From a grand brunch to kung pao kosher comedy and ice-skating in shorts, here's how to spend the holiday in northern California.

By Jenna Scatena
December 03, 2015
SF Travel Holidays in The Cty
Credit: © 2013 Scott Chernis Photography

While chances are the East Coast might be bracing for a nor’easter during the holidays, Christmas in San Francisco often means a lengthy yuletide brunch followed by ice-skating in shorts. Should you find yourself in the City by the Bay wondering how best to enjoy the sunny winter weather, here are some of our favorite ideas.

Stately Brunch

Start the day with a grand brunch at the recently renovated Palace Hotel. Sit beneath the dome in the ballroom, one of San Francisco’s most opulent spaces, which does not hold back when it comes to dressing up for Christmas—from the life-size nutcracker dolls greeting patrons in the foyer, up to the monstrous Christmas tree, and down to the poinsettia-studded tables. Try the house take on pancakes and eggs: sturgeon caviar, buckwheat blinis with crème fraiche, and a bottle of bubbly.

Ice Skate in Union Square

Work off your Santa-size breakfast nearby at Union Square’s seasonal pop-up ice skating rink. Locals and families in town for the holiday strap on white skates and take to the ice, amid Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue holiday-themed window displays and truck-size wreaths. Or, just grab a coffee at the square’s cafe, sit back and watch the hilarious show of tender-footed Californian’s trying to ice skate.

See the Reindeer Romp

Depart downtown’s Christmas cacophony and venture to the coast for a nature fix at the San Francisco Zoo. Each year, the zoo hosts a Reindeer Romp exhibit, featuring furry-horned Rudolphs. After a visit to the North Pole, check out animals from other corners of the globe, like lemurs, pandas, and lions in humane enclosures. Don’t overlook the zoo’s impressive garden.

Union Street Decorations

San Francisco doesn’t have a Christmas Day parade. Instead, it has Union Street—a stretch of grand pastel Victorians decorated with glowing strands of Christmas lights, wreaths, lawn candy canes poles, and windows dusted with fake snow. Start at Steiner and Union streets, then stroll down to Van Ness, gawking at the old time-y holiday feel along the way.

Kung Pao Kosher Comedy

If you’re not doing a traditional Christmas dinner, definitely book it to San Francisco’s quirkiest Christmas evening tradition: Kung Pao Kosher Comedy in Chinatown. A lineup of Jewish comedians entertain guests dining on pot stickers and kosher walnut prawns during the seven-course dim sum meal at the massive, 370-seat New Asia Restaurant in Chinatown. The evening concludes with everyone breaking upen fortune cookies containing Yiddish proverbs.

Jenna Scatena is on the San Francisco Bay Area beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.