There’s nothing that kicks off the holiday season more than gathering together with your Bay Area community for a tree or menorah lighting ceremony. These celebrations bring musical performances, activities for the kids and tons of festivity. Below is our list of some of the best and brightest displays to make your holiday planning easy!

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photo: Ghirardelli Square

San Francisco

Building Lighting Ceremony & Carnival at Embarcadero Center
While not technically a tree lighting, this building lighting is one you’ll definitely want to attend as it kicks off the holiday season in SF. Four iconic buildings will be lit with 17,000 holiday lights and the sky will explode with fireworks. Fri., Nov. 16. Festivities begin with a carnival at 4 p.m. followed by the building lighting at 6 p.m. Embarcadero Center, SF. 

Pier 39 Tree Lighting
Enjoy nightly lightings of the 60-foot tree synchronized to music. This dazzling display occurs on the hour from 5-10 p.m. Nov. 21-Jan. 1. Pier 39, Beach St. and Embarcadero, SF. 

Debut of the Medieval Castle at the Westin St. Francis
Forget lights—sugar is the star of this holiday celebration. Created by “Sugar King” Executive Pastry Chef Jean-François Houdré and his team, this year a medieval castle will be unveiled to everyone’s amazement. If your mouth is watering, enjoy some complimentary coffee and cookies or head over to the Sweet Shoppe for some take-home treats. Wed., Nov. 21. 11 a.m. 335 Powell St., SF. 

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Union Square Christmas Tree Lighting
An 83-foot tree, 33,000 twinkling energy-efficient LED lights and 1,100 shining ornaments kick off the holiday season in Union Square. For the best viewing, stop by Union Square early to stake out your spot. Fri., Nov. 23. 5:30 p.m. (tree lighting around 6:50 p.m.). Union Square, SF. 

Ghirardelli Square’s 54th Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony
This Black Friday, Ghirardelli Square will be hosting its annual tree lighting ceremony, complete with carolers, Mr. Claus, snow, music by Kevin Toqe and more fun festivities in the Square. The event will be co-hosted by Betty Yu of CBS / KPIX and Franco Finn, the hype man of the Golden State Warriors. Fri., Nov. 23. 4-9 p.m. Ghirardelli Square, SF. 

Hanukkah Candle Lighting
Storytelling at 4 p.m. with candle lighting, singing and festive treats to follow. Dec. 2-7. 4 p.m. JCC of San Francisco, 3200 California St., SF. 

RWF World Tree of Hope
The 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. Mon., Dec. 3. 6:30-8:30 p.m. Grace Cathedral, 1100 California St., SF. 

Civic Center Plaza Holiday Tree Lighting
This tree lighting will feature musical performances, the Tap Dancing Trees, Boxcar Theatre holiday characters, a toy giveaway for 400 kids and holiday foods and beverages. Expect snow flurries, Santa and other festive activities at this free, family-friendly event—and check out the adjacent Winter Park Ice Rink! Wed., Dec. 5. 5-7 p.m. Civic Center Plaza, 355 McAllister St., SF. 

Golden Gate Park Tree Lighting
Join SF Rec and Park for their 89th annual holiday tree lighting ceremony in Golden Gate Park. This is a free family-friendly event with carnival rides, live entertainment, a snow play area, toboggan rides, cookie decorating, visits with Santa and free admission & light show at the Conservatory of Flowers. Thurs., Dec. 6. 4-6 p.m. McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park, 501 Stanyan Street, SF. 

Presidio Tree Lighting
Join the Golden Gate Carolers to light the tree and sing holiday carols. After the tree lighting, light refreshments and kids’ activities will occur in the Presidio Community Y gymnasium. Fri., Dec. 7. 5:30-7 p.m. Presidio Main Post, Lincoln Boulevard and Funston Avenue, SF. 

photo: Jewish Community Center of San Francisco

East Bay

City Center Bishop Ranch Tree Lighting
Kick of Holiday on the Square in a new location this year! For three nights you can enjoy tree lighting festivities including dancing elves, selfies with Sidecar Santa, coffee and cocoa stations among other activities. Wed.-Fri., Nov. 28-30, 4-8 p.m., City Center, 6000 Bollinger Canyon Road, San Ramon. 

Broadway Plaza Tree Lighting
Music and festivity will fill the shopping center at Broadway Plaza’s annual Parade of Lights, Open House and Community Tree Lighting. This year’s tree will be lit by Santa Claus himself, who will also make it snow at the Plaza. Thurs., Nov. 29. 6–9 p.m., 1275 Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek. 

Jack London Square Lights Up for the Holidays
Oakland is ringing in the holidays with festivities galore! Music, snow flurries, real reindeer, the Oakland Ballet’s Sugar Plum Fairies, cookie decorating, ornament making, plus a Holiday Pop-Up with 70 local artisans will all be part of the event. Officials will be lighting up the skies with the Jack London Square’s 55-foot Mount Shasta Fir Tree. Fri., Nov. 30. 5–7 p.m. Jack London Square, Broadway and Embarcadero, Oakland. 

Concord Tree Lighting
Sing along with the mayor, school choirs and other community entertainers at this holiday extravaganza in Concord. Then, stay for Santa’s big arrival and the tree lighting festivities. Festivities start at 3 p.m. Sun., Dec. 2. 4 p.m. Todos Santos Plaza, Salvio and Grant Streets, Concord.

photo: Jack London Square

Peninsula

Redwood City Improvement Association Tree Lighting at Hometown Holidays
This full-day holiday celebration includes a parade, live entertainment, special musical performances, a visit from Santa, real falling snow and a tree lighting. Sat., Dec. 1. Event runs 10 a.m.-8 p.m. with tree lighting at 5:45 p.m. Courthouse Square, Redwood City. 

Half Moon Bay Night of Lights
Old-fashioned fun is the name of the game as downtown Half Moon Bay lights up for this tree lighting and parade. Fri., Dec. 7. 6-9 p.m. Main Street, Half Moon Bay. 

photo: Santana Row

South Bay

Santana Row Tree Lighting Ceremony
Bring the kids to see costumed characters, performances by local theater groups and the lighting of the 40-foot Christmas tree by Santa himself. Festivities include holiday digital photos with Hello Kitty, meet and greet with Super Why and an Elf on the Shelf scavenger hunt. Tue., Nov. 13. 3-9 p.m. Santana Row, San Jose.

38th Annual Christmas in the Park Tree Lighting Ceremony in San Jose
This year’s Annual Community Giving Tree Lighting Ceremony includes a festive tree lighting ceremony at 6 p.m. with an opening night variety show. Holiday cheer continues throughout the month so be sure to check the event details and website for a full rundown. Enjoy free photos with Santa all season long! Fri., Nov. 23, 6 p.m. Plaza De Cesar Chavez Park, San Jose.

Cupertino Tree Lighting
Enjoy a countdown to light the tree, music, refreshments and a special visit from a friend who lives in the North Pole. Fri., Nov. 30. 6-8 p.m. Quinlan Community Center, 10185 N. Stelling Road, Cupertino.

Holiday on Main Tree Lighting
Personalize an ornament, enjoy a hot chocolate bar and gather with friends as Main Street Cupertino kicks off the holiday season. Sat. Dec. 1, 3:30-8:30 p.m. 19419 Stevens Creek Blvd. Cupertino. 

Menorahs and Miracles
Celebrate Hannukah at the museum as members of the APJCC light the first candle in the menorah. Other festivities include dreidel games, music and storytelling. Sun., Dec. 2, noon-4 p.m. Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, 180 Woz Way, San Jose. 

Mountain View Community Tree Lighting Celebration
Head to Mountain View for live holiday music, refreshments, children’s activities, free photos with Santa and a holiday tree lighting ceremony. Mon., Dec. 3. 5:30-7:30 p.m. Civic Center Plaza, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. 

photo: San Rafael Winter Wonderland

North Bay

San Rafael Winter Wonderland
Downtown San Rafael will once again host its annual holiday Parade & Winter Wonderland. In its 38th year, the event will feature a Holiday Marketplace with arts and crafts, live entertainment, children’s activities, free snow sledding and one of the largest Holiday Parades in the Bay Area. After the parade, Mr. and Mrs. Claus and the mayor of San Rafael will join together to light the dazzling Christmas Tree. Fri. Nov. 23, noon-8 p.m. (5:30 p.m. parade of lights) Fourth St., B St. to Lootens, San Rafael. 

Jelly Belly Factory Tree Lighting
Puppet shows, live music and Santa will all kick off the holiday season at this tree lighting event. Santa photos available after the character parade. Sat., Nov. 24, 5-8 p.m. Jelly Belly Visitor Center, One Jelly Belly Lane, Fairfield. 

Tiburon Holiday Festival with Tree and Menorah Lighting
Get there early to great Santa as he arrives then stick around for a festive day of gingerbread house decorating, horse-drawn wagon rides, train rides and roasting chestnuts. Sat., Dec. 1, 2-6 p.m. Ark Row, Boardwalk Shopping Center, Tiburon. 

—Kate Loweth & Erin Feher