Celebrating the holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area can be done on the cheap, and even for free. Concerts, festivals, a Santa-themed pub crawl and arts-and-crafts-making sessions are among the fun and free offerings; all you have to do is show up.
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Neighborhood: Union Square
On Stockton St. between Geary and Ellis streets
Dec. 1-31, 2016
For five glorious weeks, the endless jackhammering goes quiet and the giant hole in the earth on Stockton between Geary and Ellis streets is covered up by green astroturf and welcomes shoppers to take a break from the holiday madness. A light art show, projected nightly onto Macy's Men's Building, stars Jack Frost traipsing across San Francisco. Food trucks are on hand, carolers and musicians perform and Macy’s offers free makeup consultations on select dates.
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Activities happen across from Peet's, 1776 Fourth St.
Nov. 21-Dec. 21, Saturdays & Sundays; and Dec. 22 & 23
Besides live music, there’s caroling and photo-taking with Santa and his elf on weekends. Merchants are collecting warm coats to be donated to Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, a nonprofit that helps homeless or poverty-stricken folks get back on their feet. Fourth Street is decorated with lights, and between Hearst and Virginia, it’s a hub of gourmet food, cosmetics, jewelry, apparel, chocolate, kitchenware, interior decor, gardening and stationery shops.
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On Union Street between Van Ness and Steiner, San Francisco.
Dec. 3, at 3-7 pm
Ponies, a horse-drawn carriage and costumed characters cruise the main drag of Cow Hollow, whose Victorians are decked in lights. For kids, there are balloon toys, cupcake decorating and photos with Santa,
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A flotilla of more than 60 boats festooned in lights and holiday decorations parade along the waterfront, lighting up the bay with holiday cheer.
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Neighborhood: Union Square
Dec. 10, at noon
Dress up as Santa (or as a creative interpretation of him) or one of his sidekicks (e.g., an elf or reindeer) to join this mass pub crawl through the city. Be prepared to sing warped versions of Christmas carols, drink and act responsibly and civilly and belt out “Ho, ho, ho!”
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Dec. 13, at 7 pm
In this unique mobile concert, people stroll the Mission, playing one of four different tracks of a composition on their smart phones, boomboxes or CD players (a limited number of CDs and cassette tapes are available and lent out). Everyone’s a performer-listener of Phil Kline's acoustic piece, which is meant to be heard outdoors in December.
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Fort Mason Center
Dec. 13 & 14, at 11 am-6 pm
Formerly called "Bazaar Bizarre," this juried show has indie artists, designers and craftspeople offering their ceramics, bags, bath products, toys, clothing, hats, posters, gourmet sweets and other wares. Plus DIY workshops, a raffle, DJ music and a photo booth.
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Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St.
Dec. 25, at 11 am-4 pm
The galleries, live music performances, art-making activities and a puppet workshop are all free. See the featured exhibit J. Otto Seibold and Mr. Lunch, which focuses on the Bay Area author and his Mr. Lunch children's books.
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