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The Best Things To Do in San Francisco in December

November 13, 2022
Christmas lights display outside

San Francisco is a city unlike any other, and no matter the time of year you choose to visit, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience.

If you decide to visit San Francisco in December, you’ll often be rewarded with fewer crowds, cheaper hotel rates, and unparalleled holiday light displays. The temperatures do drop to the mid-50s, but as long as you come prepared with plenty of layers, you’re sure to enjoy all that wintertime in San Francisco has to offer.

What to do in San Francisco in December

From holiday lights to chocolate made on the spot, there are plenty of things to warm your spirit in the cold of San Francisco in December. Explore SF foot or hop in a cable car to see the views of the entire city and the bay from the hilltops.

Here are some seasonal ideas to get you started.

The inverted tree at Westfield San Francisco Centre

Credit: Emma Webster

Take a break from Christmas shopping to check out the bizarrely beautiful 50-foot inverted tree at the Westfield San Francisco Centre. Adorned with crystals, the tree hangs in the Emporium Dome and stars in hundreds of Instagram photos each year.

When to go: The tree is typically lit the first week of December. Check the Westfield SF Centre website for information on this year’s dates.

San Francisco City Hall lights

Credit: Emma Webster

San Francisco’s City Hall, located by the Civic Center, is known for its frequently changing light displays. In the summer, City Hall’s lights turn red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July, and rainbow colors splash across the building for Pride Month.

In December, visit City Hall to see bright green and red ushering in the holiday season. 

When to go: Holiday lights at City Hall typically shine beginning mid-December until the end of the year. Visit the San Francisco City Hall website for the full scheduling of lightings.

Ghirardelli Square at Fisherman’s Wharf

Ghirardelli Square at Fisherman's Wharf in SF

With signature sundaes, local craft beer, and the famous marquee, a visit to Ghirardelli Square in Fisherman’s Wharf is great any time of year. But a trip in December promises a bit of extra excitement, thanks to a 50-foot Christmas tree in the middle of the square and visits from Santa. See chocolate made from scratch, shop locally made gifts, and, of course, stock up on incomparable chocolate delights.

When to go: Holiday decorations — including the giant Christmas tree — at Ghirardelli Square usually go up around the last week of November. Follow @ghirardellisquare on Instagram to stay updated.

Macy’s Great Tree and holiday window displays

Macy's Christmas display in San Francisco in December

Macy’s famous 83-foot tree lights up Union Square in San Francisco every season. The impressive Christmas tree is also accompanied by their holiday window displays, so you can admire (and photograph) both for a festive day out.

When to go: The lighting usually begins the week before Thanksgiving, and the tree will twinkle all the way through the day after New Year’s. Find out more on their website.

Shopping and lights at Fourth Street in Berkeley

Christmas lights

Fourth Street in Berkeley lights up in December with sparkling tree-lined streets. Come for the holiday wonderland feel, and stay for the endless shopping all on one street, from big names like Madewell and Apple to local handmade goods. 

When to go: Go on a December evening. You can check out the Fourth Street Shops website in advance to see which stores are currently open.

Illuminate SF Festival of Light

Starting in late November, San Francisco’s Festival of Light brightens the city with over 60 light art installations across the city. These dazzling installations are created by artists all over the world, and some are even up year-round.

From dancing lights on the Bay Bridge to the illuminated Ferris wheel in Golden Gate Park, December is the perfect time to brighten up the long winter nights with dazzling light displays. 

When to go: The light installations are up from Thanksgiving through January. Take a self-guided tour with the Illuminate SF art tour map and learn more on the Illuminate SF website.

Top things to do in San Francisco for December 2022

From boat parades and dancing candy canes to seeing the zoo aglow, there’s no shortage of festive activities in the Bay Area during the holiday season. Here are some of our suggestions for the best winter activities to celebrate the most wonderful time of year.

“Entwined” at Golden Gate Park

trees with colored lights in December for Christmas

When: Beginning Dec. 1, 2022

This year, Golden Gate Park is celebrating the holidays by bringing back their popular immersive LED light display experience, “Entwined.” 

The art installation by Bay Area artist Charles Gadekin will turn the park’s Peacock Meadow into an “enchanted forest” with 2,000 LED lights. “Entwined” promises magic and whimsy with every step.

“The Nutcracker” by the San Francisco Ballet

Nutcracker ballet

When: Dec. 8-27, 2022

San Francisco Ballet’s annual performance of “The Nutcracker” impresses each year at the War Memorial Opera House. The incredible dancing is accompanied with a score by the Grammy award-winning San Francisco Orchestra. 

Visit ​​ for tickets and more information.

Holiday ice rink in Union Square

When: Nov. 2, 2022, to Jan. 16, 2023

Embrace the holiday season by ice skating in the outdoor rank in Union Square at The Safeway Holiday Ice Rink presented by Kaiser Permanente. Enjoy open skating most days throughout the end of the year, and stay tuned for special events like skating lessons, silent skate parties, Drag Queens on Ice, and more. 

Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for children. Purchase tickets and keep up with events on the Union Square Ice Rink website.

San Francisco lighted boat parade

lighted boat parade

When: Dec. 16, 2022

Watching boats adorned in holiday lights sail across the bay is a yearly tradition for many Bay Area residents.Watch boats of all sizes glide through the marina wearing their holiday best at the Annual Lighted Boat Parade in San Francisco at Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason, or Crissy Field. The event is free to attend.

Gingerbread house competition in Sausalito

Gingerbread house

When: Dec. 1-31, 2022

Across the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito celebrates the holidays in style with gingerbread bread houses galore. Walk through downtown Sausalito to view the extravagant gingerbread houses entered in the Annual Gingerbread House Competition.

Cast your vote for the winner on this free and family-friendly tour. You can even download the tour map in advance on their website.

SF Symphony Deck the Hall celebration

symphony practicing for concert

When: Beginning Dec. 4, 2022

Visit the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco to enjoy the sights and sounds of the San Francisco Symphony with the beloved Deck the Hall celebration. Symphony musicians and special guests join the program to play new songs and holiday classics alike in a series of shows throughout December.Check the SF Symphony website for tickets.

Glowfari at Oakland Zoo

When: Nov. 1, 2022, to Jan. 29, 2023

Glowfari features hundreds of massive glowing animal lanterns throughout the Oakland Zoo, from a 15-foot tall penguin to life-size elephants and giraffes. A ride in the zoo’s aerial gondola (which is also decked out in holiday lights) will give you a bird’s-eye view of the magic.

Tickets are $24 for adults and $20 for children and seniors.

’Tis the Season for Science at the California Academy of Sciences

When: Nov. 18, 2022, to Jan. 8, 2023

The California Academy of Sciences’ annual tradition, ’Tis the Season for Science, features twice-hourly snow flurries, cookies, and live reindeer. Yes, reindeer.

The Academy’s reindeer, Peppermint and Cookie, are onsite to offer reindeer facts and holiday joy. Learn more on the California Academy of Sciences website.

Did we miss any December activities in SF?

If we missed a fun event happening in San Francisco in December, give us a shout on Facebook. We want to include as much as possible, and there’s so much to see and do here.

Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy a memorable and festive season, and our guides look forward to showing you around San Francisco soon!