The holidays are here and we’ve rounded up all of our favorite festive activities plus some new additions for 2018. Head out on the Bay for a jolly holiday cruise with Santa and see how your favorite museum has upped their game with new holiday exhibits just for kids. Mark your calendars and buy your tickets now so that you won’t miss out!

photo: Kate Loweth

Go back in time to Victorian London at The Great Dickens Fair

At this annual event, the three-acre Cow Palace is filled with over 800 Victorian characters from waltzing royals to scrappy chimney-sweeps. Watch Shakespearean dramas with swordplay and quirky characters or Father Christmas in his own holiday show. Dress the kids as street urchins and join in the dancing and merriment. Kids will especially love the children's area with the coolest merry-go-round and games like throwing old shoes at wooden cats. The fairy house station is a great place to create your own magical wonderland (for an additional fee) while parents can sit back and enjoy a hot toddy. The Dickens Fair occurs Saturdays and Sundays Nov. 17-Dec. 23. dickensfair.com

ADVERTISEMENT

photo: Kate Loweth

Explore the Curious Contraptions at the Exploratorium

If the weather outside is frightful, it's the perfect time to head to Pier 15's Exploratorium where you can literally spend the whole day exploring and not see all that there is in this massive building. Kids love running in circles in the tornado and learning about how sound waves behave. Through January 20, you can see the mechanical sculptures known as automata at the Curious Contraptions: Inside the Fairy Tale Factory exhibit. Each sculpture performs an absurd miniature drama reflecting its maker's worldview and sense of humor. The kids will be mesmerized!

photo: San Francisco Symphony

Celebrate the sounds of the season with the SF Symphony

December is the perfect month to introduce the kids to the San Francisco Symphony as their holiday schedule is just packed with family-friendly events. November 30 kicks it off as Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas comes to life on the screen with the SF Symphony. Then on December 9, enjoy the timeless musical fable of a boy and his animal friends, Peter and the Wolf with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra accompanying. The beloved holiday movie Home Alone is projected on the big screen while the score is performed by the San Francisco Symphony and carols sung live by choruses (Dec. 19-21). 

Spread holiday cheer at the Holiday Heroes Fundraiser at AT&T Park

Celebrate the holiday season and spread some cheer by supporting the Wender Weis Foundation for Children at its 9th Annual Holiday Heroes fundraiser. The event expects to host 1,500 attendees with more than 400 underserved children and their families to a Holiday Heroes night they will never forget.

Guests at Holiday Heroes will enjoy a chance to meet their favorite local sports heroessuch as former San Francisco Giants player Hunter Pence. The event includes holiday arts and crafts, stuff your own stuffed bear toyface painting, cookie decorating, a teen lounge for kids ages 11- 17, story time with Sports Reporter AmyGphoto trading cards and arcade games. Guests will have special access to the San Francisco Giants’ batting tunnels, dugout and a chance to run the bases. An incredible silent auction filled with one-of-a-kind experiences, trips, sports memorabilia and more will be offered throughout the night

AT&T Park
San Francisco, CA
When: Dec. 4
Onlinewenderweis.org/holiday-heroes

See their eyes aglow at IlluminOdyssey

Electrify your child’s imagination at CuriOdyssey’s spectacular light exhibition, IlluminOdyssey. Explore four floors of dazzling exhibits, play inside a village of laser luminescence and roam through a lustrous forest of touchable, radiant sculptures. Dance with circles of spinning light, design fluorescent art in a black light play area, create shadows on phosphorescent surfaces and dial a rainbow of pixelated color. Wander and use your senses to investigate and journey through a wondrous world of moving, radiant light. IlluminOdyssey is open Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. until January 6. 

photo: Kate Loweth

Visit BayLUG's Holiday Show featuring LEGO®

The Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto hosts their annual BayLUG Holiday Show featuring LEGO® this year on Fridays-Sundays, Dec. 7- Jan. 13. See trains, an amusement park, Christmas displays and more. Admission to the exhibit is $3/person. After checking out the display, spend some time enjoying MOAH's Vintage Toys: It's Child's Play exhibit. 

Night Bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers

Light up the season with Night Bloom, a five-week light and sound exhibition (Dec. 2-Jan 6). Immerse yourself in an illuminated Conservatory of Flowers bursting with vibrant and luminous displays. Light and sound will transform the iconic San Francisco landmark into a glowing landscape of interactive experiences this holiday season. Guests are invited to embark on a journey through the tropics where cotton candy sunsets abound, rare and unusual flowers blossom in the moonlight and fireflies come out to play. Revel in the Conservatory of Flowers as never before seen, with an illuminated Conservatory and interactive displays welcoming guests. Food from local food trucks and seasonal beverages will also be available. 

It's WinterFest time at California's Great America

WinterFest at California’s Great America opens for the 2018 holiday season on Friday, Nov. 23 and will welcome guests on select nights through December 31. The six-week celebration will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with daily operations December 19–23 and 26–31. 

New for 2018: Great America’s entire footprint will be open and decorated for WinterFest, including two entirely new themed areas and millions more lights than ever before. Five additional rides have been included in the WinterFest lineup, including the West Coast’s first single-rail steel coaster, RailBlazer. And Barney Oldfield Speedway, Great America’s classic antique car ride, will be reimagined during WinterFest as “Twelve Days of Christmas,” allowing drivers to wind their way through fanciful light displays depicting all 12 scenes of the beloved carol. Also new this year are horse and carriage rides through the midway, allowing guests a touch of nostalgia as they enjoy the park.

Additional new experiences include the first ever igloo rentals in an exclusive VIP area. Igloo rentals include concierge services, such as food and beverage delivery, reserved seating at WinterFest live shows, hot chocolate and cookies and complimentary ice skating or carriage ride sessions. 

photo: Kate Loweth

Tour this light installation at Montalvo

The Saratoga hills have come alive with the addition of Bruce Munro: Stories in Light at Montalvo. Inspired by the artist’s readings of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, the installations of Bruce Munro range in scale from enormous and immersive to intimate, utilizing hundreds of thousands of bespoke components to construct multi-hued waves, clusters, cascades, flocks and seas of light, transforming Montalvo’s historic Villa and extensive public areas into a breathtaking spectacle of illumination.

While kids are welcome to visit any night, there are four family nights with special programming: Dec. 22 and 29, Jan. 20 and Feb. 17. 

On the family nights, they will open a special activity space inside the historic Villa featuring an “Exploration Station,” where kids can touch and handle sample components from the installation, like fused fiber optic cables, mussel shells and bulbs. They'll also have sets of activity cards guests can check out that guide younger visitors through visual and performing arts activities that engage with the exhibition and a message board station where you can write a letter to the artist to tell him what you thought of the show and ask him questions.

Outside the Villa, they will have guided tours for intergenerational audiences that run throughout the night, kid-friendly snacks for sale at our concession bars and they’ll distribute to every child a Munro activity guide Montalvo has designed that guides them through activities related to installation art and questions that have to do with themes of the exhibition. When they complete the guide, they’ll receive a “Montalvo Exhibition” sticker.

Tour the Fairmont San Francisco's largest-ever giant gingerbread house

This year, Fairmont San Francisco’s world-famous, life-sized gingerbread house is bigger and better than ever, featuring thousands of house-made gingerbread bricks and gallons of royal icing adorned by hundreds of pounds of candy.  On Nov. 24 the hotel lobby will transform into one of the world’s most beloved holiday destinations, welcoming guests to take photos with Santa that day.  Visitors can also enjoy the lobby’s 23–foot Christmas tree and a nearby Moet & Chandon Champagne Bar as well as a Gift and Hot Cocoa Pop–Up Shop.

photo: Tarah Beaven

Dress up for tea time at the Top of the Mark

Take the kids to high tea at Top of the Mark but no need to flick your pinkie in the air at this children-centric event. Magical Tea time features Raul the Baloonatic, face painting with Fire Pixie, and the Mark Hopkins Nutcracker. The fun doesn’t stop there! Kids can get their creative (and sugar) juices flowing at the cookie decorating station! 
 
Also note that Santa will be visiting in the lobby on Dec. 1, 8, 15, 23 from 12:30-4:30 p.m. So be sure to have your camera phones ready to snap a traditional Santa photo. 
 
Pro tip: Tickets go on sale in September and typically sell out by the end of November so snag your tickets early! 
 
Dates: Nov. 30, Dec, 1, 7, 8, 14, 20-22, 26 (noon and 12:30 p.m. seatings)
Cost: $80/guest, $75 w/ toy donation for the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Drive
Onlineholidaysatthemark.com

photo: Downtown Ice

Spend some time in Downtown San Jose

This year's Christmas in the Park is even bigger than ever with a Guinness World Record 600 lit trees! Get your photos taken with Santa, enjoy holiday dance and singing performances and hop aboard the rides. Then glide over to Downtown Ice for ice skating under the palm trees. End your day at the daily Seasons of Hope performances at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph (7:30-8:30 p.m. Dec. 12-23).

photo: Red and White Fleet

Red, White and GREEN Holiday Cruise

For a truly Bay Area experience, book your spot on this 90-minute cruise with a very festive flair. During the month of December this cruise includes a special appearance from Santa, a massive lit up Rudolf nose on the bow of the vessel, free Santa hats, giveaways, games, holiday-themed drinks, music and more! Bring the family, take in the sights and enjoy some holiday cheer out on the Bay. 

When: Dec. 8-9, 15-16, 22-25; 4:15 p.m.
Cost: $42/adults, $30/kids 5-17, under 5 are free but must be ticketed 
Onlineredandwhite.com

Winter Walk - Union Square

Winter Walk SF offers five weeks of holiday decor, mobile food and craft beverages curated by Off the Grid, family-friendly activities, art, community performances and entertainment, sponsored activations, and 17,000 sq. ft. of open green space. This holiday pop-up pedestrian plaza will launches November 26 and will be open through December 31, 2018 from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on Stockton Street between Geary and Ellis, which is adjacent to Union Square Park.

When: Nov. 26-Dec. 31, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Onlinewinterwalksf.com

—Kate Loweth

 

RELATED STORIES

Flip the Switch: Tree & Menorah Lightings Around the Bay

All Aboard! Magical Holiday Train Rides

Holidays on Stage: Festive Theater Performances for All Ages