San Francisco during the Christmas season is a truly enchanting time. The atmosphere is chilly, but pleasant enough for leisurely walks and exploring the stunning city. What adds to the magic are the splendid holiday lights that adorn the streets.
There are numerous activities to indulge in during this festive season, ranging from theater performances to shopping in Union Square or Pier 39. You can also enjoy Christmas shows, including the renowned SF Ballet’s Nutcracker and the heartwarming A Christmas Carol.
To help you make the most of the holiday season, I have compiled an insider’s guide that covers a wide array of ideas. It includes suggestions for the entire holiday season as well as dedicated sections for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Scroll down to find a comprehensive overview of everything you can experience this season. Additionally, you can directly access two popular sections by jumping ahead to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Christmas Around the SF Bay Area
Disclaimer: Please note that I receive a small commission from some of the links provided on this page.
SF Ballet’s Nutcracker
Dates: December 8th – December 27th
Location: War Memorial Opera House
Tickets: Available on Ticketmaster and TicketNetwork
One of the most highly anticipated events during Christmas in San Francisco is the performance of the Nutcracker by the SF Ballet. This beloved show has been a holiday tradition in the city since its first performance on Christmas Eve in 1944. As the oldest ballet company in the US, the SF Ballet delivers a captivating rendition of this classic tale.
In addition to their regular performances, they also offer family-oriented shows designed to engage younger audiences. All shows take place at the War Memorial Opera House in the Civic Center District.
>>Discover tips for attending a performance, including dress code and family-friendly shows.
A Christmas Carol
Dates: November 30th – December 24th
Location: American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.)
Tickets: Available on Ticketmaster and TicketNetwork
This year, you have the opportunity to witness several performances of the timeless classic, A Christmas Carol, at the A.C.T. theater. The story follows the transformative journey of Ebenezer Scrooge, a grumpy business owner who undergoes a profound change of heart after being visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve.
This heartwarming production is a staple of Christmas in San Francisco. Immerse yourself in the tale of redemption and joy at the historic American Conservatory Theater.
>>Explore additional theater performances taking place in San Francisco this season.
>>Learn more about SF’s vibrant theater district.
Dates: Most days in December
Location: Davies Symphony Hall
Tickets: Available on Ticketmaster and TicketNetwork
Throughout December, the SF Symphony hosts a variety of captivating Christmas shows. Notable highlights this month include Deck the Halls (December 4th), The Colors of Christmas (December 6th & 7th), and Handel’s Messiah (December 9th & 10th).
Other must-see shows during Christmas in San Francisco include A Merry-Achi Christmas (December 23rd), Holiday Gaiety (December 15th), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (December 16th & 17th), and Holiday Brass (December 20th).
>>Find out more about the SF Symphony’s lineup of shows.
Holiday Festivities and Illumination of Christmas Trees
Dates: Throughout the entire holiday season
Experience the enchanting Christmas spirit in San Francisco this year with a multitude of opportunities to witness our annual dazzling light displays. Immerse yourself in the festive atmosphere and seize the chance to attend a tree lighting ceremony or other holiday events.
Marvel at the brilliance of the Union Square Christmas tree, illuminating the night sky every evening at dusk until the year’s end.
Don’t miss other notable highlights such as the Pier 39 Christmas Tree and the mesmerizing transformation of City Hall, adorned in shades of red and green.
Make sure to explore other captivating displays this year, including the Sugar Castle at the Westin St. Francis, the Gingerbread house at the Fairmont on Nob Hill, and the Castro’s delightful Tom & Jerry’s exhibit.
>>Check the schedule for this year’s tree lighting and other holiday events
>>Discover a comprehensive list of locations to witness the enchanting Christmas lights this year
Other Delightful Activities to Enjoy this Christmas in San Francisco
Apart from the splendid Christmas shows and illuminations, San Francisco offers a plethora of additional enjoyable experiences for this holiday season.
Here are some of my top recommendations:
Great Dickens Christmas Fair: Transport yourself back in time at this year’s Great Dickens Christmas Fair, set in Victorian London. Celebrate the Christmas spirit all season long with shopping, delectable holiday treats, and captivating entertainment.
The fair runs on weekends from Thanksgiving to Christmas, including the day after Thanksgiving.
Ice Skating: Embrace the holiday spirit by gliding across the ice at one of the many ice rinks in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Union Square boasts the most popular ice skating spot in the city. Learn more here.
Macy’s Windows: Take some time to appreciate the stunning displays in Macy’s windows this Christmas in San Francisco. Each year, they offer a captivating visual feast.
Shopping: Indulge in a memorable shopping experience this Christmas in San Francisco. Explore renowned shopping destinations such as Union Square, the San Francisco Center, Pier 39, and Chinatown. Find out more about these locations and other shopping options in SF for the holiday season.
Santa in SF: Get ready to meet Santa himself! Santa will be spreading joy throughout SF this holiday season, making appearances at Macy’s, Japantown, and the SF Zoo. Discover where you can find him and be greeted by his jolly presence this holiday season.
Save on Your Accommodation
To ensure a budget-friendly stay, take the time to explore various hotel options before making your booking. Here are a few recommended platforms to help you find the best deals in San Francisco for Christmas:
Booking: Discover excellent deals all across San Francisco for your upcoming stay!
TripAdvisor: Find out which hotel ranks as the top choice in San Francisco. Read reviews and uncover fantastic hotel deals on TripAdvisor!
VRBO: In addition to hotels, consider staying in local accommodations through VRBO. Book an apartment or a room and immerse yourself in the community. Explore amazing places to stay on VRBO here.
Christmas Eve in San Francisco: A Memorable Evening in the City by the Bay
San Francisco, renowned for its vibrant atmosphere and unique charm, takes on an even more enchanting aura on Christmas Eve. The city comes alive with numerous delightful activities, including captivating Christmas shows bidding farewell to the season.
While many of San Francisco’s top attractions remain open on Christmas Eve, it’s important to note that they often close a little earlier than usual. To ensure you make the most of your day, be sure to check the closing times of SF’s major attractions. Here’s a rundown of the top things to experience on this special evening:
Christmas Eve Attractions: Unveiling the Schedule Discover the operating hours of various attractions on Christmas Eve. Some establishments may close early on this day, even if they are open on the following day. Make sure to review the schedule and plan accordingly to make the most of your time.
San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker: A Captivating Performance Immerse yourself in the magical world of the San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker, a highly anticipated annual performance. The ballet showcases their interpretation of this beloved classic at the War Memorial Opera House. Two shows are scheduled on Christmas Eve, at 11 am and 4 pm. Due to its immense popularity, tickets sell out swiftly, so it is recommended to secure your seats promptly.
Indulge in Exquisite Christmas Eve Dining San Francisco boasts a wide selection of excellent dining establishments that open their doors on Christmas Eve. Many of these venues offer special menus, allowing you to savor a delectable Christmas Eve feast while leaving the culinary creations to the skilled chefs. Whether you prefer a traditional meal or an à la carte experience, there are numerous options to suit your taste. Explore our curated list of the best places to relish a memorable Christmas Eve dinner in San Francisco.
10 Must-Visit Attractions Open on Christmas Day
Continue the festive spirit on Christmas Day by exploring the plethora of attractions open throughout San Francisco. Whether you seek family-friendly adventures or breathtaking sights, here are our top 10 recommendations (some even offer free admission):
- California Academy of Sciences: Located in Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences combines four museums into one remarkable experience. From a four-story rainforest to an aquarium, a natural history museum, and a planetarium, this attraction promises an unforgettable journey into the natural world.
- San Francisco Zoo: Embark on a captivating wildlife adventure at the San Francisco Zoo. Witness majestic lions, tigers, bears, and a myriad of fascinating animals from around the globe.
- 7D Experience: Dive into an extraordinary fusion of cinema and video games at the 7D Experience. This unique attraction guarantees an unforgettable thrill that will leave you in awe.
- Botanical Gardens: Take a leisurely stroll through the Botanical Gardens, a serene oasis open 365 days a year. On Christmas Day, admission is free, allowing you to explore the lush beauty of the gardens from 7:30 am until 4 pm.
- Japanese Tea Garden: Adjacent to the Botanical Gardens, the Japanese Tea Garden invites you to immerse yourself in tranquility. Open daily, you can enjoy complimentary entry if you arrive before 10 am.
- Golden Gate Bridge: Marvel at the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, a symbol of San Francisco’s beauty and grandeur. The walkways open just before sunrise and remain accessible until late in the evening, allowing you to soak in the breathtaking views.
- Painted Ladies of Alamo Square: Delight in the sight of the Painted Ladies, six historic Victorian houses that captivate visitors with their vibrant colors and timeless charm. This attraction is open to the public and offers a glimpse into the city’s architectural heritage.
- Contemporary Jewish Museum: Experience the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s captivating exhibits on Jewish history, culture, and art this Christmas Day. Immerse yourself in their thought-provoking traveling displays. Learn more about this fascinating destination here.
- Pier 39: On Christmas Day in San Francisco, Pier 39 is a bustling hub with a variety of shops and restaurants open for you to explore. Don’t miss the enchanting sight of their grand holiday tree adorned with sparkling lights. Witness its illumination during the night. Discover further details about Pier 39 here.
- Lombard Street: Concluding my list of the finest attractions to visit in San Francisco during Christmas is the renowned Lombard Street. This iconic, meandering road welcomes both vehicles and pedestrians throughout the year. Delve into the history and allure of this unique street. Expand your knowledge about Lombard Street here.
>>Access a comprehensive schedule of top attractions in San Francisco for Christmas Day by clicking here.
5 Superb Tours Operating on Christmas Day
Although several attractions close on this day, there are still enjoyable tours available for you to partake in.
These tours encompass various options, ranging from scenic bay cruises to informative walking tours through San Francisco’s most prominent districts. Below, I present a few of my personal favorites that will be running on Christmas Day in San Francisco 2022.
- Golden Gate Bay Cruise: Embark on a delightful 60-minute cruise around the picturesque SF Bay. Departing multiple times between 10 am and 3:45 pm on Christmas Day, this cruise sets off from Fisherman’s Wharf and takes you beneath the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, offering stunning views of Alcatraz and other bay attractions. Secure your tickets today for an unforgettable experience.
- San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge Bike Tour: Join a guided three-hour bike tour starting from Fisherman’s Wharf and leading to Sausalito. Pedal along San Francisco’s picturesque waterfront, traverse the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and explore Sausalito at your own pace after the tour. Your ticket includes a ferry ride back to San Francisco from Sausalito. Tours are available at both 10 am and 1 pm on Christmas Day. Find tickets to this exciting adventure here.
- Self-Guided Bike Tours: Embark on a solo exploration of San Francisco with their convenient bike rental and self-guided tour options. Discover the city’s hidden gems by following one of their suggested routes or create your own itinerary. Electric bikes are also available, enabling you to venture a little further. Find tickets and start your personalized bike tour here.
- Chinatown and North Beach Walking Tour: Immerse yourself in the captivating culture of San Francisco’s renowned Chinatown and North Beach neighborhoods with a three-hour guided walking tour. Highlights include visits to local restaurants, the historic Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company, and more. This tour departs at 2:30 pm on Christmas Day. Secure your tickets and embark on a fascinating journey through these vibrant districts.
- GoCar Tours: Discover San Francisco’s top attractions in a unique way by cruising around the city in a small, two-seat yellow GoCar. Follow their pre-programmed route, designed to showcase as much as possible in just a few hours. Available in several languages, this tour offers an engaging and informative experience. Find tickets and embark on your GoCar adventure here.
Other Exciting Ideas for Christmas Day in San Francisco
Make your Christmas in San Francisco even more memorable with these additional suggestions. Indulge in a delightful holiday meal at one of the city’s remarkable restaurants, marvel at the colorful light displays scattered throughout town, or embark on a special holiday cruise. Discover more about these exciting options and enhance your Christmas Day celebrations.
Lunch & Dinner Recommendations: Discover a variety of restaurants in San Francisco that not only open on Christmas Day but also offer special menus to cater to your entire family. Check out my curated suggestions below for the best places to eat on Christmas Day in SF.
Hornblower Christmas Day Dinner Cruise: Indulge in a delightful holiday experience aboard the Hornblower Christmas Day Dinner Cruise. Feast on a delectable holiday buffet featuring dishes like Oven Roasted Flounder, Hand Carved Oven Roasted Turkey, and Three Cheese Baked Macaroni. Complement your meal with an array of salads, side dishes, and delectable desserts. This enchanting 2.5-hour cruise departs from Pier 3 at 4 pm and returns around 6:30 pm, allowing you to relish the scenic views of the SF Bay while creating cherished memories with your loved ones.
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day Mass
Immerse yourself in the spirit of Christmas by attending a Mass at one of the finest churches in San Francisco. To assist you in finding the perfect one, I have compiled a list of recommended churches, some of which also serve as attractions. Whether you seek a traditional service or a less conventional experience, this list will guide you in finding the ideal place to celebrate during your stay.
Learn More: Explore the list of churches in SF
SF Bay Area Christmas: Spectacular Shows, Family-Friendly Festivals, and More
Apart from the renowned performance by the San Francisco Ballet, the SF Bay Area offers an array of captivating Nutcracker shows. Allow me to present a few top picks:
Oakland Ballet Company (12/17 – 12/18): Immerse yourself in the mesmerizing 2-hour presentation of Graham Lustig’s version of The Nutcracker. The Oakland Ballet Company showcases outstanding dancing, intricate costumes, and enchanting sets at the Paramount Theater in downtown Oakland, situated in the SF Bay Area.
SF Youth Ballet (12/3 – 12/4): Witness a splendid rendition of The Nutcracker by the SF Youth Ballet, featuring talented young dancers from the bay area. This family-friendly 2-hour production serves as a wonderful introduction to the holiday experience for children of all ages. The performances take place at the Mercy High School Theatre in San Francisco, with two shows each day at 2 pm and 6 pm.
Peninsula Ballet Theatre in Redwood City (12/3 & 12/4): Delight in a captivating performance of The Nutcracker at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City. This two-hour show includes an intermission and offers the unique opportunity for audience members to meet the dancers on stage after each performance.
San Jose (12/9 – 12/18): Experience The Nutcracker in the splendid setting of the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts. Accompanied by a professional orchestra, this presentation promises an unforgettable performance that should not be missed.
Christmas Shows Around the SF Bay
Immerse yourself in the enchantment of the holiday season with these captivating Christmas shows:
A Christmas Carol in Walnut Creek (12/8 – 12/22): Treat your children to Center REP’s heartwarming rendition of A Christmas Carol, located in the East Bay city of Walnut Creek. The show, performed at the Lesher Center for the Arts’ Hofmann Theater, captivates audiences of all ages.
The Velveteen Rabbit (11/26 – 12/11): ODC, a local dance company, brings to life the wonderful tale of a little boy and his toy rabbit. Witness the magic unfold as the Velveteen rabbit’s dream of becoming a real rabbit comes true. This family-friendly show takes place at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater in San Francisco.
Smuin’s The Christmas Ballet (11/19 – 12/24): For a unique holiday presentation, immerse yourself in Smuin’s The Christmas Ballet. Enjoy dazzling performances as dancers clad in white costumes gracefully glide on stage to the tunes of jazz and funk during the first act. The second part of this 2-hour presentation features the dancers dressed in red, performing to beloved classics like “White Christmas,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and “Santa Baby.” Make sure to witness this extraordinary ballet at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater in San Francisco.
Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremonies Around the SF Bay
Participate in the festive atmosphere and witness the magical tree lighting ceremonies across the SF Bay Area.
Jack London Square Tree Lighting Ceremony (12/3): Celebrate the holiday season at the annual Jack London Square Tree Lighting Ceremony. Enjoy the sight of a magnificent 55-foot tree adorned with over 5,000 lights and more than 600 ornaments. This event features local musicians, pop-up shops, and the opportunity to meet Santa Claus. Festivities commence at 5 pm and conclude at 8 pm.
Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek (12/1): Embrace the Christmas spirit at the Broadway Plaza’s annual Holiday Parade of Lights in Walnut Creek. The parade, starting at 7 pm, culminates with Santa lighting the tree. After the parade, immerse yourself in the festive ambiance and revel in the joyful atmosphere. The Holiday Parade of Lights begins at 6 pm and concludes at 9 pm.
Christmas in the Park in San Jose (11/26 – 1/1): Experience the magic of Christmas in the Park, held the day after Thanksgiving in downtown San Jose’s Plaza de Cesar Chavez. Witness the ceremonial tree lighting by Santa Claus and revel in the enchanting atmosphere as you explore the park throughout the holiday season.
Alameda Tree Lighting Ceremony (11/25): Join the celebration at Alameda City Hall’s Tree Lighting Ceremony, featuring live entertainment by the Oakland Youth Choir, Alameda Community Band, The Dancing Christmas Trees, and more. Kids of all ages can partake in activities like candy canes and a visit from Santa Claus. The festivities kick off at 4:30 pm, with the tree lighting ceremony commencing at 5:30 pm.
Sunnyvale Holiday Tree Lighting (12/3): Bring your family to the festive Sunnyvale Holiday Tree Lighting event in downtown Sunnyvale. Immerse yourself in the Christmas spirit and seize the opportunity to take a photo with Santa Claus. The entertainment starts at 5 pm and continues until 7:30 pm. All activities are located on Historic Murphy Avenue in downtown Sunnyvale.
SF Bay Area Christmas Festivals
Engage in the joyous spirit of the season by attending these delightful Christmas festivals across the SF Bay Area.
Winterfest at Great America (11/25 – 1/1): Celebrate the winter season at California’s Great America in Sunnyvale, home to one of the largest winter festivals in the SF Bay Area. Delight in thrilling rides for all ages, marvel at the sight of giant toy soldiers, and be enchanted by over 7 million LED lights illuminating the park. This event commences at 5 pm and concludes at 10 pm. Take advantage of discounted tickets available on Goldstar.
Los Gatos Fantasy of Lights (12/3 – 12/30): Embark on a whimsical journey through the annual Fantasy of Lights in Los Gatos. This event offers a park adorned with dazzling lights, accompanied by music, food trucks, and the chance to meet Santa Claus on 12/3 and 12/4. The festivities begin at 4 pm and run until 9 pm on both nights. Please note that all attendees, including children of any age, must purchase a ticket.
Additionally, a drive-through event is available from 12/6 to 12/30, allowing you to experience the Fantasy of Lights from the comfort and safety of your car. The drive-through event operates from 6 pm to 10 pm, excluding Christmas Day.
Winterfest Sausalito (12/10 & 12/11): Visit the picturesque city of Sausalito for the beloved Lighted Boat Parade and Fireworks extravaganza. Witness the enchanting lighted boat parade on Saturday night, followed by a spectacular fireworks display. The boat parade begins at 6 pm, with the fireworks show starting at 7:15 pm. For those seeking an active adventure, join the Jingle Bell 5K run on Sunday, followed by a special brunch. The 5K run begins at 8:30 am, with the kids’ fun run starting at 9:15 am.
SF Bay Area Craft Fairs
Discover unique handcrafted treasures and support local artisans at these festive craft fairs in the SF Bay Area.
San Jose Holiday Craft Fair (11/25 – 11/26): Immerse yourself in the Christmas spirit at the San Jose Holiday Craft Fair, held at the Santa Clara Convention Center. Explore an array of handcrafted arts and enjoy numerous free special events while finding the perfect holiday gifts for your loved ones.
Mill Valley Maker’s Market (12/10): Stroll through the Mill Valley Lumber Yard and indulge in the Mill Valley Maker’s Market. Over thirty local artists will showcase their exquisite wares, including glassware, ceramics, jewelry, and more. Enjoy the musical accompaniment as you peruse the beautiful art pieces. The festival begins at 10 am and concludes at 5 pm.
Santana Row Holiday Maker’s Market (11/12): Located at the picturesque Santana Row Park, the Santana Row Holiday Maker’s Market offers an excellent opportunity to complete all your holiday shopping in one place. Browse the wares of over 30 local artists, revel in live music, and savor complimentary wine and small bites. This event commences at 10 am and concludes at 6 pm.
Hello there! I’m Dennis, and I am delighted to welcome you to San Francisco Discovery Guide. As a lifelong resident of this magnificent city, I am thrilled to share my love and knowledge of San Francisco with fellow adventurers like yourself.
Growing up amidst the breathtaking landscapes, eclectic neighborhoods, and vibrant culture of San Francisco, I developed a deep appreciation for the city’s unique charm. Over the years, I’ve explored its nooks and crannies, uncovered hidden gems, and created countless unforgettable memories.