It’s that time of the year again when city streets are all lit up and there is a dizzying array of things to do. If you’re lucky enough to be spending the holiday season at our HI USA hostels in San Francisco, you’ll not only find great in-house activities to keep you entertained and help you make friends with fellow travelers, but you’ll be fairly spoilt for choice for fun and free things to do in the city. From the traditional to the uniquely San Franciscan, there’s something for everyone and we’re here to help you make your time spent here magical.
1.Free Holiday Concerts
From now until December 18, join locals and visitors in various corners of the Civic Center neighborhood for charming live music performances by brass quintets from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and a caroling quartet called Mostly Madrigals. The shows take place outdoors near iconic San Francisco venues like the Davies Symphony Hall and the War Memorial Opera House in the afternoons and evenings. Bundle up and grab some hot cocoa from a nearby coffee shop for a sense of community and a taste of old-school Christmas.
More info: sfciviccenter.org/holidays
2.Winter Solstice Eve Beach Celebration and Plunge at Ocean Bunch
For a quintessential San Francisco take on the holidays, check out the Winter Solstice Eve celebration at Ocean beach on December 20. Hosted by the Reclaiming Collective, the sunset affair will feature a cleansing ritual of renewal and commitment to each other and to the Earth, followed by dancing, singing and drumming, and an optional, cleansing plunge into the sea. Participants are encouraged to bring some food or (non-alcoholic) drinks to share.
More info: The ritual will start at 4:00 p.m. Take the L-Taraval Muni to 46th Avenue. Bayareareclaiming.org/rituals
3.Hanukkah Festival and Candle Lighting at Union Square
Those celebrating Chanukkah or just interested in the Jewish tradition can enjoy the holiday in a larger than life way at San Francisco’s Union Square, where a 25-foot tall Menorah will be front and center and ready to be lit. Started by rock concert promoter and Holocaust survivor Bill Graham in 1975, the annual event starts on December 24 this year with the lighting of the first candle, and continues until January 1 with the lighting ceremony taking place at 5:00 p.m. most evenings. A couple of the nights will also feature performances by local musicians. Whether this event will bring you a little closer to home while you’re traveling, or it opens your eyes to new customs and traditions, it’s sure to bring those warm holiday fuzzies.
More info: billgrahammenorah.org
4.Holiday Home Visit with San Francisco Elderly Residents
If you’re feeling lonely and looking to do some good with a group of people, join the Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly (LBFE), who will coordinating visits to the homes of elderly residents in San Francisco on Christmas Eve afternoon and Christmas morning. Operating under the belief that no one should have to spend the holidays alone, the organization provides a gift bag and a rose for volunteers to bring to their visits with the locals. This is a good way to spread some good cheer while also seeing the city and having a great conversation with one of its long-time residents.
More info: sf.funcheap.com/holiday-home-visit-isolated-elderly-sf (sign-up up to two weeks before the event).
5.Holiday Celebrations with GLIDE
GLIDE is an organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty and homelessness by providing multiple services to residents of the Tenderloin near HI San Francisco City Center hostel. These holidays, volunteers can help out at three wonderful celebrations: the Prime Rib Luncheon on Christmas Eve; Christmas breakfast and lunch with all the trimmings and celebrations on December 25; and a Kwanzaa celebration on December 30 featuring music, storytellers, drumming and a hearty meal. Pick one or all three to attend and cap of your trip to San Francisco by giving back to the local community.
More info: glide.org/holidays2016
6.Free Hugs at Midnight for New Year’s Eve at the Golden Gate Bridge
Usher in the new year with an abundance of hugs on the Golden Gate Bridge while fireworks go off on the other end of the bay at the Bay Bridge. This lovefest is presented by HugTrain, which is annual mission from Canada that travels by train across America raising spirits and creating awareness for mental health issues during the holiday season with free hugs. Head to the Golden Gate Bridge (the southeast side vista point) about an hour before midnight and soak in and share the love, which will hopefully carry on and spread through the New Year.
More info: hugtrain.org