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Five wintery walks to see holiday lights in San Francisco

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What’s something guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit? Holiday lights!

Along with the ringing bells of the Salvation Army and adoptable puppies and kittens in the holiday windows at Macy’s Union Square, the twinkling lights that start coming up the day after Thanksgiving (sometimes earlier – or maybe never came down from last year!) are sure to spark joy no matter where you are on the holiday merrymaking scale.

San Francisco has no shortage of grand displays in many of its top attractions from Union Square to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf to The Fairmont.

For something a little different, gather up your loved ones and do a walk to these less obvious favorites of Walk SF staff and Walk Lab, the team of expert volunteers who create our signature walks like Peak2Peak. Don’t forget to bundle up in your cozy holiday sweaters and bring along a thermos of hot chocolate!

Lights along JFK Promenade in Golden Gate Park

Starting tonight, “Uncle John’s tree” next to McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park will be lit up for the season.

And right nearby on JFK Promenade, the Entwined forest is back in Peacock Meadow. New sculptural artworks will be added this year, including a “fallen tree” seating area and “sapling” trees with “hidden world tree knots” that feature surprise miniature artworks by local artists.

As you walk west from Peacock Meadow along JFK Promenade, you’ll enjoy the light installation that’s projected onto the Conservatory of Flowers (walk up to the stairs to hear the music it’s choreographed to).

There are additional lights along the Promenade as you approach 8th Avenue. Head into the Music Concourse to see the colorful lights of the Skystar observation wheel and the ‘Lift Every Voice’ light projection on the bandshell.

Visitacion Valley Holiday Light Festival

If you’ve walked the Crosstown Trail, you know the Visitacion Valley Greenway, a cascade of urban parks in the city’s southeast corner. Visit the Greenway on Saturday, December 17 from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m., and you’ll be treated to a Holiday Light Festival, featuring more than 20 interactive light art installations, live music, and more. Start your walk earlier in the afternoon at the Glen Park BART station or elsewhere on the Crosstown Trail. The Viz Valley neighborhood is convenient to the T Third Street streetcar and other MUNI lines.

Let’s Glow SF in the Financial District

Larger-than-life projection art displays have been growing in popularity over the last several years – think the Van Gogh immersive experience. They’ve even made it to the home holiday lighting market.

Let’s Glow SF is back for a second year to light up Downtown SF with a FREE, outdoor holiday light arts festival projected across FiDi buildings: One Bush Street, Pacific Stock Exchange, Station J, Hobart Building, and Mechanics Monument Plaza. Each show is five minutes long and runs every 10 minutes. Stitch a stroll together and see all five venues.

The festival runs nightly from Friday, December 2 to Sunday, December 11 from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. A kickoff ceremony is scheduled for tomorrow, December 2 at 6:30 p.m. at 525 Market Street – with free Let’s Glow sticks, hot cocoa, music, and merchandise while supplies last.

Buena Vista Brick House

If you hiked the Bay Area Ridge Trail between Buena Vista Park and Mount Olympus or just been in the area on your way to the Randall Museum, you surely remember this magnificent private home on the tip of the wedge-shaped block at Upper Terrace and Masonic.

By day, you can admire the impressive brick architecture, lovely garden and statues, plus a fun painting of presumably the owner’s Cavalier spaniels above the garage doors. (Fun fact: the structure was built in 1917 with blackened and gnarled “clinker bricks” from the 1906 Earthquake and Fire!) But by night during the season, you can marvel at the equally impressive holiday lights. Peek in the front entryway to see gorgeous Christmas trees and a train running along the ceiling!

Note: As of publication, decorations were only partially up. For example, the elves climbing on the roof were not yet up.

The location can be reached by Muni lines 6 and 37.

To turn your visit into a walking adventure, try this urban hike from Glen Park to the Mission that passes by the house and is accessible on both ends by BART.

Thrive City Winter Wonderland in Mission Bay

Head over to the Thrive City Winter Wonderland at the Chase Center to check out the lights on the Bay Area’s largest holiday tree, standing at a whopping 90 feet! There are a number of special events going on throughout the month that require registration, but don’t worry if you can’t get a spot. You can still enjoy the lighted tree, plus there’s a North Pole mailbox to drop off your wish lists and nightly “snowfalls.”

And who knows? You might just bump into Steph or Draymond while you’re there!

To make it into a nice, long stroll, grab a warm beverage from the Ferry Building then head south along the Embarcadero. Catch the Bay Bridge Lights along the way and wind your way around the ballpark to Mission Bay. Hop on a T Third Street Muni to get back.

The Chase Center is also reachable by Muni lines 15, 21, 78X, 79X, 91 Owl, and KT Bus.

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