The Bay Area is all aglow in December with massive holiday light displays, parades, and multi-cultural events. And not to be missed is the cherished pastime of simply walking the streets of Willow Glen at night with hot cocoa and candy cane in hand; the homes in this charming San Jose neighborhood put on one of the most stunning displays of Christmas lights in the entire Bay Area. (Wander north of Willow St between Lincoln Ave and Meridian Ave to ensure you don’t miss the larger-than-life giant reindeer!)
Below are some more beloved traditions that are sure to bring a smile and warm your spirit:
Après Village & Skate Rink | Palo Alto | November 17 – January 28
This seasonal pop-up returns to Four Seasons Silicon Valley by popular demand. Simulating a cozy mountainside retreat with mini chalets and a synthetic skate rink, this festive village is fun for the whole family to enjoy. New this year is an innovative food truck with an alpine-inspired menu. Open to the public Friday – Sunday, 4-9PM. Private reservations required Monday – Thursday. Click here for more info.
Holidays at Filoli | Woodside | November 18 – January 7
The Filoli Estate & Gardens puts on an impressive holiday lights display each year. Step into the magic of the mansion decked in holiday cheer, then explore the illuminated winter gardens where inspiration glows. You can also reserve a firepit, bring your kids to meet Santa, or make your own holiday wreath while sipping mulled wine. Purchase tickets here.
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair | Daly City | Weekends from November 18 – December 17
Immerse yourself in Victorian London by taking part in the annual Great Dickens Christmas Fair at historic Cow Palace. This elaborate holiday party features hundreds of costumed players performing and interacting with patrons through the winding lanes and lamplit shops of Charles Dickens’ London Town. A treasured Bay Area tradition since 1970! Visit dickensfair.com.
Tree Lighting & Children’s Parade | Los Gatos | December 1 – 2
The holiday season kicks off in the Town Plaza Park on Friday night with the annual tree lighting ceremony and visit from Santa! On Saturday morning, the annual Children’s Christmas Parade marches downtown with school bands, drill teams, floats, and equestrian units all making their way down the Avenue with adoring parents looking on. Visit lgsrecreation.org.
Lighted Boat Parade | Santa Cruz Harbor | December 2
This year’s theme, Holiday Harbor Fantasyland, features 50 beautifully decorated power and sailboats parading across the water through Santa Cruz Harbor shortly after sunset. Go early for the best viewing spots, bundle up, and bring a reusable mug for hot chocolate! For more details, click here.
Carol of Lights | Downtown Campbell | December 2
Come to the streets of Downtown Campbell for the annual Carol of Lights celebration! This family-oriented event features lots of festive lights, carols, donkey rides, a petting zoo, music and dance performances, and—of course—a visit from Santa! Find out more at downtowncampbell.com.
Trolley Rides & Brew Bikes Holiday Lights Tours | Willow Glen | Select Dates in December
Enjoy the festive spirit of Willow Glen on a trolley car that meanders nearby neighborhoods that are showing off their traditional yard trees and vast light displays. Trolley rides sell out fast! Purchase tickets here, or pedal and sing carols on a decorated San Jose Brew Bike through the beautifully lit streets and decorated homes with up to 15 family and friends. Visit sanjosebrewbike.com.
Entwined | San Francisco | December 7 – April 28
Take a magical twilight stroll through this immersive forest of light as Entwined returns to Golden Gate Park for the fourth season. “Entwined: Elder Mother” centers around the Elder Mother tree standing 30’ tall and casting a 25’ canopy of light to welcome and delight visitors of all ages. Free and open to the public! More info at sanfranciscoparksalliance.org.
Weinachtsmarkt | Mountain View | December 9
Step into Germany for a day in this open-air European winter market in the heart of Silicon Valley. Shop for unique, handcrafted gifts from both German and local artisans, and warm up with traditional German sausages and glühwein as you enjoy this seasonal celebration by the German School of Silicon Valley at Mountain View City Hall Plaza. See germanholidaymarket.org for more details.
Winterfest Sausalito | Sausalito | December 9-10
The 36th Annual Lighted Boat Parade & Fireworks lights up the waterfront and kicks off the two-day Sausalito Winterfest, which includes a Jingle Bell 5K & Brunch as well as the boat parade. Beautifully decorated and brightly lit vessels sail the shoreline along with human-powered ones, braving the cold temperatures with spirited fervor. Visit winterfestsausalito.com.
Nutcracker | San Francisco | December 13 – 30
Experience this magical holiday classic performed by San Francisco Ballet. A San Francisco tradition since 1944, this dazzling production is a kaleidoscope of over 150 dancers accompanied by the SF Ballet Orchestra performing Tchaikovsky’s beloved score. Purchase tickets at sfballet.org.
Fantasy of Lights | Los Gatos | December 2 – 30
Turn up the holiday tunes on your car radio as you enjoy a magical evening in Vasona Park. This cherished holiday tradition features a 1.5-mile drive-through of over 50 larger-than-life, animated holiday lights and displays. (Two special walk thru-only nights on Dec. 2-3.) Admission is with pre-paid tickets only; purchase tickets here.
Christmas in the Park | Downtown San Jose | November 25 – January 1
Glittering lights transform Plaza de Cesar Chavez into a holiday fantasy with over 40 musical and animated exhibits, a 50-foot Community Giving Tree, plus an enchanted “forest” of Christmas trees decorated by local schools and community groups. Enjoy nightly entertainment and holiday treats; discover more at christmasinthepark.com.
Holiday Lights Train | Santa Cruz | December 2 – 3, 9 -10, 16 – 23
Hop aboard the Holiday Lights Train from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk! Vintage excursion cars adorned with thousands of lights roll through the streets past the colorful homes of Santa Cruz. Visit roaringcamp.com for info.