The holidays are merry and bright in San Francisco. City landmarks and neighborhoods are aglow with lights and decorations. Sparkling Christmas trees may outnumber loaves of sourdough bread and classic traditions mix and mingle with family fun. From ice skating to shopping and sipping holiday tea, the only thing missing is the snow. For an authentic San Francisco Christmas, don’t miss these gems in the city.
It’s hard not to be in a festive mood at San Francisco’s Union Square. Along with the Holiday Ice Rink there’s the 83 foot Macy’s Christmas tree complete with more than 33,000 twinkling energy-efficient LED lights and the Chanukah Festival of Lights. Day and night the square is bustling with crowds, many laden with shopping bags from nearby Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Nike and Tiffany & Co., just to name a few. (If you go: don’t miss Tiffany’s take on holiday wreaths made from those famous blue boxes hanging in their windows facing Union Square.)
Westin St. Francis Sugar Tree
The holiday glamour sparkles on at the Westin St. Francis, also located right on Union Square. This 110 year-old hotel knows how to do many things and the holidays are one of them. Revolving glass doors deliver you to the St. Francis Sugar Tree. The 12-foot-tall tree is decked out with more than 1,000 pieces of glistening candy made from pulled and blown sugar. It revolves so you can appreciate every sugary inch and there’s even a moving train.
The Westin St. Francis pastry team began work on the tree in July, mixing in over 200 hours of work and 300 pounds of sugar to make it shine. The St. Francis Sugar Tree is surrounded by special presents where onlookers can donate to local charities.
Home Sweet Home
It wouldn’t be the holidays without gingerbread and in San Francisco, they tend to take the shape of mansions as opposed to houses. At the Palace Hotel the not so humble gingerbread abode includes 600 pounds of gingerbread, 250 pounds of royal icing and 300 pounds of assorted candy. History provides inspiration at Cavallo Point Lodge. A joint effort between the pastry and engineering department, their licorice laden house is actually one of Fort Baker’s historic homes that’s now part of the Lodge at the Golden Gate.
Tea Under the Tree, Sir Francis Drake
Kid or kid at heart, it’s almost impossible not to eat dessert first when the colorful tiered tea plates arrive at your table. Tea Under the Tree at the Sir Francis Drake has all the makings of a family holiday tradition. Pretty tea sandwiches range from Nutella Banana and the classic PB & J, to Smoked Salmon with dill crème fraîche, Roast Beef with horseradish cream and Cucumber Radish with chive cream cheese. But it’s the confections that bring about what I like to call sugar rush smiles. Petits-fours Presents, Whoopie Pies, Raspberry Linzer Bars and Rice Krispie Treats that shimmer with a gold luster. Mom and Dad can linger longer by the tree as the kids decorate a gingerbread person and make sometimes numerous trips to the Christmas candy bar.
Winter Walk SF
If all that sugar has lead to a little extra energy, head to Winter Walk SF to stretch your legs. For one month of the holiday season, two blocks of Stockton Street is closed to cars and blanketed in green. Thanks to plenty of artificial turf, a busy street becomes an open space to have a seat, a picnic, or just a second to walk a bit away from the crowds. When the sun sets Jack Frost tours San Francisco via a light show projected on the Macy’s Men’s Building.
SF SPCA Macy’s Holiday Windows
Don’t leave the Winter Walk without a visit to the Holiday Windows at Macy’s, where some of the SPCA’s most adorable, adoptable animals, wiggle their way into hearts and most importantly new homes. Since the tradition began nine years ago, the SF SPCA has raised over $400,000 and found loving homes for more than 2,300 animals.