2021 Holiday Bucket List

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There has never been more reason to celebrate the holidays and this year, holiday events are back with a revenge! There are the lights, the music, shows and certainly, don’t forget the famous Snowman Hot Chocolate. Check out our 2021 Holiday Bucket List that you will want to start working on today—see how many you can check off!

This article is sponsored by SFMOMA—where kids are always welcomed and always free! Plan your visit to the SFMOMA this holiday season today.

Editor’s Note: Please check with event organizers to confirm vaccine/mask requirements before you head out. 

Katherine Du Tiel

The holidays are the perfect time to drop in to visit the SFMOMA with the family. Kids always love the Contemporary Optic exhibit where color and light is explored through sculptures.  Make sure to check out other kid-friendly favorite exhibits as well as their online resource for kids. 
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SF Symphony
With the belief that music connects kids, the SF Symphony has several kid-friendly concerts this holiday season to take your mini maestro to-some of them involve movies, too! 


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! Nov. 20-Jan. 2
Event details 

See the Velveteen Rabbit
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. Dec. 4-12.
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More holiday theater performances 

Garden of d'lights

Garden of D'Lights
Experience the Ruth Bancroft Garden 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. Fri.-Sun. Nov. 19-Jan. 2
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More Bay Area holiday light displays 

Skunk Train

Ride the Train of Lights
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. Select dates Nov. 19-Dec. 28.
Event details

More holiday train ride options

Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Drive-Through
This 1/2 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 


Illuminate SF Festival of Lights
This urban lights festival is in its ninth year and offers 44 eco-friendly displays that are all accessible by public transportation within San Francisco's 49 square miles. Pick from 17 neighborhoods to explore and take the free guided tour to learn more about the artists that have brought these installations to life. Nov. 25-Jan. 1.
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Half Moon Bay’s Nights of Lights
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.  Nov 26., Dec. 3, 10, 17
Event details



IlluminOdyssey Lights
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 

Gamble Garden’s Festival of Trees Family Night
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!
Event details

Hannukah Pop-Up Party at Ghirardelli Square
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 




Ice Skate while it Snows
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!  
More info

More Bay Area Ice Rinks 

Enjoy a Winter Wonderland at Santa Cruz Boardwalk
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! 
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Mill Valley Winterfest Holiday Hunt
The festivities kick off Friday, November 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 December 17.
Event details  


Visit "Entwined" in Golden Gate Park
The illuminating art installation "Entwined" will return to Golden Gate Park transforming Peacock Meadow into an enchanted forest of otherworldly shapes and ever-changing light. Created by San Francisco artist Charles Gadeken, the display commemorates Golden Gate Park’s 150th Anniversary. Dec. 2-Feb. 1. 
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Oakland Zoo

Glowfari at Oakland Zoo
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! November 12-24, 26-30, 2021 | December 1-23, 26-31, 2021 | January 1-2, 5-9, 12-16, 19-23, 26-30, 2022
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Galdones Photography

Sip Holiday Afternoon Tea
New this season at the Westin St. Francis at Union Square, Dollie & Me tea introduces a whimsical and magical holiday afternoon tea party for young children and their dolls. Dec. 18 & 19 
Event details

More holiday afternoon tea options 

—Christine Lai

featured photo by iStock


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