Gifts, who needs them? The best kind of present is living in the Bay Area where fun is a plenty year-round but especially festive this time of year. See boats all lit up, stay up late for sparkly zoo lights, meet with Santa all over town and more. This time of year is pretty sweet so bundle up make the most of these weekend must-dos.

photo: California Academy of Sciences

San Francisco

‘Tis the Season for Science
This annual holiday exhibit celebrates the remarkable adaptations that allow Arctic and Antarctic animals to thrive in snowy ecosystems. Lace up your skates and take a spin around our newly-expanded outdoor ice rink. With two extra-long skating sessions available daily, you’ll have plenty of time to perfect your form. Fri.-Sun. Event details

Lighted Boat Parade
A holiday tradition since 1994, the parade includes members of the St. Francis Yacht Club, Fisherman’s Wharf Fishing Fleet, Golden Gate Yacht Club, PIER 39 Marina and the Sea Scouts. The parade route will begin just off of PIER 39, proceeding west past Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason and the St. Francis Yacht Club and will turn around off of Crissy Field to return along the waterfront. Fri. Event details

Handel’s Messiah
Experience the glorious majesty of Handel’s Messiah performed by the Grammy Award-winning SF Symphony Chorus and world-class soloists. Featuring the famous “Hallelujah” Chorus, the magnificent power of 100 voices in harmony makes this celebrated masterpiece one of the best-loved musical works of all time and an annual SF Symphony tradition your family can enjoy together each holiday season. Fri.-Sat. Event details

East Bay

Fairy Winterland
For 10 days in December, Fairyland celebrates the winter holidays of many cultures: Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas, Diwali and Chinese New Year. Come for stories, crafts, a festival of lights, and visits from Santa! Fairyland members receive free admission to the opening day of Fairy Winterland, December 14 and from noon to 2 p.m. on other Winterland days! Fri.-Sun. Event details


Experience the zoo in a new light! Soar over the Oakland hills in festively-lit gondolas and see the entire Bay Area like never before. Enjoy laser light shows, thousands of holiday lights, a candy cane lane-themed Adventure Landing with rides your kids will love, Santa Claus on select nights and a music-themed light show that’s sure to blow out any bah-hum-bugs. Don’t forget to warm up with some hot cocoa and homemade s’mores, available at Flamingo Plaza at the Zoo’s main entrance. Fri.-Sun. Event details

Gingerbread Party and Free Admission at Habitot
Celebrate with a giant gingerbread house and free admission at this children’s museum that’s perfect for the little ones. Sat. Event details

South Bay

Drive Through This Fantasy of Lights
Rev up the engine and head to Vasona Lake County Park for Fantasy of Lights. This 1-1/2 mile drive-thru festival is full of bright holiday lights and displays sure to delight every little member of the family. Lights and sounds include a volcano erupting, Santa shooting hooting hoops and watching pirates shoot off cannons. Fri.-Sun. Event details.

Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train
Ride vintage excursion cars adorned with thousands of colorful lights as they roll through city streets past homes of Santa Cruz. Sing along to seasonal carols while sipping hot-spiced cider, listen to musical entertainment and enjoy a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. Continue the merriment at Santa’s Kingdom at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Sat.-Sun. Event details


Santa Saturdays at Filoli
On these Saturdays, Filoli features special programming for the whole family, but especially the young at heart! Special features include photos with Santa in the Garden House, crafts, ponies, sing-a-longs and more. Sat. Event details

CuriOdyssey’s IlluminOdyssey
Electrify your child’s imagination at CuriOdyssey’s spectacular light exhibition. 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. Fri.-Sun. Event details

North Bay

Meet with Santa at the BADM
This year, Santa is making the long journey from the North Pole to BADM! Santa will be on-site for holiday photos and meet-and-greets with BADM visitors. Families who want even more face time can purchase a seating at the morning Snacks with Santa event, to share hot chocolate and festive treats with the man of the season. Sat.-Sun. Event details

Year of the Dog: Happy Howl-idays
Celebrate the culmination of the Museum’s Year of the Dog events by making a Peanuts-themed ornament just in time for the “howl-idays”. Also, enjoy photo ops throughout the Museum and collect a special Snoopy button to take home. Sat. Event details

—Kate Loweth