Santa Tracker: Where to Snap Your Pic With the Big Guy

It’s game time for Jolly ol’ St. Nick and his band of helpers! And if a picture with the guy-in-red is part of your holiday tradition, THIS is the list for you. We’ve scoured the Bay Area to find the best places to get pictures with Santa. From the simple set-ups to elaborate events, we’ve got something to fit every vision—and budget.


Photo credit: US Army Core of Engineers via Flickr Creative Commons

San Francisco 

Santaland at Macy’s Union Square
The center of all things Christmas in San Francisco, a trip to see Santa at the Union Square Macy’s is a treat for the whole family. Santa is on the 7th floor, so you’ll have a killer view of the giant tree and ice-skating rink (Plus, show your Union Square Ice Skating wristband for $1 off your photo package). Don’t forget to peek at the Macy’s holiday windows featuring totally-adoptable and utterly adorable kittens and puppies from the SPCA.

170 O’Farrell St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-397-3333 (ask for the Holiday Lane department).
When:  Nov. 25–Dec. 24. For times, click here.
Cost: Free
Online: unionsquareshop.com/SantasSchedule

Westfield Nutcracker

Photo: Westfield Center 

Santa Under the Dome at Westfield Mall
Head to Level 4 under the historic Dome at the mall and get your pick with Ol’ St. Nick, and get some holiday shopping done, too.

865 Market St.
San Francisco, Ca
When: Nov. 20–Dec.24, Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.- 8 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.- 6 p.m.
Cost: Free
Online: westfield.com/santa

Japan Center Malls
For a mall of a different ilk, this local’s favorite will offer a chance to meet Santa for two weekends only in December. Each child will get a chance to hop on Santa’s knee and give him their wishlist. This is a DIY photo op, as there is no professional photographer. Kids can head over to Little Hands Craft Shop where they can create cards and other crafts to give as gifts!

22 Peace Plaza
When: Dec. 3, 4, 10, 11, 1-5 p.m.
Cost: Free
Online: sfjapantown.org/santa-claus

Acuity Vision’s Free Santa Photo Day
This holiday tradition 9 years running at the Acuity Vision Optometry Boutique includes professional quality photos with Santa, holiday refreshments, and goodie bags to the first 30 children on Santa’s Nice List. This is a very popular event, so arrive early before Santa has to hop on his sleigh back to the North Pole!

3610A Sacramento St.
When: Dec. 3, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
Cost: Free
Online: acutiyvision.com


Photo: Santa arrives at Maritime Park courtesy nps.gov

Celebrations at Sea at Hyde St. Pier
For a truly unique photo with Santa, the Maritime Park’s holiday shin-dig will not disappoint. From 1-4:45 p.m. music, storytimes, puppet shows, arts and crafts refreshments, and a visit from Santa (who will arrive by boat) guarantees a great afternoon.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
499 Jefferson St.
San Francisco, Ca
When: Dec. 10, 1-4:45 p.m. and 6-9 p.m.
Cost: $10/adult for day event; free for ages 15 and under
Online: nps.gov/events


Sprout SF Holiday Party 
Bring your little ones to Sprout for a holiday party complete with music, organic treats, and champagne for the grown-ups! Don’t forget your camera to snap a photo of your child with the big man in red himself, Santa, and you can receive 20% off your purchases.

1828 Union St.
When: Dec. 11, 11–1 p.m.
Cost: Free
Online: sproutsanfrancisco.com/events


Photo: Bayview Opera House Santa courtesy Bayview Opera House

Winter Faire at Bayview Opera House
Celebrate the winter holidays with the Bayview Opera House. There will be snow! $1 ice skating (includes skate rental) lots of arts activities for the kiddos, live music, food and gift vendors, and Santa and Santa Land. You can take the MUNI T-line right there, too!

Mendell Plaza, 3rd Street between Oakdale Ave.
San Francisco, Ca
When: Dec. 15,
Cost: Free, 5-9 p.m.
Online: bvoh.org

Orchard Nursery and Florist
Aside from their usual “Music” and “Toddler Art Classes”, Orchard Nursery has photos with Santa! There will be a photographer on site offering free digital photos.

4010 Mt. Diablo Blvd.
Lafayette, Ca
When: Sunday, December 4, 11 a.m.–1 p.m.
Cost: Free
Online: orchardnursery.com

Pier 39, San Francisco
If your holiday tradition includes a trip for Fisherman’s Wharf for a hot bowl of chowder, this is your Santa meet and greet. Santa is coming to Pier 39, at the Bay Theater on level 2.

When: Nov. 19, 20, 25, 26 & 27; Dec. 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 & 24; noon–6 p.m.
Cost: Free to visit, photo packages start at $27
Online: pier39.com


East Bay

Christmas Tree Lane 
Readers choice, this Alameda neighborhood has been in the Christmas spirit every year since 1938! Beginning on Dec. 3 Santa will be appearing nightly and you can bring your own camera to get that perfect shot. The lights stay on until 10 p.m., so after you’ve said hello to Santa you can check out amazing displays of holiday cheer.

3200 block of Thompson Ave.
Between High & Fernside
Alameda, Ca
When: Dec. 3–24, 6:30-8 p.m.
Cost: Free
Online: facebook.com/christmastreelane


Photo courtesy Children’s Fairyland

Children’s Fairyland
Fairyland transforms into Fairy Winterland throughout the month of December and celebrates the holidays of the season, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas, Diwali, and Chinese New Year. Every day includes special holiday story time and a parade of lights, so Santa is the icing on the gingerbread house, because he visits everyday from 5-6 p.m.

699 Bellevue Ave.
Oakland, Ca
When:  Dec. 16–23, noon–7 p.m (Santa appears at 5 p.m.)
Cost:  $10 for adults and kids over age 1, $5 for members


Photo credit: Bridgeman Village via Flickr Creative Commons

Bayfair Mall
Make a holiday shopping outing a little more fun by heading over to the Bayfair Center where kids can meet and pose with Santa and catch the Dickens Carolers the final holiday weekend.

15555 East 14th St.
San Leandro, Ca
When: Nov. 17–Dec. 24, See full schedule of times here.
Cost: Free, photo packages start at $24.99
Online: shopbayfair.com/event/photos-with-santa


Photo credit: Bridgeman Village via Flickr Creative Commons

Stoneridge Mall
Santa started early this year at the Stoneridge Mall in Pleasanton but there’s still plenty of time left to get the kiddos over for a card-worthy photo and some holiday cheer. You can show up, or savvy parents make a reservation. On Dec. 4 they offer Caring Santa, a mellow event just for families with children with special needs.

1 Stoneridge Mall Rd.
Pleasanton, Ca
When: Nov. 4- Dec 24, during regular mall hours
Cost: Free
Online: simon.com/stoneridge-shopping-center/santa

Bay Street, Emeryville 
Take a picture with Santa or listen to Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carollers. You can even take a ride around Bay Street with live reindeer. ‘Tis the Season!

5616 Bay St.
Emeryville, Ca
 Dec. 1-15; Mon.–Fri., 4 p.m.–8 p.m., Sat. noon–8 p.m., noon-6 p.m.; Dec. 16–23, Mon.–Sat. noon-8 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m.; Dec. 24, 11 a.m.–5 p.m
Cost: Free
Online: baystreetemeryville.com



San Mateo County Libraries
Families can come meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, and enjoy cookies and refreshments. Bring your own camera–this isn’t a formal affair but there are plenty of ops for a super cute shot. And like all library events—it’s free!

Millbrae Library
1 Library Ave.
Millbrae, Ca
When: Dec. 6, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Online: smcl.org/millbrae

San Carlos Library
610 Elm Street
San Carlos Ca
When: Dec. 17, 12:30–1:30 p.m.


Photo: Hillsdale Shopping Center

Santa at Hillsdale Shopping Center
Santa really gets around, and this year he’s got a wildly busy schedule at the Hillsdale Shopping Center. In addition to his village in the mall, he will be hosting a special breakfast at the California Pizza Kitchen restaurant there. The event will include a healthy breakfast, a yuletide puppet show, made-to-order balloon art, and crafts. And the Big Guy will be making the rounds for plenty of photo-ops! Click here to make a reservation, tickets will not be sold at the door.

60 31st Ave.
San Mateo, Ca
When: Nov. 18–Dec. 24,
Click here for hours, including when Santa takes his breaks!
Breakfast with Santa: Dec. 3, 8 a.m.–9 a.m.
Cost: $10.99/person for breakfast
Online: hillsdale.com/santa

Stanford Shopping Center
Sister-mall to Pleasanton’s Stoneridge, the Stanford Shopping Center offers visits with Santa that you can book online in advance (but you can also do drop in). They have two Caring Santa events (Nov. 20 & Dec. 4)  for families with special needs children (reserve here). Plus on Dec. 10 you can reserve a spot for Breakfast with Santa.

660 Stanford Shopping Ctr.
Palo Alto, Ca
When: Through Dec. 24, during regular mall hours
Cost: Free
Online: simon.com/stanford-shopping-center/santa

South Bay

Children’s Holiday Festival at History Park
This annual event features Santa arriving by historic trolley, music, caroling, and the Snow Queen leading a story time! There will be crafting: making holiday gifts, decorations, and ornaments, and all the historic buildings decorated for the holidays. Bring your camera!

635 Phelan Ave.
San Jose, Ca
When: Dec. 3, 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
Cost: $5/children 2 and under (and members) are free
Online: historysanjose.org/childrens-holiday-fesitival

santa-in_the_park_san_josePhoto: Christmas in the Park FB

Christmas in the Park
Santa’s home away from home during the holidays, Christmas in the Park in San Jose’s Plaza de Cesar Chavez is the heart of downtown San Jose’s holiday celebrations. Santa’s Photo den is located at the north end of the park  A nice touch, the photos are free and folks are encouraged to bring their own cameras, instead of trying to hide behind a present to snap the moment (we’ve all been there). After visiting Old Saint Nick, be sure to ride Blinky’s Express Train and check out the Reindeer Barn!

101 West Santa Clara St.
San Jose, Ca
Dates: Through Dec. 24, times are 3:30-9 p.m. but there are scheduled breaks. Check here for exact times.
Cost: Free (Donations of gently worn baby clothes encouraged, will be donated to Loved Twice)
Online: christmasinthepark.com


San Jose Public Library
Two branches are offering low-key visits with Santa this year. At the Children’s Room at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. library, enjoy a holiday story time at 11 a.m., followed by a visit with Santa. Bring your camera for the perfect photo op. And at the Edenvale Branch library, Santa will be bringing along a balloon artist. There will also be plenty of crafts, activities, and refreshments. Not only are these events free, kids will also receive a free book to take home so they’ll leave feeling extra ho-ho-happy!

Joyce Ellington Branch
491 E. Empire St.
San José, Ca
When: Dec. 17, noon.
Cost: Free
Online: sjlibrary.org/santa

East San José Carnegie Branch Library
1102 E. Santa Clara St.
San José, CA 95116
When: Dec. 17, 1 p.m.
Cost: Free
Online: events.sjpl.org/event/santas_visit_


Photo Courtesy Nick’s Cove Facebook Page

Marin County

Santa at Nick’s Cove
Santa Claus arrives at Nick’s Cove by way of his trusty water sleigh (i.e. boat). He’ll set up shop in the Boat Shack with hot chocolate, treats and a free professional photographer so children and adults alike can pose for a photo with Santa overlooking Tomales Bay. Every guest who brings a donation of canned food for the Marin Food Bank will receive 15% off any food or beverage purchase at Nick’s Cove throughout the day.

23240 Highway 1
Marshall, Ca
When: Dec. 4, 3-5 p.m.
Cost: Free
Online: facebook.com/nickscove

Photos with Santa at Northgate Mall
Jingle jingle, Kris Kringle invites kiddos to stop by his fabulous winter wonderland at Northgate Mall.  Reasonably priced picture packages are available for purchase. (No personal photos allowed). Lines can be long so be prepared to bring some patience as well.

Insider Tip: Look for the crank-style handle while waiting in line. Turn the crank, wish for snow and wait to see what happens!

580 Northgate Mall
San Rafael, Ca
When: Through Dec. 24
See exact hours, including break, right here.
Cost: See photo pricing list here.
Online: shopatnorthgate.com/events

Photos with Santa at The Village
Saint Nick has his own house at The Village, Marin County’s central shopping location. His little helpers will usher the kiddos right into the cottage where Santa will be waiting to hear all the wishes and hopes for the big day.

1618 Redwood Highway
Corte Madera, Ca
When: Nov. 23–Dec. 11, 11 a.m–5 p.m.; Dec. 12–23, 10 a.m – 6 p.m., and Dec. 24, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
Cost: Free (photos not included)
Online: villageatcortemadera.com/events


Photo: West End Nursery by Rober J. Schroeder

Hidden Gem: West End Nursery!
A hidden gem, this family run nursery, which started in 1909, keeps up a holiday tradition with their annual Santa photo shoot. Professional photographer Robert J. Schroeder snaps pics of your little ones (pets welcome too!) and prints a free copy for your scrapbooks. Held on the grounds of the West End Nursery, you’ll likely find a gift or two for your own bedecked halls. This event is free, but a toy or small donation for the Santa Cop program is encouraged. Santa is only there one day, but the holiday decorations are up all month!

1938 Fifth Ave.
San Rafael, Ca
415- 454–4175
When: The date of Santa’s arrival hasn’t been announced yet, but it is typically the first week of December (he is only there one day). Check back here or call to find out more.
Cost: Free
Online: westendnursery.com

Do you know of any other Santa stops we should add to our list?

—Erin Feher, Amber Guetebier & Melissa Bouse


We'll be in touch shortly!


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