Holiday Family Fun in San Francisco

November 28, 2016

Union Square Ice Rink
Photo: Union Square Ice Rink

When I was growing up, one of the highlights of my holiday season was a trip into San Francisco. It's something that I still love to do with my family, and there's so much fun to be had. Here are 6 ideas for festive family holiday fun in the city.

Go Play in the Snow! Great Places for Family Snow Play in Northern California

November 28, 2016

Tubing in the Sierras

Snow, snow, snow—the winter season in the Sierra is off to a fantastic start! While we love the skiing and winter fun at Lake Tahoe, we know that not everyone's a skiier, and sometimes families just want to go up and have some fun in the snow. While many of the Tahoe ski resorts like Northstar, Squaw Valley, and Heavenly have tubing parks, ice skating, and other winter non-skiing activities for the family, there are plenty of other places in the mountains where you can get your snow play fix without the ski resort hustle and bustle (and price tag).

Most of these snow play sites are within a few hours' drive from Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area. While some have tubes and sleds to rent, others, most notably the California State Sno-Parks, offer little more than a place to park your car so you can go play in the snow. For a list of Lake Tahoe ski resorts that offer both skiing and snow play activities, read our article here.

Marin and Bay Area Holiday Tree and Menorah Lighting Events 2016

November 26, 2016

Ghirardelli Square Tree Lighting

All across Marin and the Bay Area, communities celebrate the beginning of the holiday season with a traditional tree lighting ceremony. Here's our list of tree and menorah lighting ceremonies and celebrations in Marin County, San Francisco, and Sonoma County. We'll be adding more events as the holidays near, so check back often!

  • San Rafael 37th Annual Parade of Lights and Winter Wonderland
    Downtown San Rafael
    Friday, November 25, noon–8 pm & Saturday, November 26, 9 am–noon
    Downtown San Rafael will once again commence the holiday season with its Winter Wonderland, Parade of Lights, and Holiday Marketplace with arts and crafts that starts the Friday after Thanksgiving. On Friday: free snow sledding, kids activities (noon–4:30 pm & 6–8 pm), Holiday Marketplace (noon–8 pm) and the Parade of Lights (5:30 pm) with Santa and Mrs. Claus's arrival and a tree-lighting immediately after. On Saturday: kids activities and snow sledding continues (9 am–noon). Location: On Fourth Sreet from B Street to Lootens Place in downtown San Rafael. For more info, visit their website.
  • 17th Annual Tree Lighting Celebration
    Jelly Belly Factory, Fairfield
    Saturday, November 26, 5–8 pm
    Celebrate the Holiday Season with Jelly Belly, and mark your calendar for this annual event. Santa, puppet shows, and live music are all part of the fun. Watch us light our 20-foot Christmas tree. PLUS, catch our character parade! Santa photos available after Tree Lighting Ceremony until 8:00pm. Location: One Jelly Belly Lane, Fairfield. For more info, visit their website.

Marin Weekend Family Fun for November 25, 26 & 27

November 23, 2016

Winter Wonderland in San RafaelVisit downtown San Rafael this Friday and Saturday for free snow sledding and more!

There's also holiday ice skating at numerous locations throughout the Bay Area, as well as opportunities to visit with Santa Claus at local shopping centers. Also, check out our guide to North Bay Christmas tree farms and Lots.

Friday, November 25

  • Great Dickens Christmas Fair
    Cow Palace, San Francisco
    Friday–Sunday, 10 am–7 pm

    The Dickens Fair runs on weekends through December 20. Experience Victorian London with hundreds of costumed players, shops offering one-of-a-kind gifts and Christmas treasures, dining, and pubs. Meet Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, Tiny Tim, Jules Verne, David Copperfield, Charles Darwin, and 700 costumed characters. Of course, Father Christmas himself will be on hand to join in the fun. Purchase tickets here. For more info, visit their website.
  • Holiday Ice Skating in Union Square
    San Francisco
    Friday–Sunday, 10 am–11:30 pm

    Union Square, San Francisco's main shopping district, gets into the ice skating spirit during the holiday season with an outdoor ice rink sponsored by Safeway. 90-minute sessions start on every even hour. Admission: $11 for adults, 7 children 8 and under. Skate rental $6. Information: (415) 781-2688 or visit their website.
  • The 37th Annual Parade of Lights and Winter Wonderland
    Downtown San Rafael
    Friday, noon–8 pm & Saturday, 9 am–noon
    Downtown San Rafael will once again commence the holiday season with its Winter Wonderland, Parade of Lights, and Holiday Marketplace with arts and crafts that starts the Friday after Thanksgiving. On Friday: free snow sledding, kids activities (noon–4:30 pm & 6–8 pm), Holiday Marketplace (noon–8 pm) and the Parade of Lights (5:30 pm) with Santa and Mrs. Claus's arrival and a tree-lighting immediately after. On Saturday, kids activities and snow sledding continues (9 am–noon). Location: Fourth Street from B Street to Lootens Place in downtown San Rafael. For more info, visit their website.
  • Marin on Ice
    Northgate Mall, San Rafael
    Friday, 2
    –10 pm, Saturday, noon–10 pm, Sunday, noon–9 pm
    This Saturday, Marin on Ice opens for another season of outdoor ice skating at San Rafael's Northgate Mall, where it runs through January 11. Marin's only holiday ice skating rink features 6,300 square feet of real ice and will be open daily for outdoor skating. Skating is $15 per person, which includes skate rental. Private ice cabanas will also be available for rental and "Skate Buddies" are available for beginners. For more info, visit their website.
  • The Velveteen Rabbit
    Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
    Friday & Saturday, 4 pm & Sunday, 2 pm

    Bring the family for this beloved Bay Area holiday tradition. ODC/Dance enlivens Margery Williams’ classic tale of a well-worn nursery rabbit that becomes real. Told though music, dance and a powerful narrative, The Velveteen Rabbit celebrates the unique relationship between a little boy and his stuffed rabbit, and the enduring power of love. Tickets range from $15 to $75. For more info, visit their website.
  • Peter and the Starcatcher
    Spreckels Center for the Performing Arts, Rohnert Park
    Friday & Saturday, 8 pm

    Tony-winning Peter and the Starcatcher up ends the century-old story of how a miserable orphan comes to be the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up (a.k.a. Peter Pan). From marauding pirates and jungle tyrants to unwilling comrades and unlikely heroes, Peter and the Starcatcher playfully explores the depths of greed and despair and the bonds of friendship, duty, and love. Tickets: $26 general admission. Location: 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. For more info, visit their website.
  • A Winter Circus for the Holidays
    Cornerstone Sonoma
    Friday–Sunday, 3 & 5 pm
    An old style circus based on the French tradition of the 1920’s, Le Cirque de Bohème will transport you into a magical world filled with enchantment, adventure and wonder. This winter a Le Cirque de Bohème presents a new show: Stolen Moonlight. Delight in work of world class performers including a unicycle, contortionist, juggler, slack-rope, hand chair balancing, aerial fabrics, and a hooper aerialist. Tickets: $30 general, $1 kids under 15. More information
  • Ghirardelli Square Annual Tree Lighting
    San Francisco
    Friday, 4–8 pm

    This Black Friday, Ghirardelli Square will be hosting its annual tree lighting ceremony with free kids activities, tenant promotions, live music, snow, Santa, and more Location: Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Point Street (at Beach and Larkin), San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
  • Winter Lights
    Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa
    Friday, 4:30–8 pm

    Winter Lights is an annual event that brings together community to celebrate the holidays and remember our loved ones. This all-ages event is family-oriented and multi-cultural, and features a tree lighting celebration, remembrance candle lighting ceremony, Santa Claus arriving on a fire truck, Taste of Santa Rosa, live entertainment, children's activities, photos with Santa, ornament painting, and ugly sweater contest, and more. Location: 25 Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa. For more info, visit their Facebook page.
  • Macy's 27th Annual Union Square Tree Lighting
    Union Square Park, San Francisco
    Friday, 6 pm

    Macy's gift to the city and San Francisco's most recognized Christmas tree will be officially lit in Union Square at 6:40 pm. Macy's 27th Annual Tree Lighting will take place in Union Square Park between Sutter and Post and Geary and Stockton Streets, right across from the front of Macy's. For more info, visit their website.
  • The Berkeley Playhouse: Disney's Beauty and the Beast
    The Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, Berkeley
    Friday, 7 pm, Saturday, 1 & 7 pm, Sunday, 2 pm

    The Disney (and Broadway!) favorite gets the Berkeley Playhouse makeover as founding Associate Artistic Director Kimberly Dooley helms this all new production featuring a diverse and multigenerational cast of dozens. Featuring some of Disney’s most popular songs and characters, you won’t want to miss this magical musical adventure guaranteed to delight audiences of all ages. Location: 2640 College Avenue, Berkeley. Tickets: $25–40. For more info, visit their website.
  • Cinnabar Theater Young Repertory: The Music Man
    Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma
    Friday and Saturday, 7:30 pm
    There’s trouble in River City when fast-talking salesman Harold Hill gets his heart stolen by Marian, the town librarian. A delight for all ages and performed by two casts of talented young people, this lively show runs for three weekends only. Purchase tickets here. For more info, visit their website.

Saturday, November 26

  • Polar Express Train Ride
    Santa Cruz
    Saturday & Sunday, various times

    The Polar Express Train Ride departs from Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, complete with dancing chefs, singing elves, and a special gift from Santa Claus himself—a silver sleigh bell. Don't forget to wear your pajamas while you enjoy cookies, hot chocolate, and a reading of The Polar Express while on board. First-class tickets still available for rides this weekend. For more info and tickets, call (877) 726-7245 or visit their website.
  • The 37th Annual Parade of Lights and Winter Wonderland
    Downtown San Rafael
    Saturday, 9 am–noon
    On Saturday, kids activities and snow sledding continues in downtown San Rafael. Location: Fourth Street from B Street to Lootens Place in downtown San Rafael. For more info, visit their website.
  • Marin Country Mart Farmers Market
    Marin Country Mart, Larkspur Landing
    Saturday, 9 am–2 pm

    Enjoy pony rides and a petting zoo for the kids from 10 am–2 pm adjacent to the farmer's market and live music. Bring the kids and get cozy under the tent to see a special performance by the one and only Emily Butterfly at 9:30 am! For more info, visit their website.
  • Iceless Skating Rink
    Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito
    Saturday & Sunday, 9 am–5 pm

    Hit the “ice” this winter with family and friends at the Bay Area Discovery Museum's Iceless Skating Rink, which will be open from November 19, 2016 to January 8, 2016. Children can strap on skates and glide around on a synthetic ice rink in the museum's Discovery Hall. The synthetic ice rink provides all the fun of a real ice rink but without the cold and icy falls. Get in the holiday spirit with this classic winter activity. Best of all, it's free with museum admission or membership. Location: 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito. For more info, visit their website.
  • Reindeer Romp
    San Francisco Zoo
    Saturday & Sunday, 10 am–4 pm

    Santa is sending his favorite reindeer, Belle, Holly, and Peppermint to spread holiday cheer at San Francisco Zoo & Gardens! Until January 1, majestic reindeer will be romping at SF Zoo's Playfield Lawn, near the spectacular Elinor Friend Playground. Zoo admission applies. Location: Sloat Blvd. at the Great Highway, San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
  • Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas
    Osher Studio, Berkeley
    Saturday & Sunday, 10:30 am, 1:30 pm & 4:30 pm

    What could be fancier than Christmas? Presents with elegant wrapping paper, festive decorations, Christmas cookies with sprinkles - and who could forget the tree? This year, Nancy bought a brand-new sparkly tree topper with her own money and can't wait to decorate the Christmas tree. But when things don't turn out the way Nancy planned, will Christmas still be splendiferous?Tickets: $25 for adults, $20 for children (14 and under) and $23 for senior. Location:2055 Center Street, Berkeley.
    For more info, visit their website.
  • Annual Gingerbread House Open House
    Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco
    Saturday, 11 am–3 pm

    Lovingly built with a completely edible exterior, this delectable abode will be unveiled during a ribbon cutting ceremony at the annual Gingerbread Open House. The event is open to the public and offers guests the opportunity to take pleasure in complimentary holiday refreshments and heartwarming music while Santa Claus, a Balloon Elf, and a Christmas Fairy pose for photos and kids can write letters to Saint Nick in the lobby’s “North Pole Nook." Location: 950 Mason Street, San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
  • SF Etsy Holiday Emporium
    Pier 70, San Francisco
    Saturday & Sunday, 11 am–5 pm

    Start your holiday shopping at this weekend's Etsy event. The SFEtsy Indie Holiday Emporium is an annual market showcasing the SFEtsy team members and other artisan crafters and makers. See a list of sellers here. Location: Pier 70, 420 22nd Street, San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
  • West Portal Snow Festival
    West Portal, San Francisco
    Saturday, 11 am–4 pm

    Build a snowman with real snow, visit with Ana and Elsa (noon to 2 pm), get your photo taken with Santa, and more! Face painting, refreshments, music, and swag bags, too. Location: 82 West Portal Avenue, San Francisco. For more info, visit their website.
  • Santa's Riverboat Arrival
    Petaluma River Turning Basin
    Saturday, 11:30 am
    Santa and Mrs. Claus sail into the Petaluma River Turning Basin aboard a tugboat at noon and disembark in the Golden Eagle Shopping Center on East Washington Street to greet children and distribute candy. Performers will be on hand at the shopping center starting at 11:30 am. For more info, visit their website.

Photos and Breakfast with Santa Claus in Marin and Beyond

November 23, 2016

Santa Claus photos Marin

Photo Courtesy Town Center Corte Madera

It goes without saying that every Holiday season Santa Claus is an extremely popular guy. He and his small army of little helpers will be making the rounds for photos, breakfasts, and other holiday fun at various shopping centers and other locations in Marin County and beyond. (And of course you'll need to tell him what you want for Christmas, too!)

Here's our 2016 guide to photo ops with Santa and more. We make every effort to assure that all listings and hours are as accurate as possible, but occasionally Santa has to take a break to feed the reindeer or tidy up his beard, so make sure to stay on his "nice" list and call or check the venue's website before visiting. Santa's elves are still finalizing his holiday schedule, so check back here for updates throughout the season.

Photos with Santa

  • Santa Photos
    Town Center Corte Madera
    November 25–December 24

    Shopping during the holidays at Town Center Corte Madera is always a festive occasion for the entire family, with a chance to have a free photo for the kids with Santa Claus, have your gifts wrapped for free by volunteers from Hospice by the Bay, and enjoy some live music to provide the holiday spirit. Schedule: Friday, Saturday, Sunday November 25–November 27, 11 am–4 pm; Saturday and Sunday, December 3–4, 11 am–4 pm, and daily December 10–11, 11 am–4 pm and December 17–24, 11 am–4 pm. More info: www.shoptowncenter.com

Special Thanksgiving Farmers Market Tomorrow at Northgate Mall!

November 22, 2016

Still need ingredients for your Thanksgiving feast? Finish up your shopping at tomorrow's (Wednesday, November 23) special Thanksgiving Farmers Market from 8 am to 1 pm at Northgate Mall, 6000 Northgate Drive (next to Sears) in San Rafael.

There will be no San Rafael Farmers Market on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 24. That way we all get a little extra time to prepare our feasts, and the farmers get the day off too!

The Civic Center Farmers' Market in San Rafael (temporarily located to Northgate) offers lots of organically grown produce, breads, eggs, fresh cut flowers, prepared food, and more. For more information, visit www.agriculturalinstitute.org.

Ring In the Holiday Season at Mill Valley Winterfest!

November 22, 2016

Mill Valley Winterfest

Mill Valley's downtown plaza will once again be filled with an eclectic mix of live music, children playing, and community togetherness when the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce and the City of Mill Valley present the annual Winterfest, taking place Sunday, December 4, from 11 am to 5 pm. Winterfest celebrates the holiday season with a fun-filled afternoon for children, families, and anyone who enjoys the holidays!

A Winter Circus for the Holidays at Cornerstone Sonoma

November 21, 2016

Cirque de Boheme at Cornerstone SonomaThis Thanksgiving and Christmas, Cornerstone Sonoma presents a winter circus for the holidays by Le Cirque de Bohème: Somewhere. Experience the magic of a 1920s-style circus based on the French tradition, featuring an amazing cast of characters including a unicycle, hand-to-hand acrobats, tight-rope funambule, hand chair balancing, aerial fabrics, hooper aerialist, mime, clown, and more.

This intimate circus gathering takes place under the charming tent in the gardens at Cornerstone Sonoma, and is limited to 140 guests per performance. Shows take place Thanksgiving and Christmas weekends only: Friday–Sunday, November 25–27 and Saturday and Sunday, December 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, and 18 at 3 and 5 pm. (December 3 shows at 11 am and 1 pm.)

Ice Skating Fun at Snoopy's Home Ice in Santa Rosa

November 21, 2016

Snoopy's Home Ice Redwood Empire Ice ArenaOne of our must-do family tradions during the holidays is to visit Snoopy's Home Ice, as well as the Charles M. Schulz Museum right next door. The arena was a gift to the North Bay community from the late Santa Rosa resident and Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, and has been going strong since 1969.

I always consider an outing here a holiday tradition, especially since I grew up watching A Charlie Brown Christmas every year, and attended a few holiday ice shows here over the years, too. It was always a treat to see Charles Schulz himself sitting in the audience, enjoying the show and chatting with visitors. 

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