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Six Holiday Activities for Families in San Francisco

November 21, 2018 Visit California, Visit USA No Comments Email Email

The cozy sweater weather and pretty lights that adorn the San Francisco Bay Area come wintertime—not to mention the great hotel room rates—make for a perfect family getaway. The San Francisco Travel Association offers a complete guide to the season at and recommends these activities that epitomize a family winter holiday in the City by the Bay.

1. Stockton Street Winter Walk at Union Square

Every year, Stockton Street is converted into a pop-up pedestrian mall to celebrate the holiday season. From Nov. 23 to Dec. 31, you can indulge in street food, watch live performances, shop till you drop around Union Square, or snap a family photo for keepsakes. The entire strip is buzzing with people and the area is lit up with beautiful holiday lights.

2. Outdoor Ice Skating Times Four

Winter in San Francisco also means pop-up ice skating rinks. The most popular one is at Union Square, under Macy’s giant Christmas tree. It’s open through Jan. 21, 2019. Visitors can well to book tickets in advance. Also check for scheduled events at the rink, such as Drag Queens on Ice on Dec. 6, 2018, and the Polar Bear Skate on Jan.1, 2019.

The Embarcadero Center has the biggest pop-up rink in the city, with gorgeous views of the waterfront.  It’s open through January 6, 2019.

There’s also seasonal skating in Golden Gate Park at the California Academy of Sciences’ “Tis the Season for Science” though Jan. 6, 2019.

New this year, the ice skating rink at Winter Park at Civic Center will showcase a number of events on the ice, including themed dance and skate parties, a First Responders celebration, donation drives, a family friendly drag queen event and more.  Open Nov. 30, 2018- Jan. 6, 2019, the 100’x60’ ice rink and 400 sq. ft. track will weave through a lighted tree forest, modeled after the internationally-famed Wiener Eistraum located in the City Hall Square of Vienna, Austria.

3. Reindeer Romp at the San Francisco Zoo

Away from the bustle of downtown, the San Francisco Zoo & Gardens offers their annual reindeer exhibit, where cute relatives of Rudolph can be seen in their natural habitat. The exhibit is accompanied by an educational tour on reindeers. The Reindeer Romp is scheduled from Nov. 17, 2018 to Jan. 1, 2019.

4. Holiday Lights Tours

Ring in the holiday season aboard a special 90-minute Open Top Holiday Lights Bus Tour of San Francisco with Big Bus Tours, available nightly Dec. 8, 2018-Jan. 5, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. The Holiday Lights Tour begins at Big Bus’s Visitor Center at 99 Jefferson St. in Fisherman’s Wharf. Along the way, you’ll see San Francisco’s festive holiday trees, trimmings, and twinkling lights decorating the city for the winter season. Enjoy jovial jingles along with a complimentary seasonal treat from Ghirardelli Chocolate and a complimentary souvenir.

Put on your complimentary Santa hat and hop aboard a Classic Cable Car for a 90-minute tour through Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown, Union Square, Financial District, The Embarcadero and Pier 39.  Enjoy breathtaking views of the city at night, a holiday sing-along and a holiday-themed interactive tour by a professional guide.  Passengers meet their guide at 2766 Taylor St. The tour is offered Nov. 23-Dec. 30, 2018.

Experience the magic of San Francisco’s festive Christmas season “Summer of Love” style on a two–hour Holiday Lights Tour by San Francisco Love Tours. Enjoy the best holiday lights views and Christmas displays, while singing along to holiday-themed songs. The unique VW Hippie buses are even more festive than usual as they’re decorated with holiday cheer. See amazing views of the city, Macy’s Christmas Tree, Fisherman’s Wharf holiday lights and so much more. Six people maximum per VW Bus and up to five buses can go out at once, making this a great intimate setting holiday experience, even in large groups. The tour is offered Nov. 23–Dec. 30, 2018 and starts at 2899 Hyde St.

Get great views of San Francisco’s holiday lights from atop of a brightly decorated open-top double-decker holiday lights and sights adventure Be dazzled by the best of San Francisco’s holiday displays and celebrate the festive season with a Santa hat and candy cane. On this 90-minute guided and narrated tour, you’ll hear stories about the rich history, tradition, and pageantry of some of the finest San Francisco holiday displays. This tour is offered on Nov. 25-Dec. 31, 2018 and starts at 2800 Leavenworth St. and Jefferson St.

5. Run Wild San(ta) Francisco

Run Wild San(ta) Francisco is an annual event at East Beach (Crissy Field) that sees hundreds of people run a 5K race dressed in Santa hats and running gear. The event also features a kids’ dash, with prizes for winners. There is a Christmas festival after the race, too, which has food trucks and musical performances. It’s a darn good way to get the entire family into the Christmas spirit. The event is scheduled for Dec. 1, 2018.

6. “Dance-Along Nutcracker”

The annual production of this San Francisco tradition takes place on Dec. 8 and 9 at the Yerba Buena Gardens Center for the Arts. Join the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band as they marry Tchaikovsky’s famous “Nutcracker Suite” with J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world. Be prepared to shake your own rump when the “Dance Along” signs lights up.

The San Francisco Travel Association is the official destination marketing organization for the City and County of San Francisco. For information on reservations, activities and more, visit, read the Visitors Planning Guide or call 415-391-2000.  San Francisco Travel operates Visitor Information Centers at Hallidie Plaza, 900 Market St. at the corner of Powell and Market streets, and on the lower level of Macy’s Union Square.  San Francisco Travel is also a partner at the California Welcome Center at PIER 39. 

American Express® is the official Card partner of the San Francisco Travel Association.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) offers non-stop flights to more than 46 international cities on 39 international carriers. The Bay Area’s largest airport connects non-stop with 79 cities in the U.S. on 13 domestic airlines. SFO is proud to offer upgraded free Wi-Fi with no advertising. For up-to-the-minute departure and arrival information, airport maps and details on shopping, dining, cultural exhibitions, ground transportation and more, visit  Follow SFO on and   

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