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The Best Holiday Activities in San Francisco

December 2, 2015

In a city where most of the houses already look like they’re made out of gingerbread, you won’t find a shortage of holiday activities. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas… and Chanukah… and all sorts of festive cheer in San Francisco.

Looking for holiday activities? SFhotlist and Keller Williams San Francisco have you covered. We’re big fans of the holiday season around here (you should see the holiday magic we work when it comes to staging houses at this time of year), so we put together a list (and checked it twice) of the very best holiday activities in San Francisco.

Holiday Cheer in San Francisco’s Hotels

December is the best time to behave like a tourist in San Francisco. Whether you opt to book a night in one of the hotels or simply stop in on your lunch break, you’ll be in for a real treat. Hotels such as the Fairmont and the Westin St. Francis transform their lobbies into winter wonderlands.

Some of the decorations are good enough to eat. . .literally. The Gingerbread House at the Fairmont stands a delectable two-stories high and is crafted from edible gingerbread bricks held together by royal icing. Sparkling trees and an enchanting train track also adorn the lobby, delighting visitors of all ages. Debbie Rutledge, Buyer Specialist, at Keller Williams San Francisco recommends splurging for the Gingerbread Holiday Tea so that you can really soak up the festive atmosphere.

If you prefer sugar cookies to gingerbread, you can feast your eyes on the St. Francis Enchanted Castle on display in the Westin St. Francis lobby. This 12-foot sugar cookie castle features mischievous elves, candy adornments, and colorful ornaments. Towering trees with glittering bows, Christmas music, and the smell of sugar cookies in the air will certainly make you feel like it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Ice Skating in San Francisco

Danielle Lazier, Team Leader/Listing Specialist at Keller Williams San Francisco and SFhotlist, puts ice skating at the top of her holiday season wish list. San Francisco may be in California, but that doesn’t stop the city from celebrating one of the most beloved of winter sports. If you’re looking to lace up some skates and glide around on ice, San Francisco boasts not one but two outdoor skating rinks.

At the Embarcadero Holiday Ice Rink, skaters can glide and twirl under dazzling lights and palm trees with the Ferry Building lit up in the background. Flocks of parrots have even been known to fly by for a quick visit. Where else can you ice skate while watching green parrots fly overhead? Only in San Francisco!

Skaters at the Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square can skate in a winter wonderland, complete with an 83-foot tall Christmas tree decorated with over 33,000 lights. Not to be outdone, the shops bordering Union Square feature holiday trees of their own, as well as bows, sparkling ribbons, ornaments, and other festive decorations (including a giant wreath hanging over the entrance to Macy’s). For something extra warm and fuzzy, Sasha Lupercio, Buyer Specialist at Keller Williams San Francisco, suggests taking a stroll to the other side of Macy's where you can view animals up for adoption in the window displays. Maybe you'll even bring a furry friend home!

San Francisco’s Festivals of Lights

The celebration of light has long been the holiday tradition of several religions. Lights on a Christmas tree have pagan roots and were originally done with candles; the tradition was incorporated into and popularized by Christians in the 18th century. At Chanukah, too, people commemorate the celebration by lighting the nine-candle Chanukah Menorah.

The San Francisco Chanukah Festival of Lights begins the candle lighting ceremony on December 6th in Union Square. The festivities continue each day until the final lighting on December 13th.

A few neighborhoods away, Union Street kicks off its Fantasy of Lights celebration a day before, on December 5th. Dozens of Victorians decked out in lights and decorations transform the street into a magical holiday lane. Festivities include carriage rides, music, carolers, face painting, and more. We’re told the jolly fat guy will make an appearance, too!

If you’ve got little ones in tow, or if you’re an animal lover, you’ll want to pay the San Francisco Zoo a visit during their Zoo Lights event. On select evening from December 4th to January 3rd, zoo goers can experience the wonder of the animal kingdom and the holiday season at the same time. Nightly shows feature costumed characters, midway games, and a visit with real reindeer (Belle, Holly, Peppermint and Velvet, who prefer San Francisco’s temperate climate to the North Pole).

Catch a San Francisco Holiday Show

There are many holiday performances in San Francisco, but two favorites of the SFhotlist and Keller Williams team are the San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker and the ODC/Dance performance of The Velveteen Rabbit at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

The Nutcracker has been a tradition of the San Francisco Ballet since 1944. A true holiday classic -- and a favorite of Lucas Sorah, Keller Williams San Francisco's Listing Coordinator -- the performance runs from December 16th through the 31st. The Velveteen Rabbit is in its 29th season and runs from November 27th to December 13th.

Decorative Holiday Houses in San Francisco

San Francisco residents love an excuse to celebrate, so of course the holidays get special treatment. A drive, bike ride, cable car ride, or festive walk around the city will have you oohing and awing over houses decked out in holiday cheer.

A city favorite is Tom and Jerry’s house on 21st street in the Castro neighborhood. The house has been quoted as “Christmas on steroids” and features delights such as giant stockings hung with toys, choo choo trains, dancing dolls, a marionette bear, and even a small ferris wheel.

Le Petit Chateau Des Cavaliers is another magical spectacle. An elegant display of twinkling lights and classic Christmas scenes transforms the 1917 brick home at 45 Upper Terrace, Buena Vista Park.

If you truly want to embrace the holiday spirit, a stop by The Wishing Tree in Noe Valley will fill your heart with gratitude, hope, and joy. All lit up for the holiday season, The Wishing Tree invites visitors to, "Please make a wish. Place it in the jar with a slot on it's top. In the next days your wish will be on the tree. Words of gratitude are welcomed. P.S. Something happens when we collectively wish in one place".

What is your favorite holiday activity in San Francisco? We at SFhotlist and Keller Williams San Francisco would love to know! Just leave us a comment on Facebook or Twitter or tag us on Instagram using #SFhotlist. Follow us for the best San Francisco and real estate tips!

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