The holiday seasons is my absolute favorite time of year. San Francisco turns into a festive wonderland and everyone is in the mood. There really is a magic in the air when you are in the city at this time of year and it cannot be beat. Jonny and I always try to pack in as many holiday themed activities as we can during December (there really aren’t enough weekends to enjoy it all) so that we can really take advantage of the joy of the holiday season.
I often get asked about fun holiday themed activities to do in San Francisco/the Bay Area and I thought it would be fun to share my favorites with all of you. Before I start, please know that these are not the ONLY holiday themed things you can do in SF/the Bay Area. These are just the ones that are my personal favorites and the ones that I don’t miss every December.
The Palace Hotel For High Tea
The Palace Hotel really can’t be beat this time of year. In addition to their stunning and historical hotel atmosphere (take a tour of The Palace Hotel if you can, it’s amazing!), The Palace Hotel goes ALL out during the holidays. Decked out with Christmas trees and holiday themed exhibits throughout their lobby, you instantly feel the magic when you step inside. Make a reservation to enjoy their high tea service (it can’t be beat!) inside the Garden Court and you will be serenaded by their lovely harpist as you enjoy the festive surroundings. You can’t help but feel your holiday mood soar when you spend time at The Palace Hotel.
The Rotunda restaurant is located at the very top of Neiman Marcus and is another fabulous location to enjoy some festive fun. I typically love coming here for tea and/or lunch because Neiman Marcus has a REAL tree that is 40 feet tall INSIDE their building. The top reaches the Rotunda so it’s such a festive environment for you to enjoy a nice glass of champagne and a popover (or two!) with their famous strawberry butter. Definitely make a reservation (I had to make mine months ago) but cancelations always happen and their bar area is first come first served. Jonny and I have had good luck eating at their bar area when we have been downtown. Also, since you’re already in Neiman Marcus, you can even get a few Christmas gifts checked off your list pre or post lunch!
The Fairmont Hotel Gingerbread House
This is one of my very favorite holiday attractions in San Francisco. This is a REAL life-size gingerbread home that lives inside the Fairmont Hotel. It is absolutely breathtaking and you can actually walk through it. In fact, the path through the gingerbread house leads into their restaurant. It is an amazing sight to see and it’s so fun to see kids gasp out loud when they see it for the first time. The Fairmont also has a little Santa workshop for young kids to enjoy hot cocoa and write letters to jolly man himself. Last year, Jonny and I decided to partake in the Fairmont’s breakfast buffet and it was INCREDIBLE. We got there very early because the only reservations they take are from hotel guests. We had no issues getting in and their buffet breakfast was to die for. Highly recommend eating there! They also happen to have a stunning tree in their lobby that is directly in front of the gingerbread house. Plus, since the Fairmont is located at the top of Nob Hill, you will most likely catch a very festive cable car moving through the streets.
The InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel
The InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel is located right across the street from the Fairmont Hotel and also has quite the festive set up inside their lobby. Personally, I am a huge fan of their very classic gold rotating door and their beautiful wreaths that are so big their light up their entire driveway with magical warm glow of Christmas lights. If you’re looking for a Mrs. Maisal moment like I was last year, this is a great spot for it!
The Union Square Tree and Menorah
It doesn’t get more iconic than the Union Square tree. It’s huge and festive as people are walking through with their holiday shopping bags, their families, or heading to the ice rink located right next to it. It’s a fun place to be during the holidays. They also have a larger than life menorah, which is really the only Hannukah representation I see in the city outside of temple run events. Since I celebrate both holidays, it’s nice to see the two represented in Union Square.
The Museum Of Ice Cream
The Museum of Ice Cream was supposed to be a short term pop up museum but because it has been so popular, they have decided to stick around. Last year, they redid the inside of their museum and decked it out for Christmas. It was amazing! So many lights and yummy holiday themed treats throughout the museum. This is a great festive attraction that is great for families and people of all ages. I heard they are adding more Christmas themed exhibits throughout the museum this year so get your tickets and go. It’s definitely worth the ticket price!
The Castro Theater
The Castro Theater is one of my very favorite places in all of San Francisco. During the holidays, they have fun holiday movies and events (the highly acclaimed San Francisco’s Gay Men’s Choir even does events here, which I have never experienced. On my list!) that they show throughout the season. Last year, Jonny and I took my family to go and see It’s A Wonderful Life, a favorite holiday movie in our family, and it was such a fun experience. We loved being in the historic theater and to see one of our favorite movies on the big screen was magical.
Draeger’s Market Holiday Cookies
Draeger’s Market is a Bay Area institution. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a high end supermarket and they have multiple locations throughout the Bay Area (I go to the San Mateo one). Draeger’s is known for a lot of things but I am literally obsessed with their shortbread holiday cookies. Not only do they taste OUT OF THIS WORLD (best cookies I’ve ever had and I’m not even a big cookie fan) but their holiday cookies are especially cute. My favorite ones are the Santa face ones because they are expertly frosted. Jonny and I always grab a dozen of them for the season because we cannot get enough. Technically, you can get their shortbread cookies year round but I enjoy the holiday ones the most.
Le Marche/Le Marais Bakery
Le Marais Bakery is one of my favorite places to eat in SF. Last year, they opened a location on Sutter street and next door to the restaurant is their open to the public Le Marche. You can even rent out their space to host a fun holiday party or festive dinner with your family.
The Ultimate Christmas House In the Castro
This is my favorite holiday destination in SF. Jonny and I stumbled upon this Christmas house about 10 years ago on accident while we were wandering through the area. We were blown away by the expert design and how classic the decorations were (no laser lights here). We also met the owners briefly a few years ago and they are the nicest guys. The told us all about the decorations and that they have the same crew come out every year to decorate their now famous SF house. I love seeing the house during the day because you can really see all the details but seeing it at night is also incredible. The amount of lights that they have strung throughout these decorations is mind blowing. The house is located on Castro St between 14th and Duboce.
San Carlos Christmas Tree Lane
Jonny and I went to this for the first time last year and it was amazing AND free! Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures but we are planning on going again this weekend. Here is the address info you will need: 1900 Block Eucalyptus Ave, San Carlos, CA 94070
Four Seasons Palo Alto Apres Lodge
I will be experiencing this for the first time this weekend and will be writing a full blog post on my experience. I can’t wait!!!! Stay tuned.