By Randy Yagi
As one of America’s finest and most visited cities, San Francisco is acclaimed for its blend of scenic beauty, iconic landmarks and diverse culture. During the holidays, the City by the Bay becomes even more magical, with two ice skating rinks, a full calendar of family-friendly events, decorated cable cars, and storefronts and trees adorned with glimmering holiday lights. To mark this festive season with your family and friends, you’ll want to take some memorable photos together at some of the most dazzling and colorful spots in the city. While some landmarks and attractions may be fairly obvious, here are five of the best places to take your very best photos this holiday season in San Francisco.
Fairmont San Francisco
950 Mason St.
San Francisco, CA 94108
One of the best family friendly spots for holiday photos in the city will be at the Fairmont San Francisco on Nob Hill. Each holiday season, this luxury hotel hosts a sizable crowd to view its colorful, two-story Gingerbread House, possibly the largest in California, built with thousands of home baked gingerbread bricks and other seasonal treats created by the hotel’s culinary team. Standing more than 22 feet high, the Gingerbread House is to the public daily although guests of the hotel enjoy guaranteed access in the event of larger crowds. Also gracing the enormous Grand Lobby is a beautiful 23-foot tall Christmas tree with all the delightful trimmings and holiday gingerbread tea will be available for purchase in the hotel’s Laurel Court Restaurant and Bar. Just a few steps away from the Fairmont is another San Francisco landmark, the legendary Mark Hopkins Hotel, with its own spectacular Christmas tree and the Children’s Magical Holiday Tea Buffet, featuring a magician, facepainting and a cookie decorating station with the hotel’s chef.
900 North Point St.
San Francisco, CA 94109
Like many other spots in San Francisco, the entire Fisherman’s Wharf area will be aglow with holiday lights and anchored by a magnificent 60 foot tall tree in front of Pier 39. However, a better place for holiday photos might be in historic Ghirardelli Square a few minutes away, with significantly smaller yet equally cheerful crowds and its own stately Christmas tree. What’s more, visitors can pick up last minute gifts at local small businesses like Helpers Bazaar and Lola of North Beach, as well as dine at Waxman’s Pizzeria, Lori’s Diner or the ice cream fountain at Ghirardelli Chocolate’s Original Chocolate Manufactory. Ghirardelli Square is also the elegant setting for the Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square, which serves as primarily a private residence place but also is one of the finest luxury hotels in San Francisco.
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco, CA
Considered the world’s most photographed bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge will be the popular setting for a multitude of holiday photos. The iconic symbol of San Francisco, the Bay Area and the entire state of California, the Golden Gate Bridge can be viewed from several easily accessible vantage points in San Francisco, such as at Fisherman’s Wharf, Crissy Field, Fort Point and even on a ferry boat to Alcatraz Island. But in order to capture the right moment for that special one of a kind photo, visitors should also consider less visited spots in the city, like Baker Beach and Marshall’s Beach, in addition to Battery Spencer in the Marin Headlands and Fort Baker just beyond the northern end of Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito. One other very popular spot for sightseeing and photographs is the Golden Gate Welcome Center. However, parking will be extremely limited here and visitors are urged to check the most current information on the Golden Gate Bridge website.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA 94122
San Francisco’s largest and most famous park is filled with photo opportunities, whether it’s with a holiday theme or not. A prominent segment of the enormous Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Golden Gate Park is a urban park encompassing more than 1,000 acres, making it 20 percent larger than New York’s Central Park and will have its very own holiday tree at McLaren Lodge. However, visitors will be drawn to the park’s better known attractions, like the Japanese Tea Garden, the California Academy of Sciences, Conservatory of Flowers and the de Young Museum. Of these major park attractions, the California Academy of Sciences is the most family friendly and during the holidays will feature ‘Tis the Season for Science, with real reindeer, live performances from musicians, cultural groups and Tap Dancing Christmas Trees, as well as a Snowman Theater for a child-friendly viewing of “Lights of the North”. Other notable attractions in Golden Gate Park are the Golden Gate Park Playground, Fulton Playground, the Windmills and the always popular buffalo paddock. Free or paid parking is available in designated areas and visitors can easily get around by walking or on weekends by taking the park’s free shuttle.
333 Post St.
San Francisco, CA 94108
San Francisco’s most famous shopping district will unquestionably be one of the most entertaining spots to take photos and selfies over the holidays. With its namesake park as the sparkling centerpiece, Union Square transforms itself into a veritable winter wonderland, complete with a spacious ice skating rink, an 80 foot tall Christmas tree with more than 33,000 lights and 1,100 ornaments and the beloved 25 foot tall Bill Graham Menorah. Open daily through January 16, 2017, the Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square presented by Alaska Airlines and the entire Union Square neighborhood will offer several photo opportunities over the holidays, in addition to the city’s other, slightly larger ice skating facility not far away at the Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center presented by Hawaiian Airlines. Although the towering Christmas tree has already been lit, visitors can still enjoy the city’s Chanukah Festival of Lights, with the first lighting of the impressive mahogany menorah dedicated to the legendary Bay Area music promoter Bill Graham on December 24. Lastly, all through December, a handful of gourmet food trucks from Off the Grid will be on hand to serve extraordinary street food for lunch and at a pop up plaza in Union Square.