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Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 2

The San Francisco Bay Area is a special place throughout the year, and no time more so than at holiday time. But, let’s face it­–when the holidays get crazy, stress levels tend to get high.

Fortunately, there are many ways to take a step back and appreciate the #EveryDayMoments that make the holidays so special.

There’s a holiday activity for every budget. From live reindeer to lighted trains, something magical is probably happening somewhere in December around the Bay.

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Public Destinations and Events

My family loves San Francisco’s Union Square at holiday time. Enjoy the lighted tree in the square, outdoor ice skating at the Union Square Ice Rink, decorated store windows at Macy’s, photos with Santa at the Westfield Shopping Center, the 12-foot-high Enchanted Sugar Castle at the St. Francis Hotel, a cable car ride, and assorted other only-in-San Francisco attractions.

Did you know that reindeer antlers are among the fastest growing bones? Take in the science behind the season at California Academy of Sciences’ exhibit, Tis the Season for Science. Meet live reindeer and learn how they adapt to harsh Arctic winters, see how snowflakes form inside the interactive Snowflake Theater, and enjoy exploring holiday-themed and other exhibits.

Hometown Holidays in Redwood City offers an extravaganza featuring a parade, Santa, ice sculptures, entertainment, a special effects light show, and a visit from the CalTrain Holiday Train, December 5.

Benicia’s charming Main Street hosts Santa and others at the Benicia Christmas Parade and Holiday Market, December 12.

Holiday on the Farm at Forest Home Farms in San Ramon features old-fashioned holiday activities and entertainment and a visit from Victorian Santa and his reindeer, December 12. (Enjoy other programs, such as Candy Cane History and crafts and a Nature’s Decorations scavenger hunt, December 5 and 19.)

Ring in the New Year at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum by taking a turn at striking the 2,100-pound, 16th-century Japanese temple bell. The reverend-led event includes a ceremony and the bell-ringing, to leave behind last year’s regrets and bad luck, December 31.

Little ones will enjoy Noon Year’s Eve at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Dance outdoors, make a crown, and watch the ball drop on Festival Plaza, December 31.

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San Francisco’s railway cars hail from all over the world.

Holiday Performances

Cities and hamlets all around the Bay Area offer plenty of options for holiday entertainment.

Traditionalists will want to head to San Francisco Ballet’s The Nutcracker, which made its debut on Christmas Eve, 1944. The Velveteen Rabbit,  ODC/Dance Company’s colorful and long-running holiday adaptation of Margery Williams’ classic children’s book about a beloved nursery rabbit that becomes real, plays at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. San Francisco Symphony offers multiple musical holiday shows, including Peter and the Wolf and A Charlie Brown Christmas–Live.

There are more than two dozen performances of The Nutcracker all around the Bay Area. The above link shares those, in addition to multiple holiday performances, Santa visits and other fun holiday happenings around the Bay.

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Gingerbread House Displays

Gingerbread houses are another wonderful holiday tradition, dating back more than 1,000 years of gingerbread history to a time when gingerbread was used to make religious creations. We’ve made some fun DIY gingerbread houses over the years (orange peel satellite dish, anyone?) and for inspiration, there’s nothing like the beautiful and astounding displays created by the pastry chefs at some of San Francisco’s finest hotels.

The Fairmont San Francisco Gingerbread House must be seen to be believed. The two-story (!) house is than 22 feet high and 23 feet wide and features thousands of gingerbread bricks. The Fairmont Hotel is also beautifully decorated, with lit trees and a model railroad. While there, enjoy the Fairmont’s Gingerbread Holiday Tea.

Gingerbread enthusiasts won’t want to miss the St. Francis Enchanted Sugar Castle at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Each item on the 12-foot-high replica of a medieval French castle and village is intricately handcrafted through sugar art techniques. Begun in 2005, the castle gets larger and more detailed each year.

The Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco showcases a large and imaginative gingerbread holiday village. Have fun exploring all around it before or after tea (above), or simply by popping into the lobby.

Berkeley’s Claremont Hotel Gingerbread House is an extensive replica of the Gold Rush-era hotel.

Join the Gingerbread House Competition and Tour in Sausalito. Pick up a map, hunt for decorated houses, at local businesses, and vote for your favorites in this delightful town tradition.

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Holiday Teas

One of my family’s favorite traditions is holiday high tea. We love dressing up and going to a city hotel that’s beautifully decorated to enjoy exquisite sandwiches and desserts. San Francisco’s Sheraton Palace Hotel offers a holiday tea in its beautiful Victorian Garden Court that features delightful children’s sandwiches, as well as crowns and scepters for small visitors and Santa Visits on Mondays. While you’re there, visit the hotel’s beautiful decorated trees and the large and delightful gingerbread village in the lobby. Here are lots of other terrific San Francisco holiday teas.

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Still seeking more holiday lights, sights and decorations? See these from San Francisco Travel Magazine.

Read Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 1: Holiday Light Displays, Parades and Ice Skating.

Between all the holiday entertaining and buying gifts, your wallet definitely feels the pinch. On the upside, if you use the right credit card, you can earn rewards points to get something back for all that spending. I use the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which earns Membership Rewards points for every dollar I spend –and for no annual fee.

Plus it bonuses you 20% extra Membership Rewards points after making 20 or more purchases in a billing period. That’s music to my ears at holiday time!

Enjoy your magical San Francisco holiday!

This post was sponsored by the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which rewards multi-tasking parents so we can take a step back and appreciate the #EveryDayMoments that make the holidays so special.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman, Fairmont Hotel

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Winter Inspiration: Photos and Poetry

Make this a Slow, Joyful Holiday Season

Mill Valley’s Life-Size Gingerbread House

 

 

 

Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 1

I never fail to find the holiday season completely magical, and revel in the fact that the San Francisco Bay Area offers so many opportunities for families and others to experience that magic. Many of my family’s warmest memories are holiday memories–and many of those are low-cost or free, offering experiences as an antidote or addition to gifts and holiday shopping.

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The best things in life are often free–like family time decorating for the holidays, setting the dinner table, making cookies for holiday guests, or enjoying the Bay Area’s special light and other displays. We cherish these holiday #EveryDayMoments that add up to profound memories and traditions.

Holiday Light Displays

Winter holidays call for glorious lights brightening the long nights, just as candles and bonfires did for centuries before the invention of Christmas lights. Here are some of the best Bay Area light displays.

Residential Neighborhoods

The San Francisco Peninsula is a hotbed of holiday light activity. Whole neighborhoods get into the spirit, with holiday characters, musically synchronized lights and more on Eucalyptus Avenue in San Carlos, Fulton Avenue in Palo Alto, and Dewey Street in Redwood City, among other individual spectacular houses.

Marin County is home to some fabulous light displays, including the Rombeiro House, a 25-year tradition, which features stunning holiday decorations, outside the home as well as in multiple rooms inside! The Rombeiros graciously and cheerily greet all visitors throughout the season. See my walk-through of the Rombeiro House and learn about other great Marin County light displays. A horse-drawn Holiday Light carriage ride through Novato features the Rombeiro and other decorated homes.

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In the East Bay, Widmer World in Pleasanton has been going, and growing, since 1980. Widmer World, a home Santa visits, will be featured on The Great Christmas Light Fight in December. While you’re in the area, check out the other “must see” houses in Pleasanton and Livermore, according to California Christmas Lights, or take in the glow of Thompson Street in Alameda.

A traditional holiday highlight in San Francisco is the Tom and Jerry Christmas Tree in Noe Valley, which features a 65-foot decorated tree and Santa visits. The Chestnut Christmas Lit Houses in South San Francisco are another fan favorite.

California Christmas Lights is a fantastic resource for holiday light displays all around California. Search by county and city, or narrow your search to “must see” houses or houses that have been verified for 2015, and then create a driving map to view your picks.

Not in the San Francisco Bay Area? This is a terrific resource for the best Christmas lights around the U.S.

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Public Destinations

San Francisco Zoo Lights offers reindeer visits, nightly shows, and rides on the Little Puffer steam train. Don’t forget to bundle up–rumor has it there are snow flurries, too.

Oakland ZooLights features a Candy Cane Lane with themed rides, a light show, and rides on the Outback Express train, which will be lit up with thousands of lights.

At Gilroy Gardens, the sweet nature-themed park dons thousands of holiday lights to become a winter wonderland, featuring multiple holiday shows and attractions, including a Candy Cane Lane and a laser light show over Coyote Lake.

Want to enjoy lights on an urbane shopping street? San Francisco’s Union Street hosts a Festival of Lights Celebration December 5th, in addition to a week-long elf hunt, and lighted decorations all season.

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Enjoy these other lighted trees and menorahs around the Bay Area, including festive Union and Ghirardelli Squares.

Take a ride on one of these other Bay Area lighted holiday trains.

This is a great list of tree lightings and holiday light events in San Francisco and Marin County.

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Lighted Parades

Whether on land or sea, by vehicle or foot, holiday light parades are especially delightful–and usually free! Bundle up, grab a mug of hot cocoa, and enjoy one of the Bay Area’s upcoming light parades.

Lighted yachts will sail in the 39th annual Alameda Lighted Yacht Parade, December 5.

The Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting in Morgan Hill features an indoor show and a visit from Santa’s magic ship, December 5.

At San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, you can see the sights, including the lighted trees at Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square, and then enjoy the San Francisco Lighted Boat Parade, the largest lighted holiday boat parade on San Francisco Bay, with more than 75 boats, December 11.

Sausalito’s waterfront is home to the Sausalito Lighted Boat Parade, featuring fireworks and more than 40 decorated boats, December 12.

The Parol Lantern Festival and Parade, hosted by San Francisco’s Filipino-American Development Foundation, starts at Yerba Buena Gardens and features lighted parol lanterns, the Filipino symbol of hope, blessings, luck, peace, and light, December 12.

The San Rafael Lighted Boat Parade lights up the San Rafael Canal with cheery decorated boats from four local yacht clubs, December 19.

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Holiday Ice Skating

Ice skating is particularly delightful at holiday time, when some of the Bay Area’s public parks and workaday spaces transform for the season. Perfect your double salchows and triple toe loops at these frosty spots. Check the web sites for schedules, fees and details.

A 25+ year tradition, Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center in San Francisco provides a large outdoor rink conveniently located near the Ferry Building. After skating, hop on a cable car and head to Chinatown or Fisherman’s Wharf. Or let San Francisco’s Union Square Ice Rink be the center of a fun holiday outing. See various Union Square activities, above.

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In the East Bay, The Little Ice Rink is a sweet rink at Alameda’s South Shore Center. Popular Walnut Creek on Ice is back for a festive run in a smaller, festively decorated rink. New kid on the block, Downtown Holiday Ice in Martinez, offers lessons on Saturdays.

San José’s Downtown Ice boasts the South Bay’s largest outdoor rink, which is ringed by lighted palm trees. Head to San Mateo’s Central Park for the large San Mateo on Ice rink. Families will especially enjoy Winter Lodge in Palo Alto, a small three-season rink (September – April) that is perfect for beginners.

In the North Bay, Marin on Ice in San Rafael features a large outdoor rink next to the Northgate Mall.

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The Bay Area is home to some beautiful year-round indoor rinks, too. Redwood Empire Ice Arena, or Snoopy’s Home Ice, in Santa Rosa, is a gorgeous Swiss-chalet style rink that was built by cartoonist Charles Schulz in 1969. While you’re there, visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Snoopy’s Gift Shop. Oakland Ice Center and Sharks Ice at San José offer large, well-equipped rinks. Still more skating can be found at Yerba Buena Ice Skating and Bowling Center (conveniently located by the Children’s Creativity Museum).

Still seeking more holiday lights, sights and decorations? See these from San Francisco Travel Magazine.

Read: Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 2: Holiday Events, Performances, Gingerbread Houses and Teas.

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Between holiday experiences and entertaining, and buying gifts, your wallet definitely feels the pinch. On the upside, if you use the right credit card, you can earn rewards points to get something back for all that spending. I use the the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which earns Membership Rewards points for every dollar I spend –and for no annual fee. That will really help when enjoying our #EverydayMoments now and next year.

Enjoy your magical San Francisco holiday!

This post was sponsored by the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which rewards multi-tasking parents so we can take a step back and appreciate the #EveryDayMoments that make the holidays so special.

 Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Winter Inspiration: Photos and Poetry

Make this a Slow, Joyful Holiday Season

Mill Valley’s Life-Size Gingerbread House

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mill Valley’s Life-Size Gingerbread House

I came upon this whimsical house, nestled in the forested Cascade Canyon section of Mill Valley, right behind the library. It’s so sweet and imaginative, and captures the playful aspect of the season. Plus, its setting couldn’t be more perfect.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Great Marin Holiday Light Displays, Part 2

Holiday light displays seem contagious among neighborhoods — I truly think this occurs more from the spread of cheer than a ruthless electrical competition. Really, who can resist a bit of joy when encountering twinkling lights, moving characters, and various expressions of cheer and calm? Marinwood, in Marin County, CA, is one such decorated neighborhood and has apparently been for more than a generation. We drove around there last week, taking in all the fun lights and decorations gracing the various homes. We visited our old favorites, which, as always, stood out.

The Lights of the Valley web site has directions and hours for these houses, plus tons of photos and directions for houses all over Northern California. Do yourself a favor and visit.

Yesterday, I wrote about the fantastic Rombeiro House in Novato, which you can actually go in!

Mize’s Mickey Mouse House, 417 Blackstone Drive, Marinwood

This super-fun house has been going for 33 years. In addition to all the lights and characters decorating the outside, a two-car garage is windowed off and filled to the brim with all manner of Disney toys and characters, in Christmas dress and settings. Particularly prominent is Mickey Mouse, down to the house’s mouse-ear-shaped shrubbery. It is all quite a delight, a fantasy toyland. Smiling visitors of all ages just try to take it all in.

The Nisja Bear House, 383 Quietwood Drive, Marinwood

This delightful house also features diorama displays, but its real crown is the elaborate model railroad that runs through the front yard. Whimsical pieces seem to be added on every year. This year, we had the pleasure of talking to Roy Nisja, who explained how he started decorating the house and building the railroad 29 years ago, when his son was small. His son and family live nearby, but they all continue to build the train each year on Quietwood.

Nisja showed us the camera he rigged so that when he does take breaks and go back inside the house he can still be certain both Eastbound and Westbound trains are running. Chuckling, he pointed out the new lighted landing strip he added on his roof for Santa. People, aged from children to seniors, in Santa hats and warm coats, came up his walk to marvel at the trains, bears, and other snow creatures and characters and wonder which had been added this year.

The Statham Christmas House, 12 Adobestone Court, Marinwood

Luckily, we did talk to Roy Nisja, because he told us about a traditional, wonderful decorated house that we didn’t know about and that had been resurrected after 12 dark years. The Statham House was a 40-year Marinwood tradition until Charles “Dooley” Statham decided to call it quits for health reasons year ago. Sadly, he died this fall, and his family decided to resurrect the house one more time in his honor. It’s an amazing sight to come upon, walking up the hill from Blackstone. (The Court, a little cul-de-sac, is blocked to cars.)

It’s completely magical, with large wooden cut-outs and wonderful lights. We got there close to 11 p.m. (!) Crowds had still been milling about the other houses, but lights were beginning to rather dramatically click off and dim. We did get to see the house in its glory, including some lighted displays of vintage toys in large windows, and hope to again before it’s gone for good in a few days.

The Marin Mommies web site has directions and hours, as well as some more nice material about Statham and the house.

See also Mill Valley’s Real Life Gingerbread House

See also Great Marin Holiday Light Displays, Part 1

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Great Marin Holiday Light Displays, Part 1

This year it feels like the holiday season is rushing away a little too quickly. Christmas may be over, but the winter season has just started. If you, like me, love seeing houses lit up against cold nights; the conviviality of friends and good food; the cheery decorations, pine smells, and warm greetings, you are in luck because our people, the ones who decorate to the hilt and then hang around their houses night after night to talk to strangers of all generations and absorb their joy, tend to leave their decorations up as long as possible and linger in the season’s cheer.

In my neck of the woods, there is a house that is stunningly decorated, and — most incredibly — welcomes people, inside and out. Novato, CA’s Rombeiro family begins decorating on Labor Day each year and doesn’t start dismantling their creation until Kings’ Day, January 6th.

Here’s hoping your neighborhood affords you fun light displays. It’s always stirring to see such unique and joyful creativity on display and to see so many people, in groups large and small, experiencing simple awe and warm community.

This is a fantastic resource for holiday light displays all around California. This is a great resource for the best Christmas lights around the U.S.

Rombeiro House, 34 Devonshire Drive, Novato

The granddaddy of Marin County’s decorated houses, The Rombeiro House has been a family tradition for us since our daughter was small, and for the Rombeiros for 18 years. I know of nothing else like it. “Labor of Love” only scratches the surface of the intense effort that Ed Rombeiro and his family put out every year.

This is the outside:

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The Rombeiros greet everyone who comes to their house, every night from early December to January 6. And they welcome them inside their home, where people walk, sometimes in slow-moving lines, from room to decorated room.

These are the living and dining rooms:

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The family sacrifices living quarters and sleeping quarters. Nearly every surface is covered with charming displays of animatronic and wonderfully themed snowmen, elves, santas, angels, penguins, bears, wise men, reindeer, and toys. These are two bedrooms down a hall, which is also decorated:

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There’s even a whole room that is transformed into an elaborate model train tableau.

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It is said that the Rombeiros use more than 100,000 lights and that 39,000 people come through the home to experience its magic each year. (There’s a collection box outside to help the family with their electric bill.) We usually get a hello, a goodbye, or both from Ed Rombeiro, who told us that the tradition of extensive holiday decorations (perhaps not this extensive) originated in his family’s native country the Azores. The Rombeiro House web site has directions and hours. It is open through January 6th.

Photos: Rombeiro Family (top), Susan Sachs Lipman

See also Great Marin Holiday Light Displays, Part 2

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