Union Square: San Francisco’s Classic Holiday Scene

Union Square: San Francisco’s Classic Holiday Scene

No snow? No problem. Union Square in San Francisco still delivers on holiday fun.


By: Kristine D.

The outdoor plaza of Union Square delivers a metropolitan shopping experience reminiscent of New York City all year long. Classic architecture and modern name brands mix in every direction.

During the holidays, however, this area is transformed into a holiday wonderland of lights and garlands. My family has made this scene a traditional part of our seasonal festivities every year. We love the cheery colorful decorations.

This is one of those holiday excursions that your children will want to turn around and share with their kids, just as my parents did with me and as I’m doing with my children.

Bring your family here, not just to shop and enjoy the holiday sights and sounds, but to take part in festivities and events that this time of year is all about. Here are a few to add to your itinerary:

The Macy’s Tree and the Holiday Ice Rink
Macy’s gift to the city of San Francisco, an 83-foot tall tree, is erected in the center of Union Square and lit Nov. 29. The ice rink it towers over opens in early November. There’s nothing like gliding across the ice in the twinkly glow of more than 30,000 LED lights.

Adopt a Pet
You’ll be hard pressed to walk by the store windows during the holidays and not fall madly in love with a pair of playful kittens or an adorable pup.

The large store windows on O’Farrell Street contain specially constructed sets where kittens lounge among colorful holiday-themed décor, and puppies peer back in bewilderment at the human faces pressed up against the street side of the store windows.

This effort has helped find homes for more than 2,300 animals and raised about $400,000 for the San Francisco SPCA in recent years. Surely someone on your gift list has asked Santa for a pet?

Sleepover in the City
Part of my family’s traditional holiday excursion to Union Square involves staying overnight at Hilton San Francisco Union Square. Located in San Francisco’s Theater District, just a 10-minute walk from the square, this Hilton location is sophisticated yet family friendly. The lobby is a flurry of activity during the holidays that not only includes guests heading off to the ice rink or a round of retail therapy, but also visitors enjoying the elaborate and sugary gingerbread villages set up near the front desk.

And of course there are others setting out to traditional stage productions of “A Christmas Carol” or the “Nutcracker Ballet” at the War Memorial Opera House, which is a short cab ride away.

Be sure to cap off your stay with the breakfast buffet at the Urban Tavern, one of the restaurants at Hilton Union Square! Located off the hotel lobby, the Tavern offers an absolutely delectable and varied buffet that stretches out between two rooms. From the classic breakfast items to a dim sum bar, everyone in the family will find something to eat.

The greatest thing about this San Francisco location is its flexibility — enjoy it as a quick staycation with the kids or a weekend getaway just for the parents. It’s fun either way!

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Kristine is a writer for Hilton Mom Voyage and lives in Mountain View, California, where she is the mother of a gifted girl athlete and a special-needs charmer. When she isn’t coordinating game and event schedules or cheering on her athletes, Kristine contributes to Trekaroo, a travel blog focused on family-friendly experiences. She often writes about traveling with a child on the autism spectrum, offering tips for preparing special needs kids for travel and helping family members know how to support the effort.

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