18 Bay Area Holiday Events You’ll Want to Turn Into Family Traditions

|November 20, 2018

The holiday season in the Bay Area brings even more celebration, food and theatre to our communities (if you can believe it). From San Francisco to Marin County over to the East Bay and through the Peninsula, you can join in the fun at fairs, festivals, races, wonderlands, light displays and world-class productions.

To help you celebrate, we rounded up a few of our favorite annual events you can attend year after year. Which ones will you choose as your new holiday traditions?

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair | San Francisco

November 17 – December 23 | Cow Palace Exhibition Halls

In 2018, San Francisco’s Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party is celebrating its 36th season! This annual tradition includes dancing, boisterous pub shows, tearooms, shopping, authentic food and drink from Charles Dickens’ Victorian London, literary and historical characters, children’s activities, shows and much more. In short, there’s something for the whole family! Get all the details and buy your tickets here.

Santa Train | Napa

November 19 – December 28 | Napa Valley Wine Train  

The Napa Valley Wine Train turns festive during the holidays to become one of our favorite annual traditions in the Bay Area. Starting at just $39 per person, the experience begins with an interactive musical journey at the station then you’ll embark on a magical train ride to The North Pole that lasts over an hour! On board, families can enjoy music, games, entertainment, hot cocoa and freshly baked cookies.

Gingerbread Holiday Tea at the Fairmont | San Francisco

November 23, 2018 – January 1, 2019 | The Fairmont San Francisco

San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel has been entertaining holiday visitors for over a century with attractions and decorations which include their famous two-story, life-sized Gingerbread House. To take your visit up a notch, reserve seats for a Gingerbread Holiday Tea available daily between November 23, 2018 and January 1, 2019. Parties of up to 10 guests also have the opportunity to reserve the private dining room inside the gingerbread house! Get all the details here.

Gingerbread House Competition & Tour | Sausalito

December 1 – 30 | Various locations  

For more than a decade, Sausalito’s local businesses have been building impressive gingerbread houses to display and compete during the month of December. Residents throughout Marin County flock to see the displays then vote for their favorite to win in categories like most creative, best Sausalito theme and best team effort.

SWEA San Francisco Christmas Fair | San Francisco

December 1, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. | Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption

Since 1984, SWEA has been hosting their annual Christmas Fair to bring a little flavor of Sweden to San Francisco. From 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., you can fill stockings with traditional crafts, imported gifts and delicacies from Scandinavia. Bring your kids to dance along to Swedish folk music, learn all about traditional costumes and meet Santa while adults sip traditional Glögg, otherwise known as mulled wine.

Run Wild San(ta) Francisco | San Francisco

December 1, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. | Crissy Field

christmas hanukkah holiday events bay area san francisco 2018

Photo courtesy of Foggy Bay Photos via Run Wild San(ta) Francisco

This kids run and 5K event comes complete with a Santa Hat and a Run Wild t-shirt. The flat, fast loop around Crissy Field reaches out to San Francisco’s historic Fort Point and offers views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, the San Francisco Skyline and the San Francisco Bay. Register here, RSVP to the Facebook event and don’t forget to bring a toy for donation to The San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program.

The Bill Graham Menorah: Chanukah In Union Square | San Francisco

December 2 – 9 | Union Square

The first giant, public menorah is located right here in San Francisco and The Bill Graham Menorah has been celebrated and illuminated every year since 1975. In 2018, the lighting begins on December 2nd on the first day of Chanukah and will be done every evening through December 9th. Beginning as early as 2 p.m., the celebration will include kids crafts and activities, presentations and live music.

Deck the Hall | San Francisco

December 2, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. | Davies Symphony Hall

This family favorite offers two different showtimes on December 2nd and each one has a regular or VIP price option. Everyone who comes can sing and dance along with members of the San Francisco Symphony, guest artists and costumed characters, and your tickets include post-concert festivities complete with treats, arts and crafts, entertainment and more.

Additional San Francisco Symphony holiday events throughout the season include Handel’s Messiah, Holiday Brass, and film screenings paired with orchestra performances like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Home Alone and Love Actually. To see all of December’s events, click here.

A Christmas Carol | San Francisco

December 6 – 29 | American Conservatory Theater

Performances for this Bay Area holiday tradition sell out quickly so buy yours today and join an ACT tradition that has been going strong for more than 40 years. The show returns this year with a sparkling, music-infused production. Bring your family, bring your friends and check your humbugs at the door.

ZooLights | Oakland

December 7 – 23 and 26 – 31, 2018 and January 1 – 6, 2019 | Oakland Zoo

The Oakland Zoo will be flooded with new lights and festive fun for the 2018 holiday season. From 5:30 – 9 p.m. each night, you can soar over the Oakland hills in festively-lit gondolas and gaze in awe at laser light shows. New this year, you can also see swirling snow fall over a dazzling Winter Wonderland which features Santa in his workshop!

The Annual Christmas Revels | Oakland

December 8 – 16 | Scottish Rite Theater

Each year, The California Revels celebrate the holidays and the solstice with song, dance, spirited folk tales and cultural flare. Their 2018 Christmas show is titled Ancient Mysteries of Andalusian Spain and explores the stories of three main cultures—Muslim, Jewish and Christian—then celebrates the things that unite us all. Get more details on the story, showtimes and tickets here.

The Great Santa Run San Francisco | San Francisco

December 9, 8:30 a.m. | Crissy Field

christmas hanukkah holiday events bay area san francisco 2018

Photo courtesy of The Great Santa Run San Francisco

This family-friendly holiday tradition includes a one-mile fun run and a 5K, and all race participants get to take home a finisher medal! Additionally, everyone gets to enjoy all the San Francisco views we love, including the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay, from Crissy Field.

Lighted Boat Parade & Fireworks | Sausalito

December 9 – 10 | Downtown  

The Sausalito Lighted Boat Parade has been a Marin County tradition for more than 30 years, and the celebration has expanded into two days of festive fun which include light displays and a fireworks show on Saturday evening followed by the Jingle Bell 5k on Sunday morning.

San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker | San Francisco

December 12 – 29 | War Memorial Opera House

On Christmas Eve 1944, the audience at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House experienced the American premiere of Nutcracker. Today, thanks to the San Francisco Ballet, the tradition continues in all its glory, complete with beautiful dancing and stunning choreography. It was an instant classic then and remains a family-friendly experience you’ll want to see year after year.

The Christmas Ballet | San Francisco

December 13 – 24 | Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

christmas hanukkah holiday events bay area san francisco 2018

Photo courtesy of Keith Sutter via Smuin Contemporary Ballet

The Christmas Ballet, a production of Smuin Contemporary Ballet, is touring throughout the Bay Area this fall. In mid-November, they were in Walnut Creek, then they’re passing through Carmel, Mountain View and San Francisco from late November through December 24th. The performance includes a combination of classical ballet and contemporary numbers. For more information on the show, locations and dates, click here.

Lighted Boat Parade | San Francisco

December 14 | Fisherman’s Wharf

The oldest and largest lighted holiday boat parade on San Francisco Bay returns to the waterfront every year. Join The Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District and the St. Francis Yacht Club on December 14th as dozens of boats illuminate the Bay to celebrate the holidays!

Peninsula Ballet Theatre Nutcracker | Redwood City

December 22 – 29 | Fox Theater

For more than 40 years Peninsula Ballet Theatre has been producing their stunning rendition of Nutcracker inside Redwood City’s Fox Theatre. More than 125 magical characters transform the stage into a holiday spectacular, and in 2018, you have four chances to catch the full-length performance.

Nutcracker Sweet at Peninsula Ballet Theatre is another option December 1st and 2nd, 8th and 9th, and 15th and 16th. This condensed version is perfect for younger audiences!

Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker | Oakland

December 22 – 23 | Paramount Theatre

Oakland Ballet Company is partnering with the Oakland Symphony and the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir for a brilliant production of The Nutcracker. Over the course of two days, they’ll put on three shows which include opportunities to attend the Sweet Dreams Party or an evening Encore Reception. You can get more details and tickets here.

How do you celebrate?

In the comments below, tell us about your favorite family traditions in the Bay Area during the holidays!

Category East Bay, Local Events, Marin County, Peninsula, San Francisco, Wine Country

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