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 2017-2018, check out our list of some of the best holiday activities and attractions.
Save on Winter Attraction Admission
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.
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
Where: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
When: Select dates, November 24, 2017 – January 7, 2018
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.
NEW for 2017: A delightful sea lion show that traces the story of a disgruntled holiday elf who is inspired to find the true meaning of Christmas by his sea lion pals. Plus, you’ll also get to enjoy an all new 4-D experience in the theater — Arctic Adventure!
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 Fantasy of Lights
Where: Between Gough & Steiner Streets
When: December 2, 2017
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 Fantasy of Lights is free.
‘Tis the Season for Science at the California Academy of Sciences
Where: California Academy of Sciences
When: November 22, 2017 – January 7, 2018
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.
NEW for 2017 — see how humans (aka, you!) adapt to winter conditions by tying on some ice skates and taking a spin around the California Academy of Sciences’ new outdoor ice rink.
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
Where: Various Locations
When: December 2017
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 18 – December 17, 2017
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. Roam through characters from literature and history as you enjoy the amazing smells of traditional Christmas food and beverages.
Above all, you’ll 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.
Lighted Boat Parade
Where: Fisherman’s Wharf
When: December 15, 2017, 6:00 – 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 Lighted Boat Parade is free.
Where: San Francisco Zoo
When: December 15-17, 19-23, 26-30, 2017
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 2018
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
Where: Castro Theatre
When: December 20, 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 “Noir City XMAS,” which is a perfect seasonal complement.
You’ll get see two rare darker holiday-themed films, which are part of the lead-up to the big reveal for the full festival (to be held January 26 — February 4, 2018).
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
Where: Various locations
When: January 22-31, 2018
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.
Where: Various locations
When: January 11-28, 2018
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 John Hodgman, Andy Richter, Tony Hale, Janeane Garofalo, and many more comics, both established and up-and-coming.
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, so consult the schedule for details.
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
The Children’s Creativity Museum is known for its 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, January, 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.