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Union Square © Franco Folini/Flickr
Union Square © Franco Folini/Flickr
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Where To See San Francisco's Best Holiday Displays

Picture of Courtney Holcomb
Updated: 27 April 2017
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.
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Hornblower Classic Cable Cars

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!

Classic Cable Car Sightseeing, 2000 McKinnon Ave, San Francisco, CA, USA +1 415 922 2425

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Caltrain Holiday Train

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!

Caltrain San Francisco, 700 4th St, San Francisco, CA, USA +1 800 660 4287

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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.

San Francisco Zoo, Sloat Blvd. at the Great Highway, San Francisco, CA, USA +1 415 753 7080

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Union Street Fantasy of Lights

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.

Union Street between Van Ness and Steiner, San Francisco, CA, USA

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.

Lights | © Pexels
Lights | © Pexels
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Lighted Boat Parade

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.

Pier 39, Beach Street & The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA, USA +1 415 705 5500

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Community Menorah Lightings

Celebrate gorgeous Hanukkah displays at one of San Francisco’s Community Menorah Lighting events. The lightings are often accompanied by live music, food, and crafts. One of the most popular is the Bill Graham Menorah, located in Union Square, which was the first giant menorah to be built in the country. The first lighting will take place on December 24th.

Union Square, 333 Post St, San Francisco, CA, USA +1 415 559 9579

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.

Fairmont Hotel San Francisco, 950 Mason St, San Francisco, CA, USA +1 415 772 5000