If the kids have been on their very best behavior and deserve a real treat, take the time to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and visit the Bay Area Discovery Museum. This premium stretch of real estate just below Sausalito and right on the bay has been completely devoted to keeping the endless imagination of children engaged for a full day. The real highlight is "The Cove," a 2.5 acre interactive exploration area with five iconic structures of the Bay Area and art work for kids to clamber all over. If you want your kids to think you're the coolest parents on the planet, then take them to the Bay Area Discovery Museum.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Only in the mild climate of the Bay Area can a family spend a holiday outdoors at this wonderful museum.
Tom's expert tip: Taking the ferry to Sausalito and then hiking or cabbing to the Bay Area Discovery Museum is a fun way to see more of the beautiful Marin Headlands.
The Exploratorium believes the fundamental childhood traits of being playful and curious should be fostered for a lifetime. Founder Frank Oppenheimer believed in intertwining art and science to make learning attractive and memorable through exhibits such as the Tactile Dome and Traits of Life. If you believe that families that learn together stay together, head to the Exploratorium for a lifetime of togetherness in one day. Although the Exploratorium is a great choice any time of the year, it can be particularly wonderful during the holidays. Since the exhibits are interactive for both kids and adults, it's a great opportunity to get out of the mindless rush of the holidays and create some quality family time together.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Exploratorium is a great holiday option for those traveling with kids.
Tom's expert tip: Even if you don't have time to visit the inside of the museum, the 1.5 acres of free exhibit space outside is worth the trip.
What would the holiday season be without the beloved tales that are passed from generation to generation â" the ones that never grow old? For San Franciscans, attending A Christmas Carol is a highlight of each December. Actors of all ages bring to life the wit, wisdom and nostalgia of Dickens' Christmas classic. A.C.T. (American Conservatory Theatre) has been doing this show for years. Featuring a lively cast of dozens, gorgeous costumes, and those deliciously spooky ghosts, the Bay Area's favorite holiday tradition returns with a sparkling, music-infused production of A Christmas Carol. Bring your family, bring your friends, and check your "humbugs" at the door!
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: What would Christmas be without watching old Scrooge's heart finally melt?
Tom's expert tip: These performances sell out very fast, so plan well in advance.
A holiday favorite, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker is a classical ballet that brings fantasy to life. Dancers of all ages, cast as fairies, mice, soldiers and even flowers and candy canes, perform this show that never fails to delight children (and children at heart.). While many music lovers attend every year, first-timers are in for a special treat. And the stunning setting of the ballet in San Francisco's War Memorial makes the event a grand holiday event that you won't forget. Be sure to dress up and make the occasion special. If you want to experience Christmas like a true San Franciscan, get your tickets to the Nutcracker today.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Nutcracker is the best way to experience a San Francisco Christmas like a local.
Tom's expert tip: A San Francisco tradition since 1944.
Nothing quite symbolizes San Francisco as much as her famous beer, Anchor Steam. Locals always anticipate the brewery's "holiday brew," which includes secret ingredients that change every year. And both tourists and locals have made the tour of the brewery incredibly popular. Even if you don't like beer, the tour offers a fascinating local history dating back to the Gold Mining days when the beer got its name for the steam that came off the open vats that cooled naturally in the mild climate. The tour is fantastic, but you have to sign up at least two months in advance. No e-mail sign ups, only by phone: 415-863-8350, ext 0, Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm Pacific time.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: If you can schedule this tour around the holidays, you might get a taste of their infamous Holiday Ale, which is different every year.
Tom's expert tip: The tour of Anchor Steam is very popular - be sure to make reservations several months in advance.
Ghiradelli Square might just be the best example of an adult-friendly and a child-friendly San Francisco activity. For the adults, Ghirardelli Square is the place to go when you're seeking top-tier San Francisco malls. The open-air complex affords great views of Angel and Alcatraz Islands and features art galleries, clothing shops and specialty stores. Shoppers can enjoy a meal at savvy spots like McCormick and Kuleto's and Ana Mandara. Afterwards, dessert at Kara's Cupcakes or the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop provides the perfect finish. There's even a Wattle Creek Winery tasting room on-site. For the kids? Three words: chocolate, chocolate and chocolate. (The adults area allowed to eat the chocolate, too.)
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Nothing beats a hot chocolate on a foggy or rainy San Francisco holiday night.
Tom's expert tip: Walk off all that chocolate buzz with a fun stroll through nearby Fisherman's Wharf.
Though the fifty foot fir is lit with great fanfare the Friday after Thanksgiving, its stately presence is ablaze with lights throughout December. Stroll by and see the spectacle of sparkle any night of the week. Festivities occur that lead up to tree lighting at 5:30pm, so be sure to check the website for the specific events. Either way, it's great to schedule an entire day around the tree-lighting for a true San Francisco holiday. You can walk the Embarcadero and warm your hands (and tummy) with a bowl of clam chowder beforehand, and then explore the rest of Pier 39 with your family afterwards.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Christmas is all about sweet gifts, and there's no gift sweeter than chocolate.
Tom's expert tip: Go for the lighting of the tree but stay for all the goodies at Ghirardelli.
As the third largest Episcopal Cathedral in America, Grace Cathedral is worth a visit at any time of the year. Located in the ritzy Nob Hill neighborhood, it's within walking distance of some of the city's fanciest (and priciest) cafes and restaurants. Grace Cathedral really outdoes itself during the holidays, however. With its dramatic Gothic arches and pitch perfect acoustics, holiday concerts will send chills up and down your spine. Grace Cathedral's resident Choir of Men and Boys carry on a centuries-old Anglican tradition, and recitalists play the Cathedral's beuatiful Æolian-Skinner organ. Guests have included the US Naval Academy Men's Glee Club, Chanticleer, and the Vienna Boys Choir, along with jazz legends Pharoah Sanders and Joshua Redman.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Grace is an impressive structure to visit any day of the year, but they really make the space special during the holidays.
Tom's expert tip: Take a meditative walk on the indoor labyrinth.
Spend a day preparing for the holidays and soaking up seasonal cheer in the streets of Victorian England. Actors dressed in period costume, authentic specialty stores, strolling musicians and other live entertainers make the Dickens Fair a holiday favorite year after year. Refreshments range from British standbys like fish and chips to fancier European fare, and local and imported beer is sold on site. To get the full benefit of the event, be prepared to spend a whole day at the fair. Sitting down and enjoying a few of the bawdy choruses will get you in a holiday mood in no time.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: With the fake snow but real carollers, this indoor event is as close to a white Christmas as the Bay Area has to offer.
Tom's expert tip: Bring your appetite because the food selection is excellent.
This event has it all. You've got the traditional elements of the lighting of the Christmas Tree, as well as the familiar sight of an iceskating rink. And the sound of holiday music is wafting through the air, so it has all the makings of a traditional holiday scene. What is missing are frigid temperatures and any sign of snow. This rink is outdoors, and it take a lot of tech-savvy ingenuity to keep this thing cold for months. And, as they say in real estate, all that matters is location, location, location. Union Square is smack-dab in the middle of the best holiday shopping the Bay Area has to offer.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: When San Franciscans see the tree lit at Union Square and the ice skate rink set, they know it's time for the holidays.
Tom's expert tip: Union Square is also ground zero for holiday shopping in the Bay Area.