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

Dress the kids in their holiday best and get the bribes ready—it’s time to say “cheese!” with Santa! Let us ease some of your holiday stress. The big man in red is all over the Bay Area spreading holiday cheer and we’ve gathered a list of the best spots just for you.


photo: US Army Core of Engineers via Flicker

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.
415-397-3333 (ask for the Holiday Lane department).
When:  Nov. 24–Dec. 23. For times, click here.
Cost: Free, photo packages $19.99 and up
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. Sign up for a fast pass and pre-order your photo package online and zip right to the front of the line!

865 Market St.
When: Nov. 19–Dec.23. For times, click here.
Cost: Free
Online: unionsquareshop.com

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. 2-3, 9-10, 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 100 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. 2, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
Cost: Free
Online: acuityvision.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.
When: Dec. 9, 1-4:45 p.m. & 6-9 p.m.
Cost: $10/adult for day event; free for ages 15 and under
Online: nps.gov/events

Ghirardelli Square
Visit with Santa as you wait for the lighting of the tree at iconic Ghirardelli Square. This event includes free kids activities like face painting, henna and caricatures.

900 North Point Street
When: Fri., Nov. 24. 4-7 p.m.
Cost: free
Online: ghirardellisq.com


photo: 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. You can take the MUNI T-line right there, too!

Mendell Plaza, 3rd Street between Oakdale Ave.
When: Dec. 14, 5-8:30 p.m.
Cost: Free
Online: bvoh.orgxmas_tree_lane

photo: Christmas Tree Lane

East Bay

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: Sun., Nov. 26, 9 a.m.-noon
Cost: Free
Online: orchardnursery.com

Christmas Tree Lane
Readers choice, this Alameda neighborhood has been in the Christmas spirit every year since 1938! Beginning on Dec. 2 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. 2–24, 6:30-8 p.m.
Cost: Free
Online: facebook.com/christmastreelane


photo: 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. 15–23, noon–7 p.m (Santa appears at 5 p.m.)
Cost:  $10 for adults and kids over age 1, $5 for members

Bay Area Discovery Museum
For the first time, BADM visitors can meet with the big man himself! Included with your general admission, Santa will be there in the afternoon to hear everyone’s wishes. Or, reserve a spot for Snacks with Santa in the morning and you can get his undivided attention. Meet some of Santa’s reindeer while you are there!

557 McReynolds Road
Sausalito, CA
When:  Dec. 17-18, 1-4:30 p.m. (included with admission); 9 a.m.-noon (purchase tickets here)
Cost:  Afternoon Santa visits are no additional cost, morning sessions are $14.95/member, $24.95/general in addition to museum admission


photo: Bridgeman Village via Flickr

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.

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

Bay Street
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. 1-24, see hours
Cost: Free
Online: baystreetemeryville.com

Alameda South Shore Center
Santa arrives with the Alameda Fire Department on 11 a.m. on Black Friday to hear wishes from kids. He will be there for photos through Christmas Eve.

2219 South Shore Center
Alameda, CA
When: Nov. 24-Dec. 24, see hours
Cost: Free for visit, photos extra


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 Dec. 2 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. 17–Dec. 24,
Click here for hours, including when Santa takes his breaks!
Breakfast with Santa: Dec. 2, 8 and 9:30 a.m. seatings
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). Plus on Dec. 2 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

photo: Christmas in the Park

South Bay

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). Or, make it easy on yourself and choose the profession option. 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

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. Bonus: all the historic buildings decorated for the holidays. Bring your camera!

635 Phelan Ave.
San Jose, CA
When: Dec. 2, 11 a.m.–4 p.m.
Cost: $8/person, children 2 and under (and members) are free
Online: historysanjose.org/childrens-holiday-fesitival

photo: San Jose Public Library

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 Tully Community Branch Library, Santa will celebrate with 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!

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library
150 E. San Fernando St.
San José, CA
When: Dec. 9, 11 a.m.
Cost: Free
Online: sjlibrary.org/santa

Tully Community Branch Library
1102 E. Santa Clara St.
San José, CA
When: Dec. 9, 2 p.m.
Cost: Free
Online: sjpl.org/event/santas_visit

photo: Kellie Delario

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. Share the holiday cheer and bring a toy for their toy drive while you’re there.

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

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. Reserve your spot online and skip the line!

1618 Redwood Highway
Corte Madera, CA
When: Nov. 22–Dec. 24, see hours
Cost: Free, photo packages extra
Online: villageatcortemadera.com/events


photo: West End Nursery by Robert 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

Where do you go to snap a pic with Mr. North Pole? Let us know!

—Kate Loweth, Erin Feher, Amber Guetebier & Melissa Bouse


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