San Francisco for Christmas
Holiday confession: it’s only a half hour drive from my house to the heart of the city, but at Christmas time I tend to avoid the traffic and shopping rush. I want to stay in my cave and check things off my list on Amazon. I know I’m not alone.
Turns out, the folks at San Francisco’s Union Square are on to us and have tons of fun planned to draw us out. From late November through the first week of January, you’ll find special holiday events and entertainment.
Popular activities include Union Square ice skating, tree lighting, caroling, mini shows and concerts, circus acts, food trucks, Ghirardelli chocolate samples, 3D holiday light shows, Santa photo opps, artists booths, visions of sugar plums, and tons more.
And if you’re staying over, a few well-located San Francisco hotels have special holiday offers so you can enjoy the happenings within walking distance.
Here are a few of my favorites Union Square SF holiday happenings.
6 Things to do in San Francisco over Christmas
1. Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square
WHAT: The Safeway Holiday Ice Rink features ice skating and festive activities for all ages. Popular events include: Simba Saturdays, Tots On Ice, Flashback Fridays, Drag Queens on Ice, Silent Night Skate Party, and Polar Bear Skate. Tickets available online or at the ice rink ticket window in Union Square Park.
WHEN: Every year December through January. Check the official website for updates and times before you go.
WHERE: Union Square Park, 333 Post Street, San Francisco, CA.
2. A Christmas Carol at A.C.T.
WHAT: “A Christmas Carol” (find A.C.T. discount tickets) is a holiday tradition for many families around Christmas time. The musical features a terrific Scrooge, three classic ghosts, festive costumes, and song. (If you don’t see tickets on that page, check back because more may be added.)
WHEN: Upcoming show dates in November – December. Follow the link above for my review plus info on discount tickets and time/date updates before you go.
WHERE: A.C.T., 415 Geary St., San Francisco, CA 94102.
3. Holiday Sugar Castles at the Westin St. Francis
WHAT: This year, the Westin features two handcrafted Holiday Sugar Castles created by Executive Pastry Chef Jean-François Houdré and friends. Expect a rotating 12-feet-tall winter wonderland featuring gingerbready things, elves, fir trees with gift boxes, ornaments and other fantasy fun.
WHEN: Every year starting in November. Check the Westin website (www.westinstfrancis.com) for updates and times before you go.
WHERE: The Westin St. Francis, 335 Powell St, San Francisco, CA 94102.
4. The Sweet Boutique
WHAT: If you’re going to see the Sugar Castles at the Westin St. Francis, stop by the Sweet Boutique for visions of sugarplums, gingerbread men, freshly-baked cookies, shortbread, rice crispy treats, and boxes of Chef Houdre’s famous macarons. (The best!)
Also, The Westin always has what they call “Dazzling Decorations” that include a large illuminated tree and the Medieval Castle, created by executive pastry chef Jean-Francois Houdré and his team of helpers. You’ll see his snow-covered village with pond, and my favorite, two running trains.
WHEN: November and December. Check with the Westin for times and details before you head over.
WHERE: In the Landmark Lobby of The Westin St. Francis, 335 Powell St, San Francisco, CA 94102.
5. Winter Walk SF at Union Square
WHAT: Winter Walk SF is a holiday pop-up plaza in Union Square, with winter merriment and daily events that include live performances, food trucks, a beer and wine garden, hot cocoa and carolers, holiday light shows, Macy’s demos, winter fashion shows, Ghirardelli chocolate samples, and more.
WHEN: Every year in November. Check the official website for updates and times before you go.
WHERE: Two blocks of Stockton Street (between Geary and Ellis Streets).
6. Photos with Santa
WHAT: Take the kids to see Santa Claus at Westfield San Francisco Centre. Bring a camera and your wish list.
WHEN: November and December. Make sure you check the official schedule before you go.
WHERE: Westfield San Francisco Centre, 865 Market St. San Francisco CA 94103
3 San Francisco Hotels for the Holidays
Here are just a few SF hotels in Union Square I highly recommend where you can walk to all the fun.
1. The Westin St. Francis
A 1904 landmark, the Westin SF is the only hotel directly located on San Francisco’s Union Square and all the holiday happenings. With cable cars stopping just outside the entrance, and, of course, the best shopping, arts and theater, nightlife and restaurants within walking distance, this has to be one of the best places to stay over the Christmas holiday.
The Westin recently completed a million dollar renewal, so if you haven’t been there in a while, it’s worth a look, even if you just go to look around. Decent fitness area, fine dining, and great holiday decorations (see #3 and #4 in things to do above).
2. Hilton San Francisco Union Square
Well-located for Christmas time in the middle of Union Square, this large hotel is close to shopping, holiday activities, plus theatre and jazz. Bonus: you can catch the iconic Powell Street cable car just a block away, and it’s near public transportation via MUNI and BART.
This Hilton has one of SF’s only outdoor heated swimming pools, a Jacuzzi, a grab-and-go marketplace, Herb N’ Kitchen, The Lobby Bar, Urban Tavern, and best of all, the 46th floor Cityscape Lounge with 360-degree panoramic views that include popular San Francisco landmarks.
This place is a bit of a San Francisco attraction all by itself (because of the stellar views), but you might want to hang out a while for the small plates and apps and cocktails.
3. Parc 55
Also a Hilton hotel and next to sister site Hilton San Francisco Union Square in downtown SF (mentioned above), Parc 55 guests enjoy extended access to its sister property. You can walk over and enjoy the view from Cityscape, and also be near SF shopping and entertainment.
The chic Parc 55 is more of a boutique hotel, smaller, less formal than Hilton SF. I also like their Michelin star-rated Thai restaurant Kin Khao.