Maybe you don’t celebrate Christmas or you have no idea what you’re going to do with the kids once all the presents have been opened (a.k.a. 6:25 a.m.). From ice rinks to science museums to holiday light shows, the Bay Area has a surprising number of things to do with kids on Christmas Day. It’s a Christmas miracle and we’ve got the full rundown below!
Engage in Art at the Contemporary Jewish Museum
The Contemporary Jewish Museum's free annual Community Day has become an annual tradition for Bay Area families. Enjoy an admission-free, fun-for-all extravaganza that has become an annual tradition for Bay Area families. Explore the galleries, join in scavenger hunts, create denim embroidery and play with puppets in an immersive landscape! Bring your family and friends and enjoy an exciting day at The Museum, all for free!
Check Out the 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.
Visit the Animals at the SF Zoo
The San Francisco Zoo & Gardens is open all day on Christmas Day, so your little elves can see how the animals celebrate Christmas. Don't miss some very special visitors at the Playfield Lawn: Santa's reindeer! After a long holiday season, Santa has sent his favorite reindeer, "Belle", "Holly" and "Peppermint" to the zoo for some hard-earned R&R. The SF Zoo's Reindeer Romp is open until January 1. The zoo is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Christmas Day; regular admission applies.
See the Holly and the Ivy
Create a new holiday tradition wandering through the landscaped gardens and open spaces of the SF Botanical Gardens. With 8,000 plants and flowers to discover and 55 acres to explore, you'll walk off that Christmas ham in no time. The garden is open from 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Bonus: admission is free on Christmas and New Year's Day.
We may not be able to throw snowballs in the Bay Area, but we can still knock down pins. Take the family bowling at Presidio Bowl, open noon till midnight on Christmas Day. Your little ones will be delighted to find food favorites like hot dogs, burgers and PB&J, while parents will appreciate the wine and beer selection after a long day of holiday merriment.
Find Your Zen
Enjoy a moment of tranquility on a crazy day at San Francisco's Japanese Tea Garden. Located in Golden Gate Park, this beautifully landscaped Japanese-style garden features an arched drum bridge, pagodas, stone lanterns, stepping stone paths, native Japanese plants, serene koi ponds and a zen garden. Their Tea House serves soothing cups of tea (perfect after all that rich Christmas food) and light Japanese-style snacks. The garden is open every day of the year, 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m. in the winter. Bonus: admission is free on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays if you enter the garden by 10 a.m. Christmas falls on a Wednesday this year, so arrive early!
See the Glow at the LumiNight Lantern Festival
Hundreds of large-scale internally lit creatures act as guides through the festival of lights that dazzle and kindle the imagination. The layout is accompanied by an educational, interactive app and spans 8 acres and will make you feel as if you are up close with the wildlife first-hand. The awe-inspiring night out is infused with an educational messages for all ages. Open at 5 p.m. on Christmas Day.
Catch a Family Flick
Whether you have a Frozen II fan or you're interested in Jumanji, The Next Level, or the newest Star Wars film, there are plenty of good flicks out on Christmas Day.
Play Tourist for the Day
A visit to PIER 39 is fun any time of year and Christmas Day is no exception. Swing by and see how many sea lions you can spot before taking a ride over the city on The Flyer. We've got all our PIER 39 recs here, perfect for a holiday visit!
See SCUBA Santa
The CA Academy of Sciences stays open 365 days a year because learning doesn't stop, even on Christmas Day. Don't miss their annual holiday exhibit, ‘Tis the Season for Science. Visitors will learn about snowflake geometry, the northern lights and reindeer. You can even meet Velvet and Tinsel, two of Santa's reindeer! At 11:30 a.m. you can see Santa SCUBA diving in the aquarium!
Snap a Selfie with Taylor Swift
Hang out with the stars at Madame Tussauds. Their hand-sculpted wax figures are so lifelike, your little ones may not be able to tell the difference. Come pose, "play DJ" and celebrate "Swiftmas" in style! Madame Tussauds is located in Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco. The museum is open 10 a.m.–7 p.m on Christmas Day.
See the Bright Lights
From the famous Tom & Jerry House to a cemetery lights display, the Bay Area has plenty of bulbs burning brightly throughout Christmas night. Click here for our guide to the best and the brightest in the Bay.
Work That Figure 8
Make Christmas Day cool with a turn on the ice. There are a handful of ice rinks up and down the Bay Area open on Christmas Day, so take your pick! Skate in the heart of Union Square or with a view of the Ferry Building, or head south and show off your double axels in San Jose at Downtown Ice, the South Bay’s largest seasonal outdoor skating rink. It’s open on Christmas Day from 2 p.m. to midnight.
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.
Visit Christmas in the Park, On Christmas
San Jose's beloved annual holiday extravaganza is open on Christmas Day from 9 a.m. to midnight. Cesar Chavez Park transforms into a winter wonderland filled with animated holiday-themed exhibits, decorated trees and a holiday train. Don't miss the trees and tiny houses decorated by local school groups, community members and businesses. The whole park is bursting with Christmas Spirit, so don your gay apparel and see why Bay Area families have been enjoying Christmas in the Park for over 35 years. Christmas in the Park is open from 9 a.m. to midnight through Jan. 5, 2020, and admission is free.
—Kate Loweth & Ana Picazo