Christmas Outings & Activities

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  • Christmas Eve family activities?

    (14 replies)

    My kids and I are staying home this year for Christmas for the first time. We don't have any extended family nearby for family gatherings, but I want to do something special on Christmas Eve to make things a little more special/exciting. My kids are still young - under 5. Any suggestions besides going out to dinner? We aren't religious but open to something non-denominational.

    First Unitarian Church of Oakland has a wonderful family- friendly Christmas Eve service. There is a "no rehearsal pageant" where kids and some adults put on mini- costumes to re-enact the Christmas story. Plus a beautiful reading and carols, too!!

    When my teen was that age, we loved to go to the Tilden carousel multiple times over the winter break. Sadly, he’s not so into it anymore.

    Our neighborhood has started putting out luminaries on Christmas Eve. We set up a table with supplies, and the neighborhood kids take wagons around to place them on the sidewalks. It's a beautiful scene. Here's a link to past events:

    When our kids were little, we used to put out "reindeer food" for Santa's team (oats and colored sugar sprinkles).

    Have fun! 

    When my kids were that age, we'd put everyone in cozy pajamas, grab some cocoa and drive up to the Mormon Temple or someplace like Picardy Drive to see the lights and holiday decorations. Or make some popcorn and watch (or read!) "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Sometimes they put their sleeping bags by the Christmas tree and camped out overnight. At that age, it doesn't take much to make it special - and I found they had as much fun with the simple things as when I planned something more elaborate and stressed out.

    Fun! I have very fond memories of traditions my parents created for our own Christmas Eve celebrations & looking forward to this when are babes are a bit older. Here are a few that may help inspire:

    - Dad would read T'was the Night Before Christmas to us all just before bed time (usually by a crackling fire)

    - We'd help decorate sugar cookies and leave a few out for Santa

    - We had a special Christmas Eve dinner of fondue every year (maybe not ideal for under 5s, but choose your own flavor of "special")

    - Singing carols together

    - Where I grew up, there were a few neighborhoods known for their over-the-top Christmas decorations and we'd drive out to go marvel the lights (pretty magical as a kid)

    Hi there.  Three ideas:  Check and see if the Tilden Park merry-go-round (which in the past has been decorated and lit up for the holiday) is open. We used to bring our daughter there, and let her pick out an ornament for the tree.  We’ve also gone skating both in Union Square, and near the Ferry Building on Christmas Eve.  I think they have things that small kids can push around to make the skating easier.  (Be sure to reserve a time slot well ahead of time.). And, there’s an area in Alameda where a lot of homes in a concentrated area do a *lot* of Christmas decorating.  It can be fun to check that out.  I’m looking forward to hearing other suggestions too!

    Both the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and the Oakland Interfaith Choir do Christmas Eve shows. Maybe they would enjoy one of those?

    Invite your friends over for a cookie party! The kids can run around and get high on sugar while the parents drink mulled wine. A win-win!

    If you live in Berkeley, the neighborhood around Ohlone Park does a luminaia where many of the streets put out tea lights along the sidewalks starting at dusk. It’s beautiful to walk around and carollers will be out and some of the neighbors serve hot chocolate or have fire pits you can stop by to warm up or chat around. 

    First Unitarian Church of Oakland usually has a "no rehearsal" Christmas pageant with lots of carol singing.  It is super cute.  Kids from the audience get to volunteer to be angels and sheep and all kinds of animals (it's a *very* loose interpretation on the nativity story).  Very welcoming and fun and non-proselytizing.  

    This was my family's situation as well.  My children are now well into their teens.  When they were little, we got a tree a week or so before Christmas and put only lights on it.  On Christmas Eve, we each made a small gingerbread house during the afternoon.  As soon as dusk fell, we took a walk in the neighborhood to admire the holiday lights.  I made a relatively simple, but special, dinner complete with sparkling apple juice and we ate early.  After dinner, we had hot chocolate and cookies while we decorated the tree.  We'd then sit under the tree and read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" before tucking the kids into bed.  These were sweet times and made special memories.

    Have you ever tried caroling? That could be fun! 8^)

    The Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley has a family xmas eve service at 5pm featuring stories,carols, and the lighting of hundreds of candles, followed by labyrinth walking and cookies.    While Unitarian Universalism is very much a denomination, we draw from the worlds spiritual traditions and the wisdom of science and the arts to explore the roots of what connects us all.  My favorite service from the past was the pageant in which the story of the birth of a child was told, and not until the end did we realize it was the birth of the Buddha, whose origin story shares many of the same archtypes.   On other xmas's, we hold up the birth of every child as unique and special.    More info here:

    a Christmas Eve tradition in Iceland is that everyone receives books as gifts on Christmas Eve and then spends the evening reading them! that's my idea of a fun Christmas eve! maybe not most under 5's but you could include it with some of the other great activities suggested.

  • I'd love to find a few good winter or Christmas events in the Berkeley / Oakland / Albany area to take my almost-two-year-old to this year. Everything I'm finding online seems pretty out of date or for older kids. What do you recommend? In particular, I have this vision of people hanging around in a park holding mugs of cider and singing. Are there carol sing-a-longs that we could attend? Thanks for any tips!

    Albany does an evening caroling party on Solano. I went last year, it's nice.

    My daughters' girl scout troop is caroling at the carousel in Tilden Park on 5pm on December 9! They have cider for sale, too. Here's a link or two; I don't know when there are carolers other than us, exactly, but I know there's more groups than just ours.

    The city of Albany usually organizes a low key Christmas caroling and hot chocolate evening. Last year it was on a street corner on Solano Ave. Very sweet, though it's on a sidewalk, near a street corner, so not the most toddler friendly unless your little one is good about not running into the street.

    Hi - my chamber chorus, the Berkeley Community Chamber Singers, an arm of the Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra, will be singing Christmas carols on Thursday Dec 21 from 4:30-5:30 at the NE corner of Shattuck and Center, in front of the Bank of America. The public is welcome and encouraged to sing along. The merchants are also "sponsoring"  Christmas caroling Thursday Dec 14 from noon to 1 pm. I don't know who will be singing then but I know they want the public to come and sing along. enjoy!

Archived Q&A and Reviews

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Holiday/Christmas activities in the Bay Area

Nov 2009

We find ourselves planning to be in the bay area for christmas this year, when we would normally be heading home to the Uk. We'd be grateful if you would share the secrets of your favourite local festive activities?? making new traditions

Every year we enjoy taking BART to Embarcadero to see the ''Snow Village'' display in the Hyatt Regency lobby. When the kids were little we'd walk through the Embarcadero Center, have dinner at Chevy's, watch the ice skaters at the outdoor rink, and if we were feeling particularly energetic ride the cable car up the hill and back again. Sally

I recommend going to and then to entertainment and searching. There are Nutcrackers, Christmas Carols, Messiahs and other things for every budget. We like the 1 hour matinee of the Nutcracker by the San Jose Ballet. It is only 1 hour, fairly affordable but still a treat. (around $18-$45 or so). But there are other Nutcrackers for every taste. Merry Christmas! Oakland Zoo might be having zoo lights show (they used to, not sure about this year), the Macy's Union Square Santa is very good. anon

Last year we went to the merry-go-round at Tilden Park for the first time. We vowed to make it a Christmas tradition. The lights and decorations are awesome and the whole thing is very affordable. Certain nights they have Santa Claus, if you want to get your picture with him there.

Our other favorite is the Ardenwood holiday festival (1st weekend in Dec). So many things to do I can't recount all here and now. It is also part of East Bay Regional Parks. They have a grumpy, old-time Father Christmas that you can take pictures with. We love him!

There's lots to do - those are our two favorites. Enjoy! lovin' the East Bay holidays

Don't miss the outdoor ice arena at Embarcadero Center in SF that is now open through January 3. Take BART or the Ferry from Larkspur and it is in the plaza with the big fountain. Skating is about $9/adults $6/kids 10 and under, skate rental is $3.50 and sessions start on the even hour. It is a magical place to skate once it gets dark and the lights come on. It will be very busy during the school break, but it gets very little traffic on normal weekdays and evenings. Somtimes it is closed for parties so check their website or call before going Love to Skate

My family attends The Christmas Revels every year. It's great fun and I highly recommend it if you're looking for something fun to do for the holidays.

''Zoo Lights'' at the Oakland Zoo is another favorite holiday activity. - Sharon

Starting our own holiday traditions

Oct 2009

I am looking for advice on starting some holiday traditions for my family. We have no family near by and all of our friends spend the holidays with their families. We just seem to let the holidays pass by and they have become very uneventful and depressing. I want to change that! My husband's family didn't really celebrate the holidays and when I was growing up we lived near all of our extended family so the holidays were always a big family gathering and I have such great memories. I want our children to also have great memories. Would anyone like to share something special they do for Thanksgiving and Christmas besides cooking? Our kids are too little yet to volunteer so I am looking for suggestions on things to do with just our small family. Thanks! missing the holiday cheer

Like you, we have families that either aren't around or don't care about celebrating holidays, so we've made our own traditions. There are a million fun things to do around here at Christmas time -- the carousel at Tilden Park, outdoor ice rinks, Nutcracker, family crafts (paper chains, snowflakes...), Christmas Revels, checking out holiday books/movies from the library to enjoy together, tree farms, Fairyland's winter celebration, having an elderly neighbor over for dinner, driving around in pjs looking at lights...we do an activity (some at home, some out; some free, some paid) every day in December, and always have to pick and choose because there are so many options. On New Years Day, we go for a family hike. For Thanksgiving, we usually either travel or host some friends who are in the same boat as us, but sometimes we've cooked just for us. Don't feel like you have to go overboard or set expectations too high; keep things low-key but consistent from year to year and build on it as your kids get older. Realize that things won't be like the giant celebrations you remember as a kid, but they can still be fun and magical. (And remember that a lot of our friends who spend holidays with their families have admitted they're jealous of *our* family traditions and freedom, so the grass is always greener!) Be Merry

This holiday tradition thing is something I've struggled with, too. When our kids were very young we lived near family on the east coast and joined their events. Once out here, we travelled less frequently, and saw the extended families in the summer. Look for fun public holiday events that you can make your own and do every year. Here are some we liked at Christmas-time, hope they are still happening...

Ice skating on Christmas eve. This was at Berkeley IceLand. It was very nice - they played old-time Bing Crosby type Xmas music, and hardly anyone was there, we tended to have the place to ourselves. Hot chocolate and cookies at home afterwards. Several years we brought friends, who always loved it, too. The Oakland Zoo puts up holiday lights and does a night-time ride on their elevated Sky Ride, which is fun. They also do a Halloween thing.

The carousel at Tilden Park gets decorated nicely for Xmas and sells hot chocolate and treats. It can be crowded, but is fun because everyone there is very excited, and often you are riding after dark.

We also always did drives to look for good decorations at Halloween and Xmas, often after a dinner out at someplace the kids liked. Ask around for areas that really put on a show. anne

There are a bunch of fun activities that we tend to do year after year, like going to the Christmas Carousel at Tilden, going to Thompson Ave. in Alameda to see the lights on this amazingly decorated street, and as our kids get older we'll probably add ice skating at Justin Herman Plaza in SF, or doing high tea at Plaza Hotel in SF. One year we also went to the Hyatt in Embarcadero where they have an amazing Christmas display including lots of trains. These things, along with the Christmas party we throw every year and the classic shows (Grinch, Charlie Brown, Rudolph), help us feel like we have a lot of ''events'' leading up to Christmas day, and it's nice since we're not at all religious but do like having some warm- feeling traditions. love Christmas time!

We have started our own holiday traditions since neither of us lives close to our relatives. One thing we started last year was an Advent calendar. I got a really cute wooden one at Target, and starting Dec 1, place one small gift (usually stickers or lollipops) for each child in it. Every morning when they wake up they have a special surprise.

We also have tons of Christmas music that I'll play in the car or when we're doing things around the house. We read books, watch all the Christmas movies, make an outing to see the neighborhood Christmas lights, attend a church holiday service, buy festive pajamas so everyone looks great in Christmas morning pictures, and do holiday crafts like making paper snowflakes. A trip to see Santa is great for getting everyone in the mood, as is a festive play, ballet or musical. Jennifer

I can relate to your post. We, a family of just 3, also have no family around. We have made a point of establishing family traditions. Here are some of the things we do.

For halloween we have candle races. You go out and find three holiday votives and light them all together. You have to decide whether the winner is the longest lit or the first one out, and have fun guessing who will win.

For xmas, we do the advent calendar - we shop for a tree together, we decorate it together, and on ambitious years, we have an ornament making night. We also make homemade egg nog. We traditionally open one gift on xmas eve. We traditionally break out the video camera for the waking up and first present opening on xmas morning. It is fun to look at the videos over the years. Small families are great

One fun tradition that someone suggested to me when my kids were small that we have now done every year is to drive up to Petaluma area and cut down our own tree from one of the Christmas Tree farms. Still searching for our own traditions

Our closest family (husband's sister) is 2 hours from us, but all other family requires a flight, so we are frequently on our own for holidays (with the exception of Christmas)!

I don't know how old your kids are, but here are some ideas. * Pumpkin patch trip every October.

* Decorate the yard for Halloween & Christmas - I do this with my daughter & involve her

* Go get a Christmas tree ( a real one) - even going to a tree farm is fun. Then, decorate the tree together, play Christmas music/etc.

* Drive around and look at holiday decorations. This is obviously most prominent at Christmas, but we do it a couple of evenings.

* Arts/crafts for decorations - things like Christmas ornaments other other 'dangling' things that kids can create & paint & send to relatives. Michael's has kits for this, or Oriental Trading Company online.

* This year, I let my daughter invite some friends over the weekend before Easter & we had an egg decorating & cookie decorating party. I hard-boiled a bunch of eggs & made dozens of egg-shaped cookies & bought icing & tons of sprinkles for the kids to decorate those. Made a mess but they had a blast.

* Easter egg hunt - either find one in your area OR create one in your own yard.

* When I was a kid & a bit older, my dad would always buy a new game for the family to play on Christmas eve. While we always spent time with our extended family on Christmas eve, just our family hung out together & played a game. I have fond memories of this!

Most of these may seem obvious but when I talk to my friends/neighbors they aren't necessarily doing much ! Laura

Kinda hard to not do cooking ideas but here are a few that we've been doing with our kids since they were toddlers:

We go to one Christmas event like: San Jose Christmas carnival, the carousel at tilden park (open at night and decorated for xmas), or go to the nighttime Christmas thing at Children's Fairyland. We rotate it, but the last two years and this year, we did children's fairyland because they'll grow out of it soon. This really is fun because there's Santa and the rides and the whole place is full of lights.

Go to crazy lighted neighborhoods and walk and look at lights. Often on fridays or weekends, there will be neighbors with hot chocolate and other people walking around.

There's an old English concert/sing along thing at the Masonic Temple in Oakland. can't remember what it's called, but it's a good secular holiday thing to do. [Editor: probably the Revels at the Scottish Rite Theater in Oakland]

Thanksgiving we have people over for dinner. it's all food related and my kids participate, help with setting the table, making decorations, etc. anon

For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is living 3000 miles from our families, we have had to make our own holidays too. My simple answer is to do them with your friends! For instance, 5 years ago my friend and I got together to plan Thanksgiving. She, being Chinese, had no idea about fresh turkey, stuffing besides sticky rice, fresh cranberry sauce without the ridges from the can. We made a traditional dinner together. Since then, we plan each Thanksgiving, perusing articles and cookbooks for new ideas so each dinner is different. We get together on Wednesday and spend the day without any children cooking and talking and having a great time! We have had to incorporate both families and a variety of friends into the meal, so it is quite a large gathering, but people sit all over and it is really fun and casual. Much less stressful in alot of ways from the formal holiday dinners I had with my family of birth. Try it! Elizabeth Lee

If you like holiday traditions, start one. I celebrate Passover but my hubby doesn't. We invite one couple who have never celebrated this holiday every year to celebrate with us. We celebrate Hannukah, which he didn't but now we invite a few friends with children to play dreidel. The point, do what you like to do. There are likely friends around who also don't have family, so maybe invite them to join you. One other family/couple can make it more joyous. Don't not to anything. Decorate, go out, do whatever will make it fun. Tilden park decorates its Merry Go Round the day after Thanksgiving every year with many Xmas trees all with different themes. Go and have a ball. Don't let the lack of family make your holiday lonely. Bake, cook, share and have fun. Only have In Laws around but still happy

Family trip over Christmas holidays

Sept 2007

Due to a house remodel we didn't take a family vacation this summer. husband wants to go SOMEWHERE over Christmas (we usually never go anywhere over Christmas and celebrate Chanukah at home and Christmas with friends).

At first my husband thought The Big Island, but of course it's way more money to go then then it is to go now, so we're thinking twice about that (we are a family of 4). My husband and 12 yo son ski, so a winter type place would be a possibility and hopefully my 16 yo son and I will entertain ourselves otherwise...maybe.

So, what do you all recommend? Flying somewhere is OK but we should make resrvations soon. The less we spend the better, but more importantly, we need to stay someplace that has a kitchen, 2 rooms, something that will please a 16 year old and a 12 year old (possible we could bring a friend or two) and hopefully something fun for mom and dad. We're not huge outdoors types, but we enjoy some hiking, walking, sight seeing, visiting, etc. Thanks in advance. anon

I suggest Sea Ranch for Christmas. There are plenty of lovely house rentals. A place on the bluff with full-time views of the ocean costs a lot less than multiple air-fares + hotels. The weather is really good there at Christmas...not foggy like it is in the summer. There are lots of Bay Area families up there for the holidays. Sea Ranch has a swimming pool you can use, too. AND there's a video store in Gualala that's one of the best in the world...really. Try BEACH RENTALS (on the web) - they always had lots of places and good service when/if things go wrong. skal

Have you ever considered Santa Fe, NM? New Mexican Christmases are full of rich hispanic culture and crisp weather. I grew up there so nothing says Christmas to me like Santa Fe. There are many ski resorts really close too and it's pretty affordable. Southwest flies nonstop from Oakland to Albuquerque and Santa Fe is only about 45 minutes north. Enjoy your holiday!! jrnygrrl

I highly recommend Disneyland on Christmas day. It is generally less crowded and very festive. On the drive down you could spend a night at the Madonna Inn. My husband and I just stayed there and it was very cool with good television so it isn't just for honeymooners. Avoid the restaurants there they are overpriced. You also might want to check out Hearst Castle. I don't know what they do for Christmas in addition to decorating. Cassandra

How about Monterey and Carmel? There is lots to do there including Aquarium, Natural History Museum in Pacific Grove, great hiking at Point Lobos and Andrew Molera State Park, wonderful beaches at Asilomar and Carmel State Beach, and great walking along the water between Monterey and Pacific Grove.

We just stayed at a wonderful cottage in Pacific Grove called the Andril Cottages. It's great location right across the street from Asilomar Conference Center so quick access to the water. Very nice folks, nice cottages, fireplaces, etc. They are on the web. Katy

Best Bay Area holiday family events?

December 2006

This is the first year I've lived in the bay area with kids for xmas, and also my mother will be visiting from england over the holidays. I'd love ideas for the most ''xmasy'' things to do for families; so far we have tickets for the Nutcracker at Julia Morgan, but are there other shows you'd recommend? (particularly for after xmas) Best places for seeing tree/lights? Fun shopping areas? Holiday markets? The less tacky, the better : )
searching for xmas

This is a bit biased on my part, but my family grew up ''window shopping'' in the Union Square area. Some of the stores and displays have changed over the years, but it's still kind of fun to look at the window displays (kittens & puppies--adoptable--in the Macys windows, big xmas trees, hustle and bustle of people, etc). plus you can go on the cable cars. we used to sing xmas carols w/ friends on the cable cars. For littler kids, I love Fairyland at night. Christmas lights on, Santa usually visits, hot chocolate, treats, story time (but COLD sometimes!). Various neighborhoods have Christmas-y things like Montclair's parade (already happened). Plus there's the Nutcracker. Try Berkeley Ballet Theater, Cal Performances, or Ronn Guidi's ''Secret Nutcracker'' at Holy Names College. Paramount also has Ron Guidi's Nutcracker (slightly different version). If your kids are older or you can afford the extra $$, SF Ballet's nutcracker is great! If churchy things are ok w/ you, find one in your neighborhood-many have caroling, Xmas eve services, etc. and MANY schools have xmas programs that are open-check your local or favorite school. Oakland Library ( has a calendar with pinata making for 6 yr +), story times, marionettes, and other holiday crafts. Other libraries may do the same. Plus all the regular venues do something (the zoo has Santa on the weekends, Bay Area Discovery museum has a performance, habitot, Oakland Museum (their Family day already passed, but keep it in mind for next year, or throughout the year!). have fun! janet

My family went to see David Hirata and Friends Magic Holiday at The Marsh in SF last weekend. It was a great show -- our 9-year-old and 5-year-old loved it and we parents did too. David is a great magician and is terrific with kids. His Friends include other magicians and a juggler. My son thought that magician Kim Silverman looked like a cross between Dumbledore and Hagrid. There is lots of audience participation (my 9-year-old got to go help with a trick), and they taught the kids a trick they could do at home. The Marsh is a small venue and you can see from everywhere -- it's very intimate and you feel like you're part of the show!

There's detailed info about the show on the Marsh website at magic_holiday.html . The theater is three blocks from 24th & Mission BART, and has convenient parking on the next block. (We parked in a garage around the corner for $3 for just under 2 hours.) The show runs December 16-17, 19-24, 26 -30, all shows at 2 pm. It's 60 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets are $10, or $7.50 for parties of 4 or more. Tamara

Christmas Day Outings

December 2004

What fun activities are open on Christmas Day? We will have relatives visiting and would like to do something fun with them, but everything I can think of will be closed. They are not into hiking. I know some movie theatres are open, but that's not very interactive. Our group will have four kids, ages 0, 3, 5, and 8, and four adults.
I'm dreaming of a fun Christmas

One year, my family had a fabulous Christmas day in the City. This was years ago when Union Square had an ice rink. It was open that day, so we did that, then toured around going from one fancy hotel to another to look at the fabulous trees and decorations. We had lunch, took lots of pictures, rode the cable car. It was great! I think the ice rink is down at the Embarcadero now-- you could call to see if they are open for Christmas day. Elizabeth

Holiday Events for Toddlers

November 2001

Having just moved to Berkeley, I would love to know if there are any great holiday events for toddlers in the Bay area. My daughter is 3 years old and would greatly enjoy any plays, productions, fairs, ice skating shows, etc. Are there any not-to-be-missed shows out there? Thank you in advance Sorent

Zoolights at the Oakland Zoo Nov. 23 ZooLights Opening Night, 5:30 PM - 9 PM Join us for our annual holiday light display nightly through December 30, weather permitting. Fee. For more info check out:
(link updated Nov 2003) Susan

Don't miss ZooLights at the Oakland Zoo! HalfDink

My daughter and I still have fond memories of ODC Dance's performance of The Velveteen Rabbit. I highly recommend it, and it was the perfect length for my then-three year old. A very nice combination of both storytelling, dance and theater. Tickets by phone can be purchased at (415) 978-2787 or online: Daphne

For two years now the merry-go-round at Tilden Park has been open in the evenings between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I expect they will do so again this year. It is a bit chilly and they do like to sell a lot of Christmas stuff, but it is also a lot of fun. Lights everywhere. The Santa who roams around the place is a very sweet guy.