How to Spend Christmas in San Francisco

Posted on November 20, 2018 |

Our favorite ways to spend Christmas in San Francisco – what to see, where to shop, where to eat and what to do on Christmas Day in San Francisco!

Holiday Activities

San Francisco comes to life with a variety of festive activities over the holiday season! From outdoor ice skating, to victorian Christmas fairs and brewery tours—there are San Francisco December events for everyone to enjoy! 

Holiday Ice Rink In Union Square

Cost: $18 Adults, $13 Children 8 & under, Skates Included in Admission

Location: 333 Post Street, San Francisco in Union Square

Dates: November 7, 2018- January 21, 2019

Open Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

Lace up your skates and get ready for some holiday fun! The annual Union Square San Francisco Christmas Ice Rink is now open for outdoor skating.

Located right in the center of Union Square, admission tickets to this rink include skate rentals, making it an affordable family activity.

Before or after your skating experience, be sure to explore this iconic plaza bedecked with all the sights, sounds and tastes of the season!

We recommend finding time to meander down E 14th Street to Le Cafe Coffee, where you can enjoy remarkable latte art, seasonal drinks and delicious snacks and pastries!

Open on December 24 & 25, this ice rink is an excellent choice for a Christmas day San Francisco activity!

Embarcadero Center Ice Rink

Cost:  $12 Adults, $7 Children 7 & under, $5 Skate Rental

Location: Embarcadero Plaza, San Francisco

Dates: November 12-January 6, 2019

Open Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

Located right across the street from the Ferry Building at Pier 1, the Embarcadero Center Ice Rink is an ideal central location for your ice skating adventure!

If you’re staying at a hotel on Fisherman’s Wharf, this rink is even within walking distance. Just follow the flat terrain of the Embarcadero for about 1.5 miles until you come to the Embarcadero Center and the Bay Area’s largest outdoor ice rink.

After some outdoor skating, head over to the Ferry Building Marketplace for some hot drinks and refreshments!

Great Dickens Christmas Fair

Cost: $18-30 Adults, $10-14 Children 5-12, Kids 5 and under Free, $120 Season Pass

Location: Cow Palace Exhibition Halls, San Francisco

Dates: November 17-18, 23-25, Dec. 1- 2, 8-9, 15-16, 22-23 from 10:00 am – 7:00 pm

Fans of the Victorian Era will not want to miss the traditional Dickens Christmas Fair!

For six weeks in December, the historic Cow Palace Exhibition Halls are transformed into a lifelike scene of Victorian London, populated by the beautifully costumed characters of Charles Dickens.

Here you can wander down small winding lanes, stop for drinks at lively pubs, listen to carolers at music halls, shop for handmade gifts, and enjoy hearty holiday fare and roasted chestnuts. 

Dylan’s Tuk-Tuk Brewery Tour

Dylan's Tours E-Tuk San Francisco Brewery Tour

What better way to ring in the holidays than with some San Francisco craft beer?

Cost: $99 Adults 21+, $570 Private E-Tuk 21+

Location: 2800 Hyde Street, San Francisco

Dates: Saturdays from 2:00 am – 6:00 pm

Perfect for a holiday outing with a group of friends, our Brewery Tuk-Tuk Tour takes place every Saturday from 2:00-6:00 pm and includes stops at two of the city’s most iconic breweries, a local-led tour of San Francisco, and craft beer tastings!

You can purchase a seat on a public group tour, or reserve a private E-Tuk for a group of six adults age 21 and over. The holidays in San Francisco are just better with a local beer in hand!

Holiday Light Displays & Christmas Tree Lightings

Every December San Francisco glows with spectacular light displays, magnificently decorated Christmas trees, and the brilliant artistry of Illuminate SF.

Viewing the holiday lights is an essential part of Christmas in San Francisco!

San Francisco Zoo Lights

Cost: $10 Adults, $8 Youth 4-14, Kids 3 and under Free, Members Free

Location: Sloat Blvd & Great Highway, San Francisco

Dates:  December 14-16, 18-23, 26-30 2018 from 5:00-8:00 pm

San Fransisco Zoo is Open Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

Visit the San Francisco Zoo Lights to partake in a festive celebration of lights, animals and holiday cheer!

At this fun San Francisco christmas time event, you can ride the steam engine through illuminated trees, play on the nature-themed kid’s structure and even meet Santa and his reindeer.

Kids and adults alike will enjoy strolling carolers, piping hot cocoa, holiday snacks and an open fire pit perfect for warming your hands. Be sure to dress warm for this event, as December nights in San Francisco can drop below 50 °.

The SF Zoo is full of holiday cheer during the day as well! The Reindeer Romp happens from 11:30-4 daily, and the Zoo itself is open 365 days a year, making it a great choice for a Christmas Eve or Day outing!

Private Holiday Lights Tuk-Tuk Tour & Illuminate SF

Cost: $300-350

Locations: Hotel Pick-up, Customizable Tour

Dates: Tours run yearly; Illuminate SF runs November 23, 2018-January 1 2019

Open Christmas Eve

There’s no better way to ring in the holiday season than with a San Francisco holiday lights tour! Dylan’s Tours’ Private Tuk-Tuk San Francisco Custom Tour is the perfect way to experience the beauty of San Francisco during Christmas.

On this customizable tour, you and up to five friends or family members will be picked up at your hotel to enjoy a private showing of some of the city’s brightest light displays, including towering Christmas trees and Illuminate SF installations.

While Dylan’s Tours does not operate on December 25, this private tour can make an excellent choice for a memorable Christmas Eve San Francisco experience!

Contact us at info@dylanstours.com for more info about this holiday experience!

Pier 39 Christmas Tree Lighting Show

Cost: Free

Locations: Pier 39

Dates: November 20, 2018 from 5:00-7:00 pm

Open Christmas Day

Every night is a celebration of Christmas lights at Pier 39! Come out to the pier entrance between November 21, 2018 and January 1, 2019 to marvel at the majestic 60 foot tree decorated with thousands of ornaments and enjoy a dazzling show of spectacular lights.

This San Francisco Christmas tree lighting display will take place on the Pier 39 Christmas tree at the top of very hour from 5-10 pm.

Ghirardelli Square Tree Lighting

Cost: Free

Location: Ghirardelli Square

Date: November 23, 2018 from 4:00-9:00 pm

Ghirardelli Square’s annual tree lighting is a great way to start off the holiday season! Come out to the West Plaza on Friday, November 23 to enjoy live music, entertainment and a visit from Santa during one of the most traditional San Francisco holiday events!

The festivities last from 4:00-9:00 pm, with the lighting of the 35-foot tree taking place around 6:00.

While you may have to wait in a queue, it will be worth it to treat yourself to a delicious hot fudge sundae from one of Ghirardelli’s two ice cream parlors located on the square!

Fisherman’s Wharf 2018 Lighted Boat Parade

Cost: Free

Location: Viewing Points from Aquatic Park, PIER 39, the Marina Green, and Crissy Field

Date: December 14, 2018 from 6:00-8:00 pm

A beloved holiday tradition since 1994, the Fisherman’s Wharf Lighted Boat Parade is the oldest and largest on the San Francisco Bay. Yacht clubs and fishing fleets alike decorate their boats with festive lights and sail along the bay.

Dress warm and find a spot along the waterfront in Aquatic Park, Pier 39, the Marina Green, or Crissy Field for spectacular views of this event.

Or, make a reservation for a waterfront table at one of the many restaurants along the Wharf to enjoy a holiday meal while you watch the boats parade by!

Shopping & Christmas Markets

Some of our favorite Christmas things to do in San Francisco include visiting local artisan markets, holiday bazaars and San Francisco Christmas ornament shops.

The holidays just wouldn’t be complete without a little shopping!

SF Made Holiday Fair at CCA

Cost: Free

Location: California College of the Arts, 1111 Eighth Street, San Francisco

Date: December 16, 2018 from 11:00 am – 5:00 pm

Featuring a wide array of holiday gifts, every item at the SF Made Holiday Fair was made locally in San Francisco.

Browse a selection of hand-crafted jewelry, apparel, body products, toys, gourmet chocolates and local wines, all presented by the artisans who produced them.

Hosted in collaboration with California College of the Arts, you can also purchase artwork from CCA students!

SF Holiday Bazaar Nightlife

Cost: $15 Adult, $12 Members; 21+yrs

Location: 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Date: December 13, 2018 from 6-10 pm

One of Nightlife’s most highly attended events, the annual SF Holiday Bazaar at the Academy of Science is blend of local artisanal creativity and holiday-themed museum attractions.

Peruse holiday goods, participate in museum programming, and enjoy cocktails and refreshments at this Christmas market San Francisco soiree!

Christmas in San Francisco at Pier 39

Cost: Free

Location: K105A Pier 39, Beach Street, San Francisco

Date: Open Daily from 10 am – 10 pm

Go shopping for a San Francisco Christmas ornament at this year-round holiday store!

Boasting hundreds of specialty ornaments to suit every taste, this little shop on Pier 39 is the perfect place to pick up a memento from your visit to San Francisco in December!

Holiday Shows

Attending holiday shows is one of our favorite things to do in San Francisco in December!

Whether you’re looking to plan a memorable outing or just want something festive to do on a cold day, this list of our favorite 2018 Christmas shows in San Francisco is a great place to start! 

Bronx Tale at the Orpheum

Cost: $56-256

Locations: SHN Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco

Dates: November 27 – December 23, 2018

The entire family will love this streetwise musical full of energetic ensemble tunes, theatrical dance numbers, and colorful 60’s inspired costumes.

With a catchy doo-wop score composed by Alan Menken, A Bronx Tale will carry you through a young man’s journey to discover the meaning of loyalty, love and family.

Why not combine an evening showing of this musical with one of Dylan’s E-Tuk Highlight Tour to see the city and this fantastic play all in one day?

The Nutcracker Ballet

Cost: $29-$448

Location: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco

Dates: December 12-28 at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm, December 29 at 11:00 am and 4:00 pm

Open Christmas Eve

Since it’s completion in 1932, the War Memorial Opera house has been considered one of San Francisco’s most magnificent architectural installments.

Every December, the iconic opera house sets the stage for Helgi Tomasson’s exquisite choreography of the Nutcracker Ballet.

Brought to life by some of the nation’s most entrancing performers, San Francisco Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker Ballet is a truly magical San Francisco Christmas time tradition.

Purchase tickets for one of the two matinees on December 24 to make a treasured Christmas Eve San Francisco memory!

A Christmas Carole ACT Geary Theater

Cost: $15-200

Location: 415 Geary Street, San Francisco

Dates: December 6-29, 2018

Open Christmas Eve 

No holiday season would be complete without a viewing of A Christmas Carol!

Featuring a large cast of adults and children, stunning costumes, and lively music, A.C.T. Geary Theater’s production of the Christmas classic has been one of the most anticipated San Francisco Christmas events for 42 years!

This festive production is playful, sensitive, and “true to the heart of Dickens’s timeless story”. We’d highly recommend putting one of the many December showings on your calendar!

The Messiah at Grace Cathedral

Cost: $25-125

Location: 1100 California Street, San Francisco

Dates: December 13-15 at 7:30pm

The awe-inspiring architecture of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral provides an enchanting setting for Handel’s timeless score in this production of the Messiah.

A breathtaking chorus of soloists, choir and orchestra makes this event one of our top San Francisco Holiday events.

Presented by the American Bach Soloists, tickets for these showings sell out every year as visitors flock from far and wide to enjoy the symphonic strains. Purchase your tickets now from American Bach Soloists!

Christmas Dining and Lodging

Whether you’re staying for a night or a week, this list of our favorite restaurants and Fisherman’s Wharf hotel accommodations will help you enjoy an exceptional Christmas in San Francisco!

Christmas Day Brunch at The San Francisco Palace

Cost: $155 Adults / $80 Children (5-12)

Location: 2 New Montgomery Street, San Francisco

Dates: Tuesday, December 25 from 10:30am-4:30pm (last seating)

Open Christmas Day

One of our favorite things to do in San Francisco on Christmas Day is to treat yourself to a decadent Christmas Brunch, San Francisco style!

Hosted by the opulent San Francisco Palace, you’ll enjoy exquisite holiday dishes in a refined setting during this upscale holiday tradition!

Sotto Mare on Fisherman’s Wharf

Cost: $45 and under

Location: 552 Green Street, San Francisco

In our opinion, no trip to San Francisco is complete without a sampling of Sotto Mare’s exceptional Italian food. Renowned as having “the best damn cioppino in San Francisco”, Sotto Mare boasts a tantalizing selection of classic Italian seafood, pasta, soup and salad.

While this North Beach restaurant is not open on Sundays, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, you can stop in any other time—no reservations necessary for parties of two!

The Crab House at Pier 39

Cost: $25 and over

Location: 203 C Pier 39, San Francisco

Open Christmas Day

If you’re looking for San Francisco restaurants open Christmas day, we’d recommend the Crab House at Pier 39.

Here you can enjoy fresh steamed crab, steak, seafood, pasta, and a fun selection of classic kid’s menu items! Make your Christmas dinner San Francisco reservations now via open table!

Pier 2620 Hotel

Cost: 170+ per night

Location: 2620 Jones Street, San Francisco

Celebrate the holiday season in style at Pier 2620 Hotel! Newly renovated and centrally located, this chic hotel will put you in easy walking distance from Pier 39, Fishermans Wharf, Ghirardelli Square and North Beach/Little Italy.

If you stay here, be sure to try out some of the amazing Italian seafood in the area or catch one of our San Francisco bike tours!

Argonaut Hotel

Cost: $170 + per night

Location: 495 Jefferson Street, San Francisco

If history and architecture are important to you, the Argonaut Hotel is definitely worth considering for your Christmas in San Francisco vacation!

Built in 1907 and adopted by the National Park Service, this pet-friendly hotel’s exposed brick and wooden beams give it a rich character and rustic charm.

Plus, this hotel is just a stone’s throw away from where our famous tour starts, so you can easily explore all that San Francisco in December has to offer!

There you have it, some of the seasons best holiday sights, shopping, and dining options to help you make the most of your Christmas in San Francisco!

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