6 Bay Area attractions to get you in the holiday spirit


No snow? No problem. You can still have a white Christmas in spirit in the Bay Area, with a number of surefire holiday events and attractions:

Union Square San Francisco
Downtowns in most any city tend to go all out when it comes to Christmas, and Union Square is San Francisco is no exception. Besides the extravagantly festooned department stores, you can enjoy ice skating at the rink in the square itself, and bask in the glow of the enormous Christmas tree and menorah while sipping hot chocolate at the park concession. With our snow challenged city, nowhere else in the Bay Area feels more like Christmas than Union Square.

Christmas in the Park
Downtown San Jose doesn’t have quite the holiday ambience of San Francisco, but it does have an explosion of Christmas spirit concentrated in Plaza de Cesar Chavez. The happy holiday village has numerous displays and trimmed trees created by local civic organizations, as well as a small stage for performances, vendors selling hot chocolate, and a chance to meet Santa himself. Across the street is the Kristi Yamaguchi Downtown Ice rink for outdoor skating.

Great Dickens Christmas Fair
This is a weird and wacky event/performance/attraction put on by some very dedicated people determined to recreate a Dickensian type English village, complete with fake snow and cockney accents. There’s some steam punk/Renaissance faire ethos going on here, but with elaborate sets featuring regular performances, tea times and ye olde shoppes selling actual Sherlock Holmes style cloaks (which are pretty impressive), you can easily get caught up in the act.

Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train
This is the usual Roaring Camp steam engine train that runs from Santa Cruz to Felton and back. But on weekends in December, the train suddenly turns into the Polar Express. The ride includes lots of singing of carols, hot chocolate and spiced cider, and a special stop at the North Pole to pick up Santa and Mrs. Claus and their elves. Your ticket ($26 adults; $20 kids) also gets you into Santa’s Kingdom on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

Reindeer Romp and Ice Skating at the SF Zoo
Throughout the month of December, the San Francisco Zoo is offering the chance to meet several of Santa’s reindeer (from his backup team) while ice skating at a rink set up for the occasion. You can also of course check out the zoo animals, and watch them eat holiday treats.

Grace Cathedral
The impressive Grace Cathedral atop Nob Hill is offering a number of holiday performance throughout the month. Handel’s Messiah, a family sing-a-long, the Grace Cathedral Choir, the Hunchback of Notre Dame are all on tap at various times in the church’s grand interior.


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