10+ Things to Do in San Francisco in Winter 2016 – December Holidays & More

Although San Francisco doesn’t get a ton of tourist traffic in the winter, it’s actually a really nice time to visit. There are shorter lines, fun special exhibits, and tons of winter activities for the whole family.

If you’re looking for things to do in San Francisco in Winter 2016, check out our list of some of the best holiday activities and attractions.

Regular admission to a number of these attractions are included on the Go San Francisco® Card.

Choose as you go from dozens of top attractions and save up to 55% on combined admission vs paying at the gate.

See all available San Francisco passes, attractions & prices.

Please note, some of these special Winter events may be separately ticketed and not included on the Go San Francisco Card.

Holiday in the Park at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Image credit: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom / David Paul Morris.

Image credit: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom / David Paul Morris.

Where: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
When: November 25, 2016 through January 1, 2017

Known as the biggest holiday celebration around, the series of events, activities, and festivities that make up Six Flags Discovery Kingdom’s “Holiday in the Park” series are truly magical.

From an amazing synchronized light show to a giant snow hill, there’s holiday fun to be had everywhere.

Coupled up? Help set a world record at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom’s “Most Couples Kissing Under a Mistletoe GUINNESS WORLD RECORD Attempt” being held on Saturday, December 10 at 2:00 pm. Must register at the park in advance.

Getting in: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom tickets are included on the Go San Francisco Card and holiday events and activities are included with admission, unless otherwise noted.

Union Street Festival of Lights

Image credit: San Francisco FunCheap.

Image credit: San Francisco FunCheap.

Where: Between Gough & Steiner Sts.
When: December 3, 2016

See a magnificent collection of old Victorian style homes transformed by thousands of holiday lights as Union Square turns into a winter wonderland just waiting for Christmas magic to happen.

Marvel at jugglers, dancers, and other performers, and get excited by live ponies dressed as reindeer. This event is free and family-friendly!

Getting in: admission to the Union Street Festival of Lights is free

‘Tis the Season for Science

Image credit: The California Academy of Sciences.

Image credit: The California Academy of Sciences.

Where: California Academy of Sciences
When: November 23, 2016 through January 8, 2017 

This is one for the curious types. Learn all about the science behind your favorite holiday traditions, with fascinating information about subjects like how reindeer adapt to extreme cold, and how snowflakes form.

There are also a variety of other holiday-themed performances, music, quiz shows, and more. The CAS is the place to be this winter! 

Getting in: California Academy of Sciences tickets are included on the Go San Francisco Card and holiday events are included with admission, unless noted otherwise.

Christmas Trees of San Francisco

Image credit: Presidio.gov

Image credit: Presidio.gov

Where: Various Locations
When: December, 2016

There are so many famous and beautiful trees that populate the city of San Francisco that you can’t really get away with seeing only one.

The most iconic trees across the city are located in Union Square, Ghirardelli Square, on Pier 39, and at the Presidio.

Each of these locations also hosts a number of other great attractions, so you’ll have plenty to do besides taking in the holiday greenery.

A good way to explore all of these areas is with a hop-on hop-off San Francisco bus tour.

Getting in: viewing of San Francisco’s Christmas Tree displays is free.

Great Dickens Christmas Fair

Where: Cow Place Exhibition Halls
When: Weekends, November 19-December 18, 2016

Set in Victorian London, this fabulous recreation of the world of Charles Dickens is another must-see attraction.

It’s the perfect fantasy of Christmastime, from the ornate holiday décor of the period to the amazingly festive atmosphere of the entire affair.

Enjoy period-appropriate shopping, dining, and entertainment. What’s not to love?

Getting in: Great Dickens Christmas Fair is a separately ticketed event and not included on the Go San Francisco Card.

Holiday Lights & Sights Boat Parade

Where: Fisherman’s Wharf
When: December16, 2016; 6:00 pm-8:00 pm

If you love boats, then you won’t want to miss out on the oldest and largest holiday boat parade on San Francisco Bay.

It’s a fantastic parade of more than 60 colorfully illuminated boats that sail along the coastline near Fisherman’s Wharf. For the best views, head to Pier 39 or Aquatic Park.

Getting in: admission to the Holiday Boat Parade is free.

Zoo Lights

Image credit: San Francisco Zoo.

Image credit: San Francisco Zoo.

Where: San Francisco Zoo
When: Weekends, December 16-30, 2016 (closed December 24-25, 2016)

This is perfect for the kids. It’s a fun and festive time of year where the San Francisco Zoo transforms into a winter wonderland after the sunset.

Enjoy specific holiday-themed programming and demonstrations, nightly performances, a holiday marketplace, plus tons of fun and games.

You’ll also get to visit with a few of Santa’s reindeer, plus take a photo with the big man himself! Please note that the Zoo is not open on Christmas or Christmas Eve.

Getting in: Zoo Lights at the San Francisco Zoo is a separately ticketed event and not included with the Go San Francisco Card.

San Francisco Sea Lions

Where: Pier 39
When: January, 2017

This event is something to see – even for the locals. Each January, droves of sea lions take over the K-Dock at Pier 39 and camp out for a while to the delight and amazement of the entire city.

Come bundled up with a camera in tow prepared to see something truly amazing!

Getting in: viewing the Sea Lions is free

San Francisco Film Noir Festival

Image credit: Noir City Film Festival.

Image credit: Noir City Film Festival.

Where: Castro Theatre

When: January 20-29, 2017

Who doesn’t love a good film festival, especially if you’re a big fan of classic theater and traditional genres? This year’s festival theme is “The Art of Darkness,” and we just love all that this promises.

Two films are shown each night, and both represent something about the darker side of human nature, of creativity, and of life itself.

Because of its theme and content, it’s probably an event best for the older crowd. Purchase tickets in advance, or pick up a festival pass that provides admission for the entire festival.

Getting in: the San Francisco Film Noir Festival is a separately ticketed event and not included on the Go San Francisco Card.

San Francisco Restaurant Week

Samplings from the Thirsty Bear. Image credit: San Francisco Restaurant Week Facebook page.

Samplings from Thirsty Bear Organic Brewery. Image credit: San Francisco Restaurant Week Facebook page.

Where: Various locations
When: January18-29, 2017

Foodies will love this fantastic big city event. It’s ten days filled with food, drink, and fun across the urban metro area.

Try out new restaurants you’ve been dying to get to, or return to old favorites.

If you’re a visitor in town, it’s a great chance to sample the local cuisine without spending too much money – especially at high end places. Remember to make reservations in advance (available online), or you might miss out!

Getting in: Restaurant week is not included on the Go San Francisco Card and reservations may be required, check online for more information.

SF Sketchfest

Image credit: SF Sketchfest Facebook page.

Image credit: SF Sketchfest Facebook page.

Where: Various locations
When: January 12-29, 2017

The area’s biggest and best comedy festival, SF Sketchfest is actually well known in comic circles across the country for their innovation and creativity.

This year’s star line-up includes the dynamic duo of Billy Crystal & Alan Zweibel, tributes to Jeff Goldblum, Sally Field, and Patton Oswalt, plus a comedy writing award with Dave Barry.

There are also a number of workshops, presentations, kids events like storytelling sessions, podcasts, improv shows, and tons more. Shows are held throughout the city (with some even at the California Academy of Sciences).

Getting in: the SF Sketchfest is a separately ticketed event and not included on the Go San Francisco Card. Tickets may be purchased in advance on line, over the phone, or at the box office.

Children’s Creativity Museum

childrens-creativity-museum-san-francisco-museums

The Children’s Creativity Museum is known for it’s state of the art, hands-on exhibits that explore art and technology.

The museum’s mission is to inspire kids to think creatively and act as global citizens through fun, interactive exhibits such as the animator’s studio, music production lab, digital workshop, studio z, and more.

Getting in: Children’s Creativity Museum tickets are included on the Go San Francisco Card.

Remember to Save on Attraction Admission

So there you have it. Our list of a few things to do in San Francisco in the winter, including holiday events, other seasonal activities in December, and more.

Remember, many of these options are included on the Go San Francisco Card, where you can save up to 55% on combined admission vs paying at the gate.

Please note, the Winter events taking place at some of these attractions may be separately ticketed and not included with the Go San Francisco Card.

We hope you plan to add a few of these fun options to your winter vacation itinerary.

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