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San Francisco for the Holidays

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San Francisco for the holidays doesn’t get any better! So if you are in the city this holiday season, you might want to check out the following things to do, see, eat or drink.

San Francisco for the Holidays

Photo credit: Derrick Story

Things to Do

The [usually] mild weather lends the opportunity to do a lot more outdoor things and take in more of the gorgeous city!

Illuminate SF Festival of Light

2017 marks the 5th year for the Illuminate SF Festival of Light. The festival includes artist talks, museum tours, and light art activations throughout the city between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. For more specific dates, locations, and activities, check out their website.

Winter Walk SF

Winter Walk SF is an open plaza in the heart of Union Square. Until New Year’s Day, two blocks of Stockton Street are open for winter merriment including a nightly light art show, caroling, Ghirardelli chocolate samples, and Off the Grid food trucks.

Ice Skating

> San Francisco has three downtown ice skating rinks (Union Square, Embarcadero Center, and Yerba Buena Gardens) and they are open during the holiday season and on Christmas Day!

Gourmet Walks Holiday Lights and Chocolate Tours

Combine two-holiday treats – chocolate and holiday lights on a downtown walk from Gourmet Walks. There are seven stops (each with its own chocolate tasting) plus the added bonus of seeing the holiday lights in Union Square, Embarcadero Center, the Palace Hotel, and Westfield San Francisco Centre.


San Francisco Zoo hosts the Reindeer Romp through New Year, open on Christmas Day as well. Golden Gate Park’s Botanical Gardens is free to the public on Christmas Day. You can visit the 55 acres taking in over 8,000 species of plants and the wild San Franciscans!

Hotel Happenings

San Francisco has numerous hotels that are historically fascinating and visually stunning. Add in the holidays and not only are they great places to stay but destinations to visit!

Holiday Wonderland at the Palace Hotel

> Go for the giant gingerbread house and tea with Santa but stay for one of the Palace Hotel’s six brunch seatings on Christmas Day, in either the Grand Ballroom or the fabulous 19th century Garden Court.

Gingerbread Houses at The Fairmont Hotel

> The Fairmont in Nob Hill has a giant gingerbread house made with thousands of ginger bricks baked by the hotel and displayed in the main lobby.

Teddy Bear Tea at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Nob Hill

> This holiday show at the Ritz-Carlton stars an entertaining elf and his animated helper. And includes a giant teddy bear that every child can have a photo with! The show is for a good cause as a portion of the proceeds goes to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

What To Eat

The best part! San Francisco is a city for food lovers – eating here any time of year is a joy. But there are two seasonal delights that you shouldn’t miss!

San Francisco for the Holidays -Dungeness crab

Crab Season

By far this time is my favorite time of year. I eat fresh crab nearly every weekend and San Francisco’s Dungeness crab is not to be missed! There are many places to indulge, here are some I really like:

  • At Fisherman’s Wharf check out the Franciscan Crab Restaurant, which serves crab with a garlicky, buttery sauce. Or the Crab House at Pier 39, where the crab is served on a hot skillet.
  • A little outside the wharf is Scoma’s family-owned that has been around for 50 years. They are known for their Crab Louis salad.
  • On the Embarcadero, head to The Waterbar which has fantastic seafood platters with fresh crab and oysters!
  • In the Financial District, you have to visit San Francisco’s oldest restaurant, Tadich Grill which has amazing cioppino with big chunks of delicious crab – add a classic martini and you are golden!
  • Lastly, in Chinatown don’t miss R&G Lounge which whips up an excellent salt and pepper crab.

San Francisco for the Holidays - Oysters


San Francisco has an amazing variety of oysters available at this time of year. The French love oysters for the holidays and its a habit I picked up when Mr. Misadventures and I lived in France. There are a ton of places that have oyster happy hours as well as full meals, I’ve shared my 5 favorite oyster spots in another post you can find here.


A Hispanic heritage tradition that has proliferated throughout San Francisco, the holidays are the perfect time to enjoy this comforting dish. Throw a stone anywhere in the Mission and you will be satisfied, but here are some top picks:

  • La Palma Mexica-tessen, 2884 24th Street at Bryant.
  • La Espiga de Oro, 2916 24th Street at Alabama.
  • La Oaxaqueña, 2128 Mission Street, between 17th and 18th.

There are a few other spots around the city with good tamales. I like the ones at Traci Des Jardins’ Mijita in The Ferry Building. And Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas in Justin Herman Plaza at the Embarcadero.

What To Drink

Given San Francisco’s weather, the holiday season can be pretty mild but you should always be wary of fog and winds, which can quickly put a chill in the air. Here are a few places to seek warm refuge and unique drinks in case a cold front hits.


Irish Coffee

The Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Café is a San Francisco classic. The cafe has a special method of aging and frothing the cream so that it floats on top of the coffee dating back to 1952.

Hot Buttered Rum

A special holiday treat, one of the best in the city is served at Smuggler’s Cove in Hayes Valley. It is the best because they focus on one thing, rum. There are more than 400 varieties in this a unique spot that is devoted entirely to rum. Their hot buttered rum prepared with demerara rum and a secret spice mix, it is truly something special!

Hot Toddy

My grandfather used to make me hot toddies if I was ever sick while visiting my grandparents and it holds a special and nostalgic place in my heart. My pick for hot toddies in San Francisco is Elixir in the Mission district. A dive bar that serves more than 330 different whiskeys, your hot toddy can take on vanilla notes or a serious peaty flavor, depending on what you choose.

Hot Chocolate

For European hot chocolate head to the Ferry Building and try out the decadent chocolate that Boulette’s Larder serves straight out of a copper kettle. For Mexican hot chocolate add a cup to your tamale order from La Oaxaqueña, theirs is made with ground almonds, and a pinch of guajillo chili powder for that addictive burn.

Holiday Instagram Shot

San Francisco Christmas Ornaments 101 California

Every holiday season the 101 California building puts out giant Christmas ornaments on the backside of their building (on California Street) it is right next to Michael Mina’s Japanese restaurant Pabu and the less expensive (but very yummy) The Ramen Bar. After photos and lunch head up the street one block to catch the cable car.

More Resources

If you are visiting San Francisco for the holidays, I think I’ve provided you with plenty to get you started! But just in case it’s not, here are a few more posts that will help you out:

San Francisco Best [Hotel] Beds > San Francisco Bites > San Francisco Sips > I left my heart in San Francisco > Shopping in San Francisco > San Francisco Treats > Best of San Francisco’s Bakeries > San Francisco’s Coffee Culture

How about you? What would you add?

See my entire collection of San Francisco posts in my San Francisco Guide. Also, you can save 42% off admission to the best San Francisco attractions with a San Francisco CityPASS. PLUS, skip most tickets lines!

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Calvin F.

Thursday 18th of May 2017

It's nice if you like bustling city vibe

Andi Fisher

Saturday 20th of May 2017

@Calvin, you'd be surprised by how many quiet spots there are in the city ;-)

Geri Sandoval

Thursday 22nd of December 2016

Have always wanted to go to San Francisco and to go for the Holidays would be a dream come true.

Tania B

Wednesday 7th of January 2015

I can't wait to get to San Fran someday! Your post has me super jelly now!

Julia Flaherty

Monday 5th of January 2015

I love how detailed this post is. Thanks for sharing about your travels. I am going to LA in February, so I'm excited to post about my own experience traveling to California for the first time as well. Your post has me even more excited about it!

Andi Fisher

Monday 12th of January 2015

@Julia, oh LA, so much to eat there! My favorite thing so far, and it is so silly is a chocolate shake with whiskey at 25 degrees in the Roosevelt hotel!


Sunday 4th of January 2015

I've always wanted to go to San Francisco. That food looks fabulous!