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Christmas in San Francisco

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This post is a guide to things to do in San Francisco during Christmas, including holiday-themed tours, light displays, performances, ice-skating, and Christmas markets.  


OVERVIEW

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.

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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Don't forget to look into our packing tips for winter trips!


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: 

  • Two tours nightly: 5 pm  and 7:30 pm
  • November 26th - December 30, 2021
  • $75 per person
  • Purchase tickets here.

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!


Santas on Segways - Holiday Segway Tours in San Francisco 

Santa Segway Holiday Tour in San Francisco

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

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.

  • This tour will be available throughout the month of December in 2021.
  • BOOK HERE

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

See Union Square, City Hall, Wharf, and Embarcadero decorated for the holidays.

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

TukTuk Holiday Tour in San Francisco
  • Tour operators have confirmed that this activity will not be available in 2021.
  • Departs Fisherman's Wharf. Fun for ages 5 and up. Private charters available too.

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 2021 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 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

This 60' tree will be up from November 23rd, 2021 - January 9th, 2022. There is no tree lighting ceremony planned this year.

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 2021 season is available. The event availability is uncertain.

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.


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: The future of this lighting display is currently up in the air due to the passing of Tom Taylor who was one half of the duo that made the decorations possible.

The people of San Francisco will never forget the joy that Tom brought to their lives every year. May he rest in peace.


Giant Menorah Lighting in Union Square 

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

This event will begin on November 28th, 2021 and run through to December 6th. A live stream of the Menorah lighting will be broadcast each night at 5 pm. 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.


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 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.

  • Dates: November 3rd, 2021 - January 2nd, 2022
  • 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 2021 season has yet to be announced.

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

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).

However, no information about the 2021 season is available as of yet. The show's availability is uncertain.

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


CHRISTMAS MARKETS & FAIRS

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! 

This event will take place on November 6th and 7th in 2021, perfect timing for all the early bird Christmas shoppers out there.

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

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.


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 2021 Christmas Fair will take place on December 4th from 9 am - 4 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.

Due to the pandemic, this event has been turned into a drive thru activity for 2021, and you will also be able to enjoy certain elements virtually on their website.


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.

Dates and times for the 2021 season are still to be determined.


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 2021 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 2021 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.


Trans-Siberian Orchestra

This beloved group of musicians will be performing live in San Francisco on December 1st, 2021.

Fans won't want to miss this golden opportunity to hear some of the best modern takes on Christmas music live in person.

Purchase tickets or learn more.


A Magical Cirque Christmas

If you're a fan of Cirque du Soleil, you'll be familiar with the kind of performance art they do. This show is a lot like that, but with a Christmas theme.

The show will be making its way to town on December 30th, 2021.

Purchase tickets or learn more.


Handel's Messiah

The San Francisco Symphony will be performing the classic holiday music of Handel's Messiah twice in December 2021.


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 10th - 30th, 2021.

There will also be an adaptation of The Nutcracker at the California Theatre From December 18th - 22nd, 2021.


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 4th - 19th, 2021.


Handel’s Messiah

Hear the American Bach Soloists accompanied by a choir and period instruments in Grace Cathedral. 

This event is scheduled to take place from December 15th - 17th, 2021.


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 2021 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.

2021 dates have yet to be announced.


Handel’s Messiah

Performed by the San Francisco Symphony Chorus at Davies Symphony Hall.

No information about the 2021 season is available. The show's availability is uncertain.


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.

No information about the 2021 season is available. The show's availability is uncertain. 


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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: October 11th, 2021
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