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Holiday Family Fun in San Francisco

When I was growing up, one of the highlights of my holiday season was a trip into San Francisco. It's something that I still love to do with my family, and there's so much fun to be had. Here are our picks for festive family holiday fun in the city. While some of these favorite activities were canceled in 2020, many are back for 2021!

Tree Lighting, Santa, and Ice Skating at the Civic Center

Led by the Civic Center Community Benefit District, the San Francisco Civic Center Plaza Holiday Tree Lighting features holiday entertainment such as the Tap Dancing Christmas Trees, Santa and the Grinch; musical guests, including the Dickens Fair Carolers; a toy giveaway for 400+ children; festive bites and drinks; a free makers village featuring holiday crafts; “snow” flurries; and more! The fun take place from 4–7 pm on Wednesday, December 1 and culminates with the lighting of Civic Center Plaza’s 50-foot noble fir by Mayor London Breed at 5:15 pm.


San Francisco Civic Center Tree Lighting

Attend a Spectacular Holiday Performance

For us, Christmas wouldn't be complete without attending a performance of the spectacular San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker. In addition, you'll find holiday performances from most of the city's leading performing arts organizations—there's something for everyone! The San Francisco Symphony offers a variety of holiday performances including their Deck the Hall at the Drive-In family program at Fort Mason on Sunday, December 5 and a screening of Home Alone with a live orchestra. At Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, ODC/Dance presents its production of The Velveteen Rabbit December 4–12, spectacular Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill offers family-friendly holiday concerts from December 11–23, and the Presidio Theatre presents their all-new holiday panto show The Magic Lamp, December 1–23.


San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker

Ice Skating, Shopping and Sightseeing

Union Square, San Francisco's premier shopping district, is always fun to visit during the holidays. You can shop, check out the holiday lights and shop windows (the windows at Macy's with the cute puppies and kittens from the San Francisco SPCA are always our favorites), and even ice skate at the outdoor skating rink.

Visit San Francisco's Spectacular Grand Hotels

San Francisco's luxury hotels always pull out all the stops with their fantastic and opulent holiday decorations! Don't miss the two-story, 25-foot-tall gingerbread house at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill and the colorful holiday castles in the lobby of the St. Francis Hotel at Union Square. In addition to holiday displays, many of the city's finest hotels offer festive holiday family teas and even overnight family packages.

Westin St. Francis Sugar Castle
Photo: The Westin St. Francis' sugar castle.

Take a Ride on a Decorated Cable Car or Streetcar

San Francisco's iconic cable cars and historic Market Street Railway streetcars boast colorful Christmas decorations inside and out! Take the kiddos on a ride they'll never forget this holiday season to check out the city's lights and decorations on one of these rolling museum pieces. Cable cars cost $8 to ride each way for all ages and F-Market & Wharves historic streetcars cost the standard Muni fare of $3 for adults and $1.50 disabled/seniors (free for youth 18 and under except for cable cars). Single- and multi-day passes are available. Both cable cars and historic streetcars run 365 days a year all day. Learn more about riding here.


Photo: SFMTA