 a.m.–4 p.m.

Oak Tree Lighting at Carmel Valley Ranch, Carmel  

Nov. 30, 2013 at 5 p.m.  

Mark the beginning of the winter holidays and join the community for a very special tree-lighting ceremony, where they will be lighting the ancient and beautiful Oak Tree that stands tall in front of the main Lodge.  Revelers will be treated to caroling, hot cocoa and s’mores as local heritage is celebrated.  Free.

Annual Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony at Jack London Square, Oakland 

Dec. 6, 2013, 5-7:30 p.m.

A stunning 57-foot-tall fir tree will be the evening’s main attraction as visitors delight in the live musical performances by Radio Disney stars Amber Lily, Emme and Jeremy Thurber, plus a performance by the Jamaica Youth Heights Marching Band. Tree-lighting ceremony highlights will also include an introduction of Miss California 2012 and a dance number by the popular world-traveled tap-dancing Christmas trees. Holiday revelers will have the chance to pet and feed two live reindeer and pose for photos with costumed characters around the Square. Additionally, visitors can preview a parade float for the 13th annual America’s Children’s Holiday Parade. As part of the event, Jack London Square is hosting a canned food drive for the Alameda County Community Food Bank and a toy drive for the city of Oakland to support families in need. Free.

Holiday Tree Lighting, Elf Market and Santa’s Workshop in Pacifica 

Dec. 6 and 7, 2013, various times

The town of Pacifica’s Holiday Tree Lighting will feature the Cabrillo grade school chorus, refreshments and a visit from Santa. To complement this annual tradition, Elf Market will be open 6–9 p.m. on Dec. 6 and 10 a.m. to 4: p.m. on Dec. 7, where Pacifica’s local artists present hand-crafted gifts.  Additionally, on Dec. 7 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Santa’s Workshop welcomes children to make a gingerbread house from scratch and create a holiday craft and visit with Santa. Free.  

Festival of Lights at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Dec. 6-8, 12-15, 19, 21-22, 2013 from 5-7:30 p.m.

Located approximately 125 miles north of San Francisco, this beautiful 47-acre seaside garden takes on a nighttime personality during the Festival of Lights. Tens of thousands of twinkling lights transform Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens into a blossoming winter wonderland. Majestic tall trees are dressed in tiny, colorful lights while the beds beneath bloom with “flowers of lights.” Children of all ages can stroll along the garden pathways and be dazzled by the floral light displays. Visitors can sample holiday sweets, warm drinks and enjoy a community coming together in the spirit of holiday and fun. Weather permitting. The entire family is invited to this admission-free event. Free.

The San Francisco Travel Association offers a list of holiday highlights. Celebrations fall into a variety of categories:

Illuminate SF:  Light Art Installations


Events & Activities

Decorations, Displays & Exhibits

Holiday Tours

Ice Skating

Holiday Culinary Events

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