San Francisco Christmas Lights and Holiday Displays

Places to See Dazzling Holiday Displays

San Francisco Union Square Christmas
••• Franco Folini / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

San Francisco Christmas trees and holiday decorations feature gorgeous lights that bring warmth and cheer on long winter nights. City landmarks and destinations like Union Square and Ghirardelli Square have lit-up Christmas trees, as do major hotels and malls. Each neighborhood has at least a couple of avid decorators who create twinkling holiday scenes in front of their homes.

Here are some of the most photogenic displays of holiday lights in San Francisco:

  • Macy's Tree in Union Square
    Macy's annual holiday gift to San Francisco is a Christmas tree laden with a gazillion lights that dominates Union Square.
    The outdoor ice rink next to the 83-foot tree is open through Jan. 19, 2015 (see our Ice Skating in San Francisco guide for details about it and other holiday ice rinks). And stroll over to Stockton and O'Farrell streets to gush at the cutest holiday window display in town: Cuddly, adoptable kittens and puppies from the SPCA, in Macy's windows until Jan. 4.
  • Embarcadero Center
    More than 17,000 lights trace the Embarcadero Center's towers. Through Jan. 4, 2015, you can twirl around the center's holiday ice rink while taking in the scenery. 
    At Five Embarcadero Center, step into the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. Crane your neck at the Christmas tree and the streams of 300,000 lights cascading down the 17-story lobby atrium. Through Dec. 30, the lobby showcases snow village dioramas. You can also catch snow falling in the lobby four times daily on weekends (and twice on weekdays). 
    • Civic Center Plaza
      The tree at Civic Center Plaza is elegant in its simplicity, wearing just white lights. City Hall itself is aglow in red and green for the holidays.
    • Union Street
      The upscale Cow Hollow shopping district becomes a Fantasy of Lights, with lights on its Victorians and trees and parking meters fashioned into candy canes. The San Francisco Firefighter's Toy Program has barrels in some shops to collect toys for disadvantaged kids. On Dec. 20 at 1 pm, gather in the courtyard of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin (2325 Union St.) to go caroling on Union and return to the church for refreshments. On Union Street between Van Ness and Steiner, San Francisco.

    • Huntington Park on Nob Hill
      White bulbs adorn the (non-fir) trees that line the park at California and Taylor streets. While you're on Nob Hill, step into the two-story-tall gingerbread house at The Fairmont San Francisco, made of yummy-smelling gingerbread bricks, royal icing, candy canes, Christmas tree Peeps and other sweets. Some visitors have evidently tried to sample parts of the edible house, but we don't recommend it. Also in the hotel lobby are a gingerbread doghouse and a North Pole Nook where children can write letters to Santa.
    • Golden Gate Park Tree
      A winter tree-lighting tradition in Golden Gate Park began in 1929, when then-park superintendent John McLaren had the trees lit along Fell Street to try to cheer up San Franciscans burdened by the Great Depression. The tradition has since been trimmed to one tree: A long-standing Monterey cypress at McLaren Lodge, 501 Stanyan St. (and Fell).
    • The Tom and Jerry Christmas Tree
      The centerpiece is the decked-out live tree in front of Tom Taylor and Jerome Goldstein’s Victorian home, but this fantastic tableau also includes giant stuffed animals, presents and Tom's and Jerry’s stockings. Imagine the 65-foot pine as a standard living-room Christmas tree, and then the gargantuan decorations seem normal size. A model Ferris wheel, trains and other contraptions with moving parts entertain the short-attention-span generation. Santa gives out candy canes every night through Christmas Eve. On view Dec. 10-Jan.1, at 6:30-9:30 pm, at 3560 21st St. (between Sanchez and Church streets), San Francisco 94114.

    • Christmas Tree Lane, Alameda
      Since 1938, residents of the 3200 block of Thompson Avenue in Alameda have transformed their street into a heartwarming display of holiday cheer. Not only the houses but also the center median is adorned with lights, cut-outs and figurines. Santa is on hand nightly from Dec. 9-23, at 6:30-8 pm, for photo ops (weather permitting). On view Dec. 5-31, at 5:30-10 pm, on Thompson Ave. between High St. and Fernside Blvd, Alameda.