Winter offers plenty of activities around the Bay, whether you’re looking to celebrate the season or procrastinate a little longer on your holiday shopping. Bring the kids to see Santa or leave them at home and take in a concert by candlelight with your SO. Either way, there’s festive fun to be had day or night, indoors or out.
The spectacular Glowfari at the Oakland Zoo begins in January and runs through the end of January. Advance reservations are required, and tickets go on sale November 1st on a rolling basis. Wander through exuberant exhibits of illuminated creatures, take in the scene from above on the gondola, and even catch Santa in the rides area weekends in November and every evening in December through the 23rd. Proceeds from Glowfari help support animal care, operating expenses, education, and conservation, so you can feel good about bringing all your family and friends. Zoo members receive a 10% discount.
Visiting Ruth Bancroft Gardens in Walnut Creek during the day is already an immersion in the exotic, but the Garden of D’Lights show, which runs on select dates November-January, is transformational. The enormous cacti, succulents, and yucca are bathed in swaths of color, making for an otherworldly experience. Tickets go on sale in late October.
When it’s raining outside, and the kids are bouncing off the walls, throw them in the car and head to Yerba Buena for some indoor ice skating. Yerba Buena offers yearly-round public skating times that vary weekly, so check the calendar for opening times before making the trek. If everyone’s still got energy to spare, reserve a lane at the bowling alley where you can munch on some lunch from Joy Ride Pizza. Break in the rain? Pop to the historic LeRoy King carousel for a spin or two. Note: The carousel is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The bowling alley is closed to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Walnut Creek on Ice opens for its 18th season on December 15th. Host a birthday party for your Sagittarius at this much beloved spot. Rent the whole rink, choose your favorite tunes, and spin until you’re dizzy. Afterward, warm up just down the road at the Miami-inspired Lita, where the Caribbean-Latino fare is made from locally sourced ingredients and the rum cocktails bring the heat.
If you can’t wait to skate, the Kristi Yamaguchi Holiday Ice Rink will hold its grand opening the evening of November 10th. Impress the kids by booking a private cabana and set yourself up center stage.
There’s nothing more magical than the elevated Union Square Ice Rink in downtown San Francisco. Practice your double axel beneath the light-filled towering Christmas Tree or plan a trip to one of their special events, which includes Simba Saturdays, Flash Back Fridays, and Silent Skate.
Before the holidays get too hectic, make a reservation for the tea at the Claremont’s Lobby Bar. While the kids inhale their scones and sweets, savor your glass of sparkling and enjoy Dungeness Crab salad on brioche or shaved roast beef with horseradish, mizuna, and caramelized onion on sourdough. Not to worry, there are plenty of desserts for adults, too. Available Saturdays and Sundays from November 18th-December 31st, 12:00-3:00 p.m.
Looking for something a little more casual? Open by reservation only for parties of 6 or more, Dainteas in Concord serves a three-tiered offering accompanied by your choice of two teas. Enjoy buttermilk scones, egg salad sandwiches, and fresh strawberries with whipped cream on chiffon cake in their charming Alice-in-Wonderland inspired space.
Tons of fun awaits at Mark Hopkins’ Top of the Mark Magical Tea on select weekends in December. While the kids are busy with balloon art, having their faces painted by Pixie Fire, and decorating cookies with the hotel’s pastry chef, you can feast on prosciutto and brie tea sandwiches and scones with Devonshire cream while listening to the Lowell High School Choir.
What could be cozier than watching a concert by candlelight? Grab your SO and head to the Chabot Space and Science Center for “The Nutcracker,” a classical concert featuring Handel’s Messiah, classic Christmas Carols, and, of course, selections from The Nutcracker. Looking for something more contemporary. Other offerings include “A Tribute to Joe Hisaishi and “A Tribute to Zelda”. Willing to travel? The company puts on shows in San Francisco, Sonoma, San Jose, and Sacramento. Kids 8 and up are also welcome.
Carry your own lantern as you explore the shadows of Ft. Point and learn about the history of this San Francisco landmark under the lights of the Golden Gate Bridge. Saturday evenings, November-February, a ranger from the National Park Service leads an evening tour of Fort Point by candlelight. Tickets are available two weeks in advance, beginning at 7:00 a.m.
Take a picture-perfect trip through the Napa Valley to Yountville on one of the Santa Train Jolly Journeys. Get to the station early to get a photo with the man in red before boarding for dinner and treats. Tickets are going fast, so get them now for evening departures beginning November 30th and running through December 23rd. Traveling with friends? Be sure to request seats together.
Get in your matching Christmas jammies and hop aboard the Magical Christmas Train out of West Sacramento. The hour-long journey through a winter wonderland includes cookies, hot cocoa, a souvenir mug, and a visit with Santa himself.
Ride the Redwood Forest Steam Train through the Trees to Bear Mountain. Sip hot chocolate and visit with Mr. Claus on this authentic narrow-gauge railway dating back to 1890. Sing along and sip cider on the Holiday Lights Train as its vintage excursion cars roll through the streets of Santa Cruz. Looking for something a little less red and green? On December 7th, the Chanukah Train makes its only trip of the season. The excursion includes a Menorah lighting (15 minutes before departure), Chanukah stories, dreidel games, and kosher eats from Chabad by the Sea.
Show you’re in the know. Skip Alamo Square and take your holiday guests to the “Winter House," one of San Francisco’s most beautiful Queen Anne Victorians where sits alongside its seasonal sisters, spring, summer and fall in the 1300 block of Waller Street in Haight Ashbury. The “Four Seasons” homes were built by shipwright John Whelan in the 1890s and are meticulously preserved examples of San Francisco residential architecture.
Tucked away in a neighborhood in El Sobrante, tiny Cloverfield Farms grows just about anything that thrives by the bay. Pick-your-own organic produce is available in small quantities in just about every month of the year. Come with an open mind; the assortment is determined by ripeness and availability. In November, you might find Persian Limes and Pineapple Guava, while December and January could bring Cara Cara Oranges, Rio Red Grapefruit, or Tango Mandarins. Pick up some Cloverfield honey and Black Point olive oil and dream of a winter fruit salad on the drive home.
Cruise to the Farallons on the 60-foot Salty Lady in search of Humpback whales. December is the end of the season, but there’s still a 96% chance of seeing whales in November, according to data from the boat’s operator Oceanic Society. Saturday and Sunday trips will see you cruising beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and past the Point Bonita Lighthouse with your resident naturalist-expert and a professional photographer. The 7.5-hour excursion is filled with the possibility of wildlife sightings, including seabirds, shorebirds, sharks, sea lions, and whales.
Take a memorable holiday ride aboard the Skunk Train to Mr. Skunk’s Giant Christmas Tree a decorated redwood reported to be the workshop of Santa Mr. Skunk. Operated by the Mendocino Railway, these vintage cars take you through old-growth forests, over trestle bridges, and deep into the Noyo Canyon. Once you arrive back at the depot in Willits, you may have a chance to meet Mr. Skunk himself.
Weather permitting, ride the Tilden Park Steam Train through the Redwood Valley at the top of the hill. This charming, diminutive railroad is perfect for kids and train buffs alike. Open weekends year-round.
Follow the trail of gumdrops to the two-story gingerbread house in the Fairmont Hotel at the top of Nob Hill. This giant San Francisco confection is constructed of thousands of gingerbread bricks, hundreds of gallons of icing, and nearly two thousand pieces of candy. Write a letter to Santa and leave it in the mailbox for express delivery to the North Pole. See the hotel’s website for dates and details.
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