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In the U.S., it does seem like just about everything is closed on Christmas Day. That’s certainly true of most stores, restaurants, and even attractions. But if you happen to be in San Francisco, consider the following attractions, which are open and ready for family fun. And you can thank Santa for all the easy, free parking and light traffic everywhere you go.

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Skate on

Flickr CC: Raman B

Flickr CC: Raman B

Located next to Macy’s 83-foot reusable Christmas tree that’s decorated with 35,000 LED lights and 1,100 ornaments, the outdoor Union Square Ice Rink provides impressive downtown views. Claiming to be the biggest outdoor rink in San Francisco, the Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center is set on a wide-open plaza with views of the Ferry Building and waterfront. Lastly, San Francisco’s only year-round ice skating rink—the Yerba Buena Ice Skating and Bowling Center—is indoors and also open every day of the year. It’s also next door to a bowling alley that presents yet another entertainment option on Christmas Day!

Let it snow

At the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero, the decorations are elaborate and snow showers occur three times daily at 3pm, 5pm, and 7pm in the world’s largest atrium lobby (snowfall continues through December 31).

Window hop

See all the colorful holiday decorations and window displays without the hassle of crowds. The cozy SPCA pet adoption window scenes in Macy’s will still be up—though no longer populated with animals to adopt.

Get to Golden Gate Park

The San Francisco Botanical Garden, with its more than 8,000 plant varieties and 55 acres of landscaped gardens, is open for strolling and is free on Christmas Day, as is the Japanese Tea Garden and Teahouse. Also open and worth the splurge is the California Academy of Sciences, which holds the world’s largest all-digital planetarium, a Costa Rican rainforest canopy and the world’s deepest display of living corals. Plus, during the holidays, it boasts two live reindeer—Velvet and Tinsel—and a theater shaped like a giant snowman where visitors can learn about the aurora borealis. Free and kid friendly is the Koret Children’s Quarter Playground. Constructed in 1887, it’s the very first public playground in a U.S. park.

Take a hike

Though attractions here are closed today, the Presidio, a former military post, is always a great place to take a walk. The promenade at Crissy Field and the 24-mile network of trails provide breathtaking views that include the Golden Gate Bridge and some outdoor works of art by Andy Goldsworthy.


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Orient yourself

Flickr CC: Shubert Ciencia

Flickr CC: Shubert Ciencia

Visit the souvenir shops in Chinatown and spend some of that holiday gift dough; have a dim-sum brunch at the bustling New Asia Chinese Restaurant, which is reputed to have 1,000 seats and where the staff uses walkie-talkies to communicate across the vast, noisy interior; and see the exhibits at the Chinese Historical Society of America, which is situated inside a landmark building designed by architect Julia Morgan.

Ride a cable car

Though these icons have gotten quite expensive, there issimply nothing around that is quite as much fun! They operate 8:30am—2am, even on Christmas.

Learn about Jewish culture

Admission is free at the Contemporary Jewish Museum on Christmas Day. In addition to viewing exhibits, you can participate in a drop-in art program; musical performances and tours are also scheduled. Also, Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen will be serving from 11am to 3pm.

Amaze yourself

Flickr CC: Glen Bowman

Flickr CC: Glen Bowman

At Ripley’s Believe It or Not! SanFrancisco Odditorium you can see a collection of more than 400 curiosities that includes a cable car made from 270,836 matchsticks and the world’s largest hairball—a 167-pounder.

Let it “rein”

Flickr CC: David Goehring

Flickr CC: David Goehring

What better way to celebrate this special day that to visit real reindeer? The San Francisco Zoo is open Christmas Day and reindeer Belle, Holly and Peppermint will be there, near the newly remodeled Elinor Friend Playground, to spread holiday cheer. Don’t miss the Children’s Zoo, and do take a spin on the spirit-lifting antique carousel.

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Tagged: California, Christmas Travel Ideas

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Carole Terwilliger Meyers
Carole is a Berkeley-based travel writer who most especially enjoys cultural and culinary travel. She contributes to an assortment of publications and is the author of 18 books. Carole oversees two websites, and, and she blogs at
Carole Terwilliger Meyers
- 3 days ago

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