It’s the season to be jolly, and for a full embrace of the Christmas spirit, the Bay Area offers a ho-ho-host of things to do and see. We may not have snow, thankfully, but the weather is just nippy enough to justify that Santa-con suit as you make your way from one mistletoe event to the next. Here are the top to-dos:
Visit a Christmas tree farm
No, you won’t have to pack the sleigh for a trip to the North Pole (or Canada), just head beyond the city borders to one of a number of actual farms that grow and sell Christmas trees. Many have more to do than simply picking chopping down of a tree. Little Hills Christmas Tree Farms in Petaluma offers free popcorn and cider, ornaments for sale, and a visit and picture with Santa. While Santa’s Tree Farm near Half Moon Bay offers a Christmas village with train rides, miniature golf with Frosty, and reindeer mascots.
A tour of Christmas trees and lights
There are neighborhoods that live for this season to festoon their homes and yards with as much blinking doo-daddery as their utility budgets can manage. Christmas Tree Lane (Thompson Ave) in Alameda and Parkway Estates (Chestnut St) in South San Francisco are two of the best. You can tour these places for free, as well as hit all the public squares that have erected enormous lit trees and decorations, like Jack London Square and Pier 39, and your nearest mall.
See a Nutcracker performance
Besides an opportunity to support the arts, the Nutcracker is one of those classic Christmas traditions like roasting chestnuts or trimming the tree with actual lighted candles. Pretty much every professional ballet troupe will be performing the Nutcracker throughout December, including the San Francisco Ballet, Silicon Valley Ballet, San Jose Youth Ballet, Oakland Ballet Company, Berkeley Ballet Theater, etc.
Skate at Union Square
The park at the center of San Francisco’s retail district is ground zero for holiday-ness every year, with an 83-foot tall tree decorated with 33,000 lights and 1,100 shiny ornaments, an ice rink and a café that sells hot beverages. You’re also surrounded by Macy’s and other big department stores that spare little expense in decorations. You can be sure Santa will be making regular appearances as well.
Stroll through Christmas in the Park
Trying not to be outdone by its neighbor to the north, San Jose has its own downtown holiday spectacle. This one is all about community involvement, with everyone from the local Shriners to the Girl Scouts sponsoring one of the many decorated tree or displays. There are live performances (again by local groups), Santa, vendors, and an ice skating rink across the street.
Drive through Fantasy of Lights
The rather expansive Vasona Park in Los Gatos is the scene of a drive-thru holiday display every December, sponsored by Santa Clara County Parks and created by Los Gatoans. The 1.5-mile route meanders past an erupting volcano, Santa shooting hoops, and tunnels of lights, with special music and sound effects piped through your car’s radio.