One Fine Day: Holiday Weekend in San Francisco
December is the time when festive lights, decorations, and fun make The City sparkle and put you in the holiday mood.
Christmas festivities in San Francisco’s Union Square.
Photos top to bottom: Shutterstock; Paul Dyer
OAKLAND–SAN FRANCISCO FERRY
Trade your car—and the awful bridge traffic—for a stress-free, 30-minute ferry ride from Oakland’s Jack London Square to San Francisco’s Ferry Building. You’ll feel all the pressure of the season recede on the East Bay shoreline as you watch the sparkling skyline come into view. At just $6.80 for a one-way adult ticket, it may be the best deal going for a Bay tour. sanfranciscobayferry.com.
Shop, Walk, and Learn
SAN FRANCISCO WATERFRONT
Just a few steps from the terminal are dozens of shops inside the Ferry Building, selling stocking stuffer–sized bowls from Heath Ceramics and specialty honey and candles from Beekind. But to get a feel for the bustling waterfront, walk along the Embarcadero’s working docks (look for the cruise ships at Pier 27); view restaurants (stop at Waterbar for upscale dining) and busy bars (try Pier 23 Cafe for something more casual); or hop on one of the historic F-Line streetcars to the end of the line at Jones Street.
From Fisherman’s Wharf, you can stroll through Aquatic Park and into Fort Mason’s shops and galleries, taking in spectacular views of Alcatraz Island, Angel Island, and the Golden Gate Bridge along the way. History buffs can take a free walking tour with volunteers from the San Francisco Public Library to learn more about the historic fort, established as a Civil War–era defense post. ferrybuildingmarketplace.com, sfcityguides.org.
To escape the crowds, head uphill to the understated Hotel Drisco in Pacific Heights. Rest in the front sitting room with a glass of mulled wine, or indulge yourself with a nap in your room, complete with a “pillow menu” to get just the right fluff or bounce. This four-story hotel (suites start at $579 per night) has been updated recently, with heated floors in the bathrooms, black-and-white photos of classic San Francisco landmarks, and a welcoming cosmopolitan touch—flags out front to represent its guests’ nationalities. Since this is the district of choice for celebrities, philanthropists, and other well-heeled city dwellers, an evening stroll will take you past impressive mansions aglow with extravagant Christmas lights and decorations. hoteldrisco.com.
Walk from Hotel Drisco for about 30 minutes alongside the Presidio and down the hill—or call for a ride—to Spruce, for a sophisticated dinner experience to cap your S.F. holiday excursion. Chef Mark Sullivan prepares elegant meals for discerning diners who look the part, sitting under a Baccarat crystal chandelier and amidst a rotating art collection. Whether you are in the mood for crab, caviar, or chicken, these dishes are carefully crafted with the freshest local ingredients and can be paired with the perfect wine—more than 2,500 selections are on the wine list. sprucesf.com.
Come morning, you can take your time over Hotel Drisco’s sumptuous breakfast buffet, with a copy of The New York Times and soft classical music in the background. Voices are kept respectfully low here, as might befit an exclusive club. And when you’re ready, you can meander along the marina as far as your legs will carry you, on your way back to the Ferry Building, and back home to the East Bay.