25 Best Things To Do In The Bay Area This Christmas!

Go to content

25 Best Things To Do In The Bay Area This Christmas!

Golden Bay Times Articles
Published by Mauricio Segura in Bay Area · 2 December 2023
25 Best Things To Do In The Bay Area This Christmas!

As San Francisco Bay Area residents, we are surrounded by a kaleidoscope of holiday magic as so many locations transform into festive wonderlands. From twinkling lights adorning historic landmarks to charming ice rinks beneath the city skyline, the region is alive with diverse Christmas festivities that cater to every taste and age group. How fortunate we are to call this vibrant corner of the world home, where the holiday season isn't just celebrated; it's a spirited extravaganza promising joy, laughter, and an abundance of family-friendly entertainment. In a place where cultural richness and seasonal charm converge, the Bay Area invites one and all to partake in the merriment and create cherished memories that will last a lifetime. Here is our list for the 25 best things to experience this Holiday season throughout the Bay Area and beyond!

1. Après Village / Palo Alto

Venture to Palo Alto's Après Village, a winter wonderland mirage simulating an alpine retreat. Semi-private chalets and a holiday sweet shop provide the perfect atmosphere for a cozy winter village experience, nestled right in the heart of the Bay Area. Glide across their ice rink and relish in a kid-friendly multi-course meal, creating cherished holiday memories.

Admission is free. For more information Click... HERE

2. The Bay Area's Best Holiday Light Displays

Experience the Bay Area's most creative, charming, and photogenic holiday light displays, setting the stage for a season of festive exploration. Plan ahead to savor each breathtaking moment before the season bids adieu.
For more information Click...HERE
Photo / ERSE 21 GBT

3. The Bay Area's Best Ice Skating Rinks

Embrace winter traditions at the Bay Area's charming ice skating rinks, where skaters of all levels can twirl and glide amid the festive ambience.
- Union Square Ice Rink / San Francisco
- Yerba Buena Ice Skating / San Francisco
- Oakland Ice Center / Oakland
- Winter Lodge / Palo Alto
- San Mateo on Ice / San Mateo
- Nazareth Ice Oasis / San Mateo
- Enchant / San Jose
- Sharks on Ice / San Jose
- Downtown Ice / San Jose
- Après Village / East Palo Alto
- Snoopy's Home Ice / Santa Rosa
- Winter Lights / Santa Rosa
Photo / ERSE 21 GBT

4. Christmas at the Patterson House / Newark

Celebrate a turn of the 20th century holiday at a beautifully restored Queen Anne mansion. Join costumed docents for a tour of 14 rooms decorated with Victorian-style holiday ornaments. Purchase tickets in advance online, or at the door as space allows.

11am & 2pm: Tot Tours for all ages, downstairs only, wheelchair accessible (20 min)
11:30am, 1pm, 2:30pm: Full tours for age 6 and over (45 min)
Fee: $3/Adults & Seniors, $2/Children ages 6-17, Children 5 & under free (fee separate from Ardenwood Farm entrance). Info: (510) 791-4196
For more information Click...HERE

5. Christmas Events At Grace Cathedral / San Francisco

Grace Cathedral, an iconic French Gothic masterpiece in San Francisco, transforms into a spectacular Christmas haven. Check their event calendar for tree lightings, concerts, art installations, and more, enhancing the holiday experience with timeless beauty.
Ticket prices vary. For more information Click...HERE

6. Christmas in the Park / San Jose

San Jose's Christmas in the Park returns with tens of thousands of sparkling lights and community-prepared decorations. At History Park, embark on a magical car journey through a mind-blowing light tunnel, culminating in a synchronized holiday light show with a myriad of colors. Don't miss surprises at nearby Cesar Chavez Plaza.
Admission is Free! For more information Click...HERE
Photo / ERSE 21 GBT

7. Concert by Candlelight

Indulge in the warmth of Candlelight, a popular Christmas and POP classical concert series featuring intimate performances by local musicians surrounded by hundreds of flickering candles. Explore diverse musical options, from a special Nutcracker performance to holiday pop classics, in stunning concert venues.
Ticket prices vary. For a listing of all the upcoming candlelight concerts, click... HERE

Photo / ERSE 21 GBT

8. Decorated Boat Parade at Fisherman's Wharf / San Francisco

The oldest and largest lighted holiday boat parade on San Francisco Bay is alive with 75-100 boats brimming with lights and holiday decorations. Members of the St. Francis Yacht Club, Fisherman's Wharf Fishing Fleet, Golden Gate Yacht Club, PIER 39 Marina, and the Sea Scouts participate in the event which occurs near Pier 39. The parade route will begin just off of PIER 39, proceeding west past Fisherman's Wharf, Fort Mason and the St. Francis Yacht Club, and will turn around off of Crissy Field to return along the waterfront. After the parade, the best viewing is on Jefferson Street between Jones & Taylor Streets at the Sportfishing Harbor. Time: 6pm.
FREE EVENT! For more information Click...HERE
Photo / ERSE 21 GBT

9. Entwined at Golden Gate Park / San Francisco

Golden Gate Park welcomes back its beloved LED garden, Entwined, promising a mesmerizing winter spectacle. Venture through the glowing forest, enhanced this year by the addition of Elder Mother, a colossal 30-foot-tall glowing tree that sways with the wind. The dazzling display kicks off on December 7 and continues to captivate until April 28, 2024.
Entiwned is free admission. For more information Click...HERE

10. Garden of D’Lights / Walnut Creek

In the heart of Walnut Creek, the enchanting Ruth Bancroft Garden has donned its winter attire, adorned with a myriad of multicolored lights and lasers. This 3.5-acre haven transforms into an ethereal outdoor escapade, a magical experience awaiting exploration until January 6, 2024. Embrace the enchantment with tickets ranging from $25-29, offering a seasonal spectacle perfect for children, seniors, and everyone in between.
For more information Click...HERE

11. Giant Menorah Lightings at Union Square / San Francisco

Union Square hosts the 48th annual giant menorah lighting by the Bill Graham Menorah Project. A 25-foot menorah will illuminate Union Square throughout Hanukkah. On Dec. 10, "Bill Graham Menorah Day" offers a festive array of kids' crafts, shows, and performances, adding joyous flair to the holiday season.
Union Square Menorah Lighting Schedule:
December 7th through December 14th 2023 / 5784 Schedule
Thursday, December 7th
3:30 pm Gathering & Live Music   
5:00 pm  1st Lighting Ceremony
Friday, December 8th
2:30 pm  2nd Lighting Ceremony
Saturday, December 9th  
8:00 p.m. Gathering & Music   
8:30 pm 3rd Lighting Ceremony
Sunday December 10th  “Bill Graham Menorah Day”
2:00 pm – 6:00 pm: Fourth Lighting Ceremony @4:45 pm
2:00-4:45 pm: Dreidel House Kids Crafts
2:00 pm: Children's Entertainment with Isaac Zones
3:00 pm: SHAMATI
4:45 pm: Menorah Lighting Ceremony honoring George Zimmer, dignitaries and special guests!
Monday, December 11th
4:30 p.m. Gathering & Music   
5:00 pm  5th Lighting Ceremony
Tuesday, December 12th
4:30 p.m. Gathering & Music   
5:00 pm  6th Lighting Ceremony
Wedensday, December 13th
4:30 p.m. Gathering & Music   
5:00 pm  7th Lighting Ceremony
Thursday, December 14th
4:00 p.m. Gathering & *Live Music*   
5:00 pm 8th Lighting Ceremony honoring the Russian Speaking Jewish Community featuring live music by Silicon Valley Klezmer
For more information Click...HERE

12. Gingerbread House at the Fairmont Hotel / San Francisco

The Fairmont Hotel steals the spotlight with its legendary two-story gingerbread house. Soaring 22 feet, this architectural marvel is crafted from thousands of gingerbread bricks and gallons of royal icing, making it one of San Francisco's most celebrated holiday installations.
Admission to see the Gingerbread house is Free! For more information Click...HERE
Photo / ERSE 21 GBT

13. Glowfari / Oakland Zoo

The Oakland Zoo transforms into a shining spectacle with hundreds of illuminated, larger-than-life lantern animals lighting the way on a mile-long journey. Ride both the gondola and express train and end the evening with Santa himself. New displays this year include creatures such as whales and otters from the California coastline and a walkabout with kangaroos and koalas from the land down under.
Adults: $26 Children (2-14)/Seniors (65-75): $22 Under 2 and 76 and over: Free
Parking: Free. For more information Click...HERE
Photo / ERSE 21 GBT

14. Great Dickens Christmas Fair / Daly City

Daly City hosts the beloved Great Dickens Christmas Fair, immersing visitors in Victorian London. With hundreds of costumed players, diverse performances across seven stages, and an array of shops and parties, this annual event captivates with its nostalgic charm.
General Adult (All day ticket – Ages 13 and up): $45.00
General Youth (All day ticket – Ages 5-12): $25.00
Children under 5: FREE
For more information Click...HERE
Photo / ERSE 21 GBT

15. Holidays at Filoli / Woodside

Embark on a holiday odyssey at Filoli Estate & Gardens in Woodside, boasting arguably the Bay Area's most beautiful holiday light display. Thousands of glittering lights adorn this historic garden and estate, fully embracing the spirit of Christmas with a variety of holiday events for an ideal day trip.
Holidays at Filoli daytime tickets (10am-4pm) cost $39 for adults and $29 for children 5-17. Nighttime tickets (4pm-8pm) cost $43 for adults and $33 for children 5-17. Children under 5 get in free, and members get 20% off. Just be sure to reserve in advance. For more information Click... HERE

16. Holiday Tree Lightings And Displays / San Francisco

San Francisco's December skyline comes alive with magnificent Christmas trees, offering a visual feast to those immersed in the holiday spirit. Seek out these dazzling displays to elevate your festive cheer.
- Macy's Tree Union Square
Photo / ERSE 21 GBT

17. Imaginarium / Sacramento

Dive into a mesmerizing experience tailored for all ages. Wander through our radiant rose garden, or lose yourself in the infinite mirror rooms. Venture deeper into the enchanted forest and marvel at over 25 majestic, larger-than-life storybook creatures, each bathed in a cascade of lights. Take the kids to meet Santa followed by an evening on the ice with our very own Ice Skating Rink!
Tickets run from $17 - $35. For more information Click... HERE

18. Let’s Glow / San Francisco

Downtown SF dazzles once more with Let's Glow SF, boasting the largest holiday projection mapping display in the United States. Stroll through the Financial District on a self-guided walking tour from 5-10 pm, witnessing each building's façade brilliantly illuminated with a dynamic light show, transforming the area with advanced projectors and laser technology.
FREE EVENT! For more information Click...HERE
Photo / ERSE 21 GBT

19. Napa Valley Wine Train / Napa

Napa Valley's fame extends beyond its wines, drawing winter enthusiasts to the iconic Napa Valley Wine Train. While this train offers fun throughout the year, the holiday season is truly special. Choose from themed journeys, such as the gourmet holiday express with a delectable three-course meal or the festive Jingle on the Rails with Santa.
Tickets begin at around $100 per person. For more information Click...HERE

20. Niles Canyon Holiday Train / Fremont

The Niles Canyon Train of Lights is an extremely popular East Bay tradition. Volunteers meticulously adorn all of the train cars with twinkling lights, garlands, and bows—inside and out. Santa and Mrs. Claus make the rounds as the train winds through the canyon wilderness. Sit in an open-air car to get the best view of the decorations outside (or just go out for a peek as the train rounds one of the bends). A concession stand offers treats like cookies and cocoa but families are also allowed to bring their own refreshments.
Tickets run from $35 to $65 per person. For more information Click...HERE
Photo / ERSE 21 GBT

21. Polar Express Train Ride / Sacramento

It’s like the pages of “The Polar Express” come alive on this one-hour journey. Many of the book’s characters join riders, including the Conductor, the Dancing Waiters, and the ghostly Hobo. It’s no wonder these tickets seem to sell out as soon as they’re available. Each coach and first-class car has a different theme, so you can book the exact one you want. All riders will get a magical first gift of Christmas from Santa—that beautiful silver bell.
Coach Tickets are $80 per person / First Class Tickets are $100 per person. For more information Click...HERE
Photo / ERSE 21 GBT

22. Roaring Camp Railroads Holiday Train / Santa Cruz

Journey aboard Roaring Camp Railroads' Santa Cruz train, adorned with sparkling holiday lights. Delight in the vintage train's festive decorations and extend the merriment at the Boardwalk. This year introduces a Chanukah-themed train on Dec. 7, featuring Chanukah stories, dreidel games, and kosher treats.
Standard Class Canopy Cars: Adults: $49.95  | Children: $35.95
First Class Coach Cars: Adults : $64.95  | Children: $45.95
For more information Click...HERE

23. Salesforce Park Winterfest

San Francisco's Salesforce Park, a modern marvel in the Financial District, hosts Winterfest from Dec. 8-10. Witness the park aglow with thousands of holiday lights, accompanied by festive activities like performances, music, and crafts, offering a delightful seasonal escape.

Friday, Dec. 8
Holiday lighting celebration: 5-7pm at the Main Plaza
Enjoy a merry kickoff to Winterfest as you count down the lighting of Salesforce Park. They recommend that guests come early to the park’s Main Plaza to see the park illumination between 6-6:45pm. The evening will also include a live performance by the Hot Baked Goods and a free snowflake craft for kids at the Recess Cart.
Saturday, Dec. 9
Kids Day: 10am-3pm at the Main Plaza
An all-day celebration for kids and families to ring in the holidays.
  • 10-10:30am: Special Winter Storytime by SF Public Library
  • 10:30am-12pm: Face Painting & Visit from Winter Fairies by Happily Ever Laughter
  • 12-2pm: Holiday Caroling by the Merrie Olde Christmas Carolers
  • 2:30-3pm: Circus Performance by Circus Bella
Ugly Sweater Silent Disco: 5-7pm at the Main Plaza
Dress in your favorite ugly sweater and head to this free silent disco powered by HUSH! Concerts. Headphones are available first-come, first-served (with ID) and guests can listen to three different DJ sets throughout the evening. Beverages will be available to purchase from Barebottle.

Sunday, Dec. 10
Wreath Making Party: 9am-5pm at the Main Plaza
Create your own handmade wreath for free at this lively Wreath Making Party happening all day. Make sure you pre-register for a wreath-making session on the TJPA website starting Nov. 27, because walk-in availability will be limited. Wreath-making sessions will take place from 9-11am, 12-2pm, and 3-5pm; and guests can enjoy live music from Trixie Rasputin and Louise between 12-5pm.

Admission is free! For more information Click...HERE

24. Theatre of Lights / Old Sacramento

Theatre of Lights is a free, family-friendly performance retelling “Twas the Night Before Christmas” in a uniquely Sacramento way on the rooftops of the Old Sacramento Waterfront. The performance features an immersive retelling of Moore’s 1823 poem — “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” more popularly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas” alongside stories of how Sacramento pioneers experienced the calamities — and revelry — that befell the new city in the 1850s. The sounds of the fires, floods, and parties will surround the audience as the 150-year-old building facades light up with color. The highlight of the 20-minute production is a live dramatization on the balconies above K Street, complete with a special appearance by Jack Frost, and the lighting of the 60-foot Christmas tree by St. Nick himself.
Event is FREE! For more information Click...HERE

25. Watch the Best Traditional Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol Live On Stage Productions

Theatre of Lights is a free, family-friendly performance retelling “Twas the Night Before Christmas” in a uniquely Sacramento way on the rooftops of the Old Sacramento Waterfront. The performance features an immersive retelling of Moore’s 1823 poem — “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” more popularly known as “Twas the Night Before

- SF Ballet / War Opera House / DEC 13-31,2023
- Oakland Ballet / Paramount Theatre / DEC 16-17, 2023

Photo / ERSE 21 GBT

As you can see, the Bay Area's holiday offerings are a delightful blend of tradition and innovation. From enchanting gardens and festive villages to iconic installations and cultural celebrations, the region invites residents and visitors to revel in the magic of the season. It's a winter wonderland like no other, promising joy, warmth, and unforgettable moments for all. Lets us know which of these you end up enjoying and what you thought. Merry Christmas to ALL!

Back to content