There’s nothing like a holiday light display to bring the twinkle to a child’s eyes! Add a cup of hot cocoa and you’ve created a holiday tradition that they’ll never forget. Check out our favorite spots to see Christmas lights in the Bay Area and check them off your holiday list for 2019!

San Francisco

Night Bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers

Light up the season with Night Bloom, a holiday light and sound exhibition. 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. 

Dates: Nov. 22-Jan. 5 (closed Nov. 28, Dec. 24-25, 31), 5-11 p.m.
More info: redtri.com

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. 

Dates: Nov. 29-Dec. 30
More info: 
redtri.com

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photo: Hornblower Classic Cable Cars

Hornblower Classic Cable Car Holiday Lights Tour

What’s more San Francisco than a classic cable car ride? For a unique holiday spin, take it up a notch by riding a bedecked, motorized cable car through the City by the Bay. You'll view landmarks that are beautifully lit up for the holidays while singing along to holiday tunes. Each tour comes with a (free) Santa hat and interesting information from a friendly tour guide. This jolly tour lasts 90 minutes and departs from Fisherman’s Wharf. Don't forget your camera! 

More info: redtri.com

photo: HYBYCOZO

Illuminate SF Festival of Lights

Now in its seventh year, this urban lights festival offers 44 eco-friendly displays that are all accessible by public transportation within San Francisco's 49 square miles. Pick a neighborhood to explore and take the free guided tour to learn more about the artists that have brought these installations to life. Traveling over the holidays via SFO? Check out the six permanent light installations at the airport. 

More info: redtri.com

photo: Kate Loweth

Red, White & Green Fleet

If you want to see the San Francisco city lights from the water, this is the cruise for you. The Red & White Fleet adds a Rudolph nose and lots of festive cheer to their Bridge-to-Bridge tour during the holiday season. Enjoy visits with Santa, games where the kids can win prizes and even boozy hot chocolates for the grown ups. Tour under the Golden Gate and then back to the Bay Bridge before you head back to dock. Everyone goes home with a Santa hat!

More info: redtri.com

photo: Caltrain Holiday Train presented by Silicon Valley Community Foundation

Caltrain Holiday Train

For two nights in December, the Caltrain holiday train will make stops in San Francisco and along the Peninsula to the South Bay to delight light-viewers of all ages. Unless your name is "Santa" you can't ride this train, it's all about the lights for the crowds that gather. Check the online schedule to find the stop closest to you and head over. There will be entertainment at each stop as you wait for the train's arrival. The train stays at each station for 20 minutes and Santa, Mrs. Claus and crew will disembark to greet the awaiting crowd.

Dates: Dec. 7-8
More info: redtri.com

Tom & Jerry’s Christmas Display

You need to see it to believe it: a 65-foot tree in front of a Noe Valley Victorian, covered in lights and ginormous ornaments. Owner's Tom and Jerome (Jerry) have been delighting visitors with their big, bold and bright display for more than twenty years now. Santa makes a nightly appearance for the kiddos December 1 through Christmas Eve, 6:30–9:30 p.m.

3650 21st St.
Noe Valley, San Francisco
When: Dec. 1-Jan. 1
Cost: Free
Online: Tom and Jerry Christmas Tree

East Bay

photo: Ruth Bancroft Garden

Garden of D'Lights

Don't miss the Garden of d'Lights, a spectacular new holiday light show at the Ruth Bancroft Garden that will glow your mind! Using specially programmed laser, spot and LED lights, the illuminated Garden comes alive at night, creating magical colorful sculptures from its many cacti, succulents and trees. Wander the meandering paths and discover the Garden in a whole new light.

More info: redtri.com

photo: Mountain View Cemetery

Holiday Circle of Lights

Don't let the fact this display is in a cemetery spook you, though it will take your breath away in a good way! Thousands of lights adorn the main buildings at Mountain View Cemetery. This year's show also includes a train full of toys, giant nutcracker and a beautiful arch of lights.

More info: redtri.com

photo: Oakland Zoo

ZooLights

Celebrate the holidays at Oakland Zoo amidst a million glowing lights! Soar over the Oakland hills in festively-lit gondolas and see the Bay Area skyline like never before. New this year, enjoy swirling snowfalls over a dazzling Winter Wonderland attraction featuring Santa in his decked-out workshop for the ultimate holiday experience.

See the musical laser light shows and stroll through twinkling holiday lights, animal structures and a candy cane lane-themed Adventure Landing with rides your kids will love.  Hop on the illuminated Outback Express Train and warm up with hot cocoa and homemade s’mores, available at the hilltop Landing Cafe boasting scenic views for miles.

Oakland Zoo
9777 Golf Links Road
Oakland, CA
Dates: Dec. 6-31, Jan. 1-5. 5:30-9 p.m. 
Cost: Not included with regular zoo admission. $12/adults, $10/kids 2-14. Children under 2 and seniors are free.
Onlineoaklandzoo.org

Widmer World

This local display is so popular, it has been featured in a nationally-televised show! Because of this, lights started going up in October and they'll probably offer a sneak peek around Thanksgiving. The tradition started in 1980 with a plastic Santa and some other run-of-the-mill decorations, but has since exploded into almost an acre of glittering lights which includes a mini Christmas village, computer animated displays and over a dozen scenes. No two years are alike and this year promises plenty of new additions.

3671 Chelsea Court
Pleasanton, CA
When: Dec. 1–31, from 6-9 p.m.
Cost: Free
Online: widmer-world.com

Christmas Tree Lane

The Christmas spirit comes to life on this lively, lit-up block in Alameda that has the whole package: beautiful lights, friendly neighbors and people strolling galore—and it's been going on since 1938! Decades later, the street is now known as Christmas Tree Lane and draws people from all over the Bay Area with its extravagant light displays and loads of holiday spirit.

3200 block of Thompson Ave.
Between High & Fernside
Alameda, CA
Dates: Dec. 1-31. 5:30-10 p.m.
Cost: Free
Onlinefacebook.com/christmastreelane

Peninsula/South Bay

photo: Kate Loweth

Fantasy of Lights

There are three ways to enjoy this lights display that has been delighting (get it, de-lighting?) South Bay families for over two decades.

Walk-through: See the lights up close! Free 3-D glasses, shuttle service from Netflix (no parking on site) and food from Moveable Feast available for purchase will make this great fun for the whole family. Dec. 7-8, 4-9 p.m. $10 ages 13+, $5 ages 4-12 and under 4 are free. Must purchase tickets in advance. 

Drive-through: Buy your ticket in advance (required) and enjoy your slow cruise through 1.5 miles of lights. Dinosaurs, pirate ships and all sorts of animals join Santa and his crew in the many light displays. Dec. 10-30 (except Dec. 25), 6-10 p.m. $20/car, $50/large vehicle with 12+ people. Must purchase timed tickets in advance. 

Train ride: Your third option is to ride through the Fantasy of Lights aboard the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad. Tickets are $6/person (age three and up) and that gets you one train ride and unlimited carousel rides. You can find the train at Oak Meadow Park which adjoins Vasona. Thursday-Sunday in December. 6-9 p.m.

More info: redtri.com

photo: Ruth Ann Groves

Holidays at Filoli

Head to Woodside to check out Filoli Hisitoric House and Gardens all lit up for the holiday season. On Thursdays in December, you can partake in their Decadence Nights where you can enjoy the spectacular holiday lights at night while indulging in special tastings of wine and chocolate pairings. New to Holidays at Filoli this year, Decadence Nights will also offer live music, DIY crafting and holiday drink specials.

Dates: Dec. 5, 12 and 19
More info: redtri.com

Dave's Christmas House Benefiting Make-a-Wish

For many years this Willow Glen house has been decked out in thousands of lights, all in the name of sick children. Swing by to visit and leave a donation to support the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Santa visits on select evenings, you can check the schedule here. The San Jose neighborhood of Willow Glen is well known for its lights displays and Christmas trees in the front yard so make a night of it and drive around with a cup of cocoa. 

1851 Cherry Ave.
San Jose, CA
Dates: Dec. 1-25, 6 p.m.
Cost: Free
Onlinefacebook.com

Christmas Tree Lane

Christmas Tree Lane (or Fulton Street in the off-season) has been putting visitors in the Christmas spirit with their holiday lights display since the 1940s. For the two weeks leading up to Christmas you can drive or walk through this display to see carolers, vintage lawn displays and lights, lights and more lights.

Fulton Street between Embarcadero Ave. and Seale Rd.
Palo Alto, CA
Dates: Dec. 14-31. 5-11 p.m.
Cost: Free
Onlinechristmastreelane.org

North Bay/Marin

Holidays in Sausalito

It is a thinly-veiled secret that the best time to visit Sausalito is during the holiday season. Anchored by the famed Sausalito Lighted Boat Parade & Fireworks (December 14), Sausalito is also the perfect venue from which to view the Lighted City Skyline and the Bay Lights installation on the Bay Bridge which is easier to see in the winter courtesy of earlier nightfall.

For prime viewing opportunities, book a room at the The Inn Above Tide where guests take advantage of the “Light up the Bay” package and build their own holiday wonderland with the Dylan’s Candy Bar gingerbread house kit while sipping from a Thermos of hot cider (spiked upon request).

More info: redtri.com

Marinwood’s Mickey Mouse Christmas House

When you take the most wonderful time of the year and combine it with the happiest place on Earth, you get this: The Mickey Mouse Christmas House. The Mize family started collecting Disney memorabilia in the 70's and since then their collection has grown and grown. More than 10,000 visitors stop by their San Rafael home to gaze at the brilliant lights, beautiful decorations and unique displays.

417 Blackstone Dr.
San Rafael, CA
When: Nov. 29-Dec. 25
Cost: Free
OnlineMickey Mouse House

Rombeiro House

Not only is this house decorated to the nines on the outside, but they also welcome visitors inside to see all the rooms decked out in different Christmas themes—trains, angels, candy canes and more. How many Santas can you spot? You may even get to see Santa and Mrs. Claus at the end of your tour! 

34 Devonshire Dr.
Novato, CA
When: 6-10 p.m. daily, Dec. 1-Jan. 5
Cost: Free
OnlineRombeiro Christmas House

—Kate Loweth, Melissa Bouse, Mae Respicio & Erin Feher

 

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