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December 5, 2017

Things to Do in San Francisco This December

In this season of gratitude and gaiety, here’s our gift to you: 31 ideas, one for every day of the month, to best experience this season of seasons in San Francisco. Be sure to pamper yourself in one of San Francisco's hotels for the night, too. And if you can’t squeeze all of them in this month, don’t worry; some of these experiences will be just as rewarding in January or February.

Calling All Rail Fans

California has a number of legendary train routes and vintage railroad companies. The holidays are the perfect time to take a train ride and create some special memories or, in one instance, share a moment at The Walt Disney Family Museum with one of the greatest train lovers of all: Walt Disney.

Cold Play

No, not the British pop-rock group Coldplay. We’re talking about some outdoor adventures or a few twirls around the outdoor ice rinks at Embarcadero Center and Union Square. Located at the foot of Market Street, the Embarcadero Center rink is open until Jan. 7 and the Union Square rink is open until Jan. 15.

Off the Grid Returns to Winter Walk

In between the errands, the shopping and sightseeing, visitors can fortify themselves with food from Off the Grid, which will return to Winter Walk on Stockton Street near Macy’s through Dec. 31, 2017.

Christmas in July

Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 (RWC Sevens 2018) will be held at AT&T Park, July 20-22, 2018, and single-day tickets are available for purchase through Dec. 24, 2017. This is the first-ever RWC Sevens played on U.S. soil. The tournament will bring together the world’s top men’s and women’s teams from more than 25 nations for three days of intense competition. New Zealand will try to retain the men’s and women’s titles from the 2013 Moscow Rugby World Cup Sevens. 2016 Olympic Games gold medal winners, Fiji (men), and, Australia (women), are also expected to contend for the title. These are the best areas to stay for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018.

Disney's Aladdin

Discover a whole new world at Disney’s Aladdin, the hit Broadway musical, now at the SHN Orpheum Theatre through Jan 7, 2018. From the producer of The Lion King comes the timeless Aladdin, a thrilling new production filled with unforgettable beauty, magic, comedy and breathtaking spectacle. Starring Adam Jacobs, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s an extraordinary theatrical event where one lamp and three wishes make the possibilities infinite.

‘Tis the Season for Science

Revel in the wonder of the California Academy of Sciences annual holiday exhibit, “‘Tis the Season for Science: Life on Ice.” An ice rink, indoor snow, festive experiences and more continue through Jan. 7, 2018. On Dec. 9-10, Dec. 22-24 and Dec. 26-Jan. 7, 2018, there will also be holiday performances at noon and 2 p.m. in the Academy’s Piazza stage. The brand new holiday ice rink in the museum’s East Garden offers 55-minute skate sessions in the heart of Golden Gate Park.

You Otter Do It

Aquarium of the Bay, San Francisco’s only waterfront aquarium, brings guests up-close-and-personal with North American river otters. "River Otters: Watershed Ambassadors" features endearing river otters romping, swimming, sleeping, playing, and more. Guests can join Aquarium naturalists for daily “Otter Talks,” a 15-minute presentation to learn more about river otters, including Tahoe, the newest River Otter at the Aquarium. And be sure to watch for news on the upcoming snow days when the Aquarium creates a winter playground for its bevy of otters.

Home for the Holidays

Two-time Emmy Award and five-time Grammy Award nominee Michael Feinstein returns to San Francisco, the city where he launched his career, with "Home for the Holidays," Nov. 29 through Dec. 3. In this all new show celebrating the magic of the season, Feinstein will perform holiday favorites as well as classic standards from the Great American Songbook at Feinstein's at The Nikko.

Butterflies & Blooms at the Conservatory of Flowers

Through Jan. 7, 2018, get eye-to-eye with a butterfly in the exhibit “Butterflies & Blooms” at the Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park. The city’s beloved Victorian greenhouse will transform its Special Exhibit gallery into a garden aflutter with hundreds of butterflies, including magnificent monarchs, western swallowtails, painted ladies and more. The Butterfly Bungalow at the entrance of the gallery lets you observe the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly.

Whiskers and Puppy Dog Tails

The San Francisco SPCA is once again teaming up with Macy's for their annual event where adoptable cats and dogs are showcased in Macy's windows in Union Square. More than 8,500 cats and dogs have been adopted through this program. Get that warm fuzzy feeling through Jan. 1, 2018.

Reindeer Romp and Lights at the Zoo

Through Jan. 1, 2018, Belle, Holly and Peppermint, real live reindeer, will be romping at the San Francisco Zoo & Garden’s Playfield Lawn near the playground. Visit the animals, learn what they eat, and see what they look like up close. The 100-acre park will also be lit up Dec. 15-17, 19-23, 26-30, 2017. ZooLights will include Santa and a holiday marketplace with food and seasonal fare. Music from carolers will fill the air.

Illuminate SF Festival of Light

The Illuminate SF Festival of Light revolves around 37 dramatic, eco-friendly light art installations, accessible by public transportation and free for all. Through New Year’s Day 2018, art lovers are invited to embrace the power of light and tour San Francisco’s art installations, created by a diverse range of local and world renowned light artists. Intimate artist talks, museum tours and a myriad of other light art activations will be offered throughout the festival.

Wine and Beer at PIER 39

Grab your friends and head to The PIER to kick off the holidays with an evening of wine, beer, music and fun at the PIER 39 Winter Wine Pour on Dec. 1, 2017. Stroll The PIER and stop by participating businesses to enjoy tastings, exclusive discounts, and live music and entertainment from 4 - 8 p.m.

PAC-12 Football Championship Game

Presented by 76, the 2017 PAC-12 Football Championship Game will be played on Dec. 1, 2017 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara between Stanford and USC. Kick-off time is 5 p.m. Find a hotel near Levi's Stadium.

San Francisco Silent Film Festival's A Day of Silents

On Dec. 2, 2017, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's "A Day of Silents” offers six silent film programs with live musical accompaniment at the Castro Theater, including the gender-bending 1924 comedy, The Last Man on Earth and the first full-length animated feature, Prince Achmed, loosely based on tales from The Arabian Nights.

Pop-Up at the Asian Art Museum

Stop by the corner of Fulton and Larkin Streets on the first Sunday of every month to join their Village Artist Projects for a free, collaborative hands-on activity. The Art/Lit LIZ space is a Living Innovation Zone (LIZ) shared by the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Public Library. On Dec. 3, 2017, students from the Academy of Art University and #StickyQuestions artists, along with the Museum’s Art Speaks interns, create interactive projects.

SFO Holiday Cheer

The illumination of exterior lighting at SFO has been a holiday tradition for over 10 years. A ceremony, open to media and the public, will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 5 at 5 turn on the holiday lighting. The event will be held on the connecting bridge between Garages A and G. Pedestrian access is available from Level 3 of Garage G. Look for festive Wag Brigade photo stations throughout SFO and snap a selfie. Wag Brigade members will be dressed in festive sweaters, bells and antlers. Launched four years ago, the SFO Wag Brigade brings trained animals to the terminals to make travel more enjoyable

Singers Wanted!

Extranomical Tours just debuted their San Francisco Karaoke Xmas Tour. Specially equipped vehicles will be making the rounds through festive neighborhoods and special holiday displays. Enjoy hot cider, cookies and, of course, songs from your fellow passengers. Book now; tours are offered only on Dec. 8-9, 15-16, and 22-23.

Holiday Art Shop

Every year, Creativity Explored hosts a Holiday Art Shop featuring artwork by more than 135 talented artists, all of whom have developmental disabilities. This year, the gallery and studio are filled with affordable gifts for everyone, including original drawings and paintings, textiles, ceramics, mixed media, and art products, such as Modify watches, t-shirts, notecard packs, pencil pouches and pencils, wrapping paper, and journals—all featuring artwork by Creativity Explored artists.

MoAD: Black. Books. Beats.

Join the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) Chef-in-Residence Bryant Terry on Dec. 9, 2017 for a not-to-be-missed holiday party in the museum lobby. The party will showcase a curated selection of must-have cookbooks celebrating food of the African Diaspora. Visiting from Denver, CO, DJ Cavem will wow the crowd with a performance using vegetables as a beat machine, in addition to spinning classic hip-hop, soul and jazz. There will be small bites and warm drinks, too. Cheers!

SantaCon 2017

Wondering why there’s a gaggle of Santas marching en masse through Union Square or gathered around Grant Avenue’s Buddha Bar in the heart of Chinatown? It’s the annual SantaCon 2017 on Dec. 9, 2017. Get your full elf or Santa suit out of the closet (t-shirts and just a hat don’t count) and show up at noon in Union Square. Bring one new, unwrapped toy that can be donated to the Toys for Tots effort by the United States Marine Corps and practice your ho-ho-hos.

Chanukah Around the City

From Dec. 12-19, 2017, the Bill Graham Menorah will be lit in Union Square. Inaugurated in 1975, this annual tradition was one of the first big public celebrations of Chanukah outside of Israel. At Ghirardelli Square, their annual menorah lighting begins on Dec. 14, 2017 with free children’s activities and music.

Star Shower

Longing for a little star-gazing? One of the most dazzling meteor showers, the Geminids, will peak on the night of Dec. 13 and morning of Dec. 14, 2017. Nearly 200 years old – the first recorded observation was in 1833 from a riverboat on the Mississippi River – the Geminids are one of the most famous meteor showers.

Nifty Gifties

For those who like to plan ahead (and get their shopping for the holidays done early), December offerings include SF Bazaar’s holiday market, featuring 40 local vendors at Nightlife, the California Academy of Sciences’ weekly after-hours event on Dec. 14, 2017, and the SFMade Gift Show on Dec. 17, 2017 at California College of Arts, 1111 Eighth St. And if you’re a “lefty,” check out The Left Hand Store at PIER 39 – the store even sells left-handed guitars.

Just for Giggles

Tickets are on sale for the 25th annual “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy: Jewish Comedy on Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant.” The shows are scheduled for Dec. 23-25, 2017 at the New Asia Restaurant in the heart of Chinatown. Featured comedians this year include Cathy Ladman, Gary Gulman, Wendy Liebman and Lisa Geduldig.

Free Community Day at CJM on Dec. 25

The Contemporary Jewish Museum's Community Day is an admission-free, fun-for-all extravaganza on Dec. 25 that has become an annual tradition for Bay Area families. Explore the galleries, create art, and move and groove to live music, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Bowl Bound

Wrap up the year with championship football at Levi’s Stadium. The 2017 Foster Farms Bowl will kick off on Saturday, Dec. 27, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. The 16th annual Bay Area bowl game features a matchup between top teams from the Pac-12 and the Big Ten conferences. Find a hotel near Levi's Stadium.

Meanwhile, Out West …

At the California Historical Society (CHS), learn more about the colonizing of California between 1769 and 1821. At least 300,000 indigenous people lived in Alta California when the Spanish Crown asserted sovereignty over the territory in 1769. In the ensuing decades, Spain left an enduring imprint on the Native peoples, the landscape, and California’s cultural heritage. Also on view: “Alexander Hamilton, Treasures from the New-York Historical Society.” Both shows close on Feb. 18, 2018.

Gifts with a Difference

Visitors and locals alike can shop artisan crafts year round. Local artists line Beach Street near Aquatic Park and the Powell Cable Car turnaround. From their row of umbrella stands, they sell handcrafted unique mementos. At the Embarcadero Plaza arts market, pedestrians stroll through the booths for handmade goods. These arts markets are open Sunday through Saturday. Stop by on your way to the Saturday Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building or while heading to the landmark Buena Vista Café for a world famous Irish Coffee. Local artists have sold at these locations for 45 years through a program at the San Francisco Arts Commission. Check out this map to see the full span of locations where artists sell.


Featuring a new picnic area (yes, you can picnic in December in San Francisco), seating, bike parking and interpretive signage, the new Battery East Vista (above Fort Point National Historic Site) in the Presidio offers postcard-perfect views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The revamped area also offers enhanced visitor connections to two of the most breathtaking trails in the Presidio: the San Francisco Bay Trail and the California Coastal Trail.

Japanese New Year’s Bell-Ringing Ceremony

Ring in the New Year at the Asian Art Museum on Dec. 31, 2017 by taking a swing at a 2,100-pound, 16th century Japanese bell. Rev. Gengo Akiba will begin the bell-ringing after a purification ritual and chanting of a Buddhist Heart Sutra. Participants may then take turns ringing the bell to leave behind any unfortunate experiences, regrettable deeds or ill luck from the previous year. The bell will be struck 108 times on New Year’s Eve to user in the New Year and curb the 108 mortal desires.

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