Union Square: San Francisco’s Classic Holiday Scene
The outdoor plaza of Union Square, with upscale stores like Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus around its perimeter delivers a metropolitan shopping experience reminiscent of New York City all year long. Classic architecture and modern name brands mix in every direction.
During the holidays, however, this area is transformed into a holiday wonderland of lights and garlands. My family has made this scene a traditional part of our seasonal festivities every year. We love the cheery colorful decorations. The enormous Christmas tree that fills up the glass front of Neiman Marcus and the red ribboned wreathes carefully hung in the rows of windows at Macy’s have festooned these same spots since I was a child. This is one of those holiday excursions that your children will want to turn around and share with their kids, just as my parents did with me and as I’m doing with my children.
Bring your family here not just to shop and enjoy the holiday sights and sounds but to take part in festivities and events that this time of year is all about. Here are a few to add to your itinerary:
LIGHT THE MENORAH
Hanukkah runs from December 6-14 in 2015, so make your way into the area to take part in the celebration. A stunning 25-foot mahogany Menorah originally erected with the support of the late Bill Graham, a well-known Bay Area concert promoter, also holds a prominent spot in Union Square this time of year. A candle is lit each day of the eight-day Jewish festival of lights. Children’s arts and crafts, readings, songs, and other fun things are also among the hosted activities marking the occasion.
THE MACY’S CHRISTMAS TREE AND THE HOLIDAY ICE RINK
Macy’s gift to the city of San Francisco, an 83-foot tall Christmas tree is erected in the center of Union Square and lit on November 28. The ice rink it towers over opens in early November. There’s nothing like gliding across the ice in the twinkly glow of over 30,000 LED lights.
ADOPT A PET FROM MACY’S WINDOWS
You’ll be hard pressed to walk by Macy’s store windows during the holidays and not fall madly in love with a pair of playful kittens or an adorable pup. The large store windows on O’Farrell Street near Stockton contain specially constructed sets where kittens lounge among colorful holiday themed décor and puppies peer back in bewilderment at the human faces pressed up against the street side of the store windows. This effort has helped find homes for over 2,300 animals and raised about $400,000 for the San Francisco SPCA in recent years. Surely someone on your gift list has asked Santa for a pet?
MAKE IT A SLEEP OVER IN THE CITY
Part of my family’s traditional holiday excursion to Union Square involves staying overnight at Hilton San Francisco Union Square. Located in San Francisco’s Theater District, just a 10-minute walk from the square, this Hilton location is sophisticated yet family friendly. The lobby is a flurry of activity during the holidays that not only includes guests heading off to the ice rink or a round of upscale retail therapy, there are also visitors enjoying elaborate and sugary gingerbread villages set up near the front desk. And of course there are others setting out to traditional stage productions such as, A Christmas Carol or the Nutcracker Ballet at the War Memorial Opera House, which is a short cab ride away.
Be sure to cap off your stay with the breakfast buffet at the Urban Tavern, one of the restaurants at Hilton Union Square! Located off the hotel lobby, the Tavern offers an absolutely delectable and varied buffet that stretches out between two rooms. From the classic breakfast items to a dim sum bar, everyone in the family will find something to eat.
The greatest thing about this San Francisco location is its flexibility — enjoy it as a quick staycation with the kids or a weekend getaway just the two of you, it is fun either way!
- See all of our vacation photos from San Francisco.
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Know Before You Go
- Golden Gate Park has many activities – there are countless trails to walk, lakes, ponds, fields for sports activities, and even a Conservatory for Flowers.
- Check out these spots for great photos: Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill, Dolores Park, and Alamo Square.
- Always dress in layers for the weather. Even in the summer, it can be chilly!