21 Can’t Miss Holiday Events Happening in the Bay Area

best holiday events in the bay area Oakland Zoo

The best holiday events taking place in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and beyond

Santa’s not the only one with a list this year—we’ve made our own nice list, full of our favorite family holiday activities around the Bay Area for the 2022. And while we may be missing snow and ice in the Bay Area (although you can get your fill of nearby snow play if you know where to look), we’re ready to celebrate with fun holiday events nearby, many of them free! This year, return to beloved traditions, like seeing a performance of The Velveteen Rabbit, or strolling down brightly-decorated Christmas Tree Lane with a hot chocolate in hand (see if your favorite hot chocolate spot made our list of best hot cocoa in the Bay Area). Or embrace a new holiday activity, like watching the lighted boat parade and fabulous fireworks display on Sausalito’s beautiful waterfront. From live musical productions and city-wide light shows, to cheerful holiday trains and outdoor ice skating, get ready to fill up your calendar with joy this holiday season.

Can't Miss Holiday Events in San Francisco

1. SF Symphony Plays Christmas Classics

Nov-Dec.: Remember Disney’s Fantasia, the spectacular animation that introduced a generation of kids to classical music? SF Symphony is producing a live version of the groundbreaking film in Nov., perfect for all ages. More Christmas-themed productions are scheduled for Dec., including Deck the Halls and The Colors of Christmas, performed by the SF Symphony Orchestra. Event details.

2. The Velveteen Rabbit

Various Dates Nov. 26-Dec. 12: This beloved Bay Area holiday tradition returns with a tattered nursery animal becoming real in a show that brings the perfect amount of holiday cheer. Also available on-demand. Event details.

Related: Here Is a Full List of Holiday Performances That Kids Will Love

3. Illuminate SF Festival of Lights

Nov. 9-Jan 31: This urban lights festival is in its 10th year and offers 62 eco-friendly displays in 17 neighborhoods, all accessible by public transportation within San Francisco's 49 square miles. Take the free guided tour to learn more about the artists that have brought these installations to life. Event details.

4. Presidio Christmas Tree Lighting

Dec. 2: Since 1991, the now 55-foot-tall Norfolk Island pine in the Presidio has glowed with lights starting on the first Friday evening in December. The tradition of tree lighting at the former US Army base began even earlier, in 1957, when families who lived and worked in the Presidio came by to light the tree and kick off the holiday season. Holiday Lights continued when the Presidio opened its gates to all as a national park 27 years ago. Event details.

5. Civic Center Tree Lighting 

Dec. 7: The annual Civic Center Plaza Tree Lighting event returns December 7, 4-7pm! Add this fun, free, family-friendly event to your holiday calendar! Featuring festive holiday performances, food, music, a toy giveaway for children, and Makers Village DIY activities for kids and adults, you won’t want to miss it! The event takes place across from an illuminated City Hall in Civic Center Plaza, a wonderful backdrop for a photo. The evening also includes “snow” flurries and Christmas VIPs such as elves, and the man-of-the-hour: Santa! Event details.

6. Hanukkah Pop-Up Party at Ghirardelli Square

Dec. 18: JCCSF’s Glowing Hanukkah Party returns to Ghirardelli Square this holiday season! This free, family-friendly event will see the lighting of candles, live (glowing!) music, Hanukkah crafts, games and  tasty treats from the merchants at Ghirardelli Square. Event details.

7. Holiday Afternoon Tea

Dec. 17 & 18: Dollie & Me Tea at the Westin St. Francis at Union Square introduces a whimsical and magical holiday afternoon tea party for young children and their dolls. Event details.

Related: Discover More Holiday Teas in the Bay Area

 

Can't Miss Holiday Events on the Peninsula

8. The Great Dickens Christmas Fair

Weekends Starting Nov. 19-Dec. 19: Journey to this one-of-a-kind immersive adventure into Victorian London—an elaborate holiday party with hundreds of costumed players performing and interacting with patrons in over 140,000 square feet of theatrically-lit music halls, pubs, dance floors, and festive shops. It's a twilight evening in Charles Dickens' London Town—a city of winding lanes filled with colorful characters from both literature and history. Enticing aromas of roasted chestnuts and hearty foods fill the air. Cries of street vendors hawking their wares ring out above the bustling crowd. Dozens of lamplit shops are filled to overflowing with handmade gifts. The Dickens Christmas Fair is a treasured Bay Area tradition since 1970 and a splendid way to celebrate the holidays. Event details.

9. Holidays at Filoli

Nov. 19-Jan. 8: The holidays at Filoli are simply magical with the gardens decked out in all their dazzling holiday splendor. Choose from a daytime or evening visit, or a themed night visit but either way, definitely make sure the kids visit Santa on the weekends! Pre-book before opening day for a discount, or visit during the week for cheaper admission. Event details.

10. Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Drive-Through

Nov. 25-Dec. 25: This half a mile drive-through experience at the Fairgrounds with spectacular lighted giant Christmas trees, Santa, reindeer, snowmen, lighted tunnels and many more magical moments will delight all. Holiday Food Stands are available at the end of your drive-thru where you can purchase your favorites for the drive home. Event details. 

11. Half Moon Bay’s Nights of Lights

Nov. 25 & Every Fri. until Dec. 16: This year’s Nights of Lights extends to four Fridays as downtown welcomes your family for holiday spirit, fun activities, music and more. Each Friday night is themed differently with a tree lighting, holiday market, parade and caroling. Event details.

12. IlluminOdyssey Lights

Nov. 4-Jan. 16: Be dazzled by this winter light experience which is included in admission and don’t forget to go play at the nearby Magical Bridges Playground after for the ultimate day trip out! Event details. 

13. Gamble Garden’s Festival of Trees Family Night

Dec 2: Escape to a winter wonderland at Gamble Garden’s Festival of Trees for one night only where there will be arts & crafts for kids, free ice cream, holiday treats, Santa, the Grinch and more! Return the following day for the holiday market to get a head start on your shopping. Event details.

14. Winter Wonderland at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Nov. 24-Jan. 1: A winter wonderland at the beach is true California dreamin', right?! Rides, games, arcades, pedal karts, photos with Santa, s'mores and other holiday treats are all here under the bright illumination of festive lights—don't forget to take in the beach views! Event details.

 

Can't Miss Holiday Events in the East Bay

15. Glowfari at Oakland Zoo

Fri.-Sun. Starting Nov. 11 & Then Every Night Dec. 1-23: Walk through a mile-long journey and be dazzled by hundreds of larger-than-life animals lit up by lanterns in this unforgettable holiday lights display! Ride the gondola to the Land of Bugs, hop on the Express Train through Winter Wonderland and finish the evening with a visit to Santa! Event details.

16. Garden of D'Lights

Fri.-Sun. Nov. 25-Jan. 8: Experience the Ruth Bancroft Garden at Walnut Creek in a whole new way at this year’s Garden of d’Lights. With more lights and more lasers, this year’s Garden of d’Lights is set to be better than ever. Guests of all ages are in for a holiday treat as they stroll through the Garden’s 3.5 acres of mature cacti, succulents and trees that are transformed into magical colorful botanical sculptures by thousands of lights. Event details.

Related: Discover More Bay Area Holiday Light Displays 

17. Ride the Train of Lights

Nov. 18-Dec. 28 (Weekends): With two locations to choose from (Sunol or Niles), your train-lover will be enthralled with this holiday train complete with refreshments, music and cheer aboard antique coaches and open cars that feature holiday lights and decorations. Editors note: This is already sold out for the 2022 season, but cancellations do happen, so keep checking the calendar for availability if you want to attend. Alternatively, check out our other suggestions for Bay Area holiday trains below. Event details.

Related: Our Full List of Fun Holiday Trains in the Bay Area

18. Christmas Tree Lane, Alameda

Early Dec.-New Year: The best-lit neighborhood in the Bay is in Alameda, on the 3200 block of Thompson Ave. Every year, the street puts on a dazzling display that plugs directly into the spirit of the season. Affectionately known as Christmas Tree Lane, this has been an annual tradition since 1938. Event details.

Can't Miss Holiday Events in the North Bay

19. Ice Skate While it Snows

Nov. 11-Jan. 8: The brand new ice rink at Vista Collina features a winter wonderland with special events and theme nights plus 100% chance of snow every night at 6 p.m. Keep minis warm by the toasty fire pits while beer and wine (obviously) keeps the adults happy in a brand new Napa holiday tradition! Event details.

Related: More Bay Area Ice Rinks to Skate Your Days Away 

20. Mill Valley Winterfest

Nov. 26-Dec. 16: Winterfest is back for 2022 with a giant rainbow slide, a jump house, games, and of course, Santa. The festivities kick off Friday, Nov. 26th with the Winterfest Holiday Hunt, a three-week, scavenger hunt-style contest at more than 30 businesses throughout Mill Valley. The contest centers around Blue Stars, which business owners will place in storefront windows or inside their businesses. Kids accompanied by a parent will take photos of blue stars of at least eight participating businesses and  will be entered in a raffle for one of 20 $40 gift cards to participating businesses. The Holiday Hunt runs through Dec. 16. Event details.  

21. Sausalito Lighted Boat Parade & Fireworks

Dec. 10: Watch a magical parade of lighted boats float by the Sausalito waterfront in this free annual event. Come for the festive flotilla, but stay for the fireworks, which start once all the boats have begun their journey. Parking can be tricky, so consider public transport, and get there early for a good spot. Event details. 

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