With some of our favorite Bay Area traditions back on offer this year—plus a few new treats—we're already checking a few wishes off of our holiday list.
If you're feeling fancy, don your holiday finest and round up your family for a holiday tea in a posh hotel. Looking for something more casual? Grab drinks at an over-the-top Christmas-themed bar, go ogle some holiday lights and, of course, revisit the Fairmont hotel's iconic gingerbread house.
Magical Lights + Displays in the Bay Area
(Courtesy of @__filoli)
Holidays at Filoli
Picturesque Filoli's 16-acre gardens are made a little more magical with all sorts of bells and whistles. Meander through during the day, or bundle up to see the garden illuminated with holiday lights after dark. Make advance reservations for private parties of up to eight guests by the fire pits (mulled wine and hot whiskey ciders included), or stop by for pics with Santa on weekends in December.
// 10am to 9pm daily through January 8 with Santa appearances from 10am to 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays December 3-18 and Friday December 23; tickets ($33-$42/adults, $23-$28/kids over 5) are available for advance purchase online; Filoli Historic House & Garden, 86 Cañada Rd. (Woodside), filoli.org
Tom & Jerry House
For decades, Tom Taylor and Jerry Goldstein have decked out their 21st and Church Street digs with what just might be the city's most impressive Christmas display. Despite the 2020 death of Tom, a longtime LGBTQ rights activist, at the age 77, the display still goes up—complete with a towering tree, larger than life stockings, and all sorts of baubles that you need to see for yourself. Stay tuned for details on this year's display. // 3650 21st St. (Castro)
Entwined in GGP
Golden Gate Park's pandemic-born lights display "Entwined" is returning this year with towering trees and bushes illuminated with twinkly LEDs and a fresh series of performances twice each week. Bundle up for an evening stroll through Charles Gadeken's sculptures. // 5pm to 10pm nightly, December 1 through March 12, 2023; Peacock Meadow, 240 John F. Kennedy Way (Golden Gate Park), sanfranciscoparksalliance.org
Christmas Cocktail Bars in SF
(Courtesy of @miracleatpch)
Miracle Pop-Up Bar
All things are merry at Miracle, the beloved Christmas-themed cocktail bar that's returning to the Bay once again for festive cocktails like boozy (non-dairy) eggnog, beers snuggled in holiday sweater cozies, and maybe even some fake snow. Opt to visit P.C.H. Pacific Cocktail Haven in SF, the Double Standard in Oakland, Napa Yard at Oxbow, or Brewsters Beer Garden in Petaluma to get in on the fun.
// Various locations with openings starting November 21, miraclepopup.com
If tropical Santa is more your jam, head to P.C.H.'s sister bar Kona's Street Market for the sandy winter wonderland that is Sippin' Santa. Round up a group, don your Santa hat—and perhaps a Hawaiian shirt—and imbibe with a tiki cocktail or two. Plus, look for Sippin' Santa pop-up at Lazaway at the Flamingo in Santa Rosa (Nov. 23 through Jan. 1.).
// Open 5pm to midnight,Tuesdays through Saturdays starting November 25 through New Year's Eve; 32 3rd St. (SoMa), konastreetmarket.com
Deck the Halls
'Tis the season for getting tipsy off of 'nog. Head to Deck the Halls pop-up bar where the elves have been hard at work decorating the interior to look like something out of your North Pole dreams (or nightmares). Speciality drinks include Yellow Snow (a tequila and lemon slushie), a Snow Globe (vodka, bubble rose water, aperitif wine, citrus), a Krampus shot (stout, egg, sherry, rum, and fire), and more. Bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate to the SF Firefighters Toy Program and you'll get a free sparkling or hot cider. // Open daily November 25 through Christmas Day; 1787 Union St. and 1979 Union St. (Cow Hollow), deckthehallsbar.com
Holiday Teas in San Francisco
(Courtesy of @ritzcarltonsf)
Children's Magical Tea at Top of the Mark
Festive tea and treats are served with epic San Francisco views at Top of the Mark. The kid-focused fun includes a ballon artist, face painting, a gingerbread decorating station, and visits with Santa in the lobby (between 1pm and 4pm). Come hungry for a decadent buffet of smoked salmon, cucumber tea sandwiches, DIY sliders, and a drool-worthy desert bar. If unlimited bubbly's more your thing, don't miss Christmas Eve dinner or Christmas Day dinner or brunch instead.
// Noon to 3pm Saturdays and Sundays,December 3-18; reservations ($99 and up per person with $5 discount for a toy donation) can be made by calling 415.616.6940. Top of the Mark, 99 California St. (Nob Hill), holidaysatthemark.com
*UPDATE: Top of the Mark's Magical Tea is sold out for 2022.
Nutcracker Holiday Tea at the Proper Hotel
Wear something chic to enjoy a complimentary glass of Champagne or hot chocolate inside the stylish lobby of the Kelly Wearstler–designed Proper Hotel where the Nutcracker Holiday Tea offers festive bites and sips for kids and adults alike. Every ticket grants attendees a raffle ticket.
// 2-5pm Fridays and Saturdays in the lounge and noon to 5pm Sundays in the lounge and dining room throughout December; reservations ($65/adults, $35/kids) may be made online; SF Proper, 1100 Market St. (Civic Center), properhotel.com
Teddy Bear Tea at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco
Kids will be delighted by The Ritz-Carlton's annual holiday tea service, complete with sweet goodies, hot cocoa, and sandwiches plus a playful holiday show featuring an elf, a gingerbread fairy, and a teddy bear, of course. Each kid will receive a holiday card–worthy pic with a giant teddy bear and a stuffed teddy to take home. Bring wrapped toys for donation to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals. Plus, two dollars from every ticket will benefit Children’s Miracle Network and Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area. (Ahem, parents, Champagne will be available for purchase.)
// 10am and 1pm Saturdays and Sundays, November 26 through December 23; tickets ($172 per guest) are available on sevenrooms.com. Ritz-Carlton, 600 Stockton St. (Nob Hill), ritzcarlton.com
Holiday Gingerbread Houses in San Francisco
The dazzling gingerbread mansion at the Fairmont San Francisco)
(Courtesy of the Fairmont)
Victorian Gingerbread House at the Fairmont San Francisco
It wouldn't be a true San Francisco Christmas without a visit to the Fairmont's larger-than-life gingerbread house—it stands 22 feet tall and 23 feet wide. Housed inside the hotel's lobby, this twinkly house has all the candy embellishments and layers of frosting you'd expect, but really pulls out all the stops with a splurge-y private dining experience. Or, you could just make a res for holiday tea in the Laurel Court.
// Opens November 26; tea ($149/adults, $19/children) at 1-4pm Fridays through Sundays, November 25 through January 1, 2023; Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St. (Nob Hill), fairmont-san-francisco.com
Waterbar's Annual Gingerbread Creation
Every year, Waterbar goes all out with a not-so-average gingerbread house created by pastry chef Erica Land. Past years' sugary takes on the Painted Ladies and Sutro Baths have blown us away, so we can't wait for the reveal of her Grinch-inspired rendition this year.
// Waterbar, 399 The Embarcadero (Embarcadero), waterbarsf.com
Sugar Castle + Sweet Boutique at the Westin St. Francis
Princes and princesses will gasp when they see pastry chef Jean-Francois Houdré's royal Sugar Castle on display in the Landmark Lobby as of November 23rd. The adjacent Sweet Boutique is offering a selection of freshly baked treats including gingerbread “Castle Bites.” Plus, the Westin's fancy, festive decor is worth a gander alone.
// 11am to 4pm Saturdays and Sundays, November 26 through December 18; Westin St. Francis, 335 Powell St. (Union Square), marriott.com
Holiday Ice Rinks in the Bay Area
(Courtesy of @unionsquarerink)
Union Square Ice Rink, San Francisco
What better way to soak up the commercialism of Christmas than with a turn on the Union Square ice rink, sandwiched by some of San Francisco's toniest retail stores on Union Square. Too Grinchy? Well, we do love the looming holiday tree, plus annual special events like Flashback Fridays, Drag Queens on Ice (Dec. 1), and the Polar Bear Skate (Jan. 1).
// Open 10am to 11pm daily through January 16; tickets ($20 includes skate rental) are available for advance purchase at unionsquareicerink.com.
Merry Meritage, at Vista Collina Resort in Napa
Snow in Wine Country? You betcha. The Merry Meri_tage winter village is your one-stop holiday wonderland with an ice skating rink, Santa visits and story time, holiday tea with princess appearances, VIP igloos serving bottles of bubbly, s'mores by the fire pits and even, really, snow on lawn every day at 6pm. The holiday tree lighting is Friday, November 26th with carolers, an artisan market, and a visit from Santa.
// Open through January 8 at Vista Collina Resort, meritagecollection.com