6 Best Christmas activities in San Francisco

Best Christmas Activities in San Francisco

A Christmas season trip to San Francisco can be just as magical as any other northern hemisphere destination, despite the lack of snow.

If you’re having trouble finding the best Christmas activities in San Francisco, I’ve compiled them for you.

At least one of the events hark back to European Christmas traditions, to give you that warm, fuzzy holiday feeling.

Let’s begin with Dickens, shall we?


This has to be one of the best Christmas activities in San Francisco. Hands down.

Head out to the Cow Palace Exhibition Halls (I still giggle at the thought of a cow kingdom, filled with cow subjects, living under a wise cow Queen), where you’ll be transported to Victorian London.

Best Christmas Activities in San Francisco

Cor’ blimey, be sure to watch out for those streetwise child pickpockets and  shady gentlemen named Fagin. That’s not a joke by the way, there are more than 800 Dickensian characters wandering the winding laneways.

That’s apart from the music halls, theatres, pubs and shops, roasted chestnuts and all the other treats you’d expect at a European Christmas market.

Dates: Each weekend from November 19- December 18, 10am-7pm
Entry: Fees vary depending on age, see website for details
Details: https://dickensfair.com/index.php


Much like the Victorian Christmas, Christmas in the Park is built on 30 years of tradition.

To be completely honest, I’d never heard of it prior to this year, but made up for it with the amount of people who recommended it to me.

Held in downtown San Jose’s Plaza de Cesar Chavez, Christmas in the Park is spread over two acres of more than 60 musical and animated exhibits.

When you visit Christmas in the Park this year be sure to stop by our North Pole Information Booth and say hello to our friends at Christmas Town.

Posted by Christmas in the Park on Thursday, November 16, 2017

The real pièce de résistance though, are the Guinness World Record setting 600 illuminated Christmas trees. Of course there’s a giant Community Giving Tree to go with it.

This is a real wonderland for children and adults alike, with ice skating, the Lima Train, melting snowman, caroling mice and elf woodcrafters. And with areas with names like Reindeer Ranch, Snowflake Falls and Candy Cane lane, you know it’s going to be a whimsical delight.
Santa also makes an appearance to take photos with the kids.
Dates: November 24 – January 7, 9am-midnight
Entry: Free
Details: https://www.christmasinthepark.com/


Any Charlie Brown fans in the crowd? If you’re not up for the trip to the Charles Schulz Museum up in Santa Rosa, Winterfest is the next best thing.

It’s a far-sight newer than the some of the other festivities here, and is held at California’s Great America theme park.

The park is transformed into a winter wonderland complete with ice skating in front of the beautiful carousel Columbia. There are light displays to go with the rides, as well as live holiday shows, Santa’s workshop and Mrs Claus’ kitchen.

⛸❄ #GAWinterFest

A post shared by California’s Great America (@cagreatamerica) on

They go all out with one of the Bay Area’s tallest Christmas trees, and the entire park sparkles with more than 7 million twinkle lights.

Don’t miss the Peanuts Guide to Christmas show, where you’re joined by Charlie Brown, Linus and Lucy for a holiday singalong.

Dates: November 24-December 30
Entry: Daily tickets start from $25
Details: https://www.cagreatamerica.com/play/winterfest


There are lots of Christmas lights and decorations dotting the city and bay area.

Starting with Illuminate SF, which I wrote about here last year. Wander around San Francisco enjoying the work of some great local light artists.

Best Christmas Activities in San Francisco

If you prefer to drive around and experience the lights from the comfort of your heated vehicle, you could head out to Willow Glen.

The residents of Willow Glen don’t hold back when it comes to Christmas lights. You get the impression that they’re in competition.

Use the map to find the best houses, or just stop off at one of the area’s great restaurants for dinner first and ask the locals where the best displays are!

Details: Illuminate SF: http://www.illuminatesf.com/, Willow Glen Lights: http://willowglencharm.com/lights/
Entry: Free


If you’re a fan of 80s sitcom The Golden Girls, like I am, you’re going to love this. What would San Francisco be without Drag performances anyway? Boring! That’s what!

The Golden Girls Christmas Show

It’s a yearly tradition to get four talented local drag stars and put them into two new Christmas episodes of the beloved show.

Held at the Victoria Theatre in the Mission District, brace yourself for Blanche’s devestingly beautiful Blanche, Dorothy’s dry wit, Sophia’s antics and Rose’s feather headed comments.

Dates: December 14-23
Entry: $25-$40
Details: https://www.goldengirlssf.com/


Just to keep things a bit diverse we’re headed to the ballet for The Nutcracker.

We were mesmerised by the San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker last year at the War Memorial Opera House. It was a such a great way to get into the Christmas spirit and there were families and people of all ages settled in for the show.

Don’t be afraid to take your kids, the show is short and has an intermission for them to get up and run around in.

If you have really young children though, you might want to take them to San Jose for My Very First Nutcracker. It’s a special shortened performance that’s perfect for toddlers and is presented at a reduced price.

San Jose’s Hammer Theatre hosts the full length and shortened show, danced by The New Ballet Studio Company, students from The New Ballet School and professional guest artists.

The New Ballet Orchestra accompanies the performances live, except for the My Very First Nutcracker, which features a recorded score.

Details: San Jose: http://sanjosenutcracker.com/#home, San Francisco: https://www.sfballet.org/season/nutcracker/nutcracker
Dates/Entry: Various dates and fees, please check websites.

Christmas activities | Things to do in San Francisco | San Francisco at Christmas | #Christmas | #ChristmasinSanFrancisco | The Nutcracker | Christmas lights in San Francisco | Christmas Markets | #SanFranciscoChristmasMarkets


20 thoughts on “6 Best Christmas activities in San Francisco

  1. Wow. I am always so impressed with your research and help for others. What a winter wonderland awaits for those in the northern hemisphere! Meanwhile, I have just come back from a walk on the beach and a paddle in the surf! Thank you for linking up for #lifethisweek48/52. Next week is the last link up and prompt for 2017 – Christmas Plans

    1. Haha, it’s really born of selfishness. I want to find the best places to visit and do all of the things! Yay for walks on the beach though! That sounds fantastic and I’d love to be basking in some sun right now!

  2. OMGosh, you’ve been to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair!!!! I’m jealous and want to go sooo badly!! Looks amazing! Pinned for later! #CityTripping

    1. Me too! I’m currently getting around on crutches, so I haven’t been able to get there yet. It seems like lots of walking would be involved. I may try to sneak out on Sunday and see what it’s like!

  3. I celebrated Halloween a couple of years ago in San Francisco and thought that was heaps of fun, so I can vividly imagine how great it is to spend Christmas there. Beautiful!

  4. Some really fun events to get you feeling festive – I love the fact there’s a Victorian-themed part, seems so very far from San Francisco but looks really fun to explore. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

  5. Ohhh – I am from the Bay Area and your post is making me homesick. Union Square, Ghirardelli Square, the Ferry Building. We went every year. And my all time favorite, a hold over from my childhood, The Nutcracker. It was always a special treat to dress up and go see the Christmas ballet. I have seen productions of The Nutcracker by major ballet companies around the world, and none compare to the San Francisco production. I know I am biased, but it truly is always spectacular. I hope you enjoy Christmas in The City.

  6. Such a great list!Funny, I must have been living under a rock for the 8 years I lived in the Bay Area, because I never did any of these. Whoops! Now I know what I’ll be doing the next time I come up for the holidays! #farawayfiles

  7. Golden Girl’s Drag Holiday extravaganza?!? YES PLEASE. That is amazing and SO San Fran. Love when a city creates unique holiday offerings. Looks lovely! Merry Christmas from Copenhagen! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles

  8. I love, love, love San Francisco, especially at Christmastime. All the lights sparkling as you ride the cable car — that’s my favorite! The tree lighting in Union Square is so fun, too. Enjoy the holidays! You are so lucky to live right there!

  9. I want to do them all! I miss the northern hemisphere Christmases hard – I think I need to plan my next SF trip in December! That said, I did make it to the ballet this Christmas to see Alice in Wonderland which is easing my FOMO somewhat! Brilliant list!

    1. I’ve only seen the Nutcracker ballet once and it was so beautiful. My boyfriend grew up going most years, and I think it’s such a lovely tradition to have!

  10. Love the Golden Girls! That’s hilarious! I’m realizing I really didn’t do much Christmas stuff when I lived there in my early 20’s (would always come home to NYC/CT for Christmas week). Is the restaurant Absynthe still there? I remember it being festive and perfect for a holiday meal. #farawayfiles

    1. I love the Golden Girls so much that I’ve been re-watching from the very beginning for the past few months. Dorothy’s dry wit kills me every time.
      Yep, Absinthe is still here! I hadn’t heard of it before, I’ll have to plan to get there next Christmas, thanks for the tip!

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