Updated for 2021
December has always been my favorite time of year. I love Christmas, the whole Holiday season. Growing up, my dad always took off two weeks around Christmas and filled it with seasonal activities. We would get hot cocoa and see holiday lights, visit a living nativity scene, and our annual trip into New York City to see the tree at Rockefeller Plaza and the amazing store windows. Now that I have a family of my own I wanted to create these memories with my own children, here in the Bay Area. With more children getting vaccinated in the Bay Area, and with places reopening, I wanted to update my guide on activities for holiday fun in the Bay Area.
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Tilden Merry-Go-Round – Berkeley
This is one we go to every year. The old fashion Merry-Go-Round at Tilden decorate for the holiday with lights and runs at night. $4 a ride, plus there was a Santa, a field with lights you could run around, and free blocks to play with. Who wouldn’t love it! This year they are offering a new event, Breakfast with Santa, the first three Saturdays in December. You can make the reservations for times online for both events.
Oakland Zoo Lights has always been a fun event, but in 2020, the Oakland Zoo decided to step up their game with Glowfari. Instead of lights and decorations, the zoo has hundreds of giant animal glowing lanterns that are beautifully created. Due to COVID they could not do it during the holiday season as planned, but it was a smashing success when it opened in March and April of this year. It’s back this year as a holiday event, and tickets are now on sale. Get them before they sell out.
Outdoor Ice Skating – Various Locations
There are several locations around the Bay that are planning to bring back their outdoor temporary ice skating rings. We have enjoyed taking a day in San Francisco, and attending the Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square. But for those who want to stick to the east bay, there is a nice one in The Little Ice Rink at Alameda Point, the Ice at the Veranda in Concord, and Walnut Creek on Ice.
Christmas Tree Lane – Alameda
Unofficially known as Christmas Tree Lane, there is a neighborhood in Alameda that goes all out for Christmas every single year. Each house is elaborately decorated with lights and decorations. Pre COVID there was a Santa who saw kids, and some houses who sold hot chocolate to support local Scout troops. People come from all over the Bay Area. You can drive through and see the lights, or park (outside the neighborhood) and walk up and down. I prefer walking becuase you can hear the music, see performances, and spend more time enjoying each of the displays.
Sundar Shadi Holiday Display – El Cerrito
Every year, on a hillside in El Cerrito, volunteers set up the Sundar Shadi Holiday Display. This is a display that show not only the typical nativity scene, but shows the town of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. It’s lit up in lights, and a gorgeous site that can be seen from all around. The hillside encapsulates the hills in Israel itself and is a beautiful tribute to the season. There is usually parking along the street, so you can get out and take a quick picture and closer look.
The Nutcracker – San Francisco and Oakland
Since my daughter was 4 and first started ballet classes, we have seen the Nutcracker every year. We usually go to the Nutcracker in San Francisco which is a world class production in the beautiful War Memorial Opera House. We love to dress up. go to the dinner in the city, and then attend one of their family performances, that include photo opportunities with the dancers, and other activities. In 2019 we attended the Oakland Ballet Nutcracker and were amazed at the quality of the performance. It’s done in the Paramount Teacher, a beautiful 1920s Art Deco theater in the heart of downtown Oakland. After watching virtual performances in 2020, both productions are back. (Note: COVID vaccination is required for those 12 and older to attend, and a negative COVID test is required for those under 12)
I can already tell the lasting impact these memories have on my children. My daughter now wants to dance in the Nutcracker. My kids keep asking me when we are going to Glowfari. We plan out our cookie baking weekend, and our weekend to see the lights. The excitement they feel is contagious, and it makes the whole family excited for the holiday. I hope that my children will have the same lasting memories and love of the season that my parents installed in me. And I hope sharing this with you, you can make your own memories that last a lifetime.