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Ten holiday lights walks around San Francisco this season

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San Francisco loves to get festive this time of year. Whether you want to go downtown or explore more off-the-beaten-path holiday lights destinations, we’ve got you covered with these ten options:

  • Walk 1: Downtown’s greatest hits
  • Walk 2: Destination houses and the lights of Golden Gate Park
  • Walk 3: Marina Green – Crissy Field – Presidio Tree
  • Walk 4: Pacific Heights and the swing on Cherry Street
  • Walk 5-10: Pick a decorated street to stroll

And truly, there’s nothing as charming as a Victorian house with a tree in the bay window. So bundle up and get out there for some evening walks!

Walk 1: Downtown’s greatest hits

Walking downtown, especially Union Square and Nob Hill, is a must for getting in the holiday spirit – especially for locals.

Start in Union Square to see the big tree and ice skating rink, and be sure to go into the Westin St. Francis Hotel to see the incredible gingerbread castle on display, which is back after a few-year hiatus.

Don’t miss the temporary pedestrian space Winter Walk from December 15 – 24 on Stockton Street from O’Farrell to Post streets. There’s free entertainment, food trucks, and more.

Then hike (or take the cable car) up Powell Street to Nob Hill, enjoying decked-out cable cars on the way.

Once you get to Nob Hill, the Fairmont Hotel has a gingerbread house you can actually walk through, plus Huntington Park is charming to walk through.

From here, you could wander down to the Ferry Building via the Embarcadero Center, which is covered in 17,000 lights plus has holiday decorations throughout its peaceful pedestrian walkways. (Or just go back down the hill to Union Square.)

Walk 2: Destination houses and the lights of Golden Gate Park

We discovered four houses with such good Christmas lights and decorations that they’re worthy destinations on their own – but can also be linked together for a ~2.5-mile walk – plus you get to enjoy the less-traditional lights of Golden Gate Park on your route.

Starting in the Inner Richmond, head to 224 Cabrillo (between 3rd and 4th Avenues) for side-by-side houses with some serious Christmas decorations.

Then head into Golden Gate Park at Arguello Street.

You’ll see the Illuminate light projection show on the side of the Conservatory of Flowers.

Then walk east on JFK Promenade to visit this year’s version of Entwined, the Elder Mother installation (you can’t miss it). I don’t want to say much about it so you can feel the same sense of awe as I have been while watching it get set up. It’s a stunning 30-foot tall sculpture of a tree with changing lights that blows in the wind.

As you head toward the Panhandle, you’ll see the traditional display of lights on Uncle John’s tree in front of McLaren Lodge.

Enter the Panhandle to head to 1786 Hayes Street (between Masonic and Central) for this gem:

Photo of house on Hayes Street with amazing Christmas decorations.Now go south through the Panhandle to hike up Masonic to 45 Upper Terrace, which is known as a destination “holiday house” and has elves climbing the roof!

After that, head around the edge of Buena Vista Park to 68 Castro Street for one last spectacular house.

Walk 3: Marina Green – Crissy Field – Presidio Tree

This walk will take you from decorated houseboats to an impressive Christmas tree on a lesser-known holiday lights walk.

Start at Marina Green and walk along yacht harbor to see the decorated boats. The SF Yacht Club’s decorated boat parade is on the evening of December 15 between Crissy Field and Pier 39, but many of the boats stay decorated through the month.

Then walk along Marina Boulevard until it turns into Mason in the Presidio. Continue on Mason until you reach the Presidio Tunnel Tops Park.

Walk uphill through Presidio Tunnel Tops Park, meandering up the ramps until you reach Lincoln Boulevard near the visitor center by the Main Parade Lawn.

Turn left on Lincoln until you get to the Presidio’s own holiday tree at Lincoln and Funston. Walk back the way you came for a different set of views of lights on the Golden Gate Bridge and around the Bay.

Walk 4: Pacific Heights and the swing on Cherry Street

This is the first year I’ve been aware of this fabulous installation of lights and a swing. Take my advice: you need to put on your walking shoes and head to the tiny cul-de-sac on Cherry at Jackson.

No matter what route you choose to take to this destination, you’re sure to find holiday light surprises along the way! An extra bonus is how quiet the neighboring streets are. While there are some hills, it’s an easy walk since you’ll be stopping a lot to admire the lights along the way.

I recommend exploring the grid of streets bounded by Cherry, Spruce, Jackson and Clay.

Be sure to detour to the dead end of Spruce Street to check out the old-fashioned snowmen on display.

Walk 5 – 10: Pick a decorated street to stroll

There are certain blocks in San Francisco where most houses are decked out. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts on these streets. While they may have more humble decorations, they make wonderful evening walks:

  • Lake Street between Arguello and 24th: Enjoy this Slow Street at the holidays, with many of the beautiful houses all decked out.
  • 17th Avenue between Geary and Clement. Homey and full of treasures! Take the 38 here and then walk up to Lake Street.
  • 30th Avenue between Cabrillo and Anza. The Richmond Community Center is ablaze with lights this year. Walk up 30th to Anza for a great view of the city in 3 directions.
  • Greenview Court in Midtown Terrace: Almost all the houses on this sweet dead-end alley decorate their homes for the holidays. It’s a steep walk from Forest Hill Muni station, but is served by the 36 bus.
  • 34th and Quintara: You’ll find a treasure of holiday ornaments and lights decorating the house at the corner. Head over to Quintara and 24th to the top of the Sunset Reservoir for a beautiful night time view of the Sunset towards the ocean.
  • Ulloa Street in West Portal: Take a walk down Ulloa from Kensington to 16th Ave.

Did we miss a street? Email and we’ll add it here! Share your walks on social media with #IWalkSF and @walksf.

Many thanks to Nancy Botkin for authoring this blog. Nancy is a longtime Walk SF volunteer and walk organizer. Nancy is part of “Walk Lab”: a group of knowledgeable, creative volunteers who research and create walks like Peak2Peak for Walk SF.