Best Places to See Holiday and Christmas Lights in San Francisco
November 21, 2023

Feel the holiday atmosphere as you visit these unique places to see holiday and Christmas lights displays in San Francisco!

The warm glow of holiday lights is here! The Christmas season is the time of year to deck out the trees, parks, and structures with hundreds and thousands of Christmas lights. And San Francisco is always festive during the holidays. The Golden City shines bright with strings of multicolored lights and plenty of holiday spirit to go around. These light shows are the perfect way to kick off the holiday season and indulge in some sparkling Christmas cheer. Discover places and events where you can visit and see dazzling Christmas lights in San Francisco for an unforgettable family holiday getaway!

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San Francisco lights up this holiday season with colorful decorations and festive events that add to the city’s already stunning and magical atmosphere. The City by the Bay sparkles more than it already does during the holidays. From more conventional Christmas light shows to more unique holiday lights displays, you’ll find a range of places to visit, including a Christmas lights drive-thru or walk-thru, forests of lit-up trees, and even a holiday cruise!

But do you know where to find the best places to see holiday and Christmas lights displays in San Francisco? Fortunately, we have compiled a list of the best holiday lights and fun Christmas events to explore in the San Francisco Bay Area this year. Get ready to stroll through brightly decorated parks, visit dazzling business districts featuring glistening attractions and festivals, and hop in for a magical ride of spectacular drive-thru events your whole family will enjoy.

Find below the best places to see the most whimsical holiday and Christmas lights while taking in the most famous sights of San Francisco!

Christmas Lights and Holiday Events in San Francisco

Video by: San Francisco Travel

Illuminate SF Festival of Light

One Front St., Ste. 2900, San Francisco, CA 94111
Phone Number: (415) 227-2602

November 24, 2023 – January 31, 2024
Daily | 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM

From the day after Thanksgiving until the end of January, dozens of site-specific artworks by acclaimed creators from all over the world will be on display across San Francisco’s many neighborhoods. Some are permanent fixtures that have become familiar icons of the city. Others are fleeting, one-time-only creations that dazzle visitors with their complexity. Best of all, most of these artworks are free to experience.

With San Francisco’s typically clear and mild winter weather, you can visit many installations in one evening. The initiative is presented by the San Francisco Travel Association in collaboration with local civic and cultural partners and showcases the city’s public light art installations, most of which are accessible by public transportation and free to view. Explore what’s on display this year and plan your next visit to experience Illuminate SF™’s Festival of Light!

Holiday and Christmas Lights in San Francisco - Happier Holidays at Pier 39

Happier Holidays at Pier 39

Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94133
Phone Number: (415) 981-7437

November 20, 2023 – January 7, 2024
Daily | 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM

PIER 39 spreads holiday cheer on the San Francisco Waterfront with festive events and a Christmas lights display. Enjoy the holidays all season long with The PIER’s nightly Tree Lighting Musical Moments on its Christmas tree, which will come to life every half hour. Synchronized to holiday music, the tree transforms into a kaleidoscope of swirling colors adorned with thousands of specialty lights and ornaments.

These dazzling Tree Lighting Musical Moments will take center stage all season long. This year’s live tree will be 60 ft. tall, harvested by Carlton Christmas Trees from Siskiyou County in Northern California. Get into the spirit of the season at PIER 39 while shopping, dining, and strolling The PIER.

Holiday events in San Francisco - Winter Wanderland in Union Square
Photo by: Union Square San Francisco

Winter Wanderland in Union Square

Union Square
291 Geary St., San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone Number: (415) 781-7880

November 1 – December 24, 2023
Daily | 12:00 PM – 7:00 PM

San Francisco’s Union Square leans into old-world meets new-world traditions this holiday season with Winter Wander-land in Union Square, presented by The Union Square Alliance. Winter Wander-land encompasses all holiday activations in the Union Square District, making it clear that there’s no place like Union Square for the holidays. Come experience the post-pandemic return of Winter-Walk! A Union Square Holiday Tradition is back by popular demand. Two pedestrian-only blocks of fun on Stockton Street from Post to O’Farrell.

The other activations include Gump’s Holiday Pop-Up, The Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square presented by Kaiser Permanente, Macy’s Great Tree, Macy’s SFSPCA Holiday Windows, Bill Graham Menorah, Winter Walk, The Westin St. Francis Sugar Castle, Larger-Than-Life Ornament Trail, and Miracle at PCH. Macy’s Great Tree in Union Square, San Francisco’s most recognized Christmas tree, typically stands more than 83-feet tall, decorated with 43,000 twinkling energy-efficient LED lights and 700 shining ornaments.

Sugar Castle at the Westin St. Francis
Photo by: The Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square

Sugar Castle at the Westin St. Francis

Westin St. Francis San Francisco
335 Powell St., San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone Number: (415) 397-7000

November 22, 2023 – January 2, 2024
Daily | All Day

Prepare to step into the future of holiday enchantment as The Westin St. Francis proudly reveals an augmented reality (AR) adventure. This immersive experience enables visitors to go beyond the sugar-coated exterior and explore the enchanting “inside” of the spectacular Sugar Castle. Simply scan a QR code and transcend into the magical world of this incredible medieval masterpiece.

Originally envisioned in 2005, the castle is the creation of the renowned Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Francois Houdré and his skilled team. Set to be revealed to the public in the Landmark Lobby, the Sugar Castle stands as a mesmerizing 12-foot-tall rotating work of art, evolving with more grandeur and innovation each passing year.

Holiday and Christmas Lights in San Francisco - Fairmont Gingerbread House
Photo by: Fairmont San Francisco

Fairmont Gingerbread House

Fairmont San Francisco
950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108
Phone Number: (415) 772-5000

November 23, 2023 – January 1, 2024
Daily | All Day

Holiday magic comes to life with their annual life-sized Gingerbread House on display from Thanksgiving through the New Year. With hundreds of bricks of real gingerbread baked by their pastry team and pounds of See’s Candies, their Gingerbread House display brings out the kid in everyone. Kids will especially enjoy the working miniature trains that encircle the creation.

Visits from Santa and a champagne bar round out Fairmont San Francisco with the engaging schedule of seasonal events, and through it all, the gingerbread house remains central to every celebration. Looking for a special treat? Book a dining experience inside the private Gingerbread for up to 8 guests and take in the scents and sounds of the holiday season.

Holiday events in San Francisco - Thrive City Winter Wonderland: Lighting Ceremony
Photo by: Thrive City

Thrive City Winter Wonderland: Lighting Ceremony

Thrive City
1 Warriors Way, San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone Number: (888) 479-4667

November 29, 2023
Wednesday | 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM

The holidays are here! Winter Wonderland is tipping off the festive season with the annual Lighting Ceremony featuring the Bay Area’s largest tree at 90 feet tall. This 2-hour showcase features live music from original member and founder of RUN DMC, Darryl McDaniels. Many other special performances are scheduled to celebrate the occasion as well.

Winter Wonderland, presented by Fanatics, is designed for guests of all ages to enjoy the ultimate holiday season, including live entertainment, multicultural experiences, photo opportunities, whimsical attractions, seasonal treats, and more. Make sure to grab a seasonal treat and drink while you take part!

Holiday and Christmas Lights in San Francisco - Entwined: Elder Mother
Photo by: San Francisco Parks Alliance

Entwined: Elder Mother

Peacock Meadow, Golden Gate Park
501 Stanyan St., San Francisco, CA 94117
Phone Number: (415) 621-3260

December 7, 2023 – April 28, 2024
Daily | 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM

Entwined’s forest of illuminated color has lit up Peacock Meadow in Golden Gate Park every winter since 2020, immersing park visitors in a realm of art, technology, and nature. In 2023, the installation returns as Entwined: Elder Mother, a new iteration of the art installation that features a monumental shade-bearing tree that moves in the wind.

The defining new feature of Entwined: Elder Mother is the Elder Mother tree itself. Elder Mother is a monumental shade-bearing tree that moves in the wind and speaks through the language of light and color. The 30-ft metal sculpted tree carries a 25-ft canopy, offering a place for park-goers to gather day and night with ever-changing, interactive illumination and color.

Let’s Glow SF
Photo by: Downtown SF

Let’s Glow SF

Downtown SF
525 Market St., San Francisco, CA 94105
Phone Number: (415) 634-2251

December 1-10, 2022
Daily | 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM

Let’s Glow SF 2023 will kick off on December 1st at the foot of Market Street, facing the Ferry Building, with a Countdown To Glow that is FREE and open to the public. The Downtown SF Partnership will be joined by Mayor London Breed, the City of San Francisco, A3 Visual, Presenting Sponsor, Amazon, Let’s Glow SF artists, and more to countdown the start of the holiday season.

Starting at 6 PM, complimentary ube hot chocolate, s’mores, ube s’mores, and gluten-free chocolate cupcakes from Marley’s Treats and FREE Let’s Glow SF swag will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. The press conference will begin at 6:30 PM, with the projections officially being switched on at 7 PM. Come enjoy entertainment from Winter Stilt Walkers with Catalyst Arts!

Photo by: Grace Cathedral

18th Annual Tree of Hope Lighting Celebration

Grace Cathedral
1100 California St., San Francisco, CA 94108
Phone Number: (415) 431-1485

December 4, 2023
Monday | 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM

The RWF World Tree of Hope is a holiday tree decorated with thousands of origami cranes, each containing written notes of hope and peace from children and individuals from around the world. Created annually as a symbol of global unity and world peace, the tree is a gift from members of the San Francisco LGBTQ and Japanese American communities to the world – given to inspire hope, love, and humanitarian action.

Wishes from world leaders to school children, from San Francisco to Sir Lanka, make the RWF World Tree of Hope a powerful expression of people coming together to create a better world. You can stop by anytime to see the dazzling Tree of Hope on display in Grace Cathedral. Simply walk inside to visit.

Photo by: Civic Center Community Benefit District

Civic Center Plaza Holiday Tree Lighting

Civic Center Plaza
335 McAllister St., San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone Number: (415) 658-7979

December 6, 2023
Wednesday | 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM

Add this fun, free, and one of the family-friendly events in San Francisco to your holiday calendar featuring festive performances led by Boxcar Theatre’s Artistic Director Nick A. Olivero. The night’s lineup includes The Tap Dancing Christmas Trees, The Topman All Stars, magician Josh Farenbaugh, singer Doris Bumpus, and appearances by Christmas VIPs and the man-of-the-hour Santa! Also, expect “snow” flurries. The event takes place across from an illuminated City Hall in Civic Center Plaza, a wonderful backdrop for a photo.

Another Planet Entertainment and the San Francisco Police Foundation, along with the Civic Center Community Benefit District, will lead a toy giveaway at the event for the first 400 children under 12. While in the Makers Village, SF Etsy will lead holiday-themed activities (Santa letter writing station! Dreidel making! Paper chains! More!), and the San Francisco Public Library will host a book giveaway.

Best Places to See Holiday and Christmas Lights in San Francisco

As the Bay Area grows colder and the nights grow longer, taking your family to a brilliant display of lights during the holiday season seems like the perfect way to bring the Christmas spirit to everyone. Experience the beauty of San Francisco at Christmastime with the best holiday lights and Christmas displays, and sing along to holiday-themed songs cuddled up with family and your little ones.

Although they are located all over the city, it’s easy to visit these spots independently. Spread the Christmas spirit by visiting as many of these holiday festivals of lights as you can!

San Francisco offers so many opportunities for kids to enjoy and have fun all year round! Check out our list of resources, or browse through our things to do in San Francisco with kids. Still looking for more activities for kids in San Francisco? No problem! Check out our comprehensive listing of places to go in the region and our highly recommended seasonal blog posts.

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