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Christmas in San Francisco

Updated: November 3, 2023
 By Britt

This post is a guide to things to do in San Francisco during Christmas, updated for 2023.

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

As local tour guides, we love taking visitors on walking tours around our beautiful city during the holidays.

And, we've put our experiences to use to craft this guide to help you plan things to see and do at this time of year.

We include holiday-themed tours, light displays, performances, ice skating, and Christmas markets.  


HOLIDAY-THEMED TOURS

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 during the holidays since the best holiday displays and lights are located in different neighborhoods, often far apart from one another.

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 a 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 (if it is still being decorated), Lombard Street, the Embarcadero Lights, Macy’s Holiday Display, and several other beautiful light displays.

Schedule and Ticket Prices: 


San Francisco Fire Engine Holiday Lights Tour

If you're looking for a unique way to see the holiday lights in San Francisco, it's hard to beat a ride on a real fire engine!

San Francisco Holiday Lights Fire Engine Tour. Source: TripAdvisor.


This tour takes place in a vintage Mack fire engine, taking you around a variety of sites such as Fisherman's Wharf, the Embarcadero, Union Square, and Market Street.

See all the best lighting displays this city has to offer on this 1 ½ hour tour around the Bay Area and wear a real fire jacket for warmth and photo ops!

  • Availability: From December 3rd-4th, 9th-12th, 15th-18th, 20th- 23rd, 2023
  • Hours: 5:45 pm, 7:45 pm, 9:30 pm
  • Prices: $45 per person
  • Purchase tickets or learn more.

Santas on Segways - Holiday Segway Tours in San Francisco 

Join the Santas on Segways tour and enjoy San Francisco’s holiday beauty at night! 

Santa Segway Holiday Tour in San Francisco

Dress up as Santa and ride a Segway in this 2.5-hour tour that includes hot chocolate, cookies, and holiday karaoke music.  Santa suit and beard provided.


Enjoy Holiday Lights and Sites in San Francisco aboard Lucky Tuk Tuk

See Union Square, San Francisco's City Hall, Wharf, and Embarcadero decorated for the holidays.

TukTuk Holiday Tour in San Francisco

1.5-hour outings aboard 6-passenger electric-powered rickshaws include hot cocoa, candy canes, fuzzy Santa hats, and plenty of sing-along holiday karaoke.

  • Duration: 1.5 hours
  • Capacity: 6 seat
  • Availability: Dec 15th-24th from 5 pm - 7 pm
  • Price: $410
  • Departs Fisherman's Wharf. Fun for ages 5 and up. Private charters are available too.
  • To book or to know more, click here.

UNCONFIRMED: 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.

Schedule and Ticket Prices: 

  • No information about the 2023 season is available. The tour availability is uncertain.
  • $42 Adult (Age 12+) /  $33 Child (Age 5 - 11)
  • Purchase tickets here

HOLIDAY LIGHTS 

Below are just a few of the best places to see holiday lights, Christmas tree lighting, and menorah lighting. 

For a more in-depth list, read our post on Christmas Lights in San Francisco.


Pier 39 Christmas Tree

This 60' tree is typically up between the end of November and the beginning of January.

Dates for 2023 are Nov 21st, 2023 - Jan 7th, 2024.

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 

The Macy's Annual Tree Lighting will take place in Union Square Park right across from the front of Macy's. 

Note: No information about the 2023 season is available. The event availability is uncertain.

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


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. 

Join the crowds ooh-ing and aah-ing at the house atop Castro Hill. The address is 3650 21st Street (map and directions).

NOTE: Despite the passing of Tom Taylor, this Christmas Tradition continued on in 2020, and might be back again in 2023.


Giant Menorah Lighting in Union Square 

Every night of Hanukkah, you can attend the candling lighting of the Menorah in Union Square.

This event typically runs through the celebration of Hannukah, so it will likely begin on December 18th and run through December 25th, 2023.

A live stream of the Menorah lighting will be broadcast each night at 4:45 p.m. 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.


The Fairmont’s Giant Gingerbread House

Be sure to visit the Fairmont Hotel's grand lobby and see the impressive two-story Gingerbread House.

It is a must-see for visitors, both local and distant.

Standing at a remarkable 22 feet in height and 23 feet in width, this Victorian-style gingerbread house is crafted using genuine gingerbread from the hotel's pastry team, along with a substantial amount of See’s Candies, royal icing, and an assortment of candy decorations.

The tradition is expected to follow this season too but no official dates are announced for 2023.


ICE SKATING IN SAN FRANCISCO

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 all year long.


Embarcadero Ice Rink

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

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

NOTE: The event happened last year and 2023 dates are not yet confirmed.

  • Sunday - Thursday Hours: 10 am - 9:30 pm
  • Friday & Saturday Hours: 10 am - 11:30 pm
  • Prices: $12/Adults | $7/Kids (7 and under)
  • Skate Rentals: $5

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.

This ice skating rink is typically open during the day between 10 am - 3 pm, but you can also come at 7:30 pm on Mondays for night skating.


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. 

The rink is opening on Nov 1st, 2023, and will continue to run till Jan 15th, 2024.

Admission and skate rental prices are $20 for adults and $15 for children (8 and under). 

Tickets can be purchased in advance online or at the ice rink ticket window.


CHRISTMAS MARKETS & FAIRS

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

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 London! 

This event will take place on November 4th and 5th in 2023, perfect timing for all the early bird Christmas shoppers out there.

The Renegade Craft Fair will be open from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. each day, and it will be held at the Fort Mason Center Festival Pavilion.

Expect more than 250 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.


San Francisco Swedish 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.

The 2023 Christmas Fair will take place on December 2nd from 10 am - 3 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.

This event will take place between November 18th - December 17th, 2023. Tickets are on sale now.


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 SF County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park.

This event will take place on December 2nd and 3rd, 2023. Hours are 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 San Francisco Bay area.

Consider visiting CAS during the day and then attending this great night market after. Read more about CAS here.

Dates for 2023 have yet to be announced, so keep checking the official website.


SFMade Holiday Fair  

Gifts by local craftspeople. At the California College of the Arts. 

Dates for 2023 have yet to be announced.


CHRISTMAS SHOWS AND HOLIDAY PERFORMANCES

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.


Handel's Messiah

The San Francisco Symphony will be performing the classic holiday music of Handel's Messiah twice in December 2023.


The Nightmare Before Christmas

This beloved dark musical fantasy will be projected at Davies Symphony Hall and accompanied by live music from the San Francisco Symphony.

This special event will be taking place on December 1st, 2023.

To know more or to book, click here.


Elf in Concert w/ Live Orchestra

Note: The 2023 concert programme has not yet been announced.

This is another popular Christmas movie that will be played at Davies Symphony Hall alongside live music performed by the SF Symphony.

Last year the event took place on Dec 21st & 22nd.


San Francisco Symphony Holiday Events

In addition to all their other concerts and activities, the San Francisco Symphony will also be performing the following shows in December 2023.


The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Show

If you're looking for a unique type of Christmas show, head out to see the outrageous variety show of Jinkx and DeLa, who will perform comedy, music, and more.

This event will take place on December 19th, 2023.

Purchase tickets or learn more.


The Nutcracker

The beloved ballet about a girl’s Christmas fantasy as performed by the San Francisco Ballet at the War Memorial Opera House.

This show will run from December 13th - 30th, 2023 except for Dec 18th.


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.

You can catch this version of The Nutcracker from December 2nd - 23rd, 2023.


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.

NOTE: This show will not be in San Francisco during the 2023 holiday season, but they may bring it back in the future.


A Christmas Carol

For the first time in its 44-year history, the Bay Area’s favorite holiday tradition, A Christmas Carol, will come to life as A Christmas Carol: On Air.

You'll be able to catch this production from December 6th - December 24th, 2023.


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! It stars Kat Robichaud (of The Voice) together with a live band. At the Alcazar Theatre.

No information about the 2023 season is available. The show's availability is uncertain. 


What to do on Christmas Day in San Francisco?

Here is a list of activities to do on Christmas in SF:

  1. Admire Festive Decorations: Explore the city's adorned streets, especially Union Square and Pier 39.
  2. Indulge in Special Dining: Enjoy a festive meal at one of San Francisco's renowned restaurants.
  3. Join Holiday Events: Attend Christmas-themed events and concerts held across the city.
  4. Relax and Savor: Unwind at a cozy cafe, sipping seasonal drinks and embracing the holiday ambiance.

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About The Author

Britt

Britt is a San Francisco Bay Area native, and has spent 25 years in this magical city. He has traveled to over 30 countries, and has never found a place he loves as much as this one! If you come to San Francisco, you might join one of Britt's tours of the city. A graduate of the University of Maryland and University of Southern California, he has been leading tours for Free Tours by Foot since 2015.
Updated: November 3rd, 2023
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