49 Things to Do in San Francisco During the Holidays
By: Cindy Hu
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday behind us, it’s officially time to put the shopping list aside for a few hours and indulge in some wonderful, slightly offbeat, occasionally traditional things to do in San Francisco. Here’s our top 49 suggestions. Ready, get set, go!
1 Reserve a spot on the next Luscious Lobbies: Intimate Interiors of Nob Hill and Union Square walking tour. FOOT! leavens history with comedy on a walking tour of San Francisco’s grandest lobbies when they are all decked out for the holidays. Stops include the Westin St. Francis, The Palace and the Fairmont.
2 Join the Fisherman's Wharf community and the St. Francis Yacht Club for the largest boat parade on San Francisco Bay on Dec. 16 starting at 6 p.m. More than 60 boats festooned with lights and holiday decorations will parade along the waterfront starting at Pier 39 and cruising to Marina Green before returning to Pier 39.
3 Hear the sound of Dylan Thomas’s voice on Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. when the Exploratorium screens A Child’s Christmas in Wales (1963). Directed by Marvin Lightner this film features a story written and narrated by Dylan Thomas that follows a boy’s Christmastime memories in Wales. The cinematic celebration continues with the Holiday Animation Film Festival, Dec. 26-30 with screenings daily at noon, 2 and 4 p.m.
4 Take a photo with Mayor Edwin M. Lee and First Lady Anita Lee at the Season of Giving City Hall Open House on Dec. 18, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Civic Center Plaza will be the site of family activities including a children’s snow park the entire weekend. Bring non-perishable food items to support the San Francisco Food Bank. Guests can also meet some of San Francisco’s official family and tour City Hall. www.sfgov.org
5 Don’t miss the San Francisco Boys Chorus Christmas Concert on Dec. 18 at Oakland’s Cathedral of Christ the Light, 2121 Harrison St.. The Grammy Award winning choir and choir-in-residence of the Cathedral will perform their annual Christmas concert for the community. Guided Cathedral tours are also available one hour before the performance ($5 per person). www.ctlcathedral.org
6 Tickle your funny bone at the 19th annual Kung Pao Kosher Comedy performances. Billed as “Jewish comedy on Christmas in a Chinese restaurant,” the shows run Dec. 23-25 at New Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific Ave. Cast members include Elayne Boosler, Avi Liberman, Jeff Applebaum, Craig Ferguson and producer/creator/host Lisa Geduldig.
7 Snap a free holiday photo Under the Dome, Westfield San Francisco Centre, 865 Market St. Guests may pose in Santa’s shop or opt for a holiday-themed backdrop, compliments of Microsoft Windows. Free Picture Perfect Holiday photo kiosks allow you to edit, share and save images with Windows Live photo-editing tools. www.49hoursofsf.com And while you’re there, look up, up up to Westfield’s iconic dome and watch Illuminique Under the Dome, a one-of-a-kind animated 3D light spectacular. Set in a 19th Century toymaker’s workshop the lively cast of characters surrounds the Centre’s elegant 1908 glass dome.
8 Animate your holidays at the Walt Disney Family Museum with some special screenings of Disney classics including “Christmas with Walt” through Dec. 31 and “Look Closer: Holiday Greetings from the Animators” Dec. 16-18.
9 Experience the Bay Area’s finest brass musicians in Grace Cathedral’s unparalleled acoustics at the finale to their Christmas concert series: A Brass and Organ Christmas on Dec. 20 at 7 p.m.
10 Check your “humbugs” at the door and join Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and the ghosts of Christmas for A.C.T.’s A Christmas Carol. Featuring a lively cast of dozens, splendid costumes and sparkling music this Bay Area tradition marks its 35th anniversary through Dec. 24, 2011.
11 Strap on the skates — there’s plenty of ice to go around. Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center, presented by Hawaiian Airlines (www.embarcaderocenter.com) through Jan. 8, 2012; the San Francisco Zoo’s (www.sfzoo.org) “green” holiday skating rink made of recycled materials through Jan. 8, 2012; Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square (www.unionsquareicerink.com/tickets) through Jan. 16, 2012, and Yerba Buena Ice Skating and Bowling Center’s year-round rink (www.skatebowl.com).
12 Chug holiday ale at the Press Club, 20 Yerba Buena Lane. The urban wine bar and lounge has put some holiday brews on the mantel that include 21st Amendment’s Fireside Chat, Sierra Nevada’s Celebration 2011 and Le Chouffe N’Ice Chouffe as well as some imports from Denmark, New Zealand, Norway and elsewhere.
13 Revisit The Golden Girls: “The Christmas Episodes” for the sixth annual “all drag XMAS exdrag-a-ganza” at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St. Heklina and three other world-class drag queens perform two episodes from “The Golden Girls” TV show live on stage. www.trannyshack.com
14 Watch art unfold in a vacant storefront window at 581 Market St. From now through the end of the year, one San Francisco artist per week will have create an original painting, sculpture or other work based on their personal interpretation of Patrón tequila's "Simply Perfect" mantra. Admirers can bid on the works; proceeds benefit the Artist Guild of San Francisco. www.eliminateregifting.com
15 LOL at Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon, the world’s longest running musical revue, as it welcomes this holiday season with special performances featuring a chorus line of tap dancing Christmas trees, special parodies of traditional Christmas carols and a gigantic Yuletide hat through Dec. 31.
16 Martha Stewart Living gave the nod to this one: The Fairmont San Francisco’s majestic, life-sized gingerbread house is built with 7,500 home-baked gingerbread bricks and 1,200 pounds of royal icing. The two-story house is adorned with 650 pounds of colorful candies, 12 gallons of chocolate and features a special room where children may write a letter to Santa. Also enjoy an enchanting 23-foot Christmas tree tickling the ceiling of the main lobby along with holiday refreshments and carolers from local schools.
17 Study evolution in quite possibly the most bedazzling classroom ever. Cirque du Soleil returns to the Bay Area with TOTEM, tracing the journey of the human species from its original amphibian state to its ultimate desire to fly. The characters evolve on a stage evoking a giant turtle, the symbol of origin for many ancient civilizations.
18 Hear ye. Hear ye. From now though Dec. 31 Davies Symphony Hall practically overflows with the diverse sounds of the season. Favorites include Peter and the Wolf with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, Mariachi Sol de México de Jose Hernandez and T ‘was the Night with members of the San Francisco Symphony.
19 Rejoice! with the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 450 Post St., through Dec. 31 for a musical retelling of the biblical nativity story. Written by Ron Stacker Thompson, who is best known to Bay Area audiences as the founder of the Oakland Ensemble Theatre, the world premiere of Rejoice! A Musical Celebration includes songs by Nolan Shaheed. www.lhtsf.org
20 Journey to San Francisco circa 1915 with the San Francisco Ballet — their Nutcracker production, Dec. 9-27, is set in San Francisco during the 1915 World's Fair. Clara's dreamlike journey is an ode to the city's historical grandeur— all amidst colorful, larger than life scenery, more than 200 dazzling costumed characters and Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score.
21 Ring in the holiday season with the Grammy-winning vocal ensemble Chanticleer: A Chanticleer Christmas will be performed through Dec. 23 beginning in San Francisco at St. Ignatius Church and continuing throughout the Bay Area.
22 Oh to be in Ireland. Well, almost. Celtic Yuletide – starring internationally renowned Irish tenor Michael Londra – features traditional, heartwarming Irish carols as well as Gaelic versions of Christmas songs everyone loves at the Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St., Dec. 13-Jan. 1.
23 Bring the children to the Children’s Creativity Museum for the annual Nutcracker Sweets, a 50-minute contemporary twist on the classic holiday ballet choreographed by Mark Foehringer through Dec. 23. www.creativity.org.
24 Ready for a little sizzle? Smuin Ballet’s Christmas Ballet is two distinct acts: Classical Christmas and Cool Christmas. Filled with an eye-catching array of ballet, tap and jazz, celebrating every imaginable holiday flavor from serene and spiritual, hilarious and hopeful, to downright ready to party it opens Dec. 14 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., and closes Dec. 24.
25 Celebrate Hannukkah. The Bill Graham Menorah will be lit Dec. 20-28 in Union Square.
www.chabadsf.org. This year Ghirardelli Square is starting this tradition as well; a nine-foot Menorah will be lit on the evening of Dec. 20, along with music and activities for the wee ones starting at 5:30 p.m.
26 Demand your Christmas back! Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical tells the tale once again of the mean and scheming Grinch, whose heart is "two sizes too small," and has decided to steal Christmas away from the holiday loving Whos. Magnificent sets and costumes inspired by Dr. Seuss’ original illustrations transport audiences to the whimsical world of Whoville at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., Dec. 21-31. www.shnsf.com
27 Spin the dreidel and spend an evening with Conspiracy of Beards, an all-male a capella choir that exclusively performs the songs of legendary poet, novelist and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen on Dec. 22 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St. For this special evening, the group adds Hanukkah songs to its repertoire.
28 Send a letter to the North Pole. As part of its Believe campaign, Macy’s invites you to send a letter to Santa. Just deposit your stamped missive addressed to the North Pole in the letterbox located in Macy’s stores across the country or send one online at http://social.macys.com/believe/#/createyourletter. For each letter dropped in the letterbox, Macy’s makes a $1 donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, up to $1 million.
29 Stop by The Palace Hotel, 2 New Montgomery St., and vote for your favorite gingerbread design. On display through Dec. 31, 11 creative gingerbread designs are the result of a celebrity-Palace culinary expert collaboration. Designs range from a Golden Gate Bridge to a tribute to the America’s Cup. Donations support local non-profit organizations.
30 Sing along to a sing-along with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus on Dec. 24 at their Home for the Holidays concert at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St. New Artistic Director Tim Seelig leads the chorus through favorite seasonal carols, boisterous sing-alongs, hilarious comic routines and heart-warming family moments. Celebrities have been known to make an appearance.
31 How sweet it is! Originally created in 2005, the magnificent Sugar Castle in the lobby of the Westin St. Francis continually grows larger and more spectacular each year. Resembling a French Chateau, the castle weighs over 1,200 pounds and features more than 20 grand circular towers, more than 30 rooms, glowing windows and a running train. New this year is an extensive life-like replica of a medieval French village complete with intricately constructed homes, a church, a bakery and stores, all with illuminated windows and surrounded by a magical forest. A second train filled with elves will encircle this winter fantasyland.
32 Follow the amber glow. The Path of Gold lights along Market Street cast a distinctive amber glow on one of the city’s main thoroughfares. From now until mid-January, they are adorned with 162 five-foot-wide LED illuminated snowflakes from Second to Seventh streets. And if you’d care to sponsor one (“I bought you a snowflake, honey) visit www.marketstreetassociation.org.
33 Press your nose against the windows of Macy’s on Union Square. The SPCA will staff an adoption outpost in the windows facing Stockton and O’Farrell streets through Jan. 1. These famous windows were voted “Ten Best Places to Press Your Nose” and are a beloved tradition in San Francisco.
34 This is totally better than Lite Brites. The four towers of the Embarcadero Center are outlined in more than 17,000 lights. This yearly holiday tradition started 25 years ago.
35 Dust your nose with a few snowflakes. Snow will fall three times a day in the atrium lobby (the world’s largest) of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, Five Embarcadero Center, until Dec. 31. Thousands of cascading lights and a dramatic 45-foot-tall tree are part of ahh-inspiring effect, too.
36 Pretend just for a few hours that you’re back in jolly ‘old England at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair through Dec. 18. The winding lanes of Victorian London come to life at the Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Ave. in 120,000-plus square feet of theatrically lit music halls, pubs, dance parties and charming shops overflowing with handmade holiday treasures. It's a lamp lit city brimming with lively and colorful characters from the pages of history and the imagination of Charles Dickens, Jules Verne and Lewis Carroll.
37 Take a yuletide cruise with Hornblower Cruises & Events. The two-hour cruise includes a festive lunch buffet and is offered every Friday through Dec. 23. or Red and White Fleet which offers a holiday twilight cruise on all of the upcoming major holidays through March 24, 2012.
38 Step right up for a ride back in time at the Conservatory of Flowers where an all new garden railway display celebrates the legendary Playland at the Beach and a bygone era of seaside amusement that was located on San Francisco’s West End. In a dazzling display landscaped with hundreds of dwarf plants, model trains and trolleys wend their way past the famed Sutro Baths, zip around a replica of the Victorian-era Cliff House and whiz through a fantastic mini version of San Francisco’s beloved Playland at the Beach.
39 ‘Tis the Season for Science. Experience indoor snow flurries, get up close and personal with live reindeer, and immerse yourself in a snow-themed mini-dome show. In addition, daily programs and real scientific specimens will reveal how some of our most beloved holiday symbols and traditions are connected to the natural world. The California Academy of Science is getting a winter makeover for the holidays.
40 Stroll along the Embarcadero – not only are the lights and the views spectacular but also as part of the second annual Holiday Waterfront Walk, the restaurants at Piers 1 ½, 3 and 5 have some special offers as does the Hyatt Regency and the Embarcadero Center ice rink.
41 Can’t see the trees for the lights. There are some spectacular ones: a 60-footer at Pier 39, Macy’s 80-footer illuminated by 21,000 LED lights. Scouts have also spotted some tall ones in the Castro at 18th Street and Castro; the entrance to Golden Gate Park at McLaren Lodge; the rotunda of Neiman Marcus; the plaza at 555 California St.; Ghirardelli Square; Presidio, corner of Lincoln Boulevard and Funston Avenue. In the Civic Center area there are resplendent trees visible through the windows of Davies Symphony Hall and Civic Center Plaza and the rotunda of City Hall which is also bathed in red and green lights.
42 In fact, wouldn’t it be nice if someone had a tour to see all the holiday lights? Cable Car Classic Sightseeing offers a free Santa hat, candy cane and songs of the season (you’re welcome to sing along) on their 90-minute tours departing from Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf through Jan. 1 at 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m.
43 Get your game on. The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl starts at 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 31 at AT&T Park. This year’s competition is a match-up between the UCLA Bruins, champions of the Pac-12 South division, and the Illinois Fighting Illini.
44 Don your most festive apparel (we’re thinking gowns and tux) and say farewell to the old year at the New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball and greet the New Year with the San Francisco Symphony on Dec. 31.
45 Enjoy a walking tour through the Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow neighborhood and see the Queen Anne Hotel, brimming with holly, Christmas cheer and holiday decorations on the Victorian Home Walk tour. www.victorianhomewalk.com
46 Learn how to taste fine chocolate and see spectacular light displays from the Ferry Building to Union Square on a special holiday edition of Gourmet Walks departing from Justin Herman Plaza of Fridays and Saturdays, 4:30-7:30 p.m.
47 Experience the rich traditions of Kwanzaa, featuring a celebration of African-American culture through hands-on art activities and performances on Dec. 26 at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito. There will be a traditional Kwanzaa altar on display in the Museum’s Entry Pavilion. Admission is waived and there will be two free performances by the African Roots of Jazz.
48 Book some seats at Yoshi’s San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore St., for Clairdee’s Christmas on Dec. 24. At the crossroads of jazz, pop, blues and soul, Clairdee has opened for a diverse range of artists including Etta James and Boz Scaggs. Her album, “This Christmas” was dubbed “one of the best Christmas albums in years” by the Los Angeles Times.
49 Heading out of town? SFO is offering You Are Hear!, a series of live concerts featuring some of the Bay Area’s best musicians on Wednesdays and Fridays, 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. through Dec. 23.
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