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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.

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

The free, family-friendly Civic Center Plaza Holiday Tree Lighting takes place on Wednesday, December 4, 4 to 7 pm. The night of festive entertainment includes performances by the Topman All Stars, Dickens Fair Carolers, the acapella group Dodecaphonics, and the Tap Dancing Christmas Trees. Talented youth performers include America Scores poets, Moon School singers, and the string quartet Stars Aligned. The event will also feature “snow” flurries and appearances by Christmas VIPs the Grinch and Santa! Taking place next to San Francisco City Hall in Civic Center Plaza, adjacent to Civic Center’s Winter Park Ice Rink, the event will begin at 4 pm with the lighting of Civic Center Plaza’s 50-foot noble fir by Mayor London Breed at 5:30 pm.

San Francisco Civic Center Tree Lighting

Celebrate the Season at the Presidio

The Presidio of San Francisco offers their annual Holiday Lights tree lighting ceremony on Friday, December 6 at 5 pm. The Walt Disney Family Museum at the Presidio offers holiday programming and film screenings, too. Learn more at www.presidio.gov.


Presidio holiday tree lighting ceremony

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 holiday party and concert on Sunday, December 2 and a live performance of A Charlie Brown Christmas December 21–23. At Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, ODC/Dance presents its production of The Velveteen Rabbit November 29–December 8 and the SF Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band offers its annual Dance-Along Nutcracker on December 7 and 8; this year's show is Nutcrackers in Space. Spectacular Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill offers family-friendly holiday concerts from December 14–23.


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. Embarcadero Center, near the waterfront across from the landmark Ferry Building, offers plenty of holiday shopping opportunities in spectacularly lighted buildings. There's an outdoor ice skating rink here, too, so the kiddos can skate after you shop. Make sure to check out the expanded Winter Park outdoor skating experience at the San Francisco Civic Center, which opens November 22.


Photo: Embarcadero Center Ice 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, the colorful holiday castles in the lobby of the St. Francis Hotel at Union Square, and the holiday decor at the Palace Hotel's landmark Garden Court. In addition to holiday displays, many of the city's finest hotels offer festive holiday family teas and even overnight family packages.


Photo: The Westin St. Francis' sugar castle.

Meet Real Live Reindeer

This holiday season, you don't have to travel to the North Pole to meet real live reindeer! In fact, you'll be able to visit some at two locations in the city. The San Francisco Zoo will be hosting reindeer guests this winter: say hello to Belle, Holly, and Peppermint who will spread holiday cheer during Reindeer Romp, November 23–January 1. At the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, you can get up-close-and-personal with reindeer and lear more about these "Nomads of the North" at 'Tis the Season for Science, on view November 22–January 5.


Photo: San Francisco Zoo

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. You can see some of the decorated cable cars from last season on the Market Street Railway's website. Cable cars cost $7 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 youth/disabled/seniors. Kids under 5 ride for free on both! 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