The holidays are here and we’ve rounded up all of our favorite festive activities plus some new additions for 2019. 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 on all these things to do with your kids this holiday season!

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. 23-Dec. 22.

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 26, you can see the mechanical sculptures known as automata at the Curious Contraptions: Flights of Fancy exhibit. Each sculpture performs an absurd miniature drama reflecting its maker's worldview and sense of humor. The kids will be mesmerized!

More info:

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. December 3 kicks it off as It's a Wonderful Life comes to life on the screen with the SF Symphony. Then on December 15, 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 show Charlie Brown Christmas is projected on the big screen. With live actors, an animated backdrop and Vince Guaraldi’s timeless music performed live by the SF Symphony, this is a beloved holiday classic you won’t want to miss. (Dec. 21-23). 

More info: 

photo: CuriOdyssey

Play with Light at IlluminOdyssey

This winter light experience is especially fun for the little ones as there's tons of hands-on interaction. See four floors of walls, floors and ceiling come alive with radiant, moving color. Carry colorful lanterns with you as you explore a world of luminescent wonder. Venture through a gleaming jungle of soft sculptures and under an illuminated canopy of fiber optic strands. Create a refractive rainbow at the tip of a wand. Touch a plasma ball to create colorful electric tendrils. Use a drawing robot to design a phosphorescent image.

Dates: Nov. 9-Jan. 4, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Open until 8 p.m. on Dec. 6 and Jan. 3

photo: Lucky Tuk Tuk

Lucky Tuk Tuk Holiday Lights and Sites San Francisco Tour

New for 2019! Celebrate the San Francisco Holiday season in a cozy Tuk Tuk!  The two-hour San Francisco Holiday Lights outings include yummy hot cocoa, candy canes, fuzzy Santa hats and plenty of sing-along holiday karaoke tunes on board. Each Tuk Tuk (also known as a Rickshaw) has heated seats and even warm blankets if it gets chilly. The festive route includes illuminated boats at Fisherman’s Wharf, City Hall aglow, Union Square’s Christmas Tree, SF’s largest Gingerbread House at the Fairmont and Embarcadero Center’s four buildings outlined in 17,000 lights, to name a few! Other stops include the trees at Ghirardelli Square and PIER 39 too. 

When: Nov. 29-Dec. 30

Cost: $75/adults, $55/kids ages 5-11
More info:

photo: Mill Valley Winterfest

The Enjoy Mill Valley Winterfest

Snow, sledding, Santa... oh my! Everything that we love about the holidays can be found at Mill Valley's Winterfest. You and the kids will especially enjoy their famous snow slide, plus games, and the tree lighting ceremony. And because this is winter fun Cali-style, there will even be a Ukulele Jubilee.

Good to Know: It's a free event, but there is a suggested donation of $2 per run on the slow slide, or $5 for 3 runs. 

When: Sun., Dec. 8, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

More info: 

photo: CuriOdyssey

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. Extended hours until 8 p.m. on Dec. 6 and Jan. 3. 

More info:

photo: Kate Loweth

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. 7-8, 14-15, 21-25; 3:30 p.m.
More info: 

photo: Westin St. Francis

Two Sugar Castles at the Westin St. Francis

Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Francois Houdré and his team have created two one-of-a-kind handcrafted sugar castles in the Landmark Lobby. In celebration of a hotel tradition that began in 2005, is the stunning 12-ft. Medieval Sugar Castle. Resembling a French Chateau inspired by Chef Houdre’s travels, this life-like magical castle features grand circular towers, individual rooms, and colorful illuminated windows. New this year is the addition of a second train circling an expanded village with a snowy ski resort, a pond, snowcapped trees, and a souvenir shop. Adding a touch of modernity, the St. Francis Enchanted Castle showcases a winter wonderland of elaborate gift boxes, gingerbread trees, and brilliantly colored candies, all intricately handmade with sugar and pastry. Elves can be spotted climbing all the way up to a towering sugar castle.

Both castles will be on display through January 2. 


Snow Day in the Berkeley Gourmet Ghetto

Don your boots and mittens to play in the snow at the Berkeley Gourmet Ghetto! For one day only, enjoy a snow day in Berkeley and partake in this free event for children of all ages. This event will also feature other holiday fun as visits with the Snow Queen, holiday arts-and-crafts, pony rides, and for one lucky person, it will be the ultimate present if they find the "ice" in a snowball—containing a real diamond ring!

Good to Know: Free admission. The event is along Shattuck Avenue between Rose and Vine Streets. Gourmet Ghetto is just six blocks north of Downtown Berkeley BART station.

When: Sun., Dec. 8, 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

More info: 

Night Bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers

Light up the season with Night Bloom, a holiday light and sound exhibition (Nov. 22-Jan. 5). 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. 

More info:

photo: Top of the Mark

Dress up for tea time at the Top of the Mark

Take the kids to high tea at Top of the Mark with one of the most highly anticipated holiday events at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel. The Children’s Magical Tea is a traditional tea service re-imagined for kids, with treats like pigs in a blanket, mac and cheese, loaded French fries, and a pull-out-all-the-stops dessert bar. There’s also a slider bar and a cookie decorating bar for more interactive fun. Entertainment is provided by special guests The Master Baloonatic and face painter Fire PixieTickets go very quickly, so snag yours early by calling the Mark Hopkins holiday desk at 415-616-6941.

Pro tip: On Saturdays in December (Dec. 7, 14 and 21), Santa Claus will make an appearance in the hotel lobby from 12:30-4:30 p.m., so make sure you bring your camera for photos!

Dates: Nov. 29-30, Dec, 6-7, 13-14, 19-21, 26 (noon and 12:30 p.m. seatings)

More info:

It's WinterFest time at California's Great America

WinterFest at California’s Great America opens for the 2019 holiday season on Friday, Nov. 29 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. 

For 2019, Great America’s entire footprint will be open and decorated for WinterFest, including two themed areas and millions more lights than ever before.

More info: 

photo: Quail Lodge & Golf Club

Quail Lodge Christmas Market

Head to Carmel Valley for this holiday-inspired shopping experience featuring local artisans complemented by daily festive activities. Both days will have a German Market provided by the Quail culinary team with pretzels, sausage, roast chestnuts, gingerbread cookies, clam chowder and specialty cocktails such as eggnog, hot toddies, Gluhwein and hot chocolate.

Dates: Dec. 5-6, 5-8 p.m.

More info:

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. 30 the hotel lobby will transform into one of the world’s most beloved holiday destinations, welcoming guests to take photos with Santa that day. You can even book a private dining experience in the gingerbread house for up to 10 people. Visitors can also enjoy the lobby’s 23–foot Christmas tree and a festive Cirque Bar. 

photo: Ruth Ann Goves

Celebrate the Holidays at Filoli

Get the family dressed in their holiday best for a visit to the Filoli Historic House and Garden in Woodside. Visit the Artisan Market for special holiday gifts or bring the kids to Santa Saturdays where you can hear Mrs. Claus read holiday stories and visit the festively-attired ponies in front of the house. There's DIY crafting in the visitor center, as well as dancing and singing along to holiday tunes in the ballroom. Filoli also offers holiday teas that include a traditional tiered tray at each table with delicious finger sandwiches, freshly made scones and scrumptious holiday treats served alongside Filoli Clock Tower Shop jam and clotted cream. 

More info:

photo: Jerry Pierce

Hometown Holidays

It's going to snow in the 650! Dash to Redwood City's annual event, Hometown Holiday—a free event to ring in the holiday season. Santa Claus, all dressed in fur, will visit with the kids. And if St. Nick and the snow aren't enough, there's also the holiday parade, live ice sculpture carving and special-effects light show that will make everyone jolly.

Good to Know: Free admission. This event is rain or shine.

When: Sat., Dec. 7, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

More info:

photo: Downtown Ice

Spend some time in Downtown San Jose

This year's Christmas in the Park has 600 lit trees and a brand-new Christmas tree maze! 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).

Spread holiday cheer at the Holiday Heroes Fundraiser at Oracle 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

When: Dec. 10
More info:

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. 6- Jan. 5. 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 Cointraptions: Classic Coin-Operated Machines exhibit. 

More info:

photo: Sheldon Chang of

Campbell Carol of Lights

This 34th annual community-supported free event will include a snow play area for kids, petting zoo, visits with Santa and bounce houses. If you enjoy this event with you family, consider making a donation to keep it going for next year!

When: Saturday, Dec. 1, 5-8 p.m.

More info:

photo: Dell'Osso Family Farm

Holidays on The Farm at Dell'Osso Family Farm

Pack your family and head on a roadtrip to visit Dell'Osso Family Farm in Lathrop, which for a few weeks transforms into a winter escape. Whisk away down Snow Tube Mountain for sessions of up to 90 minutes long, strap on some ice skates and glide along the outdoor ice skating rink, or stay comfy cozy in your car and drive through Lights on the Farm, Northern California's largest ever farm light show. And if it's a beautiful winter's eve, the little ones will especially enjoy a ride in the Express Train. After all that fun, you and your minis will be settled in for a long winter's nap.

Good to Know: A 90-minute tubing session is $22/person of all ages, but note height requirement of at least 36" tall. Booking your tickets ahead is strongly recommended as slots fill up. 

When: Dec. 14-Jan. 4

Dell'Osso Family Farm
501 Manthey Road
Lathrop, CA

Half Moon Bay's Night of Lights

Old-fashioned fun and tons of the white stuff will make Half Moon Bay the place to be on December 1. This event kicks off with a tree lighting and parade. Kids can then head over to the Winter Wonderland to enjoy piles of snow, carriage rides, food vendors and games.

Good to know: Free admission.

When: Fri., Dec. 13. 6-9 p.m.

More info:

—Kate Loweth


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All Aboard! Magical Holiday Train Rides

Holidays on Stage: Festive Theater Performances for All Ages