10 Things to Do in San Francisco in December

San Francisco is vibrant in December. There are fairs, decorations everywhere, festivals, Victorian London comes alive, it's crab season and much more.

Carla Yaquer

Carla Yaquer

8 min read

10 Things to Do in San Francisco in December

San Francisco with fireworks | ©Jakob Nilsson-Ehle

Have you ever thought about traveling to California's West Coast in December? If so, you should know that it's more than just a beautiful city. With nice weather, and the ocean in the background, there are many things to see and do in San Francisco, the favorite destination on the West Coast this time of year.

Here are my recommendations to make the most of your visit to San Francisco in December.

1. Visit Alcatraz

Alcatraz, San Francisco| ©Francois Marier
Alcatraz, San Francisco| ©Francois Marier

With incredible views of the bay and fewer crowds, visiting the former federal prison on Alcatraz Island in winter is almost a must when visiting San Francisco in December.

The scenery in the area is stunning during this time of year, and the clear, fog-free skies make for the best photographs. Also, with fewer crowds, the experience will be more enjoyable. Here are some tips and things to keep in mind when visiting in December:

  • I recommend that you book your tickets to Alcatraz in advance. Even if it is low season you may be in for a surprise.
  • The visit includes entrance to the inside of the facility, so there is no need to worry about the cold weather while learning about its history and the stories of the prisoners.
  • This island is reached by ferry.
  • The visit takes about 3 hours and I would definitely include it among the activities to do in San Francisco in 1 day if you are interested in learning about the history and landmarks of the city.
  • If you want to know more about this visit, here I leave you all about how to visit Alcatraz prison.

Book your visit to Alcatraz

2. Don't miss the Great Christmas Boat Parade

Christmas Boat Parades| ©Emilio Labrador
Christmas Boat Parades| ©Emilio Labrador

The second week of December, the San Francisco Marina dresses up to celebrate the Christmas Boat Parades. Amidst amazing decorations, fireworks and lights, this spectacle of more than 100 years of tradition is celebrated.

With 1,600 km of Pacific Ocean, California is considered the capital of boat parades, and the San Francisco boat parades are the most famous for being the oldest and largest. Among the events in the area are:

  • The Fisherman's Wharf Holiday Boat Parade. From Pier 39 through Fisherman's Wharf to Crissy Field you can enjoy their free parade.
  • The South Beach Yacht Club. If you go all the way to Pier 40, you can participate in the Santa by Boat parade of the South Beach Yacht Club along the bay to AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, tickets start at $17.

Book a San Francisco boat tour

3. Enjoy Crab Fest at Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf in December| ©Jodie Wilson
Fisherman's Wharf in December| ©Jodie Wilson

During the Christmas and Thanksgiving holiday, it's not just the turkey that takes center stage. California's coastal area celebrates the Crab Feast at Fisherman's Wharf, which marks the start of crab season.

Local restaurants serve crab bites, garlic noodles, salad and iced tea. To accompany these tasty crustaceans some offer craft beer and local wines, plus most have the famous All-you-can-eat from 50 €. Restaurants joining the festival include:

  • Blue Mermaid Chowder House. Location: 471 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA 94109.
  • Cafe Pescatore. Location: 2455 Mason St, San Francisco, CA 94133.
  • Capurro's. Location. 498 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA 94109.
  • McCormick & Kuleto's Seafood & Steaks. Location: 900 North Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109.
  • Bistro Boudin. Location. 160 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA 94133.
  • The Franciscan. Location: 601 Almarida Dr, Campbell, CA 95008.
  • Fog Harbor Fish House. Location: Pier 39, San Francisco, CA 94133.
  • Scoma's Restaurant. Location: 1965 Al Scoma Way, San Francisco, CA 94133.

Book a San Francisco Food Tour

4. Take the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour of San Francisco

Hop On-Hop Off Bus| ©David Stanley
Hop On-Hop Off Bus| ©David Stanley

As we leave autumn behind, the Californian skies clear up making it the perfect time to take a San Francisco bus tour. So grab your camera and tour the city, you won't regret it. The great thing about the winter season is:

  • You'll have the best views of the most well-known attractions, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Madame Tussauds and the iconic Alcatraz prison.
  • The weather is pleasant. Consider that most of the Hop On Hop Off tour buses are convertibles, so the first month of winter is ideal for adventure.
  • You will be able to choose between 2 tickets (24 or 48 hours) without the hassles of the summer high season.
  • You will comfortably explore the sights of San Francisco, from Chinatown to Sausalito for 2 hours.

Practical information:

Book the San Francisco sightseeing bus

5. Enjoy a romantic boat ride

Golden Gate Bridge| ©Pom
Golden Gate Bridge| ©Pom

Every night between sunset and 2:00 a.m., more than 25,000 energy-efficient LED lights illuminate the famous Golden Gate Bridge to link San Francisco and Oakland. The show is wonderful and do you know what makes it special in December? It's joined by theIlluminate Festival.

The romantic walking activities with that magical backdrop include a three-course menu, some drinks and musical ambiance. The tour lasts 2-3 hours where you will enjoy the scenic views and good company sailing around Alcatraz, Angel Island and Sausalito. There are several boat tours in San Francisco, and depending on the one you choose, other parts of the city are added.

Book a sunset cruise in San Francisco

6. Celebrate New Year's Eve in San Francisco

New Year's Eve in San Francisco| ©Matt Biddulph
New Year's Eve in San Francisco| ©Matt Biddulph

If you're traveling to San Francisco in December and staying for New Year's Eve, don't miss the series of events taking place in the city. Among the things to see and do to end the year are:

  • The fireworks show that takes place at midnight and you can watch from the waterfront.
  • Local concerts for all tastes and in different places such as The Independent, The Warfield or The Fillmore. And that's not counting the Fresh Start Festival, a three-day music event held annually outdoors at The Midway.
  • Parties in every club and pub in the city.
  • Special activity cruises under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Book a San Francisco Bridge Cruise

7. Spend a magical day at the San Francisco Zoo

San Francisco Zoo| ©Willis Lam
San Francisco Zoo| ©Willis Lam

This is the magical time of year at the San Francisco Zoo & Gardens. So I recommend you create new memories for the whole family and experience the wonder of the vacation season during the daytime events on site. The venue is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and some of the activities included are:

  • Travel down Candy Cane Lane for a ride on the historic carousel in colorful Poinsettia Plaza.
  • Visit the Flying Reindeer Academy and discover if Santa's reindeer can really fly, surrounded by these cuddly little animals. You'll learn fun facts about St. Nick's precious helpers as you see them live at their best.
  • Spend some time in the extravagant Sugar Plum Fairy Garden decked out with elves of all sizes.
  • Stroll through Peppermint Plaza for a hot drink at the Blitzen Bar.
  • See ZooLights, an impressive light show that silhouettes all of the zoo's animals.

Reserve your ticket to the San Francisco Zoo

8. Join San Francisco SantaCon

San Francisco SantaCon| ©Renata
San Francisco SantaCon| ©Renata

In December, the magic of St. Nick seems to revolve solely around children, but who said adults can't join in the excitement? SantaCon gives them that opportunity.

This event is geared toward adults and has a presence in major U.S. cities, including San Francisco. To attend, all you have to do is dress up as Santas and go to one of the meeting points.

Every year this Christmas tradition gains more presence in California. The concentration in the pubs of Union Square and Polk Street are among the most popular. Also, if you want to organize your own event, you can write to Santa Claus? and follow his lead.

9. Visit the Great Dickens Christmas Fair

Christmas Carols in San Francisco| ©EricF2000
Christmas Carols in San Francisco| ©EricF2000

During the first two weeks of December, the downtown area of this Californian city travels back in time to visit London in the Victorian era with theGreatDickens Christmas Caroling Fair.

To the rhythm of Christmas carols by the Coventry Carolers singing "I Hear the Bells on Christmas Day," amidst the colorful costumes of yesteryear and evocative decorations, you'll feel Charles Dickens' imaginary come to life in the midst of 19th century London. You can also enjoy the typical food of the British Empire, and don't forget to have a good pint of beer in one of the 5 pubs!

Practical information:

  • Where to find them: at Cow Palace Exhibition Halls, 2600 Geneva Avenue, Daly City.
  • Prices: from 10 €.
  • Hours: from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.

10. Ice skating

Ice skating in San Francisco| ©Scazon
Ice skating in San Francisco| ©Scazon

In this Californian city there are many options for ice skating, but there are definitely a couple that get all the attention:

  • Yerba Buena Ice Skating & Bowling Center rink: it's easily accessible and boasts a prime location. It is flanked by Moscone Center Park as well as Yerba Buena Gardens and the service is top-notch. It is located at 750 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 and is recommended for adults and children over 7 years old.
  • Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center: It is located within an architectural complex of 4 buildings with luxury finishes and luxury attention. It enjoys the title of the largest outdoor ice rink in the Bay Area. It only opens its doors between November and January, but adults and children come out happy, because the views of the bay are beautiful.

A family plan in December? Other activities that might interest you

San Francisco Botanical Garden| ©Sharon Mollerus
San Francisco Botanical Garden| ©Sharon Mollerus
  • If your plan in December is to relax and clear your mind, consider visiting the Botanical Garden, with more than 220,000 m2 and about 9,000 types of plants. Best of all, admission is free in December and the place is perfect for a family stroll. Find the San Francisco Botanical Garden at 1199 9th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122.

  • Attend the ceremony and lighting of the spectacular Christmas trees. The classic is Macy's, located in Union Square, which is about seven stories tall. This is followed by the Pier 39 Christmas tree, 18 meters high. Last but not least, the Ghirardelli Square Christmas tree, which is decorated with oversized chocolate bars, is no less extravagant than the previous ones.

  • Visit the most famous gingerbread house in San Francisco. It is one of the things to do in San Francisco with kids when passing through the city in December. Go with your family to the Fairmont Hotel and spend some quality time sipping hot chocolate while admiring a spectacular gingerbread house 7 meters high and 9 meters wide. For this more than 100-year-old tradition, some 1,500 kilograms of icing are placed on gingerbread cookies. Think the kids can resist?

The weather in San Francisco in December

San Francisco| ©Dale Cruse
San Francisco| ©Dale Cruse

The maximum temperature reaches 14° while the lowest temperature is 8°. This pleasant weather allows you to join in outdoor activities as normal. The only recommendation is to take with you an umbrella or raincoat because light rains may surprise you.