‘Tis the Season in San Francisco

By Kate Riley November 30, 2009

I love a big city Christmas just as much the charm of a small town Christmas.  We are having the most amazing weather this week in Northern California which makes for a spectacular day spent in downtown San Francisco.  With out-of-town family staying with us again over the Thanksgiving holiday, we couldn’t resist playing tour guide in the City by the Bay. 

Amidst blue skies, the bustling Union Square was aglow with window displays, holiday decorations, and lights from all the big retailers and the grand hotels. 

We even had a celebrity sighting – we caught Mrs. Claus as she was hailing a cab.

mrs claus

Come on along on our tour through Union Square and Chinatown.

Anytime we travel to the City, we cross the Golden Gate Bridge.  In summer, there is always a guarantee of heavy fog, but in spring and fall, you can get very lucky with clear blue skies.

golden gate bridge

We always take a spin around the Palace of Fine Arts – it’s a must see for any tourist. 

SF Saturday 005

Next we parked across from Macy’s and headed out for some lunch at a famous spot for hot carved meats and cold brews: Lefty O’Douls

lefty odouls

Fully fueled, we headed out onto Union Square, to check out the three story Christmas tree and watch the skaters on the downtown rink. 

  christmas tree 

skating rink

All the grand hotels, like the Sir Francis Drake, are decked out for the season. 

hotel tree 

In the lobby of the Westin is the famous spinning castle made entirely of sugar that mesmerizes children young and old.  It was created with 70 pounds of gingerbread, 300 pounds of icing, and 100 pounds of candy. 

sugar castle

Outside the grand hotels, there is never a shortage of cable cars waiting to take you to your next tourist destination.  

cable car union square

But then there’s the legendary retail shops that keep you on the Square.

saks fifth avenue


The window shopping is worth the stroll. 

Dear Santa, I’ll take these. 

tiffanys diamonds

tiffanys emerald

Wait, never mind Santa, I’ll take this La Cornue oven on display at Williams Sonoma.

la cornue 

And Santa, don’t forget to bring me the spice and storage drawers.

la cornue drawers

As I ogled the other silver La Cornue masterpiece, I couldn’t help but notice my three year old, amid all the bustling shoppers, surviving their elbows and clinging to his complimentary hot chocolate.  He is dressed in his typical outfit: mismatched sweat pants hiked up to his knees, tattered layered shirts, mismatched socks and a worn out plastic fireman’s hat, clinging to his transformer ‘orange airplane guy’. 

Let me go on the record and say this is not my choice of attire.  It is completely his.  If I had my way, he’d be wearing a charming rugby shirt from Baby Gap with matching cords and displaying a perfectly coiffed haircut.  I know how to pick my battles, and this is not one of them.   Sigh.  But it sure makes for a great memory. 

little guy

The good news is he is learning young to give something back.

salvation army

We hadn’t been to Chinatown for ten years, so we agreed to walk the two blocks over to this famous district. 

china town entrance

Chinatown is a unique stop, full of Asian influenced architecture and decor. 

china town corner

china bazaar

china town lanterns

The vendors sell mostly Chinese imports.  If you fancy Asian decor, this is a great place to visit.   

canton bazaar

This room within a room of a bed makes for quite a focal point

china town carved wood bed 

Perusing all of these imported goods, I couldn’t help but think that some of them might make really great gifts.  How about this vast selection of blue and white dishes ?

blue and white dishes

These lotus flower lamps

lotus lamps

Longevity tea pots

longevity teapots

Beautiful silk boxes

china town patterned boxes

Carved screens

carved screens

Tea strainer mugs

tea strainer and cups

Flower candles

china town flower candles 

River rocks with symbols for tranquility, wisdom, prosperity, etc.

chinatown symbol rocks

Cloisonne bangles

cloisonne bangles

Cozy slippers for grown ups

asian slippers

And for little girls

china town slippers

Tons of jewelry vendors

chinatown jewelry

Jeweled lobster, anyone ?

jeweled lobster

From Chinatown there’s a great view of the Transamerica Building.


And you can always catch another cable car in Chinatown to take you to to another famous district.

cable car chinatown

Before we headed home, we stopped by the posh Harry Denton Starlight Room at the top of the Sir Francis Drake hotel.

harry denton

There, we caught the twilight view of the skyline.

sf skyline

With small children in tow, we had to leave early to return to our suburban town, but Mr. CG and I vowed to come back soon for some more holiday shopping and big city lights.  

Especially with all the stores like Macy’s decked out from top to bottom.

twilight macys


A splendid time is guaranteed for all during the Christmas season in San Francisco.


  1. I really enjoyed that tour! I’ve never been to San Francisco, but would love to visit. Your tour gave a real taste of how great it is. I’m loving your son’s style. :)

  2. It is my favorite city by far. We were watching football yesterday afternoon and the Jacksonville Jaguars (my hometown) were playing SF and they were showing the Golden Gate Bridge. I have visited SF twice and both times it was wonderful. I always want to go back. Thanks for taking me back for a visit. You are very lucky to live so close to it. Love little mans outfit….you are right, pick your battles.

  3. That looks amazing. SF is the first and only big city I have visited in the USA. That Macy’s there is the first Macy’s I ever visited and spent a glorious 3 hours in the bag department, calling my Mum in the UK several times to check that it was absolutely fine to spend $250 on a bag when I was a mere 20 years old. I probably spent more on the phonecall in the end than the bag. Oh the memories. Thanks for the pictures :)

  4. Wow! Thanks for the wonderful tour! It looks like you had a great time. I like to let my son dress himself. He is only four so it’s okay if he wears rain boots with shorts…lol. Thanks for sharing your pictures!

  5. Your Chinatown is vastly superior to the Chinatown where I live in Boston, MA. I think anyone on your list would love to receive a gift from one of the shops in Chinatown you visited!

  6. Looks like you had a wonderful time! I miss SF. My hubby and I used to drive or fly at least once a year, we haven’t been back since my first was born 7 years ago. Oh how I miss it! Your a lucky girl to be so close!!

  7. OH Girl!!!! Thank you so much for posting these pics. I am SO homesick for California and these are all the places I use to go. Lefty O’Douls was always a place to meet up with family and Union Square was one of my all time favorite places to go. I would visit Chinatown once a month for several years to get my haircut by this awesome guy.

    It looks like you had a perfect time.

    You made my day. Thank you.


  8. Love this post, lived in this city for 6 years. I used to take the bus from my store to Britex Fabrics nearly weekly, and the route took me through China Town…love all the images! Enjoy your city!!

  9. I loved seeing San Francisco all decked out for Christmas. :) I’ve been out of town and haven’t been able to catch up on my favorite blogs. LOVED the photo of your little guy in his chosen attire…adorable! I have the same pair of little girls’ slippers (but in my size) with the flower on the toe that you pictured…not sure how they made it into the VA boutique my mom found them in, but I do like them. :)

    I’m heading up to NYC next Saturday for a day in the city with some girlfriends…soooo looking forward to seeing the store windows again. :)

  10. I loved this post. It reminded me of all the fun I had in SF back in March, and it gave me a few new places to explore on my next trip. Thanks CG!

  11. Hi Kate~
    Of all the photos you’ve posted, and I love them all, the one of your lil’ guy is the most beautiful. I have tears running down my cheeks as I type this and I’m not even a huge fan of kids – LOL KIDDING! -well, as long as they belong to someone else :)

    It’s truly a great mom who allows their child to call the shots on the things that really aren’t that important at the end of the day. :) I wonder how many moms look at kids dressed like this and think “what the heck?” when all it really is is a great mom making her little boy the happiest kid in the world.

    Thanks for posting this. You made my day.

  12. Absolutey Gorgeous. I remember as a child going “downtown” small town USA for Christmas. It was always such a treat. I can’t imagine SF.

  13. Loved the tour of Chinatown. I remember visiting Chinatown and eating at a restaurant with my father. Great memories! Thank you for sharing your visit!

  14. Wow, beautiful pictures! San Francisco looks so beautiful with the blue sky backdrop. Great post! Takes me back to when I was in SF in May (except it seemed foggier then!)

  15. Mmm. We took our Honeymoon in San Francisco and stayed right next door to Lefty’s in the Handlery Hotel. We ate at Lefty’s twice because it was so good. My mouth is watering.

  16. I should have called YOU when we visiting SF, because clearly we missed a lot of good highlights!!! What a great tour!


  17. Fun! I was in the Bay Area for Thanksgiving this year (a few photos on my blog). It’s so pretty! I wish we’d had more time to spend in the city, but got stuck in horrific traffic on the Bay Bridge. Should have taken the BART instead. :)

  18. Oooooh! We will be up in San Francisco this weekend for a holiday party, (we’re just down in Campbell). I think we’ll be using your post as list of things to do while we’re up there. Thanks! Great pics!

  19. San Francisco is one of my favorite places in the world. I’d love to see it decked out for the holidays. Thank you for sharing.

  20. I love San Francisco.
    I was born there but moved when I was 2. Damn the parents.
    We go often since I live in the Central Valley, I am not sure where you are but you must be north if you come in on the gorgeous Golden Gate bridge. We have to take the Bay bridge. Yeah, the one that fell in the earthquake and is cracking again, yeah, that one. And not even pretty.
    I never go to Pier 39(?), Ghiradeli or the Wharf, they are just far too touristy. But I love Union Square for shopping. China Town for shopping, we get pork buns with chili sauce for a late breakfast, if you have never been during Chinese New Year, you must go. The parade at night through Union Square is so cool., North Beach the Italian district is great for a visit too, good food and lots of gorgeous men. The Ferry Building is great on a nice day especially if the farmers market is going on.
    Do you have a favorite restaurant? My all time is still Zuni Cafe out on Market. I used to love Stars but it is gone now. I want to try the Slanted Door but haven’t yet.
    These are reasons why I want to be rich!
    Also, love the little guys outfit. I once had a kid in line in cowboy boots, underpants and a Superman cape.

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