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Christmas Occasions in San Francisco 2022: What to Do This Vacation Season

Christmas is less than two weeks away, which means it’s time to start chugging spiked eggnog and kick that holiday spirit into high gear. Just call us Santa’s little helpers as we’ve rounded up all of SF’s jolliest holiday events, from heartwarming opportunities to help those in need, holiday pop-ups at the city’s best bars to a slew of stage performances, and gingerbread houses that are so big you can walk inside of them. And if you’re still looking for fun stuff to do, there are cool events happening in SF every weekend and all winter long.

Ongoing through Sunday, January 1
Macy’s/Union Square
After a few years of virtual appearances, SF SPCA’s adoptable animals have returned live and in-kitten/puppy to Macy’s holiday windows. See them there every Thursday–Sunday from noon to 5 pm or virtually online every day from 9 am to 6 pm.
cost: Free, but donations are appreciated. You can also bring newly purchased pet toys, blankets, flat sheets, and towels to the donation station on the 8th floor of Macy’s.

Ongoing through Sunday, January 1
Union Square
While you’re downtown contemplating whether or not to adopt a new furry friend, head to Union Square to see Macy’s Great Tree, an 83-foot-tall tree decorated with more than 33,000 LED lights and 1,100 ornaments.

Union Square Ice RinkUnion Square Ice Rink

Ongoing through Monday, January 16
Union Square
Mulling over which puppy to adopt and take home? Take a spin around The Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square to clear your mind. There are 60-minute sessions every day, and if you go on Wednesday evenings, you can skate to music from Frozen. Just try not to fa-la-la-la-fall while you fa-la-la-la-la.
Cost: $20 (includes rentals)

Thrillist TV

Wine and cheeseburgers

Wine and Cheeseburger: Harley and Lara Pair Falafel with Wine

Ongoing through Friday, December 16
Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason/Marina
Pick up this year’s Christmas tree at the Guardsmen Tree Lot, and all of the proceeds from your spire of comfort and joy will go towards providing underprivileged youth in the Bay Area with opportunities to attend summer camps, after-school programs, and more. It’s also not too late to get tickets to the Guardsmen’s annual Tree Lot Party, which takes place the night after the last tree is sold and includes drinking, dancing, and lots of holly jolly fun (GA: $130; VIP: $255).
cost: All of the trees are Noble Firs and range in price from $65 (2-4 feet) to $965 (15-18 feet).

The Great Dickens Christmas FairThe Great Dickens Christmas Fair

Saturday, December 17 – Sunday, December 18
Cow Palace
Experience Victorian London without leaving SF at The Great Dickens Christmas Fair. As you wander the winding lanes, you’ll find music halls, pubs selling British fare, ale, mixed drinks, and hot buttered rum; colorful characters including Father Christmas, Tiny Tim, the ghost of Jacob Marley, chimney sweeps, and more; theatres, dance parties, ye old shops full of holiday treasures, and more.
cost: $45 for an all-day ticket; $30 for twilight admission

Grace Cathedral, San FranciscoGrace Cathedral, San Francisco

Ongoing through Saturday, December 24
Grace Cathedral/Nob Hill
All are welcome at Grace Cathedral, which is offering several concerts and services to celebrate the season, including “A Cathedral Christmas,” a performance of classic carols by the Grace Cathedral’s Choir of Men and Boys, family sing-alongs, and Christmas Lessons and Carol’s.
Cost: Free

Ongoing through Friday, December 23
The Victoria Theater/Mission
Grab a pal and a confidant to watch what has become one of SF’s best Christmas traditions: hilarious drag performers parodying (in the most loving way possible) two Christmas episodes of The Golden Girls.
cost: From $35

A Christmas CarolA Christmas Carol | Photo courtesy of The Toni Rembe Theater

Ongoing through Saturday, December 24
The Toni Rembe Theater/Union Square
ACT’s classic version of A Christmas Carol returns to the stage this year with gorgeous costumes, a lively cast, and a moving rendition of the classic Dickens’ tale that reminds us all what the Christmas spirit is really all about.
Cost:Tickets start at $52.

The NutcrackerThe Nutcracker | Photo courtesy of War Memorial Opera House

Now-December 27
War Memorial Opera House/Civic Center
Going to a performance of the Nutcracker is a quintessential holiday tradition, especially in San Francisco since the SF Ballet was the first ballet company to ever perform the show in the United States. This version stays true to the original with giant mice, a growing Christmas tree, and Tchaikovsky’s timeless score, but with lots of SF-specific twists that you’ll want to be sure to keep an eye out for.
Cost:Tickets range from $10 (SRO) to $375 (Box Center).

Friday, December 23 – Monday, December 26
Congregation Sherith Israel/Pacific Heights and Virtually
Chinese food and Christmas might be a Jewish cliché, but it’s one we appreciate very much, especially when that cliché manifests in the form of a Jewish comedy show in a pop-up Chinese restaurant inside an inclusive Jewish synagogue. Food will be provided by Green Chow Down, and laughs will be provided by a slew of stand-up comedians.
Cost: $90 to $100

Miracle pop upMiracle pop up

Drink festive cocktails at a bunch of holiday pop-up bars

Ongoing through Saturday, December 31
Various locations
Raise a glass to long weekends or escape visiting relatives at one of several holiday bars that have popped up around SF. Pacific Cocktail Haven (Union Square) has transformed into “Miracle,” the beloved pop-up that occurs all over the country (but only in one bar per city), and its sister bar, Kona’s Street Market (SoMa), is taking a tropical twist on the holiday with a “Sippin’ Santa” theme. Trade Routes (Russian Hill) is fully festive with a “Tinsel Time” theme, including a boozy Frosty the Slushie concoction and other cheer-inducing drinks. If you’re willing to plan ahead, book a reservation for Tinseltown at Trademark Bar (SoMa), where you’ll find the halls have been fully decked, and you may get to interact with some of Santa’s helpers and maybe even the jolly old you yourself. Horsefeather (Divisadero Corridor) also has a Christmas cocktail menu, as does The Madrigal (Civic Center), and there are two Deck the Halls locations in Cow Hollow this year: Outre and the Blue Light. Prefer your festivities with a side of devilish mayhem? Rye Bar’s Krampus pop-up is what you need.
Cost: various

Ongoing through Saturday, December 24
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts/SoMa
We’ll always love the Nutcracker, but if you’re looking to mix it up this year, you’ll want to get tickets to Smuin’s The Christmas Ballet, which kicks off with beautiful classical ballet set to beloved carols and then transforms in the second act to “red hot contemporary numbers” set to pop favorites. Go on Tuesday, December 20, if you want to experience the LGBTQ+ night performance with a cameo from Lady Camden, first runner-up on the most recent season of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Cost: $25 to $99

gingerbread housePhoto courtesy of The Fairmont

Marvel at larger-than-life edible holiday displays at local hotels

Ongoing through Saturday, December 31
Fairmont San Francisco/Nob Hill and the Westin St Francis/Union Square
We don’t like to pick favorites, but if you’re only going to visit one hotel to get your Christmas fix, it should be the Fairmont, which is where you’ll find a two-story, life-sized Victorian gingerbread house that stands 25 feet tall, that you can walk inside. If you happen to be in Union Square, pop inside the Westin to see SF’s largest sugar castle. There’s also a boutique where you can buy your own sweet treats and pop! Lounge, a pop-up champagne bar just off the lobby with a DJ and bubbles (open Friday-Sunday).

Ongoing through Friday, December 23
Davies Symphony Hall/Civic Center
There is truly something for every kind of human at the Symphony during the holidays, including an adult-themed holiday variety show co-emceed by conductor Edwin Outwater and drag sensation Peaches Christ (Thursday, December 15), a screening of How the Grinch Stole Christmas with the symphony playing the live score (December 16-17), Holiday Brass (Tuesday, December 20), Elf in concert (December 21-22), and A Merry-Achi Christmas (December 23) which is exactly what it sounds Like.
Cost: various

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Daisy Barringer is a freelance writer from SF who never misses a production of “A Christmas Carol” and thinks Scrooge gets a bad rap. Follow her on Instagram @daisysf.

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