10 Ways to Enjoy the Holidays in San Francisco

San Francisco is a city of transplants. That means during December, the entire city is a little less crowded as everyone goes home for the holidays! Take advantage of the (relatively) quiet streets of San Francisco this holiday season and enjoy 10 of our favorite seasonal traditions #LikeALocal.

From the 60-foot (18 meters) Christmas tree in Tom & Jerry’s front yard to ice skating during a Bay Bridge light show — here are 10 Ways to Enjoy the Holidays in San Francisco!

Bonus Recommendation: Touring San Francisco During the Holidays — Being a Tourist and Visiting All the Must-See Places!

If you are a newbie to the city this holiday season, a tour of San Francisco and the coolest areas around it is the perfect kick-off to an amazing holiday vacation. Dylan’s Famous Tour with Muir Woods and Alcatraz will help you check off all of your San Francisco bucket list items like crossing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, seeing the sweet town of Sausalito, venturing into the Redwoods forest of Muir Woods, and escaping to the famous island prison. 

If you have limited time in the city and want to make the most of it, this is a great day-one activity! You’ll gain a great overview of the city, learn about each neighborhood’s holiday events, and make a list of the areas you want to explore further!

Ice Skating around Union Square

New York City has the iconic ice skating rink outside of 30 Rock. Here in San Francisco, natives and travelers alike spend winters skating around our own historic Union Square. One of two annual outdoor ice skating rinks beloved by everyone in San Francisco during the holiday season!

The activity can become even more magical on certain days of the week when they add beautiful lights and festive music, or fun themes! Jam to oldies on FlashBack Fridays or try a silent disco skate party. For a more uniquely San Francisco winter experience join our uproarious annual Drag Queens on Ice event! Local Bay Area queens perform on ice for a 20-minute performance on Thursday, December 8th at 8 pm. This is a great substitute if you weren’t able to squeeze a trip to Beach Blanket Babylon into your visit. Check the Special events list to choose your ideal day to skate!

Skate rentals, lockers, skate helpers, and tickets to skate are available to all who want to check out this popular San Francisco holiday activity.  Tickets and pricing are available online.

Tom & Jerry’s Christmas Display in Noe Valley

Ever wondered what would happen if you planted one of those little store-bought potted Christmas trees in your front yard? Head over to the Victorian-lined Noe Valley neighborhood and take a look for yourself!

Tom & Jerry purchased a Norfolk Island Pine back in the 80s to decorate for Christmas. After the holiday season passed, they kept the tree growing indoors. Until it grew too big for the house. Eventually, they planted the tree on their front lawn — where the mighty coniferous now stands 60 feet (over 18 meters)!

The details: This massive Christmas Tree has been dominating the scene at 21st and Church in Noe Valley for nearly 30 years. Head over during dusk for the best viewing — we love trying to catch the lights just as they’re being turned on for the night!

Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” at the Historic SHN Curran Theatre

Enjoy Irving Berlin’s timeless “White Christmas” in the heart of our Theater District at the historic Curran Theatre from 1922 during the holidays in San Francisco. Just a stone’s throw from Union Square Ice Skating Rink — it makes for a perfect combo for those trying to squeeze the most into one day!

The details: Tickets start at $60 online from SHN.

Festival of Lights — Under the Dome of the Westfield Shopping Centre

Celebrate Hanukkah – the Jewish Festival of Light – beneath a nearly 110-year-old dome hiding inside of the Westfield Shopping Centre!

The details: This free event begins at 5 pm – that’s when the live music starts! Enjoy traditional holiday treats and crafts before the lighting of the menorah.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” – Live! At the San Francisco Symphony

Watch as your favorite Peanuts characters come to life with the help of the San Francisco Symphony for our annual live performance of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”! Spend a night dressing up and head to the Symphony for one of our favorite holiday traditions. Make sure to get a good look at the building from outside — will you be able to tell the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall is shaped like a Baby Grand Piano?

The details: Tickets begin at $30 online at SFSymphony.org

Lighted Boat Parade at Pier 39

Coastal Californians celebrate the holidays a little differently! Since 1994 our local fishing boats have been swabbing the decks decking the halls with bright holiday lights for a holiday sail along the waterfront. The festivities begin at Pier 39 and will parade east past Fisherman’s Wharf, the Aquatic Park, Fort Mason, the Marina Green, and Crissy Field – before returning to Pier 39.

The details: The Aquatic Park is our favorite spot for catching the Decorated Boat Parade since our Famous San Francisco and Muir Woods Tour and San Francisco & Sausalito tour end right there! After your tour ends, you can create your picnic-on-the-go from The Pub at Ghirardelli Square and take it with you to the waterfront to watch the parade that starts at 6 pm.

Hanukah Candle Lighting at Union Square

During the holiday season, enjoy the annual lighting of the Bill Graham Menorah in Union Square beginning on December 24th. Join our annual tradition dating back to 1975 — when the city hosted the first large-scale Hanuka celebration outside of Israel!

Great Dickens’ Fair & Victorian Holiday Party at the Cow Palace

The local Patterson family has been presenting the Great Dickens’ Fair since 1970 — come join in our festive tradition! Explore three acres of Charles Dickens’ Victorian London with over 750 beloved characters bringing Dickens’ work to life! From Punch & Judy puppet shows to the Bohemian Absinthe Bar – there’s something for everyone in the West End of the 1850s.

Make sure to check the event website to see any annual updates, accurate pricing, and official event dates for this year!


‘Tis the season to be jolly! Don your best Santa garb — or stand out as a reindeer, an elf, or maybe even Krampus — and join in on the festive “official” (but not city-sponsored) Santacon pub crawl!

The details: Free, but toy donations to the SFFD are encouraged! Santa and all his little helpers will be in full force spreading cheer in the name of the holidays. Check the event website for any annual updates, accurate pricing, and official event dates for this year!

Ice Skating at the Embarcadero Center

The largest outdoor ice skating rink in the Bay Area – and the second of our seasonal skating rinks within the city of San Francisco! Since the rink is larger — the lines tend to be more manageable than in Union Square. Plus — you get the bonus of seeing our iconic Ferry Building at night and the Bay Bridge Lights as you skate!

Discover San Francisco like never before! Join our Explore S.F. group on Facebook, your ultimate guide to the city’s best-kept secrets. From local tips to monthly adventures, this is where your journey begins. Click here to join and start exploring!