Updated: Mar 14
photo: Dllu via wikicommons
If you’re like me, the holidays are fun but it’s also a bit overwhelming. With so many activity options in the Bay Area, it can help to get a few plans in the calendar to make sure you fully enjoy what the holidays are all about: spending time with friends and family (and not planning activities!) As a Bay Area native, I’m happy to present here some of my favorite local activities from past years, as well as some ideas that we’ll try out for the first time in 2018. In the spirit of the holidays, look for the “gift wrapped” icon which means no planning work required, or the “some assembly required” icon for activities that require a little bit of planning, for those of you who just can’t help yourselves.
Follow us on Instagram (@movebayarea) for more holiday ideas and pics of Bay Area holiday fun.
1. For the quintessential big-city holiday experience that’s signed, sealed, and delivered: make your way to Union Square. As the perfect starting point, head to the Westfield San Francisco Centre. “Meet back at the Westfield in a few hours” has been a standard phrase in my family. Its central location to transportation makes it the perfect home base: take BART, Lyft, or park at several parking garages nearby (Fifth & Mission Parking is my favorite). From here, you can experience myriad holiday festivities within a 5-10 minute walk. The choice is yours:
Get your hot chocolate and take in the sights of the holidays. Union Square has one of the largest concentrations of shops and high-end boutiques in the country.
After shopping around a little bit, head to the Westin St. Francis lobby to see the iconic Sugar Castle, basically a gingerbread house on a grand scale.
2. If your legs are up for it, take a walk up to Nob Hill and check out the elaborately and festively decorated Fairmont Hotel Gingerbread House. This year, the edible abode will stand over 25 feet tall!
flickr: Stephen Rees
3. You can book a special 1.5 hour Holiday Lights double decker bus tour of San Francisco. Starting December 8th, you’ll see Christmas trees, trimmings, and twinkling lights decorating the City for the holiday season. Go by Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, North Beach as well as other festive neighborhoods. The tour crosses the illuminated Bay Bridge and makes a stop at Treasure Island to take in the views of the sparkling city lights. Heading back into the city, the tour continues along the Embarcadero to view the glittering lights on the Port of San Francisco. Be sure to wear warm clothes, hats, and scarves and take a thermos of hot chocolate!
flickr: Jeremy Marshall
4. Check out The Buena Vista (no reservation required), and try the world-famous Irish Coffee perfected by Jack Koeppler in 1952 to drink a little bit of SF history. For eats, try the Dungeness Crab omelet (breakfast is served all day) or a steaming bread bowl of clam chowder as cable cars whiz by. Yum! Afterward, walk to nearby Ghirardelli Square, or if you’re in the mood, Fisherman’s Wharf.
5. For non-shopping activities around Union Square, head to Holiday Tea at the Palace Hotel. Find a reservation in advance as spaces are filling up quickly and sometimes it’s best to call! Or grab tickets to A Christmas Carol showing at the A.C.T. Geary Theatre, running from December 12 - 29.
Other Bay Area Holiday Events
6. For a family-friendly and casual Christmas shopping expedition that supports local artists and crafters, take a trip to Napa for the Santa’s Helper Holiday Gift Faire coming up this weekend (December 8 and 9).
7. For a foodie holiday day trip, head to Yountville, a charming town twelve minutes north of Napa and home to three Michelin star rated French Laundry. Head straight to Bouchon Bakery for a pastry and coffee. Take a free carriage ride (this Saturday, the 8th of December and the 15th). Plan to stay for a bit to shop local boutiques and have dinner at one of Yountville's excellent restaurants.
8. Enjoy The Nutcracker with the family at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville. If you see a matinee, you can ride the Santa Train after the show for an all-day holiday extravaganza. Get tickets now for the Santa Train! They are selling out quickly!
Peninsula and South Bay
9. Located inside the Cow Palace in Daly City, the Great Dickens Christmas Faire is a Victorian-era themed festive event and a Bay Area tradition since 1970. You’ll see a re-creation of Dickens’ London with a multitude of characters, performances and guests are strongly encouraged to participate in the elaborate Victorian costume party.
10. Vintage excursion cars adorned with thousands of colorful lights roll through the streets of Santa Cruz as passengers sing holiday carols, sip hot spiced cider, and listen to music on what is known as the Holiday Lights Train. Santa visits the little ones, or the young at heart! Included with your fare is a $6 MyBoardwalk card, for attractions, arcades and games in Neptune's Kingdom on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Wear a jacket and hat and kids can bring a letter to Santa. The whole family will enjoy the holidays by the beach.
11. Located in Vasona Park in Los Gatos, the Fantasy of Lights is a 1.5-mile awe-inspiring self-driving tour of animated
lights and displays. Pack into the van and be sure to bring a thermos of hot cocoa, blankets, and your ultimate Christmas playlist. Tickets sold ahead of time here ($20 per vehicle).
12. Each year, the Tilden Park Carousel located in the Berkeley hills, transforms into a winter wonderland. Find decorated trees, tiny nutcrackers on display, holiday tunes, and of course Santa (Santa’s holiday hours are Fridays through Sundays from 6 - 8 pm). This is a much loved holiday tradition for our family. Each year, we grab hot chocolate, ride the carousel, and pick out one new ornament for the Christmas tree. New this year, sit with Olaf the Snowman from Frozen. The Christmas Carousel is a perfect outing for families with young kids.
13. Starting in mid December, take a ride over the Oakland hills in a festively lit gondola with expansive Bay Views. With admission to Zoolights, you can also ride the carousel, train and stroll through the dancing and holiday lights. Parking is free and admission is $10 per adult, $9 per child.
Happy Holidays from the Move Bay Area team!