Festivity, fun and inspiration are everywhere this holiday season in the beautiful Bay Area! Whether you’re seeking a family-friendly activity or wanting to start a new tradition, there’s a holiday event that’s just right for you — and many of them are free of cost. Check out these family friendly holiday experiences and grab your tickets before they sell out!



Glow: Discover the Art of Light

Get curious about light this winter! Compose music with light, touch quantum physics, see yourself in mechanical mirrors, and more. Explore our galleries for luminous artworks big and small, including U.S. premieres.

November 16–January 28. See website for times & ticket info. Exploratorium, San Francisco; www.exploratorium.edu

Mark Foehringer’s Nutcracker Sweets 

Celebrate the holidays with Mark Foehringer‘s Nutcracker Sweets, a unique 50-minute production of the classic holiday ballet designed for families with small children and audiences of all ages. This special production is danced storytelling that is affordable, magical, zany, and fun. Foehringer uses his choreographic skills in contemporary dance and ballet to craft a show that is sure to thrill dance newcomers and the most jaded balletomane. See all of the favorite Nutcracker characters in beautiful costumes performing on a colorful set with live chamber orchestra music.

December 2–23. See website for times and ticket information. All ages. Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center. www.mfdpsf.org

A Christmas Carol

A.C.T. once again presents its celebrated adaptation of Charles Dickens’ festive fable. A timeless tale of Yuletide magic, A Christmas Carol teaches us all the true spirit of the holiday season! 

December 6–December 24. See website for showtimes and ticket info. Toni Rembe Theatre, San Francisco; www.san-francisco-theater.com


The Velveteen Rabbit Beloved Holiday Tradition 

Brimming with wit, festive costumes, madcap characters and the perfect amount of holiday cheer, ODC/Dance returns to the stage with the beloved Bay Area holiday tradition. The Velveteen Rabbit features captivating narration, a delightful musical score and larger-than-life storybook characters portrayed by the world-class dancers of ODC/Dance. 

December 2–December 10. See website for showtimes and ticket information. The Blue Shield of California Theatre at YBCA, San Francisco; www.odc.dance

San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker

Set at a Christmas Eve party in 1915 San Francisco, Nutcracker tells the story of Clara, a young girl given a magical nutcracker doll. The Nutcracker comes to life in her dreams, battles the evil King of the Mice, and takes Clara to a Crystal Palace full of dancing. With brilliant choreography by Helgi Tomasson and a beloved score by Tchaikovsky, SF Ballet’s Nutcracker is a festive treat for the entire family! 

December 13–30. See website for times and ticket info. Ages 5 and up. War Memorial Opera House, 415-865-2000; www.sfballet.org


Christmas in the Park 

This 40+ year tradition is back in downtown San Jose’s Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park. There are a few surprises including new light displays, a brand new 65’ tall walk-through Christmas tree and Blinky’s Tavern – an all-new inflatable beer and wine garden! Admission is free.

Tree lighting November 25, 5:30pm. Christmas in the Park runs to early January. See website for event listings and ticket information. Downtown San Jose; www.ChristmasinthePark.com

My Very First Nutcracker

My Very First Nutcracker” is a special one-act presentation of “The San Jose Nutcracker,” ideal for families with toddlers, preschoolers, and young children. This joyful holiday production features the festive holiday party, at which Uncle Nikola reveals his fascinating gifts. Kids will marvel at the historic San Jose Electric Light Tower rising magically above the streets of San Jose, and cheer on adorable mice and toy soldiers who compete to win a magic crown. Introduce your family to the magic of classical ballet! This performance has a run time of approximately 55 minutes. 

December 16–18. See website for showtimes and ticket information. California Theatre, San Jose; www.newballet.com

Blinky’s Illuminated Holiday

Debuted in 2020, this drive-through experience will continue this new holiday tradition in at Lake Cunningham Park. The “mile of smiles” features a synchronized light show with some of your holiday favorite tunes. Over 100,000-pixel lights capable of displaying 14 million colors illuminate twelve different themed lands and this year, a holiday fair food festival awaits upon exiting our event. 

November 24–January 1. See website for event listings and ticket information. Lake Cunningham Park in San Jose; ChristmasinthePark.com



Alameda Civic Ballet’s The Nutcracker – Performed in Castro Valley

This holiday season prepare to be transported on a magical journey with Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. From the heroic battle against the Mouse King, travel through the Land of the Snowflakes and on to the Kingdom of the Sweets. There you will meet the Sugar Plum Fairy and be entertained by the wonders of the Land of Enchantment. Choreographed by Artistic Director Abra Rudisill with gorgeous costumes and beautiful sets – all to the classic Tchaikovsky score – this is a production sure to bring out the child in all of us. 

December 2 & 3. See website for ticket information and showtimes. Castro Valley Center for the Arts 19501 Redwood Rd, Castro Valley; www.alamedacivicballet.org


Glowfari – Oakland Zoo

Glowfari is an unforgettable experience for all ages to enjoy! Featuring hundreds of larger-than-life glowing animal lanterns throughout the Zoo; and with all new animals displays for 2024. Finish the evening with a visit to Santa and ride the Express Train through our Winter Wonderland! 

This event sells out early. November 10–January 24. Oakland Zoo, Oakland Hills; www.oaklandzoo.org

Oakland Ballet Company Presents Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker”

Oakland Ballet Company’s spritely and colorful version of this holiday classic is a holiday tradition that is fun for the entire family. Brimming with holiday magic, this is the Nutcracker to see! With live music by the Oakland Symphony. 

December 16 & 17. See website for ticket information. All ages Paramount Theatre, 510-893-3132; www.oaklandballet.org

Yuletide Youth Holiday Concert

Join the award-winning singers of the Oakland Youth Chorus in a celebration of the songs, traditions, and diverse cultures that honor and create community. Sing together as we raise our voices to empower others and create harmony. 

December 2. See website for hours and ticket info. Scottish Rite Center, Oakland; www.oigc.org/events


Craneway Crafts Fair Benefit for KPFA Public Radio

Celebrate creativity and community at the Craneway Crafts Fair…a benefit for KPFA Public. The Fair showcases affordable contemporary art and original crafts exhibited by 200 artists, and presents handmade fair-trade goods from indigenous communities around the world. 

November 25 & 26. See website for hours and ticket info. Craneway Pavilion; www.cranewaycraftsfair.com


The Nutcracker

Experience the magic of the Nutcracker. This annual Tri-Valley holiday event continues to enchant audiences of all ages, bringing Tchaikovsky’s well-known music and ballet to life with all of its elegance and beauty. Thrill to a stage filled with one magical Nutcracker, a swirl of lovely snowflakes, adorable mice, dancing soldiers and a glittering sugar plum fairy.

December 9–17. See website for showtimes and ticket info. Bankhead Theatre, Livermore; www.livermorearts.org



Marin Ballet’s Nutcracker

Delight in the Magic of Marin Ballet’s Nutcracker! Rich in old-fashioned holiday grandeur, Clara’s whimsical Christmas Eve dreams come to life through the art of classical ballet enriched with clever storytelling, mischievous humor, heroic characters, and plenty of fanciful surprises. Lavish, Victorian costumes and sets frame choreography a cast of over 175 super-talented dancers shipped in from all over the state and country as they bring adventure to life in this full-length ballet production.

December 10 & 11. See website for times and ticket information. All ages. Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium, 415-453-6705; marinballet.org

Stapleton Ballet Presents: Nutcracker

The vibrant Stapleton Ballet Nutcracker provides a magical start to the holiday season! This engaging production features lavish costumes, ornate sets and joyful choreography that celebrates the spirit and exuberance of over 200 dancers performing alongside guest artists. 

Dec. 16. See website for times and ticket. All ages. Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, 415-473-6800; www.stapletonschool.org