Christmas in San Francisco

This post is a guide to things to do in San Fransisco during Christmas, including holiday-themed tours, light displays, performances, ice-skating, and Christmas markets, updated for 2019.  

 

 


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!

 


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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.


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.

  • December 12th through 15th and  19th through 24th, 2019
  • 85.00 Per Person
  • Ages 12 and up 5:00 PM Departs Fishermans Wharf
  • BOOK HERE

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
 
  • Nightly 7:30 pm November 29th until December 30th, 2019
  • Departs Fisherman’s Wharf. Fun for ages 5 and up. Private charters available too.
  • Book 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 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, 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.

 


 


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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

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. The 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.


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).


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.

 


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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 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 the 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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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! 

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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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.


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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About the author

Manager | San Francisco

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.