San Francisco Christmas Lights

Check Out the Best San Francisco Christmas Lights

This post is a guide to the best Christmas light in San Fransisco and how to see them. We’ve updated the list for all of the best places to visit around the city for 2019. 




San Francisco is lit up all over during the Christmas season, and there’s a number of places to check out the best lights. We’ve listed the places to check out on your own, but you can also see a lot of them on a sightseeing tour or walking tour. We also recommend checking out our Christmas in San Francisco post to get the most out of your visit to the city during the holiday season.  



Tom & Jerry House

Easily the best single house display of Christmas lights in San Francisco, you can always count on Tom and Jerry to brighten up your holidays with their setup. Residing in the Castro district, these guys work countless hours on their display every year, resulting in a truly amazing masterpiece for all to enjoy. The display has gotten so famous that they even have a documentary about the decorations!


Chestnut Avenue Houses

Chestnut Avenue in South San Francisco is the greatest collection of Christmas lights in the Bay Area. These houses have a friendly competition to see who can create the best display in the area, and the results are worth the drive to see them! 



Fairmont Hotel Gingerbread House

Making gingerbread houses is a fun Christmas tradition, but the Fairmont Hotel takes it seriously! Inside, you’ll find the place transformed into a winter wonderland that includes a massive two-story-high gingerbread house measuring 25 feet high, 35 feet wide and 10.5 feet deep. If you’ve seen it before, you’ll want to come back, because this year it’ll be the largest one yet! 



Palace Hotel

The Palace Hotel goes above and beyond with their Christmas tree displays. This swanky hotel is a fantastic place to visit if you’re walking around on Market Street. Stop into their historic lobby bar for some amazing cocktails or have coffee and tea to warm yourself up. You can learn more about the amazing (and criminal!) history of the Palace Hotel on our Secrets, Scandals and Scoundrels tour!


Union Square

Union Square is the main commercial area of San Francisco, and every year its businesses compete to see who can have the grandest or most adorable display. Our favorite is the Macy’s store, where each year Macy’s partners with the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and sets up a window display with furry little friends that are up for adoption. These are great for the whole family to enjoy, and maybe for expanding your own family with a furry addition!



Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Square is always a treat for visitors. In addition to their usually lit historic “Ghirardelli” sign, the businesses in the area really dress up for the holidays. The Ghirardelli chocolate store is frequently the best dressed, putting up holiday decorations all over the store. While you’re there, you should pick up some chocolate and visit the Ghirardelli “dessert-only” restaurant for an ice cream sundae!



Fisherman’s Wharf Sign

A great place for photo ops is the Fisherman’s Wharf Sign, which will be strung with lights during Chrismas. The sign is iconic and located in the most popular area of San Francisco, a place no tourist should miss visiting! There are plenty of seafood restaurants, shops, and is a great place for a simple stroll! You can learn more about Fisherman’s Wharf on a free walking tour


Pier 39

Located at Fisherman’s Wharf is Pier 39, where you can find a beautiful 60-foot tall Christmas tree strung up with gorgeous lights! You’ll find additional shops and restaurants there, making it the perfect place to explore. 



Market Street Lights

Market Street runs down the center of San Francisco and is always bustling with activity from cable cars, commuters, and the shops on either side. This makes it the perfect canopy for Christmas lights, and there will be plenty illuminating this busy street starting in mid-November. 


Zoo Lights

A great place with Christmas lights in San Franciso that the whole family will enjoy is the Zoo Lights at the San Francisco Zoo! Transforming after dark, the zoo turns into an enchanting winter wonderland with familiar Christmas characters like Santa and his reindeer! There will also be a holiday market with delicious snacks to enjoy. This annual event takes place on weekends from mid-December to the end of the year. Grab your tickets here



Treasure Island

Treasure Island is in the middle of San Francisco Bay, and it’s just a fantastic place to go to check out the entire city skyline from a distance. This also makes it the perfect place to see Christmas lights! The main things you’ll see are the large Embarcadero Center with its lights making the buildings look like giant Christmas presents, the Transamerica pyramid (which you can visit on our North Beach/Little Italy tour), Coit Tower, and other beautiful buildings.



Day Trips from San Francisco

Day Trips from San Francisco

This post provides information about the most popular day trips from San Francisco: Yosemite National Park, Muir Woods National Monument, Silicon Valley, Napa Valley, and Sonoma Valley. 


Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is a beautiful park spanning 747,956 acres and 800 miles of hiking trails just 3.5 hours from San Francisco.

Famed for its granite cliffs and giant sequoias, Yosemite also boasts the 5 highest waterfalls in North America.

In addition to hiking, visitors can also opt to go horseback riding, rock climbing, and skiing. 



Though there is an Amtrak station somewhat near Yosemite, there are no trains that travel directly into the park.

Those looking for easy transportation must either drive there on their own or go with one of the many reputable tour companies providing day trips from San Francisco and Yosemite. 

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What is the Weather in December in San Francisco?

How is the Weather in San Francisco in December?

.This post summarizes the San Francisco weather in December, with tips on how to dress and things to do.  You may find our posts for the weather in November and January also helpful.



December is one of the coldest months of the year in San Francisco. However, if you are visiting here from many other places in the world, you may have a different definition of the word “cold.” As you may have heard, San Francisco has a Mediterranean climate, meaning it doesn’t get very cold in our city. Read more »

Christmas In San Francisco

Christmas in San Francisco

This post is a guide to things to do San Fransisco during Christmas and also New Year’s Eve.  We include holiday-themed tours, where to see holiday lights, ice-skating rinks, holiday performances, Christmas markets and more, updated for 2019.  Don’t forget to look into our packing tips for winter trips!




Christmas is an amazing time to visit San Francisco as this already beautiful city takes on an extra sparkle.

In addition to all the things to do year-round, there are many activities unique to Christmas and the holiday season and we list them in this post.

If you are looking for even more things to do around the holidays, check out our posts on things to do in San Francisco in November and December.

Be sure to check out our post on the weather in San Francisco in December.

If you are planning on visiting many attractions during the holidays, then consider a tourist discount pass, and be sure to check out our definitive guide of things to do in San Francisco.


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One of the best ways to see San Francisco is to take a bus tour. You can see more of the city in less time.

This is especially important at the holidays since the best holiday displays and lights are located in different neighborhoods. It would be hard to see them all if you ventured on your own by foot.

Here are three bus tours that take you to most of the same lights but in their own unique way.

Holiday Lights Love Tour

Hop into a classic hippie Volkswagon van and let your guide show you the holiday lights of San Francisco in unique style.   

The decorated van holds up to 6 guests. This makes for a cozy, warm holiday tour. Plus you get a free Santa hat! 

On this 2-hour tour you’ll see the famous Tom & Jerry’s House, Lombard Street, the Embarcadero Lights, Macy’s Holiday Display and several other beautiful light displays.

Schedule and Ticket Prices: 

  • Two tours nightly: 5 pm  and 7:30 pm
  • November 25 – December 30, 2019
  • $65 per person
  • Purchase tickets here.

Cable Car Holiday Nights and Sights Tour 

See the holiday lights in true San Francisco style! This 90-minute tour is led by a professional guide who provides commentary as you ride past more than 30 San Francisco’s festive-lit locations.

You’ll see Coit Tower, Embarcadero Center,  Ghirardelli Square, Union Square, Bay Bridge, Nob Hill, Grace Cathedral and so much more.

Scehdule and Ticket Prices: 

  • November 22 – December 30, 2019 (Does not opeate on 11/28 and 12/25)
  • Every night at 6:00pm & 8:00pm. 
  • $42 Adult (Age 12+) /  $33 Child (Age 5 – 11)
  • Purchase tickets here

Holiday Lights Tour with City Sightseeing 

This live narrated 90-minute bus tour of San Francisco takes you from Fisherman’s Wharf to North Beach, Chinatown to festive Union Square to see some of the most impressive lights in the city.

The tour then visits the Civic Center with brightly -decorated City Hall and then heads towards the Embarcadero where you can enjoy incredible views of the Bay Bridge. Finally, visit Treasure Island — which boasts some of the best Christmas Lights in the city — before concluding back in Fisherman’s Wharf. 

Duration: 90 minutes
Cost: $39.99 per adult; $29.99 per child
Learn more and book your tickets here.

If you are interested in other types of bus tours, such as a daytime hop-on, hop-off bus, or a read our post on the best San Francisco bus tours.


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Below are just a few of the best places to see the holiday lights, Christmas tree lightings, and menorah lightings. For a more in-depth list, read our post on Christmas Lights in San Francisco.

Pier 39 Christmas Tree



The first tree lighting is November 26, 2019, at 5 pm. This tree remains at Pier 39 until January 5, 2020. Unlike other trees that remain lit throughout the day and night, this Christmas tree is a bit different.

Its lights are synchronized with music, and the tree lights ‘perform’ once an hour on the hour between 5 pm – 10 pm every night.

If you want to see something magical, plan your time accordingly! See what other great things there are to do there at Pier 39, by reading here.

Union Square Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony 

Celebrating its 30th year, the Macy’s Annual Tree Lighting will take place in Union Square Park right across from the front of Macy’s. This event will be taking place on November 29th, 2019. Festivities start at 6 pm. The tree lighting is at 6:40 pm.  

The free ceremony will feature performances from local artists followed by the lighting of the tree that includes 30,000 lights and nearly 1,100 decorations.  More information.

Giant Menorah Lighting in Union Square 

Every night of Hanukkah from December 22- 30, 2019, you can attend the candling lighting of the Menorah in Union Square. More information

TIP:  Whether you are in Union Square to see the tree, the menorah or just shop, keep in mind that our pay-what-you-wish Original San Francisco Tour starts right next to Union Square.

Embarcadero Center Winter Carnival and Building Lighting

On Friday, November 22, 2019, from 4 pm to 7 pm all four Embarcadero Center buildings will be lit.

The carnival includes children’s activities, special performances, a visit from Santa and a fireworks show. The buildings stay lit throughout the holiday season. More information.

Fisherman’s Wharf Lighted Boat Parade

What else would you expect from the city on the bay? This parade features 60 boats “decked” out in holiday lights and decorations. Prime locations to see it are Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. December 13, 2019, from 6 pm- 8 pm. Read more here.

TIP:  Join our pay-what-you-wish Walking tour of Fisherman’s Wharf to learn about the history of this famed wharf long before it became a tourist destination. Feeling peckish? See our post on the best seafood in Fisherman’s Wharf.


Thousands of colorful lights and even a laser light shows make the Oakland Zoo the place to be. The show runs from December 6, 2019 – Jan. 5, 2020 (closed Dec. 24 & 25.).

In addition to their amazing array of wildlife, you can see reindeer and you might just see Santa too!  See their website for details. 

Illuminate SF Light Festival

From Thanksgiving, 2019 until January 1, 2020, there will 37 large scale light installations located throughout 17 neighborhoods. They are all free to visit. Check out a few or seem them all! 

You can also attend one of the available free light art tours running throughout the exhibition. For more information, click here


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It may seem a bit weird to go ice skating when it’s 60 degrees outside. But don’t let that stop you when you’re in San Francisco! 

There are three ice rinks that open for the holidays in November and stay open until past the new year.  Plus, there is one rink you can skate at all year long.

Embarcadero Ice Rink

Starting early November, this outdoor rink welcomes skaters. The rink basks in the glow of the Embarcadero buildings magnificent light display. 

The rink remains open through the New Year. See their website for exact dates, times, and prices.

Union Square Ice Rink 

Located next to the giant Christmas tree in Union Square, this ice rink is the perfect place to come for a skate when you want to embrace the holiday spirit. 

Open November 6, 2019 – January 20, 2020.  Hours are from 10 a.m.–11:30 p.m. daily (with the exception of closing at 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, December 31, 2019)

Admission and skate rental prices are $18 for adults and $13 for children (8 and under). Tickets can be purchased in advance online or at the ice rink ticket window.

Winter Park Ice Rink

2019 is the second year that Winter Park Ice Rink will return to city’s civic center. It’s a nice alternative to the other more popular rinks. Prices are the same as the Union Square Ice Rink.

Admission and skate rental prices are $18 for adults and $13 for children (8 and under). Open November 22, 2019 – through January 5, 2020. Hours are from 12 pm – 10:00 p.m. daily. Tickets can be purchased in advance online or purchased at the ice rink ticket window.

Yerba Buena Ice Skating

This rink is open year-round and while not as festive as the others, you can enjoy it any time! Not just during the holidays.


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For those who seek artisan crafts and one of a kind gifts for the loved ones on the holiday, there are quite a few holiday markets you can visits. Most are one or two-day events.

Some are in mid-November, while others are early to mid-December. Don’t fear… no matter when you are in town, you have many places to shop in San Francisco.



Renegade Craft Fair

Serious craft enthusiasts know the Renegade Craft Fair, an expansive and roving market that is held twice a year in over 11 US cities including LA, NYC, Miami, Chicago and even in London! 

The 2019 Winter edition in San Francisco will be held at the Fort Mason Center, on the weekend of November 16th & 17th from 11 am – 5 pm. It is free to attend.

Expect more than 200 craftspeople and artisans on hand presenting some of their work. There will also be music, a DJ, immersive experiences to spark your creativity and food trucks.

Sunset Holiday Mercantile

This two-day event is a family-friendly market! With free admission, you can enjoy live entertainment and kids’ activities while you shop from local merchants, eat artisanal foods and attend a wine and beer tasting. 

Held at the San Francisco County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park. December 14 – 15, 2019, from 11 am – 5 pm.

California Academy of Sciences (CAS) NightLife Holiday Bazaar

This Night Bazaar features lots of handmade items like jewelry, ceramics, pottery, original artwork, paper goods and more. 

This event is held at one of the most interesting museums/institutions in the Bay area. Consider visiting CAS during the day and then attending this great night market after. Read more about CAS here.

Dates for 2019 have yet to be announced, so keep checking the official website.

San Francisco Christmas Fair  

Indulge in Swedish food and mulled wine while listening to Swedish folk music and shopping for unique crafts. 

At St. Mary’s Cathedral on Geary Street. December 7, 2019, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Great Dickens Christmas Fair  

Held at the Cow Palace in Daly City, this huge fair takes you back in time to a twilight evening in Dickens’ London. This is much more than a fair — it’s an experience.

The giant theatrically-lit hall will have costumed performers who are stationed in Victorian-era styled pubs, Christmas shops, tea rooms, and more. You can enjoy all sorts of roasted foods and holiday treats. 

Tickets are required and sell out fast. Nov 23-Dec 22, 2019, 10 am-7 pm. 

SFMade Holiday Fair  

Gifts by local craftspeople. At the California College of the Arts. Dates: TBA


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San Francisco has high-quality theater and musical performances every day of the year. The holidays are no exception.

The classics are in town, with productions of The Nutcracker, Handel’s Messiah, and a one-of-a-kind live performance of the animated A Charlie Brown Christmas.



A Charlie Brown Christmas – Live! 

Watch this holiday classic with live performers with the San Francisco Symphony and its chorus. At the  Davies Symphony Hall. December 21 – 23, 2019.

The Nutcracker

The beloved ballet about a girl’s Christmas fantasy as performed by the San Francisco Ballet at the War Memorial Opera House. December 11 – 29, 2019.

Nutcracker Sweets

This is a contemporary version of the traditional ballet. At only 50-minutes long, this adaptation is perfect for the younger ones. At the Fort Mason Center. December 7 – 27, 2019.

A Christmas Carol

See the timeless Charles Dickens’ play at the ACT’s Geary Theater. From Nov. 29- Dec. 24, 2019. 

Handel’s Messiah

Performed by the San Francisco Symphony Chorus at Davies Symphony Hall. Shows at 8 pm on December 13 & 14, 2019.

Handel’s Messiah

Hear the American Bach Soloists accompanied by a choir and period instruments in Grace Cathedral. Shows at 7:30 pm on December 11, 12 & 13, 2019.

A Very Merry Misfit Cabaret

What do you get when you combine rock and roll, vaudeville, a splash of Burlesque and a dash of drag?  You get a Very Merry Misfit Christmas! Starring Kat Robichaud (of The Voice) together with a live band. At the Alcazar Theatre. December 13 – 28, 2019.


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One Day in San Francisco

One Day in San Francisco

This post offers several itineraries for spending one day in San Francisco for one day, including a budget-friendly and kid-friendly itineraries as well as a 3-day option.  



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California Academy of Sciences Tickets and Discounts

California Academy of Sciences Tickets + Discounts

This post covers tickets for the California Academy of Sciences, including discounts, free entry days, as well as, exhibits you can expect to see at this museum.




If you’re looking for a museum that has a little of everything, this is the perfect place to visit. 

After all, this is the only place in the world with an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest and natural history museum all in one location.

As the name implies, the California Academy of Sciences focuses on several different branches of science, providing fantastic exhibits on a variety of popular subjects ranging from biology to astronomy and more.

This museum is located in Golden Gate Park, making it easily accessible and close to many other notable landmarks in San Francisco.


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The price of admission fluctuates depending on which day you choose to visit. Tickets will typically be at their most expensive on weekends and on short notice.

For the lowest possible admission price, make sure to purchase tickets at least two weeks in advance. 

The following prices reflect some of the lowest cost tickets available when you buy them ahead of time.

General Admission Prices

NOTE: General admission is also included with multiple tourist passes. Check our discounts section for more details.

  • $29.75 – $39.75/Adults | $23.75-$31.00/Youth
  • $26.00 – $34.50/Students & Seniors
  • Mon-Sat Hours: 9:30 am – 5 pm
  • Sunday Hours: 11 am – 5 pm
  • Availability: Daily
  • Purchase tickets or learn more.

In addition to these admission options, there are also two specialty tickets which include extra activities. 



The first option is their Nightlife event which is offered once a week. You can find out more about this activity in our exhibits & attractions section.

Nightlife Tickets

Families who want to spend a night at the museum will have the opportunity during their Penguins + Pajamas Sleepovers. 



This activity is only available around a dozen times each year, so it will be important to purchase your tickets well ahead of time.

You can find more details in our exhibits & attractions section.

Penguins & Pajamas Sleepover Tickets

  • $119 per person
  • Availability: Usually at least once per month
  • Includes the following:
    • Overnight stay in the exhibit area
    • Rainforest access until 8 pm
    • Live animal presentation
    • Late night snack and breakfast
    • Next-day admission to the museum
  • Learn more about this activity.



There are also several different ways to save money on tickets.

Check the discounts section below to find out more about the best deals available on admission to the California Academy of Sciences.


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In this section, we will cover each of the discount opportunities available for tickets to the California Academy of Sciences, including tourist passes, combo packages, and other deals.

Tourist Attraction Discount Passes

If you’re planning to visit a lot of notable locations while you’re in San Francisco, a tourist pass could easily help you save a lot of money on several popular activities.

The California Academy of Sciences is included in several different tourist passes. Depending on which pass you choose, you could save anywhere from 15% – 50% or more off general admission prices.



Some of these services provide access to dozens of attractions over the course of 1, 2, 3, or 5 days. Others offer a specific selection of activities for one flat price.

There is also a build-your-own pass which essentially works as a basic discount service – all you have to do is purchase a ticket for two separate tours or attractions in order to get 20% off for each!

Here are the various pass options and the savings you can expect:

Many of these passes include skip-the-line privileges at certain popular locations in the San Francisco area.

For more details, make sure to read our full post covering San Francisco tourist attraction discount passes.

Combo Packages

There is currently only one notable combo deal which includes admission to the California Academy of Sciences.

This package features a 1-day hop-on-hop-off bus tour in addition to the museum ticket. 

The main advantage of this combo package is that you won’t have to purchase two individual tickets. That said, you could potentially save more by using a tourist pass instead.

For the sake of comparison, a 1-Day Go San Francisco Pass includes a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, admission to the California Academy of Sciences and dozens of other attractions for only $92.

If you want to enjoy more than just these two activities, this pass would give you access to several additional services for only $2 more than the combo package!

Free Days

San Francisco residents can get free admission to the California Academy of Sciences during one weekend every year. The date of each free weekend depends on which neighborhood you live in.

Learn more about Neighborhood Free Weekends.

Similarly, if you hold a library card at certain Bay Area libraries, you may be eligible for the Discover & Go program which allows you to “check out” a pass which is good for museum admission for one adult and one youth.

Learn more about the Discover & Go library program.

TIP: If you’re looking for more locations that won’t cost a dime to visit, make sure to read our post covering free museums in San Francisco.

Military Discount

Anyone with a valid military ID or proof of service is eligible to receive $3 off daytime admission to the California Academy of Sciences. 

In order to receive this discount, you must present your ID at the ticket window.

This offer is currently available only for active-duty military personnel and does not apply to family, dependents or friends.

Discount Sites

If all else fails, you can always check discount sites such as Groupon and Living Social to see if they are currently offering any special deals on admission to the California Academy of Sciences.

In addition to any deal currently available, they also frequently offer coupon codes for up to 20% off popular local activities and attractions such as this museum.

Make sure to check the top and bottom of each discount site for banners that may include a coupon code that you can use to save even more money off general admission prices.


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In this section, we will cover some of the most popular exhibits available at the California Academy of Sciences.

We will also provide information about some of the most popular activities and events at this museum.

Penguins + Pajamas Sleepovers

Spend a night at the museum during these special sleepover events.

Participants will enjoy an overnight stay in an exhibit area such as the flooded forest tunnel or Philippine Coral Reef.



Each ticket includes access to the Rainforest until 8 pm, a live animal presentation, planetarium shows, late-night snacks and breakfast in the morning, as well as admission to the museum on the next day.

Availability is very limited, so you should purchase admission well ahead of time to make sure you can take part in the Penguins + Pajamas Sleepover.


Every Thursday night, this event allows visitors to enter the museum from 6 pm – 10 pm.

In addition to all the different exhibits you can see, there will also be music and cocktails available at the Academy Cafe and food cart.



Each NightLife event has a special theme, with some focusing on notable attractions in the museum and others inviting live musical guests to perform at the California Academy of Arts.

This activity is only available for 4 hours, so ticket prices are usually much more affordable. NightLife is only available to adults who are 21 and older.

NOTE: If you’re looking for more activities to enjoy after dark, please read our post covering things to do at night in San Francisco.

Steinhart Aquarium

With more than 40,000 live animals and 900 unique species, there is plenty of aquatic life to see at this aquarium. 



In addition to attractions like their Coral Reef exhibit, they also have a colony of African Penguins. Kids may also enjoy the Discovery Tidepool, a touch-tank that allows visitors to actually make contact with several oceanic life forms. 

Osher Rainforest

Visit an actual, living rainforest located inside the museum.

This attraction is four stories high and filled with all kinds of exotic wildlife including birds, reptiles, butterflies and more.



There are a total of 1,600 different types of plants, animals and other life forms in this forest – can you spot them all?

Kimball Natural History Museum

Whether you want to see ancient fossils of dinosaurs such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex or learn about gems, minerals and more, there is plenty to experience at this Natural History Museum.



In addition to those attractions, there are also exhibits focusing on subjects like the California redwoods, earthquakes, DNA and more!

Morrison Planetarium

This 75-foot dome serves as the screen which provides an incredibly accurate digital representation of our universe and other galaxies.



The shows they provide change out every now and then, but you can usually expect them to focus on subjects related to astronomy, including explorations of other planets and even a tour of the moon!


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What to Do at Night in San Francisco

This post offers suggestions for the best things to do at night in San Francisco, including a top 10 list, night tours, dinner cruises, late-night museums, rooftop bars, and more. 




Below are our top 10 things to do in the evening in San Francisco.

For even more ideas on spending time in the city, check out our master post on things to do in SF or read the other sections of this post.

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