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Top 13 Bay Area Holiday Events: 2023 Winter Guide

Our list includes holiday events you can experience specifically in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, along with activities you can enjoy no matter where you live in the Bay Area!

School’s almost on break, and the holiday season is in full swing, so you’re probably wondering, what is there to do in the Bay Area around Christmas with children in tow? The good news is there are tons of family-friendly Bay Area holiday events and activities that are perfect for entertaining your children this December. 

From classes your kid can join from the comfort of their own home to festive events that will get your whole family into the holiday spirit, our guide covers all our favorite ways to spread joy with you and yours this winter break.

San Francisco Winter Events

Live in SF or want to venture into the city? Look into these San Francisco Christmas events in 2023:

1. Take a Spin on the Ice Rink

If you’re looking for a way for the kids to burn off some energy this holiday season, then the Union Square Ice Rink belongs at the top of your list. Now through mid-January, the outdoor ice rink is open to the public with free skating lessons on select Saturdays and Sundays. The whole family is sure to have a blast as they lace up their skates and practice their figure eights around the ice rink. After the kids show off their skating skills in front of the city’s gigantic Christmas tree, head over to nearby Macy’s for a special visit with Santa Claus.

2. Visit the Animals at the Zoo

No matter your age, a trip to the San Francisco Zoo and Gardens is always an exciting and educational adventure! Spend a December afternoon at the zoo, and your crew will have a ball admiring the critters and creatures while learning about their behaviors and habitats. As you’re exploring the exhibits, be sure to marvel at the enchanting holiday village displays and play Skipper’s Elf ‘n’ Go Seek, a game that involves spotting Santa’s elves hiding around the park!

3. Sign up for a Winter Camp

Your kids love attending summer break camps, so why not enroll them in one of the many winter break camps this December? Suppose your child is showing an interest in baking. In that case, the Winter Culinary Camp in Daly City might be right up their alley, but if they’re a budding equestrian, then introduce them to the Winter Horse Camp Camp in Golden Gate Park, where they’ll learn all about caring for horses. From dance camps to sewing classes, there’s something for every kid to enjoy this winter.

4. Turn Back the Hand of Time

Whether your kids already have an appreciation for English literature or you want to help spark that interest, make your way to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair. This Christmas market is designed to look and feel like you’ve traveled back in time to Victorian London, complete with hundreds of costumed characters decked out in top hats and big skirts. While exploring the music halls, dance floors, stage performances, and shops with handmade gifts, you’ll run into the likes of Ebenezer Scrooge, Oliver Twist, the Artful Dodger, and the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

Holiday Events in Oakland

For those closer to Oakland, add these 2023 Christmas events to your calendar:

5. Get Festive at the Lighted Yacht Parade

For a rather unique holiday experience, bring your kids along to the waterfront, where you can get front-row seats to the Encinal and Oakland Yacht Clubs’ 47th Annual Lighted Yacht Parade. For this marvelous Bay Area holiday event, a parade of boats decorated in colorful holiday lights and Christmas decorations cruise around the waterways, creating a magnificent spectacle under the night sky.

6. Attend a Performance of “The Nutcracker”

Watching “The Nutcracker” ballet has long been celebrated as a holiday tradition, so this year, introduce your children to the magic on stage at the Paramount Theatre. In Graham Lustig’s version of this thrilling tale, the whimsical characters, beautiful dance numbers, and captivating music will enthrall audiences of all ages as Marie embarks on a journey with her magical nutcracker doll that comes to life. 

7. Tap into the Whimsy at the Children’s Fairyland

Just when we thought Oakland’s Storybook Theme Park couldn’t possibly get any more alluring, the attraction is transforming into Fairy Wonderland! You and your kiddos can spend the day sipping hot chocolate, crafting ornaments, making candles, listening to holiday music from around the world, and even visiting with Santa! From the Festival of Lights Parade to Santa’s Dance Party, this is one Christmas event in 2023 you and the kids won’t want to miss. 

Festive Attractions in San Jose

Now, if San Jose is more convenient when it comes to attending local activities, check out these holiday events near you:

8. Cruise through the Drive Thru

This December, load up the car and bring your children to see the dazzling light show at San Jose’s Drive Thru Light Show at Christmas at History Park. This festive attraction welcomes you to drive through a winter wonderland decorated with millions of twinkly lights synced with holiday music, showcasing brightly lit characters and glowing-themed lands. To make it extra cozy, bring along some to-go cups filled with hot cocoa for your family to sip on while cruising through the light tunnels.

9. Get Tickets to See the Grinch Himself

If you and the kids love Dr. Seuss’s kooky bedtime stories, you’ll adore a live performance of “Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical.” San Jose Broadway takes the stage at the Center for Performing Arts as Max the Dog tells the tale of grumpy Mr.Grinch with incredible musical numbers like “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Audiences of all ages will surely find themselves captivated by this holiday production!

10. Experience Enchant Christmas

For a truly merry and bright holiday season, treat your kids to a magical adventure at Enchant Christmas at PayPal Park. Here, you can explore Santa’s Magic Timepiece (dubbed the world’s largest light maze), ice skate along frozen trails, visit Santa’s Landing, and bring the youngest ones in your group to Little Elves Play Place. Between the festive treats and Christmas carolers, it’s no wonder this is such a popular Bay Area holiday event.

Winter Activities All Around the Bay Area

Whether you’re north in Napa or in the more southern region of Gilroy, you and your kids can enjoy the following Bay Area holiday events and activities no matter where you live:

11. Host a Festive Movie Night

For this fun holiday idea, round up the kids for a family Christmas movie night. The whole family will love getting cozy on the couch under a pile of blankets while watching the holiday magic unfold on screen. For a younger crowd, consider cartoon favorites like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “Frosty the Snowman,” but if you have an older crew on your hands, press play on some Christmas classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol.” Of course, no holiday movie night is complete without a big bowl of popcorn to share. 

12. Get Crafty at Home Improvement Stores

If your kiddos like building things from scratch, then be sure to check out the kid-friendly holiday activities hosted at your local home improvement store in the Bay Area. For instance, the free kids’ workshop at Home Depot invites children to build a wooden gingerbread house, while the kids’ workshop at Lowe’s lets your little ones construct a delivery truck. Your kids are sure to enjoy putting on their very own aprons and using tools to build their holiday toys. 

13. Log on for Holiday-Themed Virtual Classes

Finally, school may be out of session for a few weeks, but that doesn’t mean your kids can’t still learn a thing or two over the break! Aside from family-focused Bay Area holiday events, check out one of the many virtual kid-centric classes and workshops around the holidays for an engaging at-home activity. For example, the Computer Kids Club, LLC, is hosting a Computer Kids Club S.T.E.A.M. Club, featuring holiday-themed activities to help children learn computer science skills.