4 Fun and Festive Ways to Celebrate the Holidays with Kids in San Francisco This Year

Easy and fun ways to celebrate the holidays in San Francisco with kids big and small.
San Francisco cable car decorated for the holidays
(Photo: Shutterstock/Mathieu LE MAUFF)

What San Francisco lacks in snow it makes up for in holiday spirit in November and December. Looking for a fun and festive way to spend a day sure to get both kids and adults in the holiday spirit? Here are some of my favorite seasonal activities happening in San Francisco this year geared to families.

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Holiday Teas in San Francisco

The best-known of the kid-friendly holiday tea in San Francisco is the Teddy Bear Tea at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco. The hotel’s ballroom is transformed into a winter wonderland complete with elves, trees, music, and dance. Tea (with offerings to suit both kids and adults) is followed by a fun and interactive performance for kids. This is a particularly good fit for families with little kids.

Down the hill, right on Union Square, the Westin St. Francis debuts its annual Sugar Castle on November 22, 2023. Along with this 12-foot-tall holiday sugar sculpture (Hint: If you scan the QR code, you’ll can peek inside the castle), the hotel celebrates the holidays with events like its Traditional Holiday Tea Experience and the kid-focused Dollie + Me Holiday Tea. There’s also a Breakfast with Santa event on December 9.

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The Fairmont’s Holiday Tea is another fun and fancy holiday tea in San Francisco that welcomes kids. The hotel’s pretty tea room offers a special kids menu along with the standard tea menu. There’s also a life-sized gingerbread house made of hundreds of bricks of gingerbread to marvel at—families looking for the ultimate in holiday cheer can even book a dining experience inside the gingerbread house.

Holiday Performances in San Francisco

The Nutcracker is a perennial holiday favorite, and the San Francisco Ballet does a lovely rendition of this great intro to ballet for kids. But it’s certainly not the only holiday performance worth the ticket price in San Francisco. For the last 36 years, ODC/Dance Company has performed the Velveteen Rabbit. And for the ultimate in dance-along fun, nothing beats the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band’s annual Dance-Along Nutcracker, which this year, has a Halloween twist.

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The San Francisco Symphony is doing a Charlie Brown Christmas – Live! that blends live actors, a virtual backdrop, and music performed by the symphony. At A.C.T. near Union Square, A Christmas Carol runs from December 1 through 24, 2023. And in the Presidio, British-style panto finds a home at the Presidio Theatre with its riff on Sleeping Beauty.

Ice Skating in San Francisco

Union Square is a holiday hotspot in San Francisco. It’s home to Macy’s irresistible holiday-themed windows (and its ultra-cute puppies and kittens, courtesy of its partnership with the San Francisco SPCA). And it’s home to a seasonal outdoor ice skating rink that’s perfectly positioned for great views of the massive Christmas tree and the cable cars.

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There are multiple sessions a day, but it’s still a good idea to sign up in advance. And though it’s not holiday-specific, the Yerba Buena Ice Skating & Bowling Center is open daily and is super kid-friendly (though there are also regular “tranquil adult sessions” interspersed throughout the day).

The Dickens Fair in San Francisco

The Dickens Fair at the Cow Palace is a roundtrip ticket to Victorian London, where adults and kids alike will love the singing, dancing, costumes, treats, and treasures. Even families who don’t dress up in period costume will feel at home in this richly recreated version of Charles Dickens’ England. 

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Christine Sarkis
A traveling parent and longtime travel writer and editor, Christine Sarkis is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of FamilyVacationist. She is the former Executive Editor for TripAdvisor travel magazine SmarterTravel.com, she has spent nearly two decades finding and sharing the best places to go with an audience of enthusiastic travelers. Her stories have appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her expert advice has been quoted in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, Here & Now, Life Kit, and California Now. Her stories have been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008, and she is working on a travel memoir. Christine and her husband first met in Paris, and travel remains a big part of their shared experience. With their two kids in tow, they have piloted a barge down canals in France, befriended llamas in Peru, tended olive trees in Italy, and gone snorkeling with sea turtles in Hawaii. The family lives in California and loves traveling around the state. Their California favorites include Yosemite National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, and the West Shore of Lake Tahoe.