Best Holiday
Lights and Sights
in San Francisco Bay Area

article and images by Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Christmas in the adobes in Monterey, California; image c Wayne Holden, courtesy of Monterey CVB
Christmas in the adobes in Monterey, California;
image c Wayne Holden, courtesy of Monterey CVB

I’ve always enjoyed all the wonderful holiday sights and events in the Bay Area and have written about them since my very first book, which was actually a booklet, titled “Getting in the Spirit:  A Guide to Bay Area Christmas Events.” This article is inspired by that book and by my past guest appearances on the late John Hamilton’s “On-The-Go” talk show on KGO.  Here are some of the area’s best seasonal lights, sights, and events for you to get out there and enjoy!

see some spectacular neighborhood light displays

●lights in two small Pleasanton neighborhoods
Christmas Cane Lane 
4000 block of Walnut Dr./Ray St.  Free. 
Almost every house on this cul-de-sac goes way overboard with lights and decorations.  Cars move slowly around the entire perimeter. 
Widmer World 
3671 Chelsea Court.  Free. 
34th year!  You can walk through this home’s computer-controlled acre of back yard musical and moving holiday scenes.  The display includes an electronic light show, snowy penguin scene, Mrs. Claus house, Santa’s golf land, and a train town.  Santa sometimes shows up on the last weekend before Christmas.

lights in your own neighborhood
CaliforniaChristmasLights.com

●lights at the temple
Oakland California Mormon Temple  
4766 Lincoln Ave.  Free. 
“Days of Christmas” includes free lights tours, free nativity tours, and special presentations and performances–all in addition to a spectacular bay view.   

●lights at the zoo
Glowfari at Oakland Zoo 
Not included in regular Zoo admission. Fee. 
Visit the zoo at night to see this holiday light display featuring hundreds of larger-than-life animal lanterns.  

frolic at a festive fair

Great Dickens Christmas Fair 
In South San Francisco, adjacent to Cow Palace.  Fee. 
See “A Christmas Carol” brought to life at this re-creation of Christmas in Victorian London.  After playing spirited parlour games, purchasing some fine yuletide gifts, and feasting on period food and drink, even the grumpiest Scrooge will capture the season’s spirit.  Entertainment is continuous and includes parades, theatrical performances, and caroling–even dancing with Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig and guests at their celebrated party.  And as if this isn’t enough, Her Majesty Queen Victoria and consort Prince Albert always attend.  Visitors are encouraged to dress in period costume.  More description and images. 

Mother Christmas at Great Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco, California
Mother Christmas at Great Dickens Christmas Fair
in San Francisco, California

check in with Santa

Macy’s
San Francisco.  Black Santa is on site on specific dates.  Reservations required. 

child blowing a bubblegum bubble at Santa
child blowing a bubblegum bubble at Santa

attend a menorah lighting in Union Square

Bill Graham Menorah Project:  Hanukkah in Union Square 
The late rock impresario Bill Graham began this annual event here in 1975.  It is open to all an usually include live music and activities for kids.  Free. 

purchase some last-minute gifts

●in San Francisco
Gump’s  
250 Post St. 
Come here to find over-the-top items. 

●in Berkeley
Telegraph Ave Holiday Street Fair 
Between Dwight and Bancroft Way.  Free.
Root beer soap, tie-dye everything, music, food.
Berkeley Artisans Holiday Open Studios 
All around the town.  Free.
This self-guided tour allows participants to meet the artists in their studios and to purchase quality gifts.

adopt a holiday cat or dog

Macy’s 
Union Square, San Francisco.  Windows free; adoptions fee.
Adoptable kitties and doggies from SFSPCA decorate store windows. 

kitty Polly who was adopted from the SFSPCA in 2007
kitty Polly who was adopted from the SFSPCA in 2007

go ice skating

Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square
Fee.

visit two San Francisco legacy hotels for two special events

Fairmont Hotel  
You can stroll through a two-story gingerbread house in the hotel’s lobby, and it smells as delicious as it looks!  Free.

InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco  Fee.  
Holiday Teas featuring individual 3-tiered trays holding tea sandwiches, scones, and sweets are scheduled. Fee.

dress up as Santa and frolic around the town

SantaCon 
This worldwide event began in San Francisco in 1994.  Though NYC has the largest group, on the specified date people dressed as Santa are seen everywhere around the world heading to pubs. And in the Bay Area they are usually heading to Union Square bars.  Some choose to dress as Mrs. Claus or an elf, and not all of the Santas are good.  Some are naughty, and they can get wild and boisterous as they hit bars en masse.  More history.  Free. 

line of Santas waiting to get in to Sams Cable Car Lounge during Christmas SantaCon in San Francisco, California
line of Santas waiting to get in to Sams Cable Car Lounge during Christmas SantaCon in San Francisco, California

cut down your own Christmas tree

Northern California Christmas tree farms 
Fee.

cutting down the family Christmas tree
cutting down the family Christmas tree

go over the hills and through the woods

to Nevada City for a Victorian Christmas 

to Grass Valley for a Cornish Christmas

Julefest in Solvang

more

ARTICLE-The best things to do in San Francisco on Christmas Day

(www.berkeleyandbeyond2.com; copyright Carole Terwilliger Meyers)