Holidays in the City

Teddy Bear Tea at the Ritz, carols at Grace Cathedral and window shopping Union Square are just a few December traditions in San Francisco. With the budget-inspired “staycation” on most agendas this year, a trip into the city for the night or just the day offers a low-cost getaway with big rewards. For instance, a stroll down Market Street will raise holiday spirits for free. Tipping their Santa hats to the past, the folks from the Market Street Association are celebrating the brilliance of yesteryear by reconstructing a “Path of Lights” from Second to Fifth Street, ending conveniently at the Westfield shopping center. Back in 1916, this promenade was lit from Steuart to Castro with yellow sodium vapor lamps; with a nod toward energy efficiency, the Path of Lights this year will be made with five-foot-wide LED snowflakes.

E-Zzz on the Wallet

The upside of the economic downturn is deals on everything from the stuff on your shopping list to a night at a hip new hotel. Play Hotwire roulette for bargains or check out these three properties.

VILLA FLORENCE This member of the Larkspur Collection hotel group helmed by Fairfax ultra-marathoner Karl Hoagland recently had a multimillion-dollar renovation. As the name suggests, the 182-room property’s design pays tribute to contemporary Italy. The adjoining Bar Norcini offers meals throughout the day and Italian wines by the glass. Members of AAA can save 20 percent on the best available rate and get a $25 gas card. 225 Powell St, 415.397.7700,

INTERCONTINENTAL Gleaming glass high-rise meets Beach Blanket Babylon: an overnight package at this new 32-story tower gets you tickets to the longest-running show in town. Completed this year, the Intercontinental is walking distance to the MOMA and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; a limo takes you to North Beach for the show. This holiday offer starts at $549 per couple and includes deluxe room, dinner for two at the on-site critically acclaimed Luce, two tickets to Beach Blanket Babylon, after-dinner drinks for two at Bar 888, and breakfast for two at Luce. 888 Howard St, 888.811.4273,

ST. REGIS Cheaper than flying to New York for a show—just drive over the bridge. Make a night of it at the St. Regis with the “Holiday Magic with the Velveteen Rabbit” option. Besides deluxe digs, the $575 price includes a private pre-performance tea party at the hotel with visits from the show’s rabbit and fairy, plus two VIP seats for the performance at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theatre across the street. 125 Third St, 415.284.4000,

Holiday Kid Fun!

Lifetime memories don’t have to cost a lot of money; check out these festive family outings.
Holiday ice skating is now happening in four city venues—including a first-time-ever rink in Union Square: The Embarcadero Center ice is open every day from November 12 through January 4; see for times and fees. Yerba Buena’s year-round rink is open too—go early to avoid the big crowds; 415.820.3532, And the San Francisco Zoo once again offers ice skating (for an additional charge) to complement its Reindeer Romp, when real live reindeer Holly, Velvet, Peppermint and Belle return for the holidays to the delight of  Bay Area kids;

The Palace of Fine Arts holds the Holiday Animation Film Festival in December, free for ages 3 and under, $11 for adults. Cap it off with a walk along Crissy Field;

True traditionalists can hear music throughout December at historic Grace Cathedral atop Nob Hill, when the Choir of Men and Boys and others fill the Gothic space with favorite carols, sacred masterpieces and yuletide songs. Tickets $30 and under; for times and dates visit

A ticket to San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker need not cost a bundle; pick seats a little farther from the stage for as little as $20 to see the production the New York Times has deemed “striking, elegant and beautiful.”

Introduce your child to the timeless tale of grumpy old Scrooge for as little as $14. American Conservatory Theater’s A Christmas Carol is a classic that resurrects true holiday spirit year after year. $14; for times and dates, visit

Mimi Towle

Mimi Towle has been the editor of Marin Magazine for over a decade. She lived with her family in Sycamore Park and Strawberry and thoroughly enjoyed raising two daughters in the mayhem of Marin’s youth sports; soccer, swim, volleyball, ballet, hip hop, gymnastics and many many hours spent at Miwok Stables. Her community involvements include volunteering at her daughter’s schools, coaching soccer and volleyball (glorified snack mom), being on the board of both Richardson Bay Audubon Center. Currently residing on a floating home in Sausalito, she enjoys all water activity, including learning how to steer a 6-person canoe for the Tamalpais Outrigger Canoe Club. Born and raised in Hawaii, her fondness for the islands has on occasion made its way into the pages of the magazine.