Caring For Our Kids

Holiday celebrations for kids

Don’t miss this San Francisco holiday classic, ‘The Nutcracker.’ photo: s.f. ballet

Each year it seems we barely have time to take a deep breath after Thanksgiving before the holiday season is upon us. It’s such a magical time for children and not just because of Santa. There are so many wonderful things to enjoy around the city, which can help anyone of any age feel festive. The key, especially with children, is finding something age appropriate and to not over schedule, which can lead to over-tired children and frustrated parents. Here is just a sampling of some great family celebrations around the city:


The holidays are a fun time to get dressed up and do something special. Growing up, my husband and I both went to The Nutcracker every December with our families, and now this is a fun family tradition we have passed down to our children. Performed by the talented San Francisco Ballet, The Nutcracker is a classic story and an amazing experience. There are performances almost daily through December but purchase tickets early. This is a great event for children five years and older, not just because the tickets are a bit expensive but because it is a long time to ask a younger child to sit still.

If the San Francisco Symphony is more your style, they have a fabulous holiday event called Deck the Hall. It is a one-day concert with two shows on Sunday, Dec. 7. It is specifically geared toward families and even includes a sing-along. Special guests include Beach Blanket Babylon performers and the San Francisco Boys Chorus. After the concert, families can enjoy refreshments, arts and crafts, and perusing the gorgeous decorated trees. There are also special VIP packages available that include a preconcert reception and a picture with Santa.


Another fun holiday tradition to do with friends or grandparents is a holiday tea. The Ritz-Carlton has its annual Teddy Bear Tea on weekends in December with seatings at either 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. Children can bring their favorite teddy bears or stuffed animals for a fabulous tea and plenty of family-friendly entertainment. There is also a photo opportunity with the giant Teddy Bear, and children receive a small gift. The price is steep at $110 per guest, and there is no discount for children, but everyone I know who has done this raves about the experience. And if it makes you feel better, a portion of the proceeds benefits the Make-A-Wish foundation.

Another great San Francisco tradition is the Gingerbread Tea at the Fairmont Hotel. The cost is slightly less — $85 for adults and $45 for children under the age of 12. They also have seatings most days in December at either 1:30 or 3:30 p.m. Children receive a Nutcracker ornament and a gingerbread cookie to decorate. The tea is worth it just to get a glance at one of the world’s largest gingerbread houses. This year it is expected to be more than 22 feet high and 23 feet wide and include thousands of gingerbread bricks and more than a ton of icing and candy decor.


If you are looking for something at a much lower price point, there are plenty of free family events also. One of our favorites happens to be close to home — the annual Presidio Tree Lighting. This year the event will take place on Friday, Dec. 5 from 5:30–6:30 p.m. The tree is located at the corner of Lincoln Boulevard and Funston Avenue in the Presidio. After the tree lighting, families are invited to the YMCA for holiday arts and crafts and carols. For older children or adventurous families, there is even a guided lantern-lit walk through the Presidio forest.

Another one of our favorite ways to feel festive is to plan a night to drive around the city or head to Marin and see some of the magical houses decorated with thousands of Christmas lights. Probably the most famous house in the city belongs to Tom & Jerry in Noe Valley (3650 21st Street). This has been a San Francisco tradition for over 20 years, and if you time it right, you might be able to see Santa, who makes a nightly appearance. This is something to do with children of all ages. Don’t forget to turn on the holiday tunes and put some watered down hot chocolate in the sippy cups for an added bonus.

No holiday celebration is complete without remembering the reason for the season. It is never too soon to include in your holiday traditions the importance of giving back. Toys for Tots or many of the family shelters are always happy to receive new toys or clothes to give to those in need.

I wish you all a happy holiday season and hope you take time to remember the truly important things, which is being together with family and friends.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.