The San Francisco Bay Area is a special place throughout the year, and no time more so than at holiday time. But, let’s face it–when the holidays get crazy, stress levels tend to get high.
Fortunately, there are many ways to take a step back and appreciate the #EveryDayMoments that make the holidays so special.
There’s a holiday activity for every budget. From live reindeer to lighted trains, something magical is probably happening somewhere in December around the Bay.
Public Destinations and Events
My family loves San Francisco’s Union Square at holiday time. Enjoy the lighted tree in the square, outdoor ice skating at the Union Square Ice Rink, decorated store windows at Macy’s, photos with Santa at the Westfield Shopping Center, the 12-foot-high Enchanted Sugar Castle at the St. Francis Hotel, a cable car ride, and assorted other only-in-San Francisco attractions.
Did you know that reindeer antlers are among the fastest growing bones? Take in the science behind the season at California Academy of Sciences’ exhibit, Tis the Season for Science. Meet live reindeer and learn how they adapt to harsh Arctic winters, see how snowflakes form inside the interactive Snowflake Theater, and enjoy exploring holiday-themed and other exhibits.
Hometown Holidays in Redwood City offers an extravaganza featuring a parade, Santa, ice sculptures, entertainment, a special effects light show, and a visit from the CalTrain Holiday Train, December 5.
Benicia’s charming Main Street hosts Santa and others at the Benicia Christmas Parade and Holiday Market, December 12.
Holiday on the Farm at Forest Home Farms in San Ramon features old-fashioned holiday activities and entertainment and a visit from Victorian Santa and his reindeer, December 12. (Enjoy other programs, such as Candy Cane History and crafts and a Nature’s Decorations scavenger hunt, December 5 and 19.)
Ring in the New Year at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum by taking a turn at striking the 2,100-pound, 16th-century Japanese temple bell. The reverend-led event includes a ceremony and the bell-ringing, to leave behind last year’s regrets and bad luck, December 31.
Little ones will enjoy Noon Year’s Eve at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Dance outdoors, make a crown, and watch the ball drop on Festival Plaza, December 31.
Cities and hamlets all around the Bay Area offer plenty of options for holiday entertainment.
Traditionalists will want to head to San Francisco Ballet’s The Nutcracker, which made its debut on Christmas Eve, 1944. The Velveteen Rabbit, ODC/Dance Company’s colorful and long-running holiday adaptation of Margery Williams’ classic children’s book about a beloved nursery rabbit that becomes real, plays at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. San Francisco Symphony offers multiple musical holiday shows, including Peter and the Wolf and A Charlie Brown Christmas–Live.
There are more than two dozen performances of The Nutcracker all around the Bay Area. The above link shares those, in addition to multiple holiday performances, Santa visits and other fun holiday happenings around the Bay.
Gingerbread House Displays
Gingerbread houses are another wonderful holiday tradition, dating back more than 1,000 years of gingerbread history to a time when gingerbread was used to make religious creations. We’ve made some fun DIY gingerbread houses over the years (orange peel satellite dish, anyone?) and for inspiration, there’s nothing like the beautiful and astounding displays created by the pastry chefs at some of San Francisco’s finest hotels.
The Fairmont San Francisco Gingerbread House must be seen to be believed. The two-story (!) house is than 22 feet high and 23 feet wide and features thousands of gingerbread bricks. The Fairmont Hotel is also beautifully decorated, with lit trees and a model railroad. While there, enjoy the Fairmont’s Gingerbread Holiday Tea.
Gingerbread enthusiasts won’t want to miss the St. Francis Enchanted Sugar Castle at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Each item on the 12-foot-high replica of a medieval French castle and village is intricately handcrafted through sugar art techniques. Begun in 2005, the castle gets larger and more detailed each year.
The Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco showcases a large and imaginative gingerbread holiday village. Have fun exploring all around it before or after tea (above), or simply by popping into the lobby.
Berkeley’s Claremont Hotel Gingerbread House is an extensive replica of the Gold Rush-era hotel.
Join the Gingerbread House Competition and Tour in Sausalito. Pick up a map, hunt for decorated houses, at local businesses, and vote for your favorites in this delightful town tradition.
One of my family’s favorite traditions is holiday high tea. We love dressing up and going to a city hotel that’s beautifully decorated to enjoy exquisite sandwiches and desserts. San Francisco’s Sheraton Palace Hotel offers a holiday tea in its beautiful Victorian Garden Court that features delightful children’s sandwiches, as well as crowns and scepters for small visitors and Santa Visits on Mondays. While you’re there, visit the hotel’s beautiful decorated trees and the large and delightful gingerbread village in the lobby. Here are lots of other terrific San Francisco holiday teas.
Still seeking more holiday lights, sights and decorations? See these from San Francisco Travel Magazine.
Read Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 1: Holiday Light Displays, Parades and Ice Skating.
Between all the holiday entertaining and buying gifts, your wallet definitely feels the pinch. On the upside, if you use the right credit card, you can earn rewards points to get something back for all that spending. I use the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which earns Membership Rewards points for every dollar I spend –and for no annual fee.
Plus it bonuses you 20% extra Membership Rewards points after making 20 or more purchases in a billing period. That’s music to my ears at holiday time!
Enjoy your magical San Francisco holiday!
This post was sponsored by the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which rewards multi-tasking parents so we can take a step back and appreciate the #EveryDayMoments that make the holidays so special.
Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman, Fairmont Hotel
Other Slow Family posts you might like:
Winter Inspiration: Photos and Poetry
Make this a Slow, Joyful Holiday Season
Mill Valley’s Life-Size Gingerbread House