Christmas in San Francisco
This post is a guide to things to do San Franisco during Christmas, including special events, holiday lights tours, ice skating rinks, beautiful lights, and Christmas Day activities. 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.
San Francisco truly comes alive at Christmastime. There are several events and performances around the city throughout the holiday season. From Christmas tree lighting ceremonies to gingerbread houses, there are many things to see and do. Below are a few of our favorite things to do in San Francisco during Christmas.
- Visit the Union Square Christmas Tree
- See the Gingerbread Houses at the Fairmont Hotel
- Watch the Nutcracker at the San Francisco Opera House
- Visit rescue animals at Macy’s
- For a full list, check out our post: Things to Do in San Francisco at Christmas
Many of the homes in San Francisco put on an impressive show of lights and decorations during the holidays. If you’re looking for a free and fun way to really get into the Christmas spirit, then we suggest that you go for a drive through the city’s most spirited neighborhoods. Below are some of our favorite places to see Christmas lights in San Francisco:
- Tom and Jerry house in the Castro District
- The homes along Chestnut Avenue
- The Ghirardelli chocolate shop in Ghirardelli Square
- For a full list, check out our post: Best San Francisco Christmas Lights
Holiday Lights Double Decker Night Tour
This live narrated 90-minute 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, from December 1st – December 30th
- Cost: $39.99 per adult; $29.99 per child
- Learn more and book your tickets here.
Note: This tour may sell out for some dates and it is suggested to book it in advance to reserve the date and the time.
Reviews: People seem very impressed with the quality of the guides, which some describe as “entertaining and engaging without being obnoxious.” As this tour is extremely popular, it can sometimes feel a bit overcrowded. One family complains about having to sit separately because they arrived near the departure time and almost all the seats had been filled. Be sure to get there early so you can all sit together on the top deck, which offers the best views!
There is no shortage of fun holiday activities happening in San Francisco throughout the months of November and December.
Great Dickens Christmas Fair and Victorian Holiday Party
This immersive theatre performance is a one-of-a-kind event that transports you back to Charles Dickens’ Christmas Eve. “Explore over three acres of vintage exhibition halls, marvelously transformed into lamplit streets, boisterous pubs and wondrous theatres, music halls, dance parties, tearooms, and shops offering one-of-a-kind treasures.” Click here to purchase tickets.
Annual Cable Car Caroling
This long-time holiday charity event really epitomizes the spirit of Christmas. Ride along the famous San Francisco cable cars as you visit isolated older adults and adults with disabilities at assisted living centers.
Santacon San Francisco
Santacon is now a global phenomenon that sees thousands of participants don their best Santa attire as they go on an epic pub crawl. San Francisco hosts 8,000 Santas alone! Be sure to bring one new, unwrapped toy that can be donated to the Toys for Tots effort by the United States Marine Corps.
San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker
Having premiered for the first time in the US in 1944 at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, the Nutcracker has become a Christmastime staple in the city. Be sure to book your seats in advance as they sell out quickly!
Macy’s Annual Tree Lighting
Union Square boasts one of the biggest and best Christmas trees in the city. The annual tree lighting ceremony takes place at the end of November each year and features several musical performances.
San Rafael Parade of Lights and Winter Wonderland
Though not technically in San Francisco, this Bay Area event is the only place you’ll find where you can play in the snow. You will find arts and crafts, live entertainment, children’s activities, free snow sledding, and one of the largest parades around. If you’re looking to avoid other tourists, then this might be the event for you as it draws a much more local crowd.
Drag Queens on Ice at Union Square
One of the most popular events of the holiday season, Drag Queens on Ice welcomes some of the fiercest participants around as they lip-sync and skate in Union Square. This is another event that sells out quickly, so be sure to get your tickets soon!
Ice skating is a great way to get into the holiday spirit. There are 2 holiday ice rinks that open between November and December, and one ice rink that remains open year-round.
Holiday Ice Rink at Union Square
Beautiful situated 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. Opens on November 1st and runs through the holiday season. Ticket prices range from $14.74 – $19.89.
Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero
The Holiday Ice Rink at the Embarcadero is the other rink in San Francisco that is available just for the holidays. Open November 3, 2017 through January 7, 2018, it has been welcoming both locals and visitors for more than 3 decades. Cost is $12 per person.
Yerba Buena Ice Skating
This is San Francisco’s premier ice skating and bowling alley that is open year-round. Though not quite as festive as the others, they do make an effort to dress the place up a bit around the holidays. Cost is $12 per person.
Though many places are closed on Christmas Day, there are a few attractions that remain open for those looking to celebrate the holiday in the city. Below are a few of our favorite family-friendly places to visit after a busy morning of opening presents!
- San Francisco Zoo and Gardens
- The Palace Hotel for Brunch
- Union Square for Ice Skating
- Botanical Gardens Society
- Grace Cathedral
- Contemporary Jewish Museum
Though December is one of the coldest months of the year in San Francisco, it is still a lot warmer here than in many other places around the world. In fact, the temperature almost never gets below freezing, and the last time it snowed in San Francisco was over 40 years ago. The average temperature throughout the month tends to hover between 46F-66F. For a full description of the weather, check out our post: Weather in San Francisco in December.