Considering that we don’t get snow in the winter, extravagantly decorated locations are crucial in bringing holiday spirit to the Bay Area. One of the best places to go during Christmas time is San Francisco’s Union Square, which boasts an abundance of opportunities for festive fun.
When you arrive in Union Square, an 86 foot tall Christmas tree greets you. This is the Macy’s department store’s gift to San Francisco – a beautiful tree with over 43,000 lights and ornaments. Tourists flock to the square simply to take a photo with the holiday icon. As you approach the tree your ears will be filled with the sound of camera shutters and languages from around the world being spoken.
The grand tree’s smaller cousin is Union Square’s Menorah, sponsored by the Bill Graham Menorah Project. The Chanukah Menorah located right next to the Macy’s Tree, and is lit over the course of a week starting December 2nd. Both structures are visible best from the high floors of surrounding stores, and many savvy tourists head to the top floor of Macy’s to take their best pictures of the winter scene.
Of course, Union Square’s Christmas display would be nothing without its ice skating rink. The Rink, hosted by Safeway and sponsored by Alaska Airlines, is packed with visitors and locals throughout the holiday season. For about $20, skaters can view Union Square from a more icy point of view, complete with skates to borrow and ‘skate helper’ balancing frames for kids. Skaters also enjoy a view of the grand tree and menorah, and live entertainment from local bands and choirs.
Union Square is obviously dedicated to its holiday spirit, but is the public really as excited as the city wants them to be? The display seems mainly meant for tourists, and locals don’t seem to be that impressed with its splendor. Brenda Alvarez, a San Francisco native, actually recommended a different holiday destination in the city: Pier 39. She said that Union Square’s display is mainly a tourist trap, and that she believes it’s purpose is to attract more people to the luxury stores nearby. “Putting up all the Christmas decorations and ice skating will help (store owners) get wealth”, she explained.
All in all, Union Square is a beautiful place at Christmas time, but the appeal is mainly visual. If you’re looking for a more interactive experience, Union Square may not be for you, but if you’re looking for a true Winter Wonderland, or if you’ve simply never been, the square may be worth checking out.