Looking for famtasticTM (family-fantastic) things to do in the winter in San Francisco Bay Area with kids? How about 102 of them?! Chose a few or make this your family bucket list! Have a famtastic winter season!
Table of Contents
Special Holiday Exhibits
- Travel from the North to the South Pole through snow flurries and (first time ever!) ice skate at the ‘Tis the Season for Science at the Cal Academy of Science. Starting November 21st.
- Invite Walt Disney into your Christmas tradition by watching “Christmas with Walt Disney” at the Walt Disney Museum. (Run time is 68 minutes so for older kids!) Starting in December.
- Got younger kids? Walt Disney Museum will have an “immersive seasonal installation celebrating Walt’s family and love of trains” for Home for the Holidays at Carolwood. Starting November 9th.
- Take in the winter small town setting at the Holidays at Healdsburg Museum – Model Trains Spectacular! Starting November 24th.
- Interactive and imagination inducing light exhibits at IlluminOdyssey: A Winter Light Experience for Kids at the CuriOdyssey in San Mateo! Starting November 10th.
- Celebrate the winter holidays of many cultures (Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas, Diwali and Chinese New Year) at Fairy Winterland at Fairyland in Oakland! December 15 -23.
- Want to watch a lighting ceremony with sea lions and Disney characters? Check out the Pier 39 Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony. November 19.
- The mother of all tree and Menorah lighting in San Francisco – Union Square Tree and Menorah Lighting. Would you be one of the ambitious and lucky ones to watch it from the comfort of the balcony at the Cheesecake Factory or one of the rooms at the Westin St. Francis? These places have one of the best views there. November 24.
- Celebrate the Lighting of the LeRoy King Carousel at the Children’s Creativity Museum and festivities in the Yerba Buena Children’s Garden for carnival games, snow play, and free lantern luminaries workshop! November 25.
- For a tree lighting with a hopeful message (we all need it these days) and a concert by the SF Boys Choir – go to the Rainbow World Tree of Hope lighting at City Hall. December 4.
- Tree lighting with carolers, light refreshments, and kids activities – followed by a lantern-lit forest walk? Only at the Presidio Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony! December 8.
- Go watch the annual Ghirardelli Square Tree and Menorah lighting while enjoying hot (Ghirardelli) chocolate!
- Into a more local lighting ceremony? Check out the choir, trains, Santa and rides on police cars and bikes at SF Park and Rec Annual Tree Lighting at McLaren Lodge.
- Take part of Chanukah tradition since 1975 at the Chanukah Festival of Lights in Union Square. December 24-31.
- Wagon rides, beverages and treats, and traditional Christmas songs at this Benicia Holiday Open House and Tree Lighting! December 1.
- Ring in the holiday season with this waterfront tree lighting ceremony entertained by local musicians at the Jack London Square Tree Lighting in Oakland. December 1.
- Join this over 30 years tradition in Downtown San Jose for the Christmas in the Park Tree Lighting. Festivities at this park will continue after the lighting all season long with over 60 musical and animated exhibits and lights, trains and the enchanted forest of trees decorated by San Jose schools, community groups, and businesses. November 24.
- A little further down South but worth the visit! Celebrate with carolers, Reindeer and Santa Claus at the Monterey Cannery Row Tree Lighting. November 24.
- Lighting ceremony like you are back in time: Horse-drawn carriages, a holiday concert by local school kids, fun crafts and photo with Santa at the Annual Windsor Holiday Celebration and Tree Lighting. December 7.
Holiday Tea Time
- Tea time under the tree at a fancy hotel? Try the Crown and Crumpet Tea under the tree at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel! Starting November 25.
- Another fancy hotel favorite – Gingerbread Holiday Tea at the Fairmont San Francisco. Starting November 24.
- A full buffet of tea sandwiches, scones, and petit fours along with tours of the mansion after the tea service – only at the Holiday Victorian Teas by the San Francisco Heritage. The weekend of December 8-10.
- Children’s Magical Tea at the Top of the Mark – Wendy the Whimsical Elf and cookie decoration station too!? Can’t-miss this one! Various days starting December 1.
- Teddy Bear Tea at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco – Teddy bear cut out treats, elf, and giant Teddy Bear. Includes a teddy bear gift and photo. Starting November 25.
- Young ladies and gentleman aged 5-10 can enjoy tea seated in a private room while making ornaments and decorating gingerbread man at the Christmas Fairy Tea Party at Lisa’s Tea Treasures in Los Altos. December 8.
- Tea and hot cocoa, sandwiches and holiday cookies for your little one while listening to holiday music and fireside story time! Storytime in English and French. So dapper at “Un Thé au Petit Jardin”! Teddy Bear Tea in San Anselmo or Sonoma. December 9 and December 16.
- Tea surrounded by Christmas trimmings and Christmas menu at Holiday Tea at the English Rose. Starting November 24.
- Benicia Christmas Parade and Holiday Market will have dancers, Santa Claus, and handcrafted arts and crafts as well as delicious foods! December 9.
- Good cheer, good music, food and arts and crafts by Northern California’s finest artists – sign us up at Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair. 3 weekends starting December 9.
- Urban Air Market: Holiday Show at Jack London Square will have 100+ local and sustainable vendors for ethically made gifts. Food trucks, patio bar, and photo booth make for fun for all ages! December 3.
- Cable Car Caroling – a 33-year-old tradition in San Francisco which is a multicultural event with Hispanic Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs with a great cause bringing holiday cheer to isolated older adults and adults with disabilities. December 2.
- Curious Contraptions Holiday Party at the Exploratorium is a member only event where they will have festive activities and shopping night – hands-on tinkering, live music, and light installations! December 11.
- Members-only holiday fun at the Cal Academy! Holiday Night at the Cal Academy of Science brings special treats to members. Last year, they had cookie decorating and the entire place open to just members! December 12.
- Holiday Caroling Party at Little Mission Studio brings you performance by Little Mission Chorus and Little Mission Singers then caroling through the Mission at local restaurants, businesses, and few festively decorated houses. December 12.
- SF Zoo Lights gives you a whole new look at the zoo with lights, snow, reindeer and Santa Claus! Starting December 15.
- Holiday Festival of Dance in San Mateo transforms San Mateo High School gym into a holiday theatrical production with lighting, costumes, and music! The weekend of December 9.
- Great Dickens Christmas Fair is our yearly tradition. The only place in the Bay Area to time warp into streets of London Victorian time. Dance parties, pubs and plays all under one roof! Starting November 18.
- Family friendly holiday event at a winery? Sign us up!! West Wines Scandinavian Christmas in the Tasting Room in Healdsburg will have candies and cookies for the kids and sidewalk crayons while the winery shows you how Swedish celebrate Christmas! Hint: Glögg (mulled wine) will be served. The weekend of November 24-26.
- Snow sledding, parade, and other kids activities at San Rafael Parade of Lights and Winter Wonderland. November 24-25.
- Fire up your competitive side at Gingerbread House Competition and Tour in Sausalito. December 1. (On display until December 31.)
- Free parking at streets of Sausalito for Holiday Shopping at Sausalito Downtown so you can get your shopping spree on without worrying about a parking ticket! December 1.
- Join the giant Gingerbread man and sing your hearts out at Gingerbread Man Carols in Sausalito. The weekend of December 2-3.
- All day festivities start with an art and craft sale, choir, bands, Candy-land games, horse-drawn wagon rides and Santa arriving on a Firetruck – then tree lighting to top it off? No time for naps this day at the Tiburon Holiday Festival. December 2.
- Check out how the people in Victorian times decorated for the holidays at Luther Burbank Home and Gardens Holiday Open House. December 2-3.
- Sausalito Winterfest will have lighted boat parade and fireworks! December 9.
- Lighting of the Snowman in Sonoma will have lit up snowman at the Cornerstone Gardens. Check it out while you wine taste! Celebration on December 2, and display on view through December.
- Tot-friendly games (snowflake toss, windy parachute, pin the nose on the snowman) are some of the fun things you can do at the Tots Winter Carnival at the Live Oak Social Hall in Berkeley! December 2.
- Food, music, games, snow play, Santa and parade of lighted boats at the Winter on the Waterfront – Lighted Boat Parade by Berkeley Yacht Club. December 9.
- Floating light parade anyone? Don’t miss this hidden gem – Discovery Bay Christmas Boat Parade! December 10.
- Festively lit gondola right to see the entire Bay Area? New laser light shows and thousands of holiday lights – only at the Oakland ZooLights! Starting December 1.
- World’s largest theme park will have millions (!!) of lights, holiday entertainment, and seasonal treats. Don’t miss the Santa village too at Holiday in the Park at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom!
We know, Sacramento isn’t technically the Bay Area, but these events are just too good not to include on our list!
- Theatre of Lights at Old Sacramento – watch Santa come to life where the historical district street turns into a theater! 20 min production of “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. Starting November 22.
- Walk through this holiday festival and multi-cultural celebration with illuminated landscapes celebrating holidays around the world! Ice skating and full carnivals with rides and delicious international cuisine! Only at the Global Winter Wonderland at Sacramento Expo Center.
- Tickets sell out fast for the Polar Express at California Railroad Museum – But we are all over an event where you get to wear your PJs in public and get on board to meet Santa and other characters!
- Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train will have vintage excursion cars adorned with thousands of lights and sing carols, sip on hot spiced cider and visits from Santa! Starting November 24.
- Ride the Roaring Camp’s daytime steam train to Bear Mountain, and go for a walk along decorated holiday trees while sipping on hot cider at the Roaring Camp Railroad Holiday Tree Walk! Starting November 24.
- Starting with menorah lighting at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and get on board a 1-hour train ride adorned with thousands of lights and Chanukah decorations on Chanukah Train at Roaring Camp Railroad, Santa Cruz. December 14.
- Santa Wine Train in Napa Valley. Wine and Santa just go well. Especially if they have hot cocoa and baked cookies, games, sing-alongs and other characters to entertain your little one. Starting November 18.
- Your local favorite train in the park will be all lit up for WinterFest at Tilden Park Steam Train. TBD.
- Ride the train at Oakland Zoo for a fun time at the zoo after dark at Oakland Zoo Lights!
- Niles Canyon or Sunol – in Fremont is you can ride an hour-long round trip through Niles Canyon Railway Train of Lights, filled with refreshments, music and cheer aboard train cars decorated with lights.
Lights and Displays
- Warm your hearts with the SF SPCA & Macy’s Holiday Window Unvailing to see the adorable and adoptable animals! Celebrations with a special performance by the De Marillac Academy Choir and partnership with Snoopy will sure to get your kids excited! November 17.
- This year, the Gingerbread House at the Fairmont will be larger than the 2 story high Victorian from last year! Starting November 25.
- Rent out the Love Tour VW van for a Holiday Lights Tour – how much more San Francisco holidays can it get? Starting November 25.
- A list of lights and displays of San Francisco won’t be complete without a mention of the Tom and Jerry’s House (3650 21st Street). It’s insane. So many things to look at – including a roller coaster set! and the history of how this decoration started, is even cooler. A must for the holidays in San Francisco! (Santa makes an appearance too.)
- Union Street Holiday Lights kicks off starting the Fantasy of Lights event December 2. Validated parking (yay), store open houses with refreshments and evening shopping and of course, holiday lights! The event will also have jugglers, live ponies dressed as reindeer, face painters, balloon artists, costumed characters, singers and live entertainment – Santa himself too.
- Upside Down Christmas Tree at Westfield is gorgeous and cannot be missed while you get your holiday shopping done.
- Westin St. Francis Castle and Train is also our annual tradition. The castle is made out of sugar! Starting November 23.
- Parkway Estates Lights at 501 Woodside Ct. (off Chestnut) in South San Francisco has one of the best holiday lights around! Nearly 100 residents light up their homes. It can get crowded so the best way to look at them is on foot.
- You can walk or drive through the Fantasy of Lights in Los Gatos starting December 2. Make sure to pre-purchase your tickets!
- Sebastopol Holiday Home Tour and Artisan Boutique have 5 decorated homes and a historic school. Each place displays holiday spirit in its own unique way. Starting December 8.
- Get in the holiday spirit by seeing the Victorian-inspired Patterson House all lit up and fully decorated for the holidays at Christmas Evening Open House at The Patterson House in Freemont.
- Widmer-World in Pleasanton is a local display with a punch! This place has almost an acre of holiday lights and something new will be added this year! Starting December 1.
- Go to the 7th floor of Macy’s Union Square to check out Santaland! Starting November 24.
- Want experience what it’s like to stay where Santa and Mrs. Claus stay when they are in town? Santa Suite at the Fairmont San Francisco is where you can experience all of what Santa does! Starting at $1599.00 per night. Starting December 1.
- Westfield Santa Dome will be on level 4 under the dome – check out the website for Santa’s schedule. Starting November 20.
- Santa loves to shop and have breakfast at the Stanford Shopping Center! December 2.
- Santa and California Pizza Kitchen? Sign us up. Hillsdale Mall is hosting Santa for breakfast there. Check out their other events like Gingerbread House Decorating too! December 2.
- A chance to have breakfast with Santa before he gears up for his Christmas tour at the Sausalito Yacht Club. December 2.
- Did you know that Santa has a seaplane? Watch him land in Sausalito from the North Pole! December 19.
- Meet Santa along with reindeer Snowflake and Blizzard at the Bay Area Discovery Museum! December 16 & 17. Reindeer will be roaming around until December 23.
- Visit Santa at Chloe’s Closet in Albany while you do your shopping! Free photo ops and treats! December 3.
- Santa is coming to the Frances Albrier Auditorium in Berkeley. Gifts, snacks, and signing! December 14.
- Bay Area’s largest outdoor ice rink on a beautiful city setting, easily accessible before or after you hit up the shops at the Ferry Building at Embarcadero Center Holiday Ice Rink! Starting November 3.
- Regain a little romance skating under the most famous tree in San Francisco (you can do it, even with kids) at the Union Square Ice Skating Rink. Starting November 1.
- Downtown on Ice in San Jose is supported by Kristi Yamaguchi’s Always Dream Foundation and you can skate among gorgeously lit palm trees. Starting November 17.
- San Mateo on Ice is “Bay Area’s Largest Outdoor Skating” (similar to the Embarcadero Center tagline :)) open to all ages! Starting November 10.
- Winter Lodge in Palo Alto is a “family tradition since 1956“ check their schedule for “open” or “family” sessions for when you can go with kids all ages! Open now.
- Marin on Ice in San Rafael is open to all ages, offering daily recreational ice skating! Starting November 8.
- The name gives you a hint on the size of the rink, The Little Ice Rink in Alameda has “Bobby” the seal skating aid which helps you balance if you aren’t comfortable on the ice. Starting November 3.
- Walnut Creek on Ice has gliders to rent for your little ones who can’t quite balance on their own. Starting November 10.
- Santa’s Tree Farm has a cute little Santa Village to check out before or after you cut your own tree! Opening November 18.
- Lemos Farm is a hit in our household fall and winter long. Not necessarily a cut your own, but this place is just cool with train rides through the Christmas Tree field with holiday decorations all around. Also available are a petting zoo and pony rides! Open on the weekends.
- Grandma Buddy’s Christmas Trees in Sebastopol has over 10,000 trees to choose from. This farm includes a Victorian farmhouse, barn and a creek with bridges with miniature Christmas village. Starting November 25.
- Frosty Mountain Tree Farm in Sebastopol has tractor hayride, and picnic areas to fuel you up after some hard sawing. They also have an old red barn with Santa’s Workshop and Mrs. Klaus’ Kitchen with farm animals! Starting November 24.
- Castro Valley Christmas Tree Farm is a perfect “woods” in the middle of East Bay. Started in 1965 by a UC Berkeley Forestry professor! Opening November 24.
- Ring in the New Year by taking a swing at a giant 2,100 pound 16th century Japanese temple bell at the Asian Art Museum on New Year’s Day! First come, first served.
- Noon Year’s Eve at Hiller Aviation Museum will bring you balloon drop at noon with live music, activities and face painting! (Check out their airplanes too!)
- Noon Year’s Even across Time Zones Ball Drop at Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose gives you lots of opportunities to say “Happy New Year!”
- Bay Area Discovery Museum Noon Year’s Eve Party will have a ball drop at noon, magic show, Zumba, dancing and art activities. December 31.
- Chabot Space & Science Center Global Celebration honors New Years from all over the world!
- Noon Year’s Eve at Albany Community Center is for kids under 11 years old so they can celebrate at noon with music, crafts and more!