22 Things to Do in SF During the Holidays (Because We Could All Use a Little Seasonal Cheer)
This time of year brings holiday traditions old and new, from classic ballets and skating around the ice rink to hot cocktails and cookie swapping with friends. Whether you prefer to go all-out festive or keep it low-key, there’s something fun for everyone. That’s why we’ve rounded up 22 things you can add to your end-of-year list of cheer. ’Tis the season.
1. This season, City Hall has been transformed into a winter wonderland with an ice rink, skating track and lighted tree forest. Bring the whole family to Winter Park, skate against this stunning backdrop, grab refreshments at Bi-Rite’s new Civic Center café and then treat the gang to soft serve—because, let’s be honest, it doesn’t exactly feel like winter here.
2. Give everyone on your list a taste of the Bay with gifts from Berkeley’s Maker’s Row, where you’ll find everything from locally made soy candles to small-batch leather goods. Bonus: There’s a good chance you’ll be able to meet the makers.
3. Take a break from holiday shopping for a bite at the new Freds restaurant at Barneys. The signature chicken soup will soothe the soul.
4. Get in the spirit with a wreath-making class at Workshop SF on December 19. Make it even more festive with a pint of Anchor Christmas Ale while you craft.
5. Bake up a fresh batch and join The Civic Kitchen’s cookie swap on December 15, hosted by the Salt + Spine podcast folks. Pick up baking tips from cookbook author Jessica Battilana, who will demo one of her favorite cookie recipes while you nosh on sweets and sip bubbly or warm apple cider.
6. Aiken (formerly Convert), known for its tightly edited selection of sustainably made clothing and accessories, opened its first Peninsula location at Palo Alto’s Town & Country Village just in time for gifting season.
7. Get into Lazy Bear without shelling out a few hundred bucks for the 15-course tasting menu. The newly opened Lazy Bear Den is serving up à la carte bites to pair with a bottle from the wine list of more than 1,000 labels, which you’ll enjoy in a cozy, cabin-like lounge.
8. Stroll down Thompson Avenue (aka Christmas Tree Lane) in Alameda to see all the houses decked out in holiday displays, ranging from lights timed to classic Christmas songs to homemade wooden cutouts of characters like the Grinch.
9. Pick up aged bottled cocktails from Presidio Social Club for the spirits-loving friends on your list or for any holiday parties you’re hosting.
10. Take a spin on the ice at Union Square’s rink. Then warm up with a hot drink or seasonal cocktail from Rye on the Road at Winter Walk, Stockton Street’s festive pedestrian promenade with food trucks and holiday performances. Don’t forget to check out the adorable puppies and kitties in the windows at Macy’s while you’re there.
11. Wondering what to get the friend who has everything? Try a monogrammed hat case from Freya, San Francisco’s brand of hats handmade by craftsmen from generations-old family-owned businesses.
12. Two seasonal pop-ups are perfect for holiday shopping: Get Gwyneth Paltrow–approved goodies at Goop’s temporary Fillmore Street outpost (through December 24). Then check out plant-based makeup and skin care at the Juice Beauty boutique at Hotel Zetta (through December 21), complete with complimentary consultations.
13. Winter wouldn’t be complete without a warm (spiked) beverage. Head to Elixir for a classic holiday cocktail—from spiced cider to hot buttered rum to a Tom & Jerry (basically eggnog served hot).
14. Here’s an excuse to head to Wine Country for holiday gifts: Makers Market, the expertly curated shop of American-made goods, has opened its flagship location at the new shopping and dining destination First Street Napa.
15. Traditionalists can get their tickets to annual favorites like A.C.T.’s A Christmas Carol and the SF Ballet’s Nutcracker (both through December 29), but we’ve got our eyes on three not-so-classic holiday picks: Mark Morris Dance Group’s irreverent The Hard Nut (through December 24), Cirque du Soleil’s Volta (through February 3) and the Tony Award–winning Dear Evan Hansen (through December 30).
16. For everyone out there who doesn’t celebrate Christmas (and anyone looking to escape their family for a few hours), the Contemporary Jewish Museum and SF Botanical Garden are offering free admission on December 25.
17. Treat yourself to a staycation at Sausalito’s hillside hotel Casa Madrona, which just got a swanky update from design firm Salt + Bones. (An in-room massage is a must.)
18. Toast the holidays with your special someone by indulging in the new Champagne pairing menu at fine-dining restaurant Avery. Six pours of bubbly paired with six courses—definitely a reason to celebrate.
19. Don’t miss the gingerbread houses that took 84 hours to create. Designed by Waterbar’s pastry chef, this year’s houses are replicas of San Francisco’s Painted Ladies, complete with “stained glass” windows. They’ll be on view through the end of the month.
20. Science gets festive at Cal Academy’s winter wonderland (through January 6), where you can learn about the plants and animals of the Arctic and Antarctic in a hands-on polar-themed exhibit, skate a few laps around a holiday ice rink and experience outdoor “snow flurries.”
21. If real snow is what you’re looking for, book yourself a room at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe—the only ski-in, ski-out destination around the lake. Located mid-mountain at Northstar, you’ll have direct access to the slopes. Relax afterward with après-ski drinks, apps and a rejuvenating spa treatment.
22. Now’s the time to start thinking about travel plans for the New Year. Low-cost, long-haul carrier French Bee is now offering direct flights from SFO to Paris or Tahiti for as little as $189 one way. Happy New Year, indeed.