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Published November 6, 2023

San Francisco's Ultimate 2023 Winter Bucket List

See the top winter activities, events, and attractions happening in SF this holiday season, all in one handy list. ⛸🎄

by San Francisco Bucket List


Winter has arrived, and our favorite seasonal activities are caroling out to us. We've rounded up everything you need for the perfect winter wonderland: from some of our favorite holiday treats, the largest Chinese New Year celebration outside of Asia, LED-lit experiences, and more, so you can make the most of the season.

27 Things to Add to Your SF Bucket List This Winter

See Let's Glow SF 2023

Did you know the country’s largest holiday projection event is right here in downtown SF? From December 1–10, you can see some of San Francisco's most iconic buildings alight with impressive large-scale art concepts projected across their facades from 5-10 PM nightly. This year's event will include the Ferry Building for the first time ever, along with the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange, The Salesforce Tower, and more. Don't miss the Countdown to Glow (FREE and open to the public) on December 1 at the Ferry Building with complimentary ube hot chocolate and sweet treats while supplies last!

Where: Various locations; kickoff event will take place at the foot of Market Street facing the Ferry Building at 6:00 pm.
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Grab Drinks at The Holly Jolly Bar

Get into the holiday season with some festive spirits (the alcoholic kind) at the Holly Jolly Bar. The halls of Trademark will be decked from top to bottom, and you’ll feel like you just stepped into a Hallmark movie. Enjoy good vibes, entertainment, and a welcome cocktail from November to January!

Where: Trademark: 1123 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA
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1123 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Holly Jolly Holiday Bar at Trademark
Starting at $22

Book now


Visit The Two-Story Gingerbread House in the Fairmont Hotel Lobby

What is 22 feet high, 23 feet wide, and full of royal icing and candy decor? The much beloved two-story-high Victorian Gingerbread House in the Fairmont Hotel lobby! On display from Thanksgiving through the New Year, guests can come and marvel at the structure and even book a dining experience inside the private Gingerbread for up to eight guests.

Where: 950 Mason St, San Francisco, CA
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Pick Up Hot Chocolate From The Famous Dandelion Chocolate

Indulgence and the holiday season seem to go hand in hand. That's why we are all about a cup of hot cocoa from Dandelion. Order a hot chocolate, a small ginger cake, and maybe a few chocolate chip cookies. Oh, and churros, definitely churros.

Pro tip: the Valencia location offers a small complimentary cookie with each hot cocoa!

Where: 740 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA
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Ice Skate at Union Square

The iconic outdoor ice rink is back with daily ice skating for all ages! General Admission is $20 (children under 8 are $15) and includes skate rental. Head to the ice for views of Macy's giant glowing Christmas tree, and holiday decor and lights to take in as you glide.

Where: 333 Post Street, San Francisco, CA
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Attend Embarcadero Center's First-Ever Holiday Market

Embarcadero Center is putting on its first-ever Holiday Market on Wednesday, November 29, from 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm! You must be 21 years or older to attend, and admission is free, but plan to arrive early — guests are admitted on a first-come, first-serve basis. Spend an afternoon sipping specialty holiday cocktails and beverages, taking photos with Santa, and knocking out your holiday shopping with Embarcadero Center retailers.

Where: The Urban Patio: Three Embarcadero Center, on Sacramento Street, between Drumm Street and Davis Street. 
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Be Amazed by the Glowing Lights of "Entwined: Elder Mother"

Entwined, the annual illumianted art installation, returns to SF for its fourth year, this year taking up residence at JFK Promenade. Immerse yourself in the interactive 30-ft metal sculpture adorned with a 25-ft canopy, and take in the dynamic play of light and color. There will even be QR codes that let you create your own lighting patterns! Monthly live programming will be hosted at the installation this season, starting with the holiday tree lighting ceremony on December 7 at McLaren Lodge. More events will be announced on a rolling basis.

Where: 501 Stanyan St, San Francisco, CA
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Ride the Holiday-Themed Napa Wine Trains

Visit wine country this season and enjoy Santa-themed fun on the Napa Valley Wine Train. Begin your voyage at the station and discover holiday magic, including cheerful carolers, a welcome cup of hot cider or cocoa, Santa photo ops, and a merry mailing station for postcards to the North Pole.

Where: 1275 McKinstry Street, Napa
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Embrace Being on Santa's Naughty List at The Naughty or Nice Pop-Up Bar

Wheteher you've been naughty or nice this year, all are welcome to celebrate the season at Westwood's naughty holiday pop-up bar. Mix and mingle as you enjoy themed cocktails and a space decked out in tinsel, trimmings, twinkle lights, and more! Tickets include one welcome cocktail!

Where: Westwood: 2036 Lombard St, San Francisco, CA
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2036 Lombard St, San Francisco, CA 94123, USA
Naughty or Nice Pop Up
Starting at $20

Book now


See Bay Area Holiday Displays

Spend an evening touring the Bay Area's most festive spots. Christmas Tree Lane in San Carlos boasts house after house of over-the-top holiday lights, each with its own unique display and glittering lights. A row of impressive illuminated arches in Outer Sunset spans almost an entire block on Rivera Street between 42nd Ave and 43rd Ave., and of course, Fisherman's Wharf is always worth strolling through, especially when the iconic sign is lit up in twinkle lights.

Where: Various locations.


Pick Out a Tree At Clancy’s Christmas Tree Farm

Nothing beats a real Christmas tree (the woodsy scent! the rustic charm!), and we know a few good spots to snag one. Clancy's Christmas Trees is a three-generation San Francisco company that first opened for business in December 1949 with the goal of bringing San Franciscans the finest and freshest trees available. Pick out the perfect one for you, and grab some handmade wreaths and fragrant greens while you're there, too!

Where: 2101 Sloat Blvd, San Francisco, CA
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See A Christmas Carol

Don’t be a Scrooge! Showing December 6 through Christmas Eve at the American Conservatory Theater, see the classic Christmas tale by Charles Dickens come to life with a lively cast, delightful music, costumes, and spooky showmanship. It's the perfect outing to put you in the holiday spirit!

Where: The Toni Rembe Theater: 415 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA
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Visit Tinseltown: The Christmas Speakeasy

Tinseltown is bringing the over-the-top holiday bar vibes we’ve been craving. The pop-up bar’s halls are decked with floor-to-ceiling tinsel, trimmings, ornaments, and more, allowing you to immerse yourself in holiday magic from every angle. Entry tickets cost $22 and include a holiday-themed welcome cocktail or mocktail on your arrival.

Where: Storek (A Non-Plus Ultra Venue): 149 9th St., San Francisco
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Storek - A Non Plus Ultra Venue, 149 9th St, San Francisco, California 94103, United States
Tinseltown: The Christmas Speakeasy "Where Every Day Is Christmas"
Starting at $22

Book now



Volunteer Or Donate To The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank

One of the most rewarding and vital things you can do during the holidays is to help those in need. Support the SF-Marin Food Bank, which provides meals to those experiencing food insecurity, by donating or volunteering at one of their various locations. For every $1 donated, two healthy meals are provided to neighbors experiencing hunger.

Where: San Francisco: 900 Pennsylvania Avenue | Marin: 2550 Kerner Boulevard, San Rafael, CA
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Attend the Sausalito Winterfest

Hop over to Sausalito for the ultimate holiday-lighted boat parade and festival. The two-day weekend fest will include fireworks, a boat parade, brunch at The Spinnaker Restaurant, a Jingle Bell 5k Run, and more. Happening December 9-10!

Where: Sausalito Waterfront: Gabrielson Park Humboldt Ave & Anchor St, Sausalito, CA
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Grab Holiday Treats Treat from Craftsman and Wolves

The contemporary San Francisco bakery and patisserie will serve up decadent treats all season long, from tarts and pastries to rich hot chocolate. Grab a limited-time holiday cookie tray to give as a hostess gift at your next holiday party or to share with Santa on Christmas Eve—or keep them for yourself to munch on while wrapping presents. Try flavors like raspberry cardamom snickerdoodle, golden milk coconut macaron, and Douglas fir blueberry ginger shortbread wreath.

Where: 746 Valencia | 1598 Yosemite
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Catch The Lion King at the Orpheum Theatre

SF's best-loved musical is running for a limited time at the Orpheum Theatre! From November 22 through December 30, watch The Lion King performed live on stage and see the landmark musical brought to life against an amazing backdrop of stunning visuals.

Where: 1192 Market St, San Francisco, CA
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Orpheum Theatre, Market Street, San Francisco, CA, USA
Disney's The Lion King at the Orpheum Theatre
Starting at $107

Book now


Experience Après Village at the Four Seasons Silicon Valley

Starting November 17, head south to Palo Alto for the ultimate seasonal pop-up inspired by cozy mountainside retreats, complete with mini-chalets and a synthetic skate rink. The Après alpine-inspired menu will include innovative food trucks, house-made signature s’mores, and other hot beverages.

Where: 2050 University Ave, East Palo Alto
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Take a Pasta-Making Class

Is there anything so good as comfort food in the winter? Spend a cozy afternoon learning how to make fresh pasta at a fun handmade ravioli-making class! You’ll learn the art of mixing and making your own dough, plus learn how to craft the perfect alfredo sauce and spinach and cheese fillings.

Where: The Hotel Majestic: 1500 Sutter St, San Francisco 
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Hotel Majestic, Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA, USA
Handmade Ravioli Cooking Class
Starting at $59

Book now


Go to an Elf Watch Party

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema will be hosting Elf watch parties throughout November and December. Watch the Christmas classic at this interactive holiday spectacular, packed with games, props, and, of course, singing loud for all to hear.

Where: 2550 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA
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Visit the Exploratorium After Dark

The Exploratorium provides a world of science, art, and human perception experiments to *explore* (pun intended), with over 650 hands-on exhibits designed to boggle the mind. On Thursday nights, adults get the place to themselves! Grab your friends and a drink from the bar, and peruse one of SF's most fun museums. How will you fare in a pitch-black dome? Will you make it across the fog bridge? TBD

Where: Exploratorium: Pier 15, Green St, San Francisco, CA
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Exploratorium, Pier 15, Green St, San Francisco, CA 94111, USA
Tickets for Exploratorium After Dark Thursdays (18+)
Starting at $19

Book now


Embark On A Glowfari

This immersive experience features larger-than-life animal lanterns throughout the Oakland Zoo! Stroll through the dazzling creatures, from kangaroos and koalas to breathtaking full-size whales, and finish with a train ride through a world of unicorns and fairies.

Where: 9777 Golf Links Road Oakland, CA
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Find the Perfect Gift at SF's Holiday Markets

SF has no shortage of markets and craft fairs with unique artist-made gifts, creative small biz goods, and handmade treasures. Shop West Coast Craft on November 18 & 19 for local artisan finds, including jewelry, pottery, and more, and check out the Ferry Building's annual Creativity Explored Holiday Pop-Up or the Holiday Open House with warm drinks, cookie decorating, holiday crafts, and more.

If you're in the Sunset, make sure to explore the 2023 Holiday Sunset Mercantile located in Golden Gate Park, and don't miss the Self Care + Sip Holiday Market for luxury self-care items and experiences, including massage therapy and craft cocktails!

Where: Various Locations


See Panto in the Presidio

If you're looking for a unique outdoor show, check out Panto in the Presidio. It's a special San Franciscan twist on the most popular form of theatre in the world, Pantomime. Their rendition of Sleeping Beauty is a wildly funny musical mashup of true love, talking dogs, singing chickens, dancing ghosts, and fairy magic.

Where: 99 Moraga Avenue, San Francisco, CA
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Celebrate Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year and accompanying parade in the Bay Area is nothing short of spectacular. The parade will take place on February 24, 2024, and is one of the few remaining illuminated night parades in North America and the biggest Lunar New Year celebration outside of Asia. The full slate of activities runs from mid-January through March and includes a Flower Market Fair, a basketball Jamboree, a Miss Chinatown Pageant, and more.

Where: CNY Parade: 24438 Santa Clara St, #3629 Hayward, CA
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See The Pacific Orchid Exposition

If you’re feeling any post-holiday blues, the Annual Pacific Orchid Expo will fix that. The POE is an absolute marvel and one of the best orchid shows in the US, displaying an impressive array of diverse fauna from all over the world. Happening from February 16 through 18!

Where: SF County Fair Building (Hall of Flowers): 1199 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA
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Play Games at GobbleCon

Shake up the typical turkey trot routine and attend GobbleCon: an all-out family-fun feast of over 52 hours of board games. Allow the likes of D&D, Adventures League, miniatures, and CCGs to take over Thanksgiving Weekend.

Where: Burlingame Hyatt Regency SFO: 1333 Old Bayshore Hwy, Burlingame
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