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Where To See San Francisco's Best Holiday Displays

Union Square © Franco Folini/Flickr
Picture of Courtney Holcomb
Updated: 27 April 2017
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One of the best parts of the holiday season is watching the city light up with festive decorations. Check out our favorite holiday light displays in San Francisco, filling everything from the boats on the wharf to the zoo.

Hornblower Classic Cable Cars

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Holiday Cable Car
Holiday Cable Car | © Naotake Murayama/Flickr
If you’re looking for the most San Francisco holiday experience possible, check out Hornblower Classic Cable Cars. This experience consists of a cable car ride decked out with holiday lights and decorations. The Holiday Nights and Sights tour will take you through the best landmarks the city has to offer, giving you the chance to see everything in its holiday glory. The tour lasts for 70 minutes, and tickets are booked at 2766 Taylor St, where the tour both starts and ends, via telephone (+1 844.922.2532), or online. Every ticket comes with a free Santa hat!
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Mon:
9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Tue:
9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Wed:
9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Thu:
9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Fri:
9:00 am - 5:00 pm

Caltrain Holiday Train

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Holiday Train
Holiday Train | © Mike Liu/Flickr
The Caltrain Holiday Train is an annual tradition, filling one of Caltrain’s cars with lights and decorations. This festive car will run for two nights on December 3rd and 4th, making its way from San Francisco to the South Bay. While you can’t ride the train yourself, you can gather at one of its stops to enjoy entertainment while you wait for the display. Plus, when it stops at your location, Santa and Mrs. Claus will get off the train and join you!
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ZooLights

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ZooLights © Amul Madan/Flickr
ZooLights | © Amul Madan/Flickr
Visit the San Francisco Zoo this month to experience the annual ZooLights tradition. The event will feature trees covered with lights, Santa, reindeer, an indoor tropical rainforest, games, nightly shows, costumes, the Education Open House and a train ride. Purchase ZooLights tickets here for $8 general admission.
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Union Street Fantasy of Lights

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Union Street Lights
Union Street Lights | © Kevin Krejci/Flickr
The Union Street Fantasy of Lights will light up tons of Victorian houses on Union Street between Van Ness and Steiner for a month-long holiday celebration. The event kicks off on December 3rd, featuring jugglers, costumes, singers, face painters, carriage rides, reindeer and of course, Santa. Throughout the rest of the month, enjoy festive open houses and shopping accompanied by these gorgeous light displays.
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Illuminate SF

The end of November marks the beginning of Illuminate SF, a series of light-focused art installations that transform San Francisco into a gallery of light at night. These installations will be up from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, with offers of free guided tours and illuminated bike rides to help you get the most out of them.

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Lighted Boat Parade

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Lighted Boat Parade | © Vimeo
Lighted Boat Parade | © Vimeo
This year’s holiday Lighted Boat Parade will take place on December 16th from 6 to 8 p.m. The parade will feature 60 boats decorated in holiday goodies and bright lights traveling throughout the bay, alongside Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason, the Marina Green and more. The event is free to watch from any of the locations mentioned.
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Fairmont Gingerbread House

Every year, the Fairmont Hotel opens up a giant Gingerbread House inside its lobby for the holidays. Enjoy two stories of gingerbread bricks decorated with tons of icing, and will be open through New Year’s Eve. Visiting the gingerbread house is free, and there will be gingerbread holiday tea available as well.

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