Things to Do Beyond San Francisco This Holiday Season
There is plenty of fun to be had in San Francisco this holiday season, but don’t restrict yourself to city limits. Beyond San Francisco, you will find a rich variety of events and activities to put you in the holiday spirit.
Take a spin on the ice at Monterey's seasonal skating rink, now through Jan. 5, 2020, located in the Custom House Plaza. The nearby Portola Hotel & Spa hosts its Winter Wonderland, Dec. 13-25. You and your family can enjoy live music and delectable treats themed around the Twelve Days of Christmas. You can also ring in the New Year at a celebration of the arts when you join First Night Monterey is on Dec. 31, from 3 p.m. to midnight. Ring in 2020 with live performances, public art, and workshops for all ages.
Other holiday happenings abound here; find your perfect New Year’s Eve celebration or plan your stay around the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. Winter is the best time to spot gray whales along the coastline. Whale-watching tours run almost daily, and Jan. 25 – 27, 2020, mark Whalefest Monterey, an event celebrating the itinerant cetaceans with live music, documentary screenings and lectures. The stunning coastline also offers glimpses of sea otters, harbor seals and sea lions. End your day sipping toasty concoctions by a fireplace with a view.
Tuolumne County’s historic role in the California gold rush isn’t its only claim to fame. This area hosts a wide variety of holiday events that bring visitors back every year. Railfans can relive the magical journey of The Polar Express™ on an hour-long train ride to the North Pole at Jamestown's Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. Hot chocolate and yummy cookies add to the festivities as riders journey north. Upon arrival, Santa will give each passenger a silver sleigh bell, the “first gift of Christmas.” Rides will be offered on select Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Nov. 29 & 30, and Dec. 6-8, 13-15 & 20-22.
For some serious skiing and snowboarding, head to Dodge Ridge Ski Resort. To experience true serenity, strap on some snowshoes for a guided tour of the Yosemite Valley, tread among the park’s legendary Giant Sequoias or go for a stargazing hike. When it’s time to get warm and fuzzy, opt for a wine tasting at Gianelli Vineyards, Inner Sanctum Cellars, Hurst Ranch or Yosemite Cellars, or sample some hard cider, served warm and with a kick at Indigeny Reserve.
Fall and winter aren’t just critical for growing grapes here; they’re an ideal time to explore Napa Valley's wine country. As Cabernet Season gets into full swing, you’ll find hearty food and wine pairings to warm you up. Head to Calistoga for a Winter in the Wineries Passport. Resorts here offer pure relaxation via natural mud baths and hot springs. For an unforgettable blend of culture, food and wine, plan to visit Nov. 13 – 17, 2019 for the Napa Valley Film Festival. Hop about the Napa Valley Wine Train's Santa Train. Sip hot cocoa, munch freshly-baked cookies, and join in games and sing-alongs with a jolly cast of characters headlined by Santa himself. The train departs daily at 5 p.m., Nov. 19 through Dec. 27, with special second departures on certain days. Or, head to the Pauper’s Feast at the Calistoga Inn, a budget-friendly, holiday-themed meal popular with locals. In mid-January, the Napa Truffle Festival offers chef-led cooking demos and products celebrating the rare delicacy.
Things may slow down after summer, but that’s when the hills come alive with sunny blooms of mustard flowers in Sonoma County. In fall and winter, watch for migrating whales from the area’s scenic coastal overlooks. This time of year, fishing fleets take to Bodega Bay for Dungeness crab season. Warm up with vino from Sonoma’s many wineries; some offer behind-the-scenes tours of their facilities in the off-season. Plan your late-winter visit around one of the area’s many food-and-drink-focused events, like Winter Wineland, Jan. 18 – 19, 2020, or February’s Rodney Strong Wine and Chocolate Fantasy, a fitting Valentine’s Day prelude. The "Holidays in Healdsburg" walking tour is a popular holiday tradition that lets visitors explore the sights, sounds, scents and tastes of this gorgeous town. Choose from the four-hour daytime tour (available daily beginning Nov. 29-Dec. 31, 2019) or the two-hour evening tour (available select days Nov. 29-Dec. 31).
East of the city, you’ll find a moderate climate, trails to explore and delicious beverages to sample in the Tri-Valley Region. Parks and preserves here offer diverse terrains ideal for winter hiking and biking. Go for a guided Christmas Eve hike on Mt. Diablo (often the only place locals can see snow in wintertime). From the peak, take in sweeping views of the three valleys that give this region its name. The trail to Marietta Falls is also a worthy trek. Self-guided bicycle tours take you to farm-to-table restaurants, cultural attractions and, yes, vineyards. If you enjoy your wine with a side of history, you’re in luck: the 55 wineries of Livermore Valley Wine Country make up one of the oldest wine regions in the U.S. As for the area’s storied craft beer scene, download a Tri-Valley Beer Trail Passport and explore the 24 craft breweries that make up the Tri-Valley Beer Trail. Downtown areas here offer locally owned boutiques where you’ll find items that are uniquely Northern Californian.
Illuminate SF is a gorgeous display of light art that takes a seasonal turn around the holidays. While the installations are on display year-round, the Illuminate SF Festival of Light takes place from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. The free event lets you experience art that reflects holiday themes and the changing seasons.
This holiday season, take a break from the city and enjoy the many exciting events taking place in the surrounding area. Come experience Northern California's winter wonderland!