A Traveler's Guide to Thanksgiving in Northern California

hostel meal HI SF City Center

We've all heard that there's no place like home for the holidays. But at HI USA, we believe there's a hidden meaning behind the old adage: sometimes, spending the holidays far from your comfort zone can be a great thing! Just ask any traveler who's ever shared a holiday meal with a group of new friends, or anyone who's unwittingly arrived in a foreign country at the start of an exotic holiday season. 

With one of our favorite American holidays, Thanksgiving, just around the corner, we got to thinking about all the ways visitors to Northern California can get into the spirit of the season this year. Whether you're visiting from down the coast, across the country, or elsewhere around the globe, here are our favorite local ways to give thanks and spread the love on November 27. 

Eat Your Heart Out

Thanksgiving hostelWhether you're used to spending Thanksgiving with family or have never experienced a "Turkey Day" in your life, there's no better place to celebrate the holiday on the road than in a hostel. Hostels create instant community any day of the year, but everyone really comes together on Thanksgiving. At HI-San Francisco City Center, guests from all three of HI USA's San Francisco hostels (including HI-SF Fisherman's Wharf and HI-SF Downtown) will join together on Nov. 27 for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, and even cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Just pick up your dinner ticket at your hostel's front desk. While dinner's free for guests, donations are greatly appreciated and go to benefit local community services organization Glide Memorial Church.

Group meal HI SF Fisherman's WharfGuests at HI-Sacramento are also in for a free meal this Thanksgiving: a local family staying at the restored Victorian mansion hostel will be cooking a traditional feast and inviting all guests to join them for an extended family dinner.

Staying somewhere else? Not to worry. There are fully equipped guest kitchens at each of HI's Northern California hostels perfect for meeting new friends and sharing meals. Whether you're in Point Reyes or the Marin Headlands, Pigeon Point or Point Montara, round up a few fellow guests and chip in on groceries for an easy, budget-friendly group meal (try this one, recently test-driven at HI-SF Fisherman's Wharf!). Or, get everyone in your group to make a favorite dish from their home country or state for a multicultural twist on the traditional holiday meal.

Root for the Home Team

turkeyWhat's more seasonal (or more American) than an over-the-top turkey dinner? How about basking in post-meal glory with a little football? Gather 'round the small screen and cheer on local team the 49ers this year as they take on last year's Super Bowl champs, the Seattle Seahawks. Even though November 27 is a holiday, there are several sports bars near HI USA's San Francisco hostels that will be open and showing the game. The Golden Gate Taproom, known for screening live sports on 20 screens and pouring from over 100 beer taps, is just a few minutes' walk from HI-SF Downtown (or a 10-minute bus ride from HI-San Francisco City Center). And for $20, Lefty O'Doul's, an old-school sports bar less than two blocks from HI-SF Downtown, will let you load up at its huge Thanksgiving buffet, complete with turkey, pumpkin pie, and all the trimmings, while you relax and watch the game. 

Kick off the Holidays

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the full-blown holiday season here in the United States, so now's the time to get out and spread some cheer. In San Francisco, Union Square, a quick walk from HI-SF Downtown, is holiday central. The square's famous holiday ice-skating rink is already open for business, and gazing up at the surrounding skyscrapers as you glide across the ice is a classic way to make things merry and bright. The day after Thanksgiving, Union Square will also host the annual lighting of SF's largest Christmas tree. Each year, Macy's department store gets an 80-foot fir glowing with over 20,000 twinkling LED lights. This year's lighting ceremony will kick off at 6:00 p.m. on Nov. 28. And you can find tons more awesome ways to jumpstart the holiday season with our guide to celebrating the season on the cheap in SF!

Give Back

More than any other, Thanksgiving is a holiday to – well – give thanks! As such, it's a great reminder to give something back to the community. And even if you're only visiting Northern California for a few days, you can still make a huge difference in the spirit of the season by volunteering your time on some worthwhile projects. Leading right up to Thanksgiving, check out drop-in programs that will let you get your hands dirty in service of some of the Bay Area's most beautiful National Parks. It's also a wonderful time of year to volunteer with Glide Memorial Church, which runs renowned community-outreach programs in the neighborhood HI-SF City Center calls home. 

Check back next week for even more information on volunteering in Northern California this holiday season. And for a little more seasonal cheer, check out our guides to keeping warm, getting out on the ice, and weathering the occasional storm in style!