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Things to Do in San Francisco in January

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This post highlights the best events and things to do in San Francisco in January, including evening activities, free as well as family-friendly events, updated for 2020.




In this section, we cover our top ten things to do in San Francisco in January. 

For more ideas on popular things to do, be sure to check out our more popular posts:  

Some of the items in this post are included for free with the purchase of a tourist discount pass.

1)  See a Touring Broadway Musical

The Bay Area is a popular location for traveling Broadway productions, and there will be at least a few notable musicals available in San Francisco during the month of January.

The most popular option will undoubtedly be Hamilton, which actually ends its run in the city in early January – so this is your last chance to see the hit musical!



Alternatively, fans of the Wizarding World will also enjoy the production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This popular show will be available throughout the month, but tickets are selling out quickly!

If you’re looking for even more great theatrical performances to see in January, check this list of theater shows in San Francisco.


2) Go to a Concert

Many famous musicians love to play in the Bay Area throughout the year, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that there will be several great concerts to attend in the month of January.



Here are a few of the more notable performances you might want to see:

If you want to find out more about who’s playing in the city by the bay this month, make sure to check this list of San Francisco concerts.

3) Attend a Sporting Event

San Francisco is home to several great sports teams, and many of them will be playing in January.

If you’re a fan of basketball or hockey, there will be several great games to attend this month.



Golden State Warriors

San Jose Sharks

Harlem Globetrotters

For even more great sporting events to attend, check this list of San Francisco sports tickets.

4) Take a Walking Tour

Spend a couple of hours or the better part of the day on one of our many pay-what-you-want walking tours throughout the city!



Check out our schedule to see what we offer when you are in town.

These are just some of the great walking tours available in the Bay Area, but you can find even more in our post about San Francisco walking tours.

5) John Oliver Live

If you’re in need of a good laugh, this famous comedian will be performing in San Francisco early in January. 

Known for his role in the hit HBO show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver has developed a reputation for being an excellent political satirist.



This is a rare opportunity to see Oliver performing stand-up outside of his show. Tickets are selling out fast, so we recommend purchasing them well in advance.

You’ll find even more great activities after dark in our things to do at night section.

To find more comedy nights and performances, click here.

6) Save Money With a Tourist Pass

If you’re planning to visit a lot of different attractions and enjoy several interesting activities while in San Francisco, there are multiple tourist passes which offer discounts on tours, museums, entertainment and more.

The easiest option is a build-your-own-pass service which will allow you to save 20% off tickets when you purchase 2 or more. 



While this isn’t the best deal you can get from a tourist pass, it’s a great way to save money on activities that are already pretty affordable ($5-$10).

Alternatively, you can also get an all-inclusive pass which includes dozens of popular attractions that you can visit over the course of a specific amount of time (1, 2, 3, or 5 days).

This type of pass offers the best opportunity to save money (up to 60% off), but you really have to use it for as many activities as possible to get the most out of it.

Finally, there are also flex passes that allow you to pay one flat price for a set number of activities (3, 4, or 5). This pass is best reserved for the most expensive attractions.

Here are a handful of the most popular services included with these tourist passes:

  • Hop on Hop off Bus Tour | $55
  • California Academy of Sciences | $40
  • Six Flags Discovery Kingdom | $75
  • Walt Disney Family Museum | $25
  • California’s Great America | $60
  • San Francisco Bay Cruise | $44
  • Ripley’s Believe it or Not | $23
  • Aquarium of the Bay | $28
  • Madame Tussauds | $25
  • San Francisco Zoo | $23
  • Oracle Park Tour | $22
  • And more!

Depending on which type of pass you choose and how you use it, you should be able to save between 20% - 60% off general admission prices.

For more information, please read our post about San Francisco tourist passes.

7) Take the Kids to Sesame Street Live

Do you have any young Sesame Street fans in your family? If so, chances are they’ll jump at the opportunity to see their favorite characters in this live theatrical performance!

Sesame Street Live: Make Your Magic will have multiple productions in San Jose early in January, and tickets will be very reasonably priced.



Audiences can expect to see fan favorites such as Big Bird, Elmo, Cookie Monster, and many more lovable monsters from their favorite show.

This is an excellent activity to enjoy with the kids. If you’re looking for more great ideas, make sure to check our family-friendly section.

Find more musicals here.

8) Celebrate MLK Day

Honor the iconic Civil Rights activist with a number of events happening around Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. 



Enjoy multiple family-friendly activities and events leading up to the national holiday when there will be a march and festival that ventures over the Lefty O’Doul Bridge near AT&T Ballpark and goes through downtown.

Here are a few fun activities you can enjoy for free to celebrate MLK Jr. Day:

For even more great activities you can enjoy without paying a dime, make sure to read our free things to do section.

9) Check Out the Chinese New Year Flower Market Fair

On the weekend before Chinese New Year, there will be a Flower Market Fair held in Chinatown to celebrate the event.

During this fair, visitors will have an opportunity to pick up flowers, fruits, candies and more to celebrate the new year in style.



In addition to everything on sale, there will also be Chinese magicians, acrobats, folk dancers and opera to enjoy in the market as you shop the more than 120 booths.

While the items available for sale obviously aren’t free, it won’t cost a dime to attend the Chinese New Year Flower Market Fair!

For more activities that won’t cost you anything, please check our free things to do section.

10) Take Part in the Hot Chocolate 15k/5k

The perfect race for those who enjoy running and chocolate! This race begins and ends in Golden Gate Park.

Runners will not only receive chocolate offerings at the end of the race but will also be able to visit sweet stations along the route that will be handing out marshmallows, M&Ms, and chocolate chips among other treats!



While it will cost money to enter the race, you can always come and cheer on the contestants for free.

This could be a fun activity for the whole family. You’ll find more ideas for things to do with the kids in our family-friendly section.


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If you look in the right places, there are always free things to do in San Francisco.

Some of the items we’ve mentioned like MLK Jr Day events and the Chinese New Year Flower Market Fair are free of charge!


Be sure to read our post on 51 things to do for free in San Francisco just about any time of year. We'll give you just a few examples of some ideas you'll find in this post:

  • Visit a Free Museum
  • See the Painted Ladies
  • Enjoy Open Mic Comedy
  • Get Free Chocolate at Ghirardelli Square
  • See Bison in Golden Gate Park

Here are a few more free activities to enjoy in January.

See San Francisco’s Redwood Grove 

Did you know there is a small Redwood Park in the heart of San Francisco? Make your way to the centrally located Transamerica Pyramid and check out the grove that is adjacent to the building. 

This is a great spot to relax for a bit and get a nice photo of these stunning trees, and it won’t cost you a dime to enjoy the natural beauty!

Free Day at the Botanical Gardens

Spend some time on New Year’s Day at the San Francisco Botanical Gardens located in Golden Gate Park.


Golden Gate Park Botanical Conservatory San Francisco


This living museum covers 55 acres in the park and features thousands of plant species. Enjoy this day free of charge from 7:30 am-4 pm on both January 1st & 14th.

Learn about all free and sometimes free museums in San Francisco.

Hike the Lands End Trail

Walking this beautiful trail will give you beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge, take you through cypress trees and wildflowers, and will swing you around to the historic Sutro Baths and Cliffhouse. 

This is a perfect half-day adventure for active people who enjoy the outdoors, and it’s a great way to get some exercise!

Learn more at the National Park Service.

Attend a Food Truck Festival

Although there are a lot of people who like to make New Year's resolutions, some of us just tend to take life as it comes.

If you're not a fan of this tradition, consider going to Truck Your New Year's Resolution on New Year's Day.

This food truck festival is held at Soma Streatfood Park from 11 am - 3 pm on January 1st. Attendance is entirely free, and there will be a DJ on hand to provide plenty of great music.

While it won't cost a thing to attend, you might want to bring some money for food and drinks!

Go to the Chinatown Lunar New Year Bazaar

On January 11th & 12th, the city of Oakland will be hosting a bazaar in honor of Chinese New Years. This event will include several great activities/entertainment and it's entirely free to attend!

Visitors can expect dragon and lion dancing, cultural Chinese music, martial arts displays, and plenty of vendors selling decorations, crafts, food and other items.

Although it doesn't cost anything to come, you should think about bringing some money for food, drinks and other things you might want to buy.

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San Francisco is a great city for night time activities! Below are just some ideas for things to do at night in January.



If you want even more ideas for evening activities aside from what’s listed below, check out our main things to do at night post.

Here are a few examples of nighttime activities included on that post:

  • Take an Alcatraz Night Tour
  • See the San Francisco Bay Lights
  • Visit a Museum After Dark
  • Go on a Night Bus Tour

SF Sketchfest 

This multi-day annual event is a great way for San Francisco to showcase some of its best sketch comedy groups.

The numerous shows offered will include stand-up, sketch, improv, and alternative comedy. This event will be taking place from January 9th - 26th.

Check the website for more information and tickets!

Grab a Cocktail at the Top of the Mark

Located on the 19th floor of the Intercontinental, Top of the Mark is a chic bar that offers sweeping views of San Francisco. 

Enjoy a glass of wine or (pricey) hand-crafted cocktail and let yourself indulge in the twinkling lights of the City by the Bay.

This could be a fun and romantic activity for any couple, and it’s a great way to enjoy an incredible view of the Bay Area.

See the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra has a variety of weekend evening performances available throughout the month of January. 

See shows that feature some of the greatest artists of all time including the works of Brahms and Beethoven.

There will be a variety of shows to see at Davies Symphony Hall from January 9th - 31st.

For even more ideas on nighttime activities, make sure to check out our master Things to Do in San Francisco at Night post. 

Go to ZooLights in Oakland 

Oakland Zoo will be taking the holidays into overtime as their yearly ZooLights display will be kept open until January 5th, giving visitors one last chance to enjoy this event.

Guests can expect plenty of colorful light displays, laser light shows, Christmas trees and even gondola rides.

ZooLights will take place from 5:30 pm - 9 pm each night. Tickets are $12 for adults and $11 for kids. Parking is free.

Attend the Noir City Film Festival 

From January 24th - February 2nd, the Castro Theatre will be hosting the 18th Annual Noir City Film Noir Festival.

Fans of this historic cinematic movement won't want to miss the opportunity to see some of the most classic and beloved films of all time on the silver screen once more.

Audiences can expect notable movies like Detective Story, Angel Face, City That Never Sleeps and more.

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There are loads of family friend activities and attractions in the City by the Bay!

Some of the items we’ve listed in other sections, such as the Botanical Gardens and Sesame Street Live are fun for people of all ages! 



For more ideas, check our post covering things to do with kids in San Francisco.

Take a look at a few examples of the activities included on this post:

  • Go to a Kid Friendly Museum
  • Take the Kids Ice Skating
  • Go on an Oracle Park Tour
  • Experience an Escape Room

Here are a few more family-friendly activities for January. 

Visit the Musee Mecanique

Located at the back of Fisherman’s Wharf, this amazing vintage arcade space has been family owned since 1933. 

Offering free admission to people of all ages and dozens of arcade games, a handful of quarters will provide you with hours of fun!

This is a great way to learn more about the history of gaming while also enjoying a few arcade games along the way.

Check out their website for more details.

Walk the Golden Gate Bridge

On a clear day, walking the Golden Gate Bridge can not only offer stunning views but serves as an exhilarating experience for anyone. 



Take in the sweeping cityscape views and marvel at this extraordinary piece of architecture. 

Click here for all the information you need to walk the bridge. Best of all, this activity doesn’t cost a dime!

Visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

Tucked away at one end of Ross Alley in Chinatown, the sweet smells alone will lure you to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory


Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory


This tiny factory still produces handmade fortune cookies daily. It’s fun to watch them being made and buy some to take home with you!

Our Chinatown Walking Tour includes this stop, though you should also come back for a full visit.

For more family fun, check out our full post on things to do with kids.

Celebrate the Arrival of the Sea Lions

Sea Lions have been visiting Pier 39 since shortly after an earthquake hit San Francisco in 1989, and the city celebrates this event every year with a special event.

This year, there will be 30 statues painted in honor of these wonderful aquatic friends of Fisherman's Wharf

Come to Pier 39 from January 17th - 20th to show some love for the sea lions and take part in the festivities!

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About The Author


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: September 27th, 2021
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