Nearly everyone I know (us included) received a fondue pot as a wedding gift. If you don't have one, then your parents most certainly do, since fondue was a huge deal in the 1960s and '70s. Fondue is easy to make, if you follow the directions closely, and makes for a fun social meal—the perfect thing for a family New Year's Eve party.
On New Year's Eves past we've made the traditional Swiss style fondue using Gruyère and Emmenthaler cheeses and white wine. With its blend of wine and strong-tasting Swiss cheeses, It's never been a big hit with the kids, so last year we crafted a new, more kid-friendly version using cheddar cheese and apple cider. Needless to say, it was a big hit, and ended up being a lot less expensive to make than the authentic version, too.
Fondue is definitely a kid-friendly kind of dish, and they love being able to choose their foods and dip them into the molten cheese. Just make sure to keep little hands clear of the fondue pot, since flames are involved and metal parts can get hot.
One of my children's favorite decorated and lighted Christmas house is the Mize family's Mickey Mouse House (AKA "Mickey's Christmas House") in Marinwood. Visit it, and you'll see why it's so popular! The Mickey Mouse House, located at 417 Blackstone Drive (at Las Gallinas Avenue), looks to be just a regular lighted Christmas house at first glance. Last year, the Mize family and the Mickey Mouse Christmas House were even featured on the ABC series The Great Christmas Light Fight in 2013.
For many families, the day after Thanksgiving is the day to get or to start thinking about getting their Christmas tree. For many, there's no better way to get a tree than to take the trip to one of the many North Bay Christmas tree farms and cut one down themselves! If playing lumberjack isn't your thing, there are plenty of local lots in Marin that offer quality trees for your holiday.
We've linked to our Christmas tree farm reviews where appropriate. Keep in mind that many of our Christmas tree farm reviews were written last year or earlier and some information may be out of date. We'll be hitting the road to check out this year's Christmas tree farms in person, so make sure you check back for updates.
Although we make every effort to make sure our information is up to date, please keep in mind that Christmas tree farms and lots do go out of business (there used to be many more in Petaluma and Sebastopol, and even one in Olema), and may be closed due to weather or other conditions. Make sure you call, email, or check their website before you go.
Marin County Christmas Tree Lots
There aren't any cut-it-down-yourself Christmas tree farms in Marin, although there are a number of well known Christmas tree lots where you can pick out that perfect tree and immerse yourself in that holiday spirit. Here are some of our favorite Christmas tree lots (if you have your own favorite you'd like to share with us, let us know).
Cousins' Christmas Trees
7416B Redwood Boulevard, Novato 94945 Daily, 9 am–8 pm
This family-run Christmas tree lot in Novato offers quality Noble, Douglas, and Grand firs, as well as wreaths, garlands, and other holiday products. Cousins' also offers a goat petting zoo; arts and crafts; bake sales; free hot cider, cookies, candy canes; visits with Santa on select weekends; and more. Cousins' Christmas Trees is partnering with Novato School Fuel, the foundation that supports Novato public schools. Open daily starting November 25 from 9 am to 8 pm. They're at 7416B Redwood Boulevard in Novato (next to Chianti restaurant). More info at www.cousinschristmastrees.com or (415) 250-6117.
Your kids can exercise their holiday creativity by making these easy and festive bead ornaments for the Christmas tree. They also look great attached to wrapped gifts as a little holiday extra.
These ornaments are simple to make, although the candy cane ornament is easier to put together than the star and probably a better project for younger children. All you'll need to make these are pipe cleaners, plastic beads in various colors and shapes, some ribbon, and scissors.
Every December, Marin's power grid is yet again put to the test by the annual unveiling of the Rombeiro Christmas House on Devonshire Drive in Novato. Sure, every neighborhood has its decorated houses, but the Rombeiro house is a different thing altogether. Edmundo Rombeiro and his family have been putting together this Christmas house to end all Christmas houses for the past 24 years, and every year it gets bigger and more outrageous.
If you want to have the experience of choosing and cutting down your own Christmas tree, you're going to have to pack up the family truckster and head north on Highway 101 to visit our neighbors in Sonoma County. There, you'll find a selection of Christmas tree farms mostly concentrated in the rural areas of western Petaluma and Sebastopol.
We made our traditional day-after-Thanksgiving trip to the three Christmas tree farms located in Petaluma—Little Hills Christmas Tree Farms 1 and 2 and Larsen's Christmas Tree Farm—to see what they had to offer this season. There's nothing that gets you in the holiday spirit more than visiting a tree farm. Did I mention that they're great places for holiday photo ops, too? You can also check out our rundown on the tree farms further north in Sebastopol.
It's time to think about getting that must-have of the holiday season—the Christmas tree. There are those practical people who merely unpack the artificial tree from its storage boxes, and assemble it in the living room, pre-wired, perfectly shaped and sized, and flame-resistant. Then there are those of us who have to have the real deal, despite any inconvenience.
For the hopeless holiday romantics among us, nothing beats the experience of going to a honest-to-goodness genuine Christmas tree farm, getting our hands dirty, and cutting a tree down ourselves. Of course it's a great family photo op and it's usually a lot of fun, too. Those annual trips to the Christmas tree farm remain some of my fondest childhood memories, and now it's a tradition with my own family
There aren't any Christmas tree farms in Marin County anymore (the last one—in Olema—closed down years ago), so to get the real Christmas tree farm experience you have to head north to rural Sonoma County. Most tree farms are clustered around Sebastopol and Petaluma, with a few near Sonoma and Santa Rosa.
Perhaps our favorite thing about the holiday season is visiting amazing lighted and decorated holiday houses here in Marin. We've been taking in the displays all of these houses for years, and visiting them again each December is like dropping in to see an old friend. We love to find out what sort of wonderful new displays have been thought up for the season!
When you're visiting these Christmas houses, feel free to drop a donation into the donation box, if there is one, since that December PG&E bill is probably a whopper. (Rumor has it that the Rombeiro House costs upwards of $4,000 each season!)
Great Dickens Christmas Fair
Cow Palace, San Francisco
Friday–Sunday, 10 am–7 pm
The Dickens Fair runs on weekends through December 20. Experience Victorian London with hundreds of costumed players, shops offering one-of-a-kind gifts and Christmas treasures, dining, and pubs. Meet Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, Tiny Tim, Jules Verne, David Copperfield, Charles Darwin, and 700 costumed characters. Of course, Father Christmas himself will be on hand to join in the fun. Purchase tickets here. For more info, visit their website.
Holiday Ice Skating in Union Square
Friday–Sunday, 10 am–11:30 pm
Union Square, San Francisco's main shopping district, gets into the ice skating spirit during the holiday season with an outdoor ice rink sponsored by Safeway. 90-minute sessions start on every even hour. Admission: $11 for adults, 7 children 8 and under. Skate rental $6. Information: (415) 781-2688 or visit their website.
The 37th Annual Parade of Lights and Winter Wonderland
Downtown San Rafael
Friday, noon–8 pm & Saturday, 9 am–noon Downtown San Rafael will once again commence the holiday season with its Winter Wonderland, Parade of Lights, and Holiday Marketplace with arts and crafts that starts the Friday after Thanksgiving. On Friday: free snow sledding, kids activities (noon–4:30 pm & 6–8 pm), Holiday Marketplace (noon–8 pm) and the Parade of Lights (5:30 pm) with Santa and Mrs. Claus's arrival and a tree-lighting immediately after. On Saturday, kids activities and snow sledding continues (9 am–noon). Location: Fourth Street from B Street to Lootens Place in downtown San Rafael. For more info, visit their website.
Marin on Ice
Northgate Mall, San Rafael
Friday, 2–10 pm, Saturday, noon–10 pm, Sunday, noon–9 pm This Saturday, Marin on Ice opens for another season of outdoor ice skating at San Rafael's Northgate Mall, where it runs through January 11. Marin's only holiday ice skating rink features 6,300 square feet of real ice and will be open daily for outdoor skating. Skating is $15 per person, which includes skate rental. Private ice cabanas will also be available for rental and "Skate Buddies" are available for beginners. For more info, visit their website.
The Velveteen Rabbit
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
Friday & Saturday, 4 pm & Sunday, 2 pm
Bring the family for this beloved Bay Area holiday tradition. ODC/Dance enlivens Margery Williams’ classic tale of a well-worn nursery rabbit that becomes real. Told though music, dance and a powerful narrative, The Velveteen Rabbit celebrates the unique relationship between a little boy and his stuffed rabbit, and the enduring power of love. Tickets range from $15 to $75. For more info, visit their website.
Peter and the Starcatcher
Spreckels Center for the Performing Arts, Rohnert Park
Friday & Saturday, 8 pm
Tony-winning Peter and the Starcatcher up ends the century-old story of how a miserable orphan comes to be the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up (a.k.a. Peter Pan). From marauding pirates and jungle tyrants to unwilling comrades and unlikely heroes, Peter and the Starcatcher playfully explores the depths of greed and despair and the bonds of friendship, duty, and love. Tickets: $26 general admission. Location: 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. For more info, visit their website.
A Winter Circus for the Holidays
Cornerstone Sonoma Friday–Sunday, 3 & 5 pm An old style circus based on the French tradition of the 1920’s, Le Cirque de Bohème will transport you into a magical world filled with enchantment, adventure and wonder. This winter a Le Cirque de Bohème presents a new show: Stolen Moonlight. Delight in work of world class performers including a unicycle, contortionist, juggler, slack-rope, hand chair balancing, aerial fabrics, and a hooper aerialist. Tickets: $30 general, $1 kids under 15. More information
Ghirardelli Square Annual Tree Lighting
Friday, 4–8 pm
This Black Friday, Ghirardelli Square will be hosting its annual tree lighting ceremony with free kids activities, tenant promotions, live music, snow, Santa, and more Location: Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Point Street (at Beach and Larkin), San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa
Friday, 4:30–8 pm
Winter Lights is an annual event that brings together community to celebrate the holidays and remember our loved ones. This all-ages event is family-oriented and multi-cultural, and features a tree lighting celebration, remembrance candle lighting ceremony, Santa Claus arriving on a fire truck, Taste of Santa Rosa, live entertainment, children's activities, photos with Santa, ornament painting, and ugly sweater contest, and more. Location: 25 Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa. For more info, visit their Facebook page.
Macy's 27th Annual Union Square Tree Lighting
Union Square Park, San Francisco
Friday, 6 pm
Macy's gift to the city and San Francisco's most recognized Christmas tree will be officially lit in Union Square at 6:40 pm. Macy's 27th Annual Tree Lighting will take place in Union Square Park between Sutter and Post and Geary and Stockton Streets, right across from the front of Macy's. For more info, visit their website.
The Berkeley Playhouse: Disney's Beauty and the Beast
The Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, Berkeley
Friday, 7 pm, Saturday, 1 & 7 pm, Sunday, 2 pm
The Disney (and Broadway!) favorite gets the Berkeley Playhouse makeover as founding Associate Artistic Director Kimberly Dooley helms this all new production featuring a diverse and multigenerational cast of dozens. Featuring some of Disney’s most popular songs and characters, you won’t want to miss this magical musical adventure guaranteed to delight audiences of all ages. Location: 2640 College Avenue, Berkeley. Tickets: $25–40. For more info, visit their website.
Cinnabar Theater Young Repertory: The Music Man
Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma
Friday and Saturday, 7:30 pm There’s trouble in River City when fast-talking salesman Harold Hill gets his heart stolen by Marian, the town librarian. A delight for all ages and performed by two casts of talented young people, this lively show runs for three weekends only. Purchase tickets here. For more info, visit their website.
Saturday, November 26
Polar Express Train Ride
Saturday & Sunday, various times
The Polar Express Train Ride departs from Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, complete with dancing chefs, singing elves, and a special gift from Santa Claus himself—a silver sleigh bell. Don't forget to wear your pajamas while you enjoy cookies, hot chocolate, and a reading of The Polar Express while on board. First-class tickets still available for rides this weekend. For more info and tickets, call (877) 726-7245 or visit their website.
The 37th Annual Parade of Lights and Winter Wonderland
Downtown San Rafael
Saturday, 9 am–noon On Saturday, kids activities and snow sledding continues in downtown San Rafael. Location: Fourth Street from B Street to Lootens Place in downtown San Rafael. For more info, visit their website.
Marin Country Mart Farmers Market
Marin Country Mart, Larkspur Landing
Saturday, 9 am–2 pm
Enjoy pony rides and a petting zoo for the kids from 10 am–2 pm adjacent to the farmer's market and live music. Bring the kids and get cozy under the tent to see a special performance by the one and only Emily Butterfly at 9:30 am! For more info, visit their website.
Iceless Skating Rink Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito
Saturday & Sunday, 9 am–5 pm
Hit the “ice” this winter with family and friends at the Bay Area Discovery Museum's Iceless Skating Rink, which will be open from November 19, 2016 to January 8, 2016. Children can strap on skates and glide around on a synthetic ice rink in the museum's Discovery Hall. The synthetic ice rink provides all the fun of a real ice rink but without the cold and icy falls. Get in the holiday spirit with this classic winter activity. Best of all, it's free with museum admission or membership. Location: 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito. For more info, visit their website.
San Francisco Zoo
Saturday & Sunday, 10 am–4 pm Santa is sending his favorite reindeer, Belle, Holly, and Peppermint to spread holiday cheer at San Francisco Zoo & Gardens! Until January 1, majestic reindeer will be romping at SF Zoo's Playfield Lawn, near the spectacular Elinor Friend Playground. Zoo admission applies. Location: Sloat Blvd. at the Great Highway, San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas
Osher Studio, Berkeley
Saturday & Sunday, 10:30 am, 1:30 pm & 4:30 pm
What could be fancier than Christmas? Presents with elegant wrapping paper, festive decorations, Christmas cookies with sprinkles - and who could forget the tree? This year, Nancy bought a brand-new sparkly tree topper with her own money and can't wait to decorate the Christmas tree. But when things don't turn out the way Nancy planned, will Christmas still be splendiferous?Tickets: $25 for adults, $20 for children (14 and under) and $23 for senior. Location:2055 Center Street, Berkeley.
For more info, visit their website.
Annual Gingerbread House Open House
Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco
Saturday, 11 am–3 pm
Lovingly built with a completely edible exterior, this delectable abode will be unveiled during a ribbon cutting ceremony at the annual Gingerbread Open House. The event is open to the public and offers guests the opportunity to take pleasure in complimentary holiday refreshments and heartwarming music while Santa Claus, a Balloon Elf, and a Christmas Fairy pose for photos and kids can write letters to Saint Nick in the lobby’s “North Pole Nook." Location: 950 Mason Street, San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
SF Etsy Holiday Emporium
Pier 70, San Francisco
Saturday & Sunday, 11 am–5 pm
Start your holiday shopping at this weekend's Etsy event. The SFEtsy Indie Holiday Emporium is an annual market showcasing the SFEtsy team members and other artisan crafters and makers. See a list of sellers here. Location: Pier 70, 420 22nd Street, San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
West Portal Snow Festival
West Portal, San Francisco
Saturday, 11 am–4 pm
Build a snowman with real snow, visit with Ana and Elsa (noon to 2 pm), get your photo taken with Santa, and more! Face painting, refreshments, music, and swag bags, too. Location: 82 West Portal Avenue, San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
Santa's Riverboat Arrival
Petaluma River Turning Basin
Saturday, 11:30 am Santa and Mrs. Claus sail into the Petaluma River Turning Basin aboard a tugboat at noon and disembark in the Golden Eagle Shopping Center on East Washington Street to greet children and distribute candy. Performers will be on hand at the shopping center starting at 11:30 am. For more info, visit their website.