Christmas in San Francisco 2021 

Things to do in San Francisco for Christmas!

Christmas is a beautiful time to be in San Francisco! The shops are decked out, the Christmas lights are sparkling, and holiday favorites like the Nutcracker ballet, Dickens' Christmas Carol and Handel's Messiah are playing.

Wooden nutcracker in front of decorated Christmas tree

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San Francisco Christmas Shows

Every year, there's another opportunity to see these Christmas favorites in world-class productions in the city.

The Nutcracker

The San Francisco Ballet's performance of the Nutcracker is the ultimate SF Christmas experience.

The American premier of the Nutcracker was took place in San Francisco, in the War Memorial Opera House, performed by the San Francisco Ballet on Christmas Eve in 1944.

This event launched an American Christmas tradition, and you can still see the SF Ballet do the Nutcracker every year at the SF Opera House.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, Nutcracker Ballet, three ballerinas

Join young Clara and the sugar plum fairies this year in one of our most delightful holiday traditions.

2019 was the 75th anniversary of San Francisco's first Nutcracker performance.

The Nutcracker is back! Check with their website for the offerings and performance dates of 2022 ballet season.

For tickets, go directly to their website for the best prices.

Covid note: proof of vaccination is required for ages 12+, and vaccine proof or negative test for younger kids. See their website for details.


Dickens' Christmas Carol

Dickens' beloved story of Scrooge and Tiny Tim is performed every year in San Francisco by the American Conservatory Theater, at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary Street.

The live performance of the Christmas Carol is back for 2022! 

Performance dates: Nov 30 - Dec 24, 2022. See Christmas Carol for more info and tickets.


Handel's Messiah

In most years, you can enjoy this beloved work in the SF Symphony's grand Davies Hall, in the gorgeous Herbst Theater, or in Grace Cathedral.

San Francisco Symphony - Messiah

See the Messiah performed by the SF Symphony and 100-member Symphony Chorus in Davies Hall. Always a great show.

The SF Symphony is doing the Messiah this year on Fri, Dec 9, and Sat, Dec 10, 2022. To check current Covid requirements for attendance, see Covid rules.

See Messiah for tickets (on sale July 16, 2022).


Grace Cathedral - Messiah

One long-standing San Francisco tradition is the performance of Handel's Messiah in the beautiful Grace Cathedral, on Nob Hill.

Also performed on period instruments, and sung by the American Bach Choir, this has been a very popular event for past 20 years.

Book early for this one.

Performances for 2022 are on Dec 15 and 16, 2022.  See Messiah tickets

See Covid rules for attendance.


Grace Cathedral Carols

Grace Cathedral does Christmas carol programs as well, both sing-along, and performances by their Choir of Men and Boys. Beautiful setting.

See Grace Cathedral Christmas programs for info and tickets.

For info on Christmas services at Grace Cathedral, see services.


Sing-Along Messiah

The Golden Gate Symphony usually does a Sing it Yourself! Messiah each year, at Herbst Theater, 401 Van Ness Ave. 

For 2021, the sing-along Messiah was on Dec 13. To check to see if they are doing it in 2022, see Messiah.

The San Francisco City Chorus did a Messiah sing-along on Dec 4, 2021.  See Chorus Messiah for 2022 info when it is posted. 


More Christmas Events with the Symphony

Christmas Movies with the SF Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony often does the Christmas classic, It's a Wonderful Life. Watch the movie while the symphony orchestra plays the music. 

Last year, 2021, they did Love Actually and Home Alone. See the symphony website for 2022 schedule when it's announced.

Holiday Tunes with the SF Symphony

Get in the Christmas spirit with the SF Symphony's doing Christmas favorites. Check the SF symphony website to see what they are doing for the 2022 season. See SF Symphony.


Christmas Activities in San Francisco

Christmas time is San Francisco has all sorts of visual treats for visitors. The major shops and hotels have their Christmas decorations out, and it's fun to check them out. Here are some more ideas for things to do in San Francisco for Christmas.

Macy's Believe Meter, San FranciscoMacy's Believe Meter

Kittens & Puppies in Macy's Windows

One of San Francisco's most loved Christmas activities is going downtown to see the adorable puppies and kittens available for adoption, in the windows of Macy's Union Square store.

The SPCA brings a selection of kittens and puppies needing homes to the downtown Macy's every holiday season, a 30-year tradition. 

Even if you're not looking for a pet, it's still a heart-warming thing to see; how much cuter can it get? Pretty irresistible! I used to take my son down there when he was little; he loved it, and so did I. We still love to go down there and see them.

Go to their website to see the live web cams of all the cuteness.

Prior years' kittens and puppies...

Kittens for adoption, Macy's window, San Francisco
Puppies in the window, adoption by the SPCA, Christmas in San Francisco.

The exhibit runs from the last week in November through Jan 2.


Dickens Christmas Faire

The Dickens Faire is back for 2022! An in person...

The 2022 Dickens Christmas Faire is returning to San Francisco at the Cow Palace for five weekends, Nov 19 - Dec 18, 2022.

Get in the Christmas spirit, sample the roasted chestnuts and ale, and pick up some gifts. Wander through the lamp-lit streets of Victorian London in this extremely popular recreation of another time and place.

The entire Cow Palace arena is converted into street after street of vintage shops and pubs, with costumed actors selling food and Christmas items. A San Francisco tradition since 1970.

It's lots of fun: plays, music, pantomimes, Punch and Judy, Christmas carols, and more. 


Ice Skating in Union Square

Ice skating rink, Union Square, San FranciscoIce Skating in Union Square

An ice skating rink is set up in Union Square over the holiday season every year.

The rink is open from early November through mid January. Dates to be announced.

Open 10 am to 11:00 pm daily. Closes 9:30 pm on New Year's Eve.

Admission and skate rental (last year, 2021/2022): $19. Kids under 48 inches: $5.  Lockers available. For more info, see Union Square ice rink.  

More ice rinks in San Francisco: 

  • Holiday Ice Rink, on the Embarcadero (closed for 2021). A 30-year holiday tradition, opened Nov 6, 2019. Not open for 2021, but hoping to return in 2022. Outside of Four Embarcadero Center, by Justin Herman Plaza, across from the Ferry Building. Adults: $12. Kids under 8: $7. Skate rental: $5. See Holiday Ice Rink for more info. 
  • Yerba Buena Gardens (open for 2022). Open year round, indoor rink at Yerba Buena Gardens. Holiday decorations. $12.  See ice skating for info.

Winter Park at Civic Center 

San Francisco added a new ice-skating venue on a grand scale in 2018, and it was back for 2019. But Covid canceled it for 2020 and 2021. Hopefully it will be back at some point.

A large area in front of San Francisco's City Hall is turned into a skating rink for the holidays.

In 2019's season, skating was from November 22, 2019 through Jan 5, 2020. 

Admission (including skate rental): $20 for adults, $5-15 for kids.

See Winter Park for more info and booking.

2022 status unknown at this point.


Huge Christmas Trees in the City

Several locations in San Francisco have massive Christmas trees set up outside to enjoy.

Union Square Christmas Tree

Every year, Macy's contributes the enormous Christmas tree in Union Square. 

In the past, the ceremony has included performances by the San Francisco Boys Choir and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and Santa and Snoopy have made a visit.

For 2022, tree-lighting ceremony dates to be announced.

Christmas tree, Union Square, San FranciscoChristmas in Union Square

Pier 39 Christmas Tree

Pier 39 puts up a 60-foot Christmas tree at the entrance to the pier every year.

Normally, they doing a tree-lighting show on the hour from 5 to 10 pm, every night during the season through the first week of January. Synchronized Christmas music and lights.

Dates for 2022 to be announced.

Christmas tree at Pier 39, San FranciscoPier 39 Christmas Tree

More info on Pier 39.


Ghirardelli Square Christmas Tree

Ghirardelli Square has a big tree every year as well.  Music and crafts, also.

Enjoy some hot cocoa and other goodies during the festivities! Santa will be there, too.

More on Ghirardelli Square.


The Presidio Tree

Lighting the big tree on the Main Post of the Presidio for 2022 to be announced; last year was December 6, 5:30 - 7 pm.

Sing Christmas carols and enjoy the refreshments, then do a walk in the forest with lanterns at 6 pm. See Presidio ceremony for more info.


More Pretty Christmas Trees

The Fairmont Hotel's lobby is gorgeous any time of year, but especially so during the Christmas season. 

Christmas tree in the Fairmont Hotel lobby, San FranciscoFairmont Hotel Lobby

In addition to a beautiful tree, the Fairmont sets up a life-size, gingerbread house each year, that you can walk through (but not nibble on - it's really made of gingerbread, candy and icing, but it's not edible), and watch the toy train running along the track. A delight for kids.

The gingerbread house was back for 2021, starting Nov 27, and hopefully will be here for 2022.  You can even book a private meal inside the house! 

Another yummy tradition: book a Holiday Tea at the Fairmont.

See bookings for info and reservations.

Gingerbread House at the Fairmont Hotel, San FranciscoThe Fairmont's Gingerbread House

Getting there: the Fairmont Hotel is on Nob Hill, walking distance from Union Square: go up Powell Street, then left on California (up a very steep hill).

Or take the cable car that runs up Powell Street, and get off at California Street.

If you're in Union Square over the holidays, be sure to check out the beautiful tree in the entrance of Neiman Marcus. Their entry way is already gorgeous, with its Art Deco, stained glass ceiling.

Christmas Tree at Neiman Marcus, San FranciscoNeiman Marcus Atrium

Tip: they have really nice bathrooms, too. Downstairs in the men's department.

The Palace Hotel also has a beautiful tree every year. At 2 New Montgomery Street, downtown.

And the Ritz Carlton Hotel will have a pretty, 40-foot tree. 

The Westfield Shopping Centre (downtown SF, 865 Market Street)  has had a huge, upside-down, hanging tree the past two years, we'll see if it's happening again this year. Apparently, it's started an international trend, which some like and some don't. Decide for yourself ;-) 


Tell Santa What You Want

Santa is waiting to hear what you want for Christmas, at a number of locations around San Francisco.

Santa at Union Square Macy's, San FranciscoSanta at Macy's, Union Square

You can visit Santa at Holiday Lane, on the lower level of the Union Square Macy's store. For 2021, it's by reservation only. To book, see Santa.

Santa's appearances for 2022: TBA

  • Macy's Union Square. 
  • Reservations only. See schedule
  • Stonestown Galleria. Available for photos with kids. Can do walk-ins but reservations available also. I used to take my son to see Santa here;)  3251 20th Ave. 

Teddy Bear Tea at the Ritz

For a special treat, take the kids for a holiday season tea party at the Ritz-Carlton. They put on a holiday show for the kids, while they drink their hot chocolate and eat teddy-bear-shaped cookies. Book early for this one. See Teddy Bear Tea for info and booking. Last year was Nov 27-Dec 19, 2021. 2022 dates to be announced.


Christmas Brunch at the Palace Hotel

A lovely Christmas tradition is having Christmas brunch at the elegant Palace Hotel. This sells out fast, so book way ahead. 

They have Holiday Lunches, Holiday Teas, Holiday Brunches, Holiday Dinners, and even Santa Claus Teas to choose from. See Palace brunch for more info and reservations.

The Palace Hotel is at 2 New Montgomery Street, just off Market, downtown.


What's Open Christmas Day?

The following are open on Christmas Day:


Tours on Christmas Day

Here are some of the more popular tours available on Christmas Day:

  • Bay Cruise. Take a 60 minute ferry ride around the bay, past Alcatraz and out under the Golden Gate Bridge. 7 Christmas Day sailings from Pier 39 between 10:15 and 4:30. Save $3 if booked online. For more info and booking, click here.
  • Self-guided Bike Tours. Rent bikes and ride around the city, or even better, over the Golden Gate Bridge and down into Sausalito. More info and booking, click here.
  • Go Car Tours. Do-it-yourself tour of the city in the GPS guided cars. Drive the little yellow cars all over SF, and hear interesting info as you pass the attractions. Book here. Or read an account of our experience on the tour (our tips, and some don't do's!).
  • Hop On Hop Off Tours. Choose 1 or 2-day tickets, and take the guided tour on the double decker buses around the city or over to Sausalito. See HOHO bus tour for details and booking. Runs on Christmas.

Last minute gift!

Stumped for an original gift? Want something San Francisco-ish?

There's a new board game called Alarm 22, Escape from Alcatraz.

Play as one of Alcatraz's inmates and see if you can escape the island without getting captured (or worse). It's based on real escape attempts and was designed by Jimmy Treehorn, the man who built the big scale model of Alcatraz at Pier 33. 

Inmate card from Escape from Alcatraz board game, Machine Gun KellyOne of the inmate cards

Fun game with just the right amount of strategy. 

It's for sale in the Alcatraz Gift Shop at Pier 39 (upstairs), as well as a number of other local shops (and online). 

See alarm22.com for more details and store locations.


Parking Downtown for the Holidays

Parking is especially challenging in San Francisco around Christmas. Here are some tips to make it less painful:

Parking Garages.

The main parking garages for Union Square shopping are:

  • Union Square Garage on Geary (under the square)
  • Sutter-Stockton Garage,  corner of Stockton & Sutter Streets. 

They are pretty expensive by the hour and they fill up fast in December. Sutter-Stockton is a little cheaper ($3 to $4.50 per hour) and is larger; if you get there early (before 10 am), you should get a spot.

Another option is to use one of the parking apps to find a spot. You can get some good deals sometimes on these sites, especially if you book ahead. See SpotHero.com to book a place in a garage or lot.

Embarcadero Parking. If you are heading for Alcatraz, the Ferry Building, the Exploratorium, or any other places along the Embarcadero, check out my suggestions for the best places to park on the Embarcadero.


San Francisco Christmas Lights

In addition to the big outdoor trees mentioned above, there are some very pretty Christmas lights and displays to be seen around town.

  • Union Street. Decorated and lit up between Van Ness and Steiner St.
  • Tom & Jerry's house. Decorated doesn't begin to describe this house in the Castro! 3650 21st Street. Santa shows up every evening, too, with candy canes for the kids, between 6:30 and 10 pm through Dec 24. Decorations up through Dec 31. Tom passed away in 2020 but the tradition continues.
  • SF Zoo. Christmas usually brings Santa and his reindeer to the zoo (but not for 2021, alas). Enjoy holiday treats, carolers and decorate cookies.  See more info.
  • City Hall. San Francisco's City Hall is lit up in red and green for the holidays every year.
  • The Embarcadero Center buildings. All four Embarcadero Center buildings are lighted to look like giant Christmas presents, starting mid-November. Right near the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero
  • Golden Gate Park Winter Lights. The park often has a cool program during the Christmas season involving lights at night. 2022 program not announced yet.

Holiday Lights on Conservatory of Flowers, San FranciscoHoliday Lights 2017, Conservatory of Flowers

Christmas Lights Tours

Let someone else take you around...

Go caroling while you view the Christmas lights.

Guide on Holiday Lights Tour dressed as Santa, beside tour bus at Pier 39Santa's waiting...

Something a little different:

  • Do a Holiday Lights Tour. See the lights of the city in a vintage 70's VW bus. See Holiday Lights Tour for more info and booking.
  • See the city lights from a real fire engine.  Ride an SF fire engine around the city, singing carols, and checking out the Christmas lights. See Christmas Fire Engine Tour for info and booking.
  • Santas on Segways. Dress up as Santas and tour the lights on a Segway. One of a kind tour! See Segway Santas.

Or see the lights from the Bay... 

Dinner Cruise of the Bay. Hornblower Yachts has a festive dinner/dance cruise that sails around the bay, past the city skyline and Embarcadero Center lights, under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz. Then on to the spectacular light show on the Bay Bridge. Meanwhile, there's a four-course, gourmet dinner and live entertainment and dancing to enjoy.

I've been on one of their dinner cruises; a great four-course meal and gorgeous views! See dinner cruise for more info and booking, or see my page on our Hornblower dinner cruise experience, with photos.

Red, White and Green Cruise. Christmas festivities (and Santa), with holiday refreshments and games for the kids, on the Bay 2 Bay Cruise, when the Red & White Ferry turns into a Christmas cruise. Various dates from Dec 7 - Dec 25, 2019. 90 minutes. See Red, White & Green cruise.


Santa's Train to the North Pole

The Napa Wine Train has various special holiday trips each year. They don't have the Santa Train tour for 2021, but check back in 2022 in case they bring it back because it's so cool!

But they do have Murder Mystery excursions, and other special occasion train trips.

See Holiday Train to see current tour offerings and booking.

(Previous tour) If you're going up to the Napa Valley over the holidays, the Napa Wine Train has a special excursion to the North Pole for kids (and their staff).

Santa and his elves will be on the train and travelers can enjoy holiday singing, games, hot chocolate and other goodies during the 1.5 hour train trip to the North Pole. Hopefully they will bring this back for 2022.


A San Francisco Tradition

Anchor Steam Christmas Ale for 2019

Our local beer-maker, Anchor Steam Brewery, creates a special beer every year, just for the holidays.

The recipe is new every year (and a secret!) and it's only available from November to the middle of January, so get it while you can! 

Unfortunately, because of Covid, they aren't doing the tours right now. You can get on a wait list to be notified when they resume the tours. See list.

If you want to explore the brewery, and taste some of their beers, they have a fun tour for $25 (including 7 good-sized "tastes"). Reservations required.

For info on the brewery and the tour, see my experience of the tour at Anchor Steam Brewery.


More to explore...

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