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San Francisco Christmas Lights 2021: Where to See Holiday Decorations All Around Town

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Updated: November 30, 2021

San Francisco Christmas lights are one of my favorite things about the holidays. You will find colorful displays all around town including Union Square, Fisherman's Wharf, and City Hall.

Throughout the holiday season, you will find Christmas trees, buildings lit in traditional green and red, and other holiday decorations. My list includes displays on public buildings as well as some of the most colorful lights on private residences. 

Union Square

Sparkling Union Square acts as the centerpiece to SF's downtown commercial district, especially during the holidays.

Holiday Tree at Union Square

Not only will they have a huge Christmas tree lit up with over 33,000 twinkling lights and 1,100 ornaments, there will also be an ice skating rink and plenty of Christmas decorations in all the store windows surrounding it.

This is a festive part of town to walk around and do some holiday shopping.

There will be no large celebration during the lighting this year, but the tree is now lit and will be until the end of the year. 

>> More to see and do in Union Square

Pier 39

One great place to find San Francisco Christmas lights is at Pier 39, where the magnificent 60-foot-tall Christmas tree will be glistening every night during the holiday season.

It will also offer a light show every half hour between 5 pm and 10 pm.

Pier 39 Christmas Tree at Night

Pier 39 is one of San Francisco's the premier tourist destinations for its variety of restaurants, shops, family activities, and proximity to the waterfront and ferries.

This is a great place to hang out and soak in the holiday cheer.

>> Find out more about visiting Pier 39

Fisherman's Wharf Sign

The perfect place to take a holiday photo with San Francisco Christmas lights is at the Fisherman's Wharf Sign, which will be decked out for the season. It's a lovely postcard image to show friends and family that you enjoyed your holiday vacation in SF and visited the top attractions.

>> Fun things to do in Fisherman's Wharf this holiday season

San Francisco Fire Engine Holiday Lights Tour

A truly memorable way to see the Christmas lights is on a 90-minute city tour aboard a vintage red fire engine!

Beginning at Fisherman's Wharf, you and a small group of up to 12 other passengers will get a guided tour through the glowing Presidio, Union Square, Embarcadero, and Market Street.

>> Click here for more details and ticketing information on Viator

Golden Gate Park

Conservatory After Dark: Head over to the Conservatory of Flowers throughout the season to see their external lights display. It's on nightly throughout the holiday season.

Entwined: While you are in Golden Gate Park, make sure to stop by Entwined. It's an lighted enchanted forest in Peacock Meadows. It will be on display from December 2 - February 1. 

Macy's Holiday Windows

Macy's, the biggest department store in San Francisco's Union Square, has made it a holiday tradition to decorate their store windows with elaborate displays that bring joy to all passersby on Stockton and O'Farrell Streets.

The Magic of Christmas at Macy's in SF

To limit the crowds in 2021, they have a slightly adjusted plan for 2021. They will have pre-recorded videoes playing in their windows. 

Instead of having adoptable animals within their displays this year, they will live stream from the SFPCA so you can see what animals are available for adoption this year.

The display will start on November 23 and last until January 2.

Market Street Lights

Market Street is the spine that runs through downtown San Francisco, always full of cable cars, shops, cafes, and people bustling to and from work. With so much action, it only makes sense that during the holidays, this street take on an especially bright, cheerful look.

Starting in mid-November, lights will be illuminating this thoroughfare. Check it out on your way to Union Square or the Embarcadero.

Zoo Lights (TBD for 2021)

A fun way to see more San Francisco Christmas lights is by heading to the SF Zoo. A delightful change from the urban decorations, these lights transform the zoo into a colorful winter wonderland, complete with reindeer, Santa Claus, and a holiday marketplace with delicious treats.

Take the whole family to this attraction, which runs from mid-December until the end of the year.

>> Find tickets to the SF Zoo

>> Details to visit the SF Zoo

Gingerbread House at the Fairmont

The Fairmont, one of SF's grandest hotels, has a long tradition of creating elegant Christmas displays designed to enchant its guests and the public. The highlight every year is the completely edible two-story gingerbread house in the lobby.

Fairmont Gingerbread House

Head over to the Nob Hill neighborhood to admire the details and aroma of this extremely sweet holiday treat. This fun event opens on Thanksgiving Weekend and runs until the first of the year.

>> Additional fun things to do in Nob Hill

More Fun Holiday Tours

Fisherman's Wharf Lighted Boat Parade (TBD for 2021)

On Friday, December 13, 2019 from 6 to 8pm, you can watch a parade of boats lit up with holiday decorations cruise along the SF waterfront. The route starts from Pier 39, heads west past Fisherman's Wharf, Fort Mason, and the St. Francis Yacht Club, and turns around off of Crissy Field.

After the parade, the Fisherman's Wharf Fishing Fleet will stay illuminated throughout the holiday season, and you can view the beautiful vessels from Jefferson Street between Jones and Taylor.

Parol Lantern Festival and Parade

The Parol Lantern Festival is a Filipino-American holiday tradition that showcases some of the most unique and festive San Francisco Christmas lights. The  annual event will take place on Saturday, December 11, 2021.

Leading up to that day, the Bayanihan Community Center will be offering workshops teaching the public to make the colorful, star-shaped lanterns, which will then be displayed at Yerba Buena Lane. These lanterns are an important symbol of peace, hope, luck, and light.

Outside Lights at City Hall

Every year, SF City Hall gets into the Christmas spirit by glowing red and green throughout the holiday season. Normally shining white with its beautiful golden dome, the alternating colors on its columns really make this architectural gem a treat to look at on cold winter nights.

SF's City Hall Decked Out in Green & Red for Christmas

The best place to snap your photos is from the Civic Center Plaza on the eastern side. You can easily get here by taking BART or Muni light rail to the Civic Center Station and walking two blocks west.

For the first time this year, you will also find an entire Winter Wonderland near City Hall. It will include outdoor ice skating, a skating track, and lights on the plaza's line of trees.

>> More details on visiting City Hall

World Tree of Hope at Grace Cathedral

Beginning December 6, 2021 with the annual tree lighting ceremony, you can stop by anytime to see the dazzling Tree of Hope on display in Grace Cathedral. At 22 feet tall, it is the largest origami-decorated Christmas tree in the world.

It's covered in over 15,000 handmade paper cranes and stars that each contain hopeful messages for the future contributed by people of all nationalities. Simply walk inside to visit.

>> Use the Hop On Hop Off to get here

>> Read more about visiting Grace Cathedral

Tom & Jerry's Christmas Tree

Every year since the 1980s, this adorable Victorian home and the 65-foot pine outside of it are transformed into a larger-than-life outdoor Christmas living room, with giant stockings and teddy bears hanging from the fireplace-garage, and enormous colorful presents surrounding the gigantic tree.

This local favorite of the Castro neighborhood is worth a visit and a photo op. You can stop by 3650 21st Street any day during the month of December, and on some nights, you may even enjoy a visit from Santa.

Tree Lighting Ceremonies & Other Holiday Events

Every year, all around San Francisco and the Bay Area, you can be part of the holiday season kickoff by attending tree lighting ceremonies in public squares, parks, shopping centers, and more. Many of these events feature live entertainment, refreshments, family activities, or a visit from Santa in addition to the fabulous decorations.

Beyond Christmas trees, there are also menorahs, giant gingerbread houses, snowflakes, and more on display. Click the link below to find dates and times to enjoy these ceremonies and San Francisco Christmas lights displays.

>> Find a full list of events here

Things to Do on Christmas Eve & Day

Make your Christmas in the City by the Bay a special one! In addition to viewing the San Francisco Christmas lights, you'll find lots of special holiday events going on, including Christmas Eve performances of The Nutcracker ballet, musicals, bay cruises, and more.

On Christmas day, some attractions will be closed, but many of them you can still visit! Find out which sights will be open, ticketing information for shows, restaurant recommendations, and more for these special days.

>> Discover a full schedule of things to do this Christmas

Where to See Santa

Santa Claus is a busy man, but he manages to make his rounds to the major malls, Christmas displays, and family attractions in San Francisco. He'll make several appearances this season.

Click on the link below to find out exact locations, dates, and times, so you can plan your kids' visit with the jolly man in the red suit. Get your wish lists and cameras ready!

>> Where to see Santa this holiday season

SF Ballet's Nutcracker

Apart from the many San Francisco Christmas lights, one of the most popular attractions of the holiday season are the December performances of The Nutcracker by the SF Ballet.

This company was the first to bring this Russian holiday classic to the US. The timeless Tchaikovsky score, colorful costumes, and enchanting scenes are a wonderful treat for the whole family.

>> Find out more about this year's Nutcracker performances

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