San Francisco Winter Bucket List: Festive Holiday Traditions, Snowy Getaways, and More

1. Catch the Spirit of the Season at Union Square

Ah, the holidays in Union Square. Romantic, magical, and so festive. Feeling Scrooged? Head to Union Square for some retail therapy and soak in the sights, sounds, and smells of the season to get in the spirit.

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2. See The Nutcracker

In 1944, The Nutcracker made its U.S. debut at the San Francisco Ballet on Christmas Eve. The production’s success started the American holiday tradition of Nutcracker performances. This year, The Nutcracker opens on December 13th, and will run through December 30th.

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3. Eat Drink, Drink, and Be Merry at SantaCon

The first SantaCon took place in San Francisco 23 years ago as performance art. It sparked a nationwide tradition of red-suited urbanites taking over city streets for a mass pub crawl. This year’s SantaCon will take place on December 9th from 12PM–2AM, beginning in Union Square.

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4. Warm Yourself with Irish Coffee at Buena Vista Cafe

Forget brunch, head to the Buena Vista Cafe with a friend and warm yourself up with some boozy coffee — San Francisco’s famous Irish Coffee. Or as we now call it: covfefe.

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5. Pay a Visit to Tom and Jerry’s House

You could waste your time hunting lackluster Christmas lights in Saint Francis Wood, or you can head straight to Tom and Jerry’s House for their spectacular annual holiday light extravaganza.

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6. Head to Tahoe for a Weekend of Winter Sports

With the largest concentration of ski lifts and ski resorts, Tahoe is at the top of the bucket list for skiers and snowboarders. Rent an Airbnb (or enjoy the Great Indoors at Basecamp South Lake Tahoe) and map out your plan of attack for après-ski.

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7. Buy Mistletoe at Clancy’s Christmas Trees

Clancy’s is San Francisco’s go-to for Christmas trees, garland, wreaths, and more. Don’t have room for a tree? Pick up some mistletoe to hang over your doorway.

8. Shop Gump’s Kitschy and Festive Holiday Shop

San Francisco’s famed department store is a winter wonderland of high-end holiday kitsch. From gingerbread houses worthy of Architectural Digest to ornate nutcrackers and elaborate Christmas carousels, Gump’s holiday shop will make the hearts of even the scroogiest Grinches grow three sizes.

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9. Visit a Christmas Market

San Francisco really lacks in the holiday market department. Unlike New York, where parks like Union Square and Bryant Park transform into massive holiday markets, San Francisco has a few temporary holiday markets. They’re fleeting, so don’t miss them:

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10. Go Ice Skating

Although San Francisco is missing out on the metropolitan tradition of holiday markets, a few parks do transform into ice skating rinks. Head to Union Square or the Embarcadero for outdoor ice skating in California.

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11. Watch Home Alone at the San Francisco Symphony

No matter how many times you have seen Home Alone, you’ve never seen it like this. On December 16th, 17th, and 20th, the San Francisco Symphony will perform John Williams’ score during a special screening of the holiday classic.

12. Take a Stroll Through Christmas Past at The Great Dickens Christmas Fair

Visit Charles Dickens’ Victorian London at the Cow Palace, where every day is Christmas Eve, and the aroma of roasted chestnuts fill the air. Here, you’ll find music halls, theatres, pubs, and shops with handmade holiday treasures throughout the lamplit city. The Great Dickens Christmas Fair is open now through December 17th.

13. Go Cable Car Caroling

Take part in the Institute on Aging’s 33rd Annual Cable Car Caroling fundraising event on December 2nd, and help raise money while singing holiday songs to seniors and disabled adults. For every $100 you raise, you’ll receive a free cable car ticket!

14. Window Shop for Puppies and Kittens at Macy’s

SF SPCA’s annual adoption pop-up shop brings joy to thousands of spectators and hundreds of households who choose to adopt at the Union Square Macy’s. More than 300 animals find a home through the SPCA’s Macy’s adoption center, and over $100,000 in funds are raised. The annual display is now open, and will last through January 1, 2018.

15. Watch Beach Blanket Babylon’s Holiday Extravaganza

Beach Blanket Babylon is always a good idea, but especially so during the holiday season. The world’s longest-running musical revue’s holiday extravaganza highlights the best and worst of 2017 with hilarious spoofs of popular culture, and will run through December 31st.


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