It’s the most magical time of the year. It can be hard to realize that Christmas is just around the corner, though, and make plans for that family day. What does someone do after unwrapping gifts and enjoy a great breakfast in the morning, after all? You can only stare and smile at your cousins and in-laws for so long.
Many places in laid-back Wine Country are closed on Christmas Day, but a visit to the city can reveal magical discoveries. Here are some ideas to keep everyone ho-ho-hopping:
— Load the family in a car and take a trip to the city to celebrate Christmas in San Francisco, where all three downtown ice skating rinks (Union Square, Embarcadero Center and Yerba Buena Gardens) are open for you to show off your triple axels. The Union Square rink is particularly jolly, as the commercial bustle will have ceased but the adjacent holiday tree remains shining brightly. Embarcadero Center and Yerba Buena Gardens, meanwhile, are open until late in the evening.
— The Reindeer Romp at the San Francisco Zoo runs through Jan. 1, and since antlered ungulates don’t know what day it is, it’s open on Christmas, too. On loan from the North Pole, the four reindeer will mesmerize kids who believe in Santa (as well as those who don’t but think reindeer are made up, too.) Considering the zoo is across the street from the Pacific Ocean, it’s hard not to love a bonus trip to the beach in late December, especially with a cup of hot chocolate from the Lemur Café.
— The Botanical Gardens are Golden Gate Park’s most manicured jewel. Although San Francisco residents never pay an entrance fee, the gates are flung open to everyone on Christmas Day, free of charge. Roam through 55 acres of native plants, succulents, magnolias, a grove of redwoods, the Ancient Plant Garden, and the rest of the 8,000 species on display, some of which might even be in bloom (especially the Mesoamerican Cloud Forest). If you’re lucky, the weather will be temperate enough for a picnic.
— Although closed New Year’s Day — and Yom Kippur, of course — the Contemporary Jewish Museum is open on Christmas. Better yet, it’s a Community Free Day, so all the galleries are open (which means advance registration is highly recommended). Art-making, musical performances and a nosh from Wise Sons Delicatessen round out a wonderful holiday afternoon inside Daniel Libeskind’s postmodern cube. And because the CJM is exhibition-based, lacking a permanent collection, every year is different.
— Bringing together the Jewish comedic heritage with the venerable tradition of eating Chinese food on Christmas, the 22nd Annual Kung Pao Kosher Comedy at New Asia Restaurant fills that gaping hole around dinnertime when all the Gentiles are digging into a roast. The tradition covers two seatings (a dinner show at 5 p.m. and a cocktail show at 8:30 p.m.) on Dec. 24, 25 and 26. This year Kung Pao brings in two Canadian-born comedians: Jeremy Hotz (Best Male Stand Up: Canada, Best International Performer: Sydney Comedy Festival) and Ophira Eisenberg (Host of NPR’s trivia comedy show, Ask Me Another), and for the first time the show features an underage comedian: 14 year old Simon Cadel from New York, the youngest to ever grace the Kung Pao stage.
— The incomparably beautiful Palace Hotel turns into a holiday wonderland each year, with a giant gingerbread house and tea with Santa every Saturday in December. Anyone looking for something traditional can choose from among six brunch seatings on Christmas Day, in either the Grand Ballroom or the fabulous 19th century Garden Court. An upscale buffet as opposed to a standard meal — think crepes and a carving station — its Yuletide grandeur befits both the occasion and the surroundings.
Tip: For a truly festive day of play, load the family into a Pure Luxury limo, and zip to the city… laughing all the way. We’ll even tie on the jingle bells!