As the holidays launch into full swing, it’s nice to reflect on traditions, like trees glittering in lights, gingerbread houses, and Victorian Santas. It’s also wonderful to welcome new expressions of cheer, be that toy train displays or fanciful Japanese toys.
To take it all in, a trip to the big city is in order. We like that The San Francisco Travel Association makes a visit easier, offering “49 Hours of SF: Holidays” hotel deals featuring deeply discounted rates when booked at www.49HoursofSF.com. Visitors who stay three or more nights at participating hotels can receive up to 25% off the entire stay (valid through March 31, 2014). What a nice gift to ourselves!
Here’s what to see and do while you’re there:
Palace Hotel’s Gingerbread Chateau
Through Dec. 30, 2013, at 2 New Montgomery St., San Francisco, 415-546-5089, sfpalace.com.
Designed by Executive Pastry Chef Renee Cade, the Palace Hotels’ Gingerbread Chateau measures 8 feet by 16 feet, spanning three rooms beneath a hand-tied, licorice thatched roof. In the marzipan made kitchen, apple elves prepare a holiday feast around a table laden with delights made entirely out of edible ingredients. The foyer is adorned with a crystallized sugar chandelier, while the animated living room scene showcases a sugar and spice decorated tree. Outside, the French county holiday garden is landscaped with candied planter boxes filled with cookie crumb soil and fondant flowers, next to a moving wafer waterwheel and chocolate pond. In the true holiday spirit of giving, the Palace Hotel is supporting SFCASA, a nonprofit organization that focuses on volunteer advocacy for abused and neglected children – visitors can offer their own donations via the SFCASA Gingerbread Chateau mailbox. After viewing the chateau, enjoy holiday tea with sparkling wine.
Conservatory of Flowers Celebrates "Boomtown: Barbary Coast".. plus Butterflies
Through March 16, 2014, at Golden Gate Park 100 John F. Kennedy Dr., San Francisco, 415-831-2090, conservatoryofflowers.org.
San Francisco’s rowdy past comes to life with this garden railway exhibition landscaped with hundreds of dwarf plants and several water features, amid which model trains wind their way along miniature docks crowded with replicas of the clipper ships that brought fortune seekers to California. Trains then zip past whimsical recreations of the city’s most important landmarks such as Portsmouth Square, Chinatown’s Waverly Place and Maiden Lane. Also check out the Special Exhibits gallery, which has been transformed into a beautiful and intimate cottage garden aflutter with hundreds of butterflies on the wing. Visitors can see a dazzling array of more than 20 species of colorful and familiar North American butterflies including magnificent monarchs, Western swallowtails, red admirals, and more, and even several giant moths like the impressive cecropia moth.
Holiday Sugar Castle at Westin St. Francis
Through Jan. 2, 2014, at 335 Powell St., San Francisco, 415-397-7000, westinstfrancis.com.
Executive pastry chef Jean-François Houdré created his signature 12-foot rotating holiday sugar castle in the Main Lobby of the hotel. Built for the first time in 2005, this magnificent French Chateau display grows larger each year, now weighing more than 1,200 pounds and featuring 20 grand circular towers, 30 rooms, glowing windows and a running train. New this year is the addition of the year’s top newsmakers on display throughout the castle, including life-like elf replicas of politicians, celebrities, athletes and personalities.
'Tis the Season at the California Academy of Sciences
Through Jan. 5, 2014; at Golden Gate Park, 55 Music Concourse Dr., San Francisco, 415-379-8000, calacademy.org.
The popular ’Tis the Season for Science exhibit returns for a third year, bringing with it the sights and sounds of the season. Experience indoor snow flurries, get up close and personal with live reindeer at the East Garden and immerse yourself in a snow-themed mini-dome show. For this year, the Academy has also added three new programs suitable for all ages: "Reindeer Rendezvous"; "Holiday Migration Quest" of gray whales and monarch butterflies; and "P” Is For Penguins. There are also festive holiday performances at the academy on selected days.
Annual Victorian Holiday Time at Queen Anne Hotel
Through Jan 1, 2014, at 1590 Sutter St., San Francisco, 415-441-2828, queenanne.com.
Each year the fabulous Queen Anne dresses up the interior of the hotel in grand Victorian style. It’s a sight to see with Christmas trees, wreaths, garlands, a winter wonderland, Santas and much more. Visitors can take a step back in time and see how warmth and charm were created more than a century ago.
Hyatt Regency San Francisco's "Home for the Holidays"
Through Dec. 30, 2013, at 5 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, 415-788-1234, sanfranciscoregency.hyatt.com.
Although it rarely snows in San Francisco, the Hyatt Regency San Francisco is predicting snowfall throughout the holiday season in its dramatic, Guinness Book of World Records’ Largest Atrium Lobby in the world. Complementing a 1,000-piece Department 56 Snow Village, thousands of cascading lights and a dramatic 45-foot tree, snow will fall three times a day in the hotel's lobby.
Japanese Toys! From Kokeshi to Kaiju
Through May 11, 2014 in Terminal 3 at San Francisco International Airport, 650-821-8211, flysfo.com.
The Japanese imagination has led to many of the world’s most extraordinary toys. Japanese toys span an unparalleled gamut – from a centuries-long practice of traditional doll making to whimsical folk toys, such as ghostly mechanical kobe figures and papier-mâché guardian dogs. In this whimsical exhibit, Kokeshi dolls, menko playing cards, and battery-operated robots are among the delights on display. Vinyl kaiju figures, Ultraman novelties, and a dress made entirely from plush Hello Kitty dolls are some of the unexpected items to discover. Please note: the exhibition is located post-security and is only accessible to passengers ticketed for travel.
Tip: Zip to-and-fro San Francisco with the greatest of ease, in your own Pure Luxury sleigh of a Town Car or limo.