Union Square Christmas Tree Lighting 2023

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Updated: November 6, 2023

It looks like there may not be an official tree lighting ceremony again this year. Officially, it's still to be announced, but it's only a few days away so not sure I will hear more until the day of the first lighting. However, they will light it for the first time on November 9 and it will stay lit until January 1.

The Union Square Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony is one of the best ways to celebrate the holidays in San Francisco. After the official ceremony, the tree will stay lit each night for you to enjoy through the beginning of January.

The tree lighting ceremony in Union Square will not happen in 2022.

San Francisco Tree Lighting at Union Square on Thanksgiving Weekend

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Union Square Christmas Tree Lighting (No Celebration in 2022)

32nd Annual Christmas Tree Lighting

Friday, November 26 at 6:40pm

Celebration is from 6 - 9 pm

The Union Square Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony is always held the day after Thanksgiving in San Francisco. The 2019 scheduled performers include several local performers and artists.

The performances will be followed by the lighting of the tree at 6:40pm.

Every year, the Christmas tree is given to the city as a gift from Macy's. This year's reusable tree is 83 feet tall and will feature more than 30,000 lights and around 1,100 decorations.

After the official ceremony, the tree will be lit each night through the end of the year.

Tips for the Ceremony

Union Square Tree Lighting Entrance

The Union Square Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony is a very popular event located in the hub of the tourist action, so make sure you get there well in advance to stake out a good spot.

I recommend you arrive at least an hour early and make your way through the Post and Powell Street entrance (past the red heart with a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge) to the cement steps near the tree. They will be on your left once you enter the square.

This is the perfect location to watch the ceremony, as you'll be close enough to admire the beautiful decorations, but still far enough away to see and snap photos of the whole tree lit up (remember, it's 83 feet tall!).

>> More tips to visit Union Square

Macy's Holiday Windows

Macy's Windows

While in Union Square, don't skip the Macy's holiday window display on Stockton and O'Farrell Streets. Every year, San Franciscans look forward to greeting the heartwarming, adorable faces of real dogs and cats that make Macy's holiday decor come to life.

All of the pets on display are up for adoption, and over the years, Macy's has given over 8,500 animals the gift of a new permanent home. Stop by to watch them playing in the windows, and perhaps adopt one yourself.

Christmas Shows Near Union Square

One of the best ways to enjoy the holidays is by catching a Christmas Show during your stay. You will find a variety of shows every year. Here are just a few scheduled for 2019.

A Christmas Carol: The American Conservatory Theater is where you will find this popular show during the Christmas season. It runs from November 30 - December 24.

Nutcracker Ballet: SF was the first to show this now popular ballet performance within the US. This year's shows run from 12/8 - 12/27 at the War Memorial Opera House in the Civic Center district. Learn more.

>> Find out more about these and other theater shows this season in SF

Holiday Lights Tours

Every year during the holidays, San Francisco's buildings, parks, bridges, and even boats are illuminated with beautiful displays of dazzling lights. But how can you be sure to see all the best lights around town? Just sit back, put your Santa hat on, and enjoy the sparkling scenery on one of these small-group night tours.

Choose between two fun options: riding on a shiny red fire engine, or in a 70s-style VW van. Both will take you all around town, beginning with the Christmas tree at Pier 39, along the waterfront of Fisherman's Wharf, to the Palace of Fine Arts, the Embarcadero, Lombard Street, Chinatown, and North Beach.

>> Check ticket availability for the tour on the shiny red fire engine

Ice Skating in Union Square

Ice Skating

From November 6 through mid-January, you can ice skate right in the heart of Union Square.

Take a refreshing break from your holiday shopping to glide on this outdoor rink in the middle of the plaza, surrounded by the Union Square Christmas tree and all the other holiday decor.

Admission for a 90-minute session on the ice runs from $13 to $25 per person, and you can rent skates right on the spot.

>> Find additional ice skating rinks around SF and the Bay Area

Sugar Castle at the Westin St. Francis

Enchanted Castles

On the western side of the Union Square plaza, you can't miss the towering, historic Westin St. Francis Hotel. In the lobby during the holidays, you'll discover two incredibly ornate, lifelike sugar castles that invite you to delve into your imagination as you examine each perfectly handcrafted tower, room, window, tree, and elf climbing up to the top.

These impressive works of art by Chef Houdre require hundreds of pounds of sugar (one castle reaches 12 feet in height!) and countless hours of meticulous pulling, blowing, and shaping--a true confectionary marvel.

More Tree Lighting Ceremonies in San Francisco

Tree Lighting

In addition to the Union Square Christmas tree lighting, there are many more tree lighting ceremonies to enjoy all over San Francisco. Some of the most popular locations include Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square, City Hall, and the Presidio. Each holiday display is unique, with different themes, entertainment, and refreshments.

Dates for the lighting ceremonies vary from the last two weeks of November to the first week of December. Click the link below for more information.

>> Details on tree lightings and holiday events all around town

Thanksgiving in San Francisco


If you're going to be spending Thanksgiving in the city, you'll have lots of options for activities, shows to catch, delicious meals, and attractions that will still be open. One of my favorite things to do on Turkey Day in San Francisco is to take a cruise on the bay for an afternoon buffet or sunset appetizers.

You could also head to the theater to watch a Broadway musical, a concert, or an SF Opera performance. Follow the link below to see a full list.

>> Ideas for a great Thanksgiving Day and weekend in SF

Christmas in San Francisco

Christmas SF

Spend an extra special Christmas Eve and Day in San Francisco by attending a holiday performance of the The Nutcracker by the SF Ballet, Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna, or others.

A number of the city's renowned restaurants are also offering special menus. If you're looking to do some sightseeing, you'll find a number of attractions still open on the holiday, and you might even want to take a tour of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, or Chinatown. Get the details below.

>> What to do on Christmas Eve and Day in SF

Where to Find Santa

What would the holiday season be without visits from Santa Claus? The jolly man in the big red suit makes lots of appearances all around town, beginning in late November.

In addition to the Union Square Christmas tree lighting, you'll find Santa at hotels like the Ritz Carlton and the Fairmont, and at various malls. Check out the list in the link below for dates and times, and head over with your kids, cameras, and wish lists.

>> How to find Santa in San Francisco throughout the holidays

Other Places to See Christmas Lights in SF

Fisherman's Wharf Holiday Sign

If you love getting into the holiday spirit and admiring all the different types of lights, trees, indoor and outdoor decorations, you will find plenty of festive spots all around San Francisco.

These include the lighted snowflakes along Market Street, the tree at Pier 39, the winter wonderland at the SF Zoo, and more. You could also attend a festival like the Union Street Fantasy of Lights, the Fisherman's Wharf Lighted Boat Parade, and the Parol Lantern Festival and Parade. Find out how to get to these outstanding displays.

>> Where to find beautiful Christmas lights around the city

Union Square Christmas Tree Lighting

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