Have a cool yule in the city

Artwork: S.F. artist Nidhi Chanani at

As the holidays blow into town, so does the frantic holiday rush, starting right after Halloween and not ending until the last pieces of confetti have been swept from the floor on New Year’s Day. It’s certain that in January, we’ll look back and wonder: Where did December go? Where did the year go?

Many of the season’s most memorable treats — from eggnog to mistletoe, elf-themed parties to Santa sightings — don’t stick around long after the holidays. So we should enjoy these ephemeral goodies while they’re here. Same goes for the festive nightlife that sweeps through San Francisco in December. Here are some of the more fun and festive ways to enjoy your month.

It’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays. The trees are up in Union Square and Ghirardelli Square, and retailers are making every effort to lure you in. The holiday shopping season kicks off Dec. 7 with the 23rd Annual Union Street Fantasy of Lights on Union and Fillmore streets, a fun event that includes arts and crafts, caroling and a Santa visit. By now, both Union and Chestnut streets are aglow with lights, meters along Union are transformed into giant candy canes, and validated parking and late shopping hours (most stores won’t close until 9 p.m. on weekends) sweeten any visit; additional details are available at

For a more official season opener, attend the World Tree of Hope Tree Lighting (, a free event at City Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 10, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Hosted by Mayor Ed Lee and Rainbow World Fund, the event features the Grammy-winning San Francisco Boys Chorus, free cocktails and snacks, and of course, the lighting of the World Tree of Hope. For something different, head to the 9th Annual Parol Lantern Festival and Parade, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10. A series of lantern-making workshops at the Bayanihan Community Center culminates with a parade and festival in Yerba Buena Lane, Jessie Square and St. Patrick’s Church; visit for details.

Looking for more classic holiday fun? Hit the ice at the Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square (, open through Jan. 29, or the Holiday Ice Rink at the Embarcadero Center (, open through Jan. 5. Bring a carafe of hot chocolate and listen to holiday music underneath the stars and sparkly city lights. The Union Square rink features a couple of fun holiday events, including “Single in the City” on Dec. 5, and “Drag Queens on Ice” on Dec. 12. After a round of skating, stroll around downtown and ogle at the holiday-decorated department-store windows — you won’t want to miss the popular Macy’s Holiday Windows, featuring cute dogs and cats for adoption. For even more classic holiday fun, visit the Cow Palace, which has been transformed into Victorian London for the Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party ( There, you can visit a re-created Dickens city of winding lanes, music halls, pubs and shops, and bump into some colorful characters from literature and history.

If the holidays mean music to you, San Francisco’s got you covered. The San Francisco Symphony offers a repertoire of holiday events this month, including “A Creole Christmas” featuring the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on Dec. 15, and “Colors of Christmas” starring Peabo Bryson, CeCe Winans, Melissa Manchester and Ruben Studdard, Dec. 16–18. Handel’s “Messiah” arrives Dec. 19–21, followed by “Twas the Night” on Dec. 23, a holiday concert featuring the San Francisco Symphony Chorus.

In the nearby jazz district, SF Jazz ( hosts several holiday concerts starring City Church Little Big Band, Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, Arturo Sandoval and Pete Escovedo’s Latin Jazz Orchestra. A Windham Hill Winter Solstice Concert, as well as a New Year’s Eve bash with Pete Escovedo, round out the season. A few blocks away on Fillmore Street, Yoshi’s hosts a handful of its own seasonal shows, including Greg Adams & East Bay Soul: Sweet Soul Christmas on Dec. 19; San Francisco vocalist Natasha Miller’s Annual Holiday Concert on Dec. 23, and Clairdee’s 11th Annual Christmas Eve Show on Dec 24. And Feinstein’s at the Hotel Nikko ( welcomes Broadway diva Betty Buckley from Dec. 5–15, followed by songstress Connie Champagne’s holiday tribute to Judy Garland on Dec. 18.

The bigger holiday stages also await. For some of us, it’s not Christmas until we’ve seen the Sugar Plum Fairy twirl around the War Memorial Opera House stage for the San Francisco Ballet’s beloved version of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (, through Dec. 29. For others, the season demands hearing Tiny Tim declare, “God bless us, everyone!” during the American Conservatory Theater’s interpretation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (, Dec. 6–28.

Running out of wrapping paper on Christmas Eve, or discovering three hours before your guests arrived that you never defrosted the turkey may not sound funny now. But you’ll be laughing about those things in January. Meantime, the holidays offer some other ways to get a laugh that’s not on you. How about watching a Jewish comedy on Christmas in a Chinese restaurant? From Dec. 24–26, the 21st Annual Kung Pao Kosher Comedy benefit ( features four comedians, a seven-course dinner show including dim sum cocktails, and Yiddish proverbs in the fortune cookies. Or how about Tranny Shack’s seasonal favorite, The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes!, a spoof of the television sitcom, running from Dec. 5–22 at the Victoria Theatre (

And, if the sight of grown men and women dressed as elves and other mythical holiday figures makes you smile, join Elf Party 2013, Saturday, Dec. 14 at the Regency Ballroom. If you thought Will Ferrell was funny in his elf suit, you’ll love seeing hundreds of grown men and women donning holiday costumes during this wild and festive dance party, which benefits local charities like Family Giving Tree and BayKids. For tickets, which start at $45, visit

Send to a Friend Print
Maryann LoRusso is a San Francisco-based journalist who also writes a blog for women at

Upcoming Events

more »

SFMOMA | Yayoi Kusama: Infinite Love

Feb-Sep 1-7
Info »

Download the Current Issue: June 2024

Follow Us