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Christmas at San Francisco Bay

December 10th, 2010 · No Comments · Activities, Christmas Season, san francisco, Union Square

Christmas in San Francisco

From Flickr cc 2.0 ingridtaylar

Spending the holiday season in a foreign city can be pretty depressing for some. Being away from home can be difficult at any point during the year, but many people feel that bout of homesickness creeping over them when the holiday season approaches. Not only do we traditionally celebrate with family and friends who may not be with us on our yuletide trip, but there are rituals and traditions that may not happen in whichever foreign country or strange city we are in when the decorations go up, the lights come on and the carolers start their melodious (or annoying) chirping.

If you come from a country, which celebrates Christmas in the modern Western tradition, however, then you shouldn’t find yourself having to look too far for those familiar December sights in the city of San Francisco. As with any other city in North America, the City on the Bay has everything you are accustomed to. And best of all, most of them are free (well, except the pre- and post-Christmas shopping frenzy).

Oh Christmas Tree

Any city worth its weight in Christmas presents will have a tree on public display. San Francisco’s biggest and best known is the Macy’s Christmas Tree at Union Square- and it doesn’t disappoint. The 80-foot wonder is decked out with over 1,000 lights, whose radiant glow rivals that of a small city, plus about 1,500 red and gold ornaments.

Macy’s Great Tree, Union Square, downtown. MUNI: Powell. Cost: Free. Thanksgiving-January 1st.

San Francisco's Christmas Tree

From flickr cc 2.0 hjl

If, however, you long for the cool alpine scent only a real tree can give off, head to the Presidio neighborhood, a residential enclave on the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula. The setting is slightly less frenetic, but the soothing glow from the subtle lights can be just what you need. And while you’re there, why not head to the nearby Marina district and grab a warm drink at one of the neighborhood cafes, such as the organic and locally sourced (as is the trend in this city) The Plant Café, a locals’ favorite serving veggie burgers, quinoa and other delicious whole foods.

The Presido Christmas Tree, Lincoln Blvd at Funston, The Presidio. MUNI: bus #43. Cost: Free
The Plant Café, 3352 Steiner St, Marina District. Open: 11.00am-9.30pm M-F; 10.00am-9.30pm Sat/Sun.

Bright Lights, Big City

There seems to be a collective of people in one neighborhood who manage to orchestrate a residential light show each year. In San Francisco, there is an ubiquitous glow each night in December as the residents of Lexington Street in the Mission neighborhood light up our lives- and their Victorian facades, windows and doors. Tactful in its inner-city setting, a string of lights hung above this smaller side street completes the display and draws visitors off the busy Valencia St thoroughfare. But don’t expect any inflatable suburban Santas or fake snow- this is the hipster-cool neighborhood of The Mission!

Lexington Street Christmas lights, Lexington Street, The Mission (between 19th and 20th) MUNI: J train, buses 22 or 49. Cost: Free


So you have either shunned Christmas for its consumerist side, have no family or friends here to celebrate it with, or for religious reasons, you just don’t. So what should you do on this day instead of your annual “stay at home, eat as much as you can and then fall into a food-induced coma” ritual? All the movie theaters are shut, only the Chinese restaurants are open, everyone at the bars is a rambling alcoholic, a loner or both, and your friends are all coupled off and otherwise engaged, wearing Rudolph sweaters and drinking eggnog. Hold on- there’s an event which caters to people who don’t celebrate Christmas- and as far as we know, they’re neither alcoholics nor loners, and they probably have family and friends. The Kung Pao Kosher Comedy brings together other non-celebrators to deliver ‘Jewish comedy in a Chinese restaurant’.
In its 18th year, the price of the ticket includes a stand-up comedy show, a fixed menu dinner and lots of laughs- and you won’t be alone, because seating is at “family-style” banquet tables of ten.

Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, Chinatown. Tickets $42-$62. For more information visit

On Ice

Ice-skating is a great induction to the winter hobbies of north Americans. Most rinks are frequented by a mixture of first-date adolescent couples, swift pro-hockey players who slice past you, trendy twenty-somethings, and parents and their children. Coupled with a soundtrack of smile-inducing pop music, and the constant comedy of the numerous falls, skids and run-ins, you have a staple Christmas activity that’s always a crowd-pleaser.
The Embarcadero Ice Skating Rink is outdoors, with the Financial District’s skyscrapers on one side and the historic Ferry Building on the other. Ice-skate rentals are available and most are in considerably good condition. It can get crowded at times, although less so during the week- beginners will feel comfortable with a good deal of personal space on the ice! Be sure to phone ahead and avoid disappointment, as sometimes pre-booked private parties can close off the ice for an hour or two.

The Embarcadero Center Holiday Ice Rink. 4 Embarcadero Center, Financial District. MUNI: Embarcadero. Cost: Adults $13, kids $9.50 (prices include skate rental).

San Francisco’s holiday activities are numerous and, for the most part, are free. Most take place outside and thus lend a warm, convivial atmosphere to the venue, which is great for both groups and individuals alike. The best part about this? Unlike many other major US cities, its mild winters allow you to enjoy most of the outdoor attractions all through the holiday season.

By: Ben Barry, Copyright SFTRAVEL LLC


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