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Arts & Entertainment

A festival of lights: ‘Let’s Glow SF’ and other lustrous displays illuminate the city

The pandemic dealt a serious blow to the entire global economy. But here in San Francisco—home to an outsized number of tech companies with generous work-from-home policies—boarded-up storefronts, a hollowed-out hospitality industry, and decreased foot traffic in retail corridors are especially concerning for local businesses owners and city leaders. And the recent string of brazen and high-profile smash-and-grab burglaries haven’t exactly helped put anyone at ease.

Finding solutions to these issues won’t be easy. However, if the annual lighting of the Castro Holiday Tree is any indication, large glowing objects seem to cheer people up.

In that spirit, a new creative collaboration between the Downtown SF Community Benefit District and audiovisual company A3 Visual Solutions aims to give visitors and locals a reason to return to (and perhaps spend a little money in) the Financial District—a neighborhood where many small businesses felt the sting of the pandemic especially acutely.

Let’s Glow SF” illuminates the towering walls of our city’s urban canyons with a dazzling light show. Featuring the work of nine international and local artists—including muralist Amanda Lynn, caricaturist Ericka L. Chan and multimedia artist Sophia Lee—Let’s Glow projects holiday-themed images, including ice castles, poinsettias, dancing polar bears, swirling instruments and rotating presents, on one of four skyscrapers downtown.

A projection at One Bush Plaza in San Francisco a part of Lets Glow SF hosted by Downtown SF on December 9 2021| Elliott Alexander

Last week, Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Aaron Peskin helped kick off the event outside of One Bush Plaza. With the flick of a switch, the 19-story building was transformed into massive canvas for "Holiday Star," a five-minute immersive light show by artist Sean Capone. It was accompanied by music from Nick Andre and Matthew Shaw.

"Holiday Star" is just one of many works that will appear on the sides of One Bush Plaza, the Pacific Stock Exchange, 345 Montgomery Street, and the Hyatt Regency. The light exhibits run from 5:30 to 10 p.m. every night through Dec. 12.

In addition to Let’s Glow SF, a few other radiant displays of creativity are currently showing around the city. Read on to learn more.

Winter Lights In Golden Gate Park

After sundown through Feb. 2022
Golden Gate Park

A free holiday art crawl the whole family can enjoy. There is a little something for everyone. Start at McLaren Lodge to capture a glimpse of "Uncle John's Tree," which is adorned with hundreds of lights and accompanied by a charming holiday train display. Make your way through Peacock Meadow for the return of the "Entwined" by artist Charles Gadeken, who has covered the trees with funky lights and filled the open space with abstract sculptures. After that, head to the Conservatory of Flowers for a psychedelic light experience inspired by the Summer of Love. And of course there's the SkyStar Wheel: In the spirit of the holidays, peace on Earth, and all that good stuff, we’ll just say that it offers spectacular views of the park and is real pretty at night.

Nocturne X

Thu-Sun 12 p.m.-7 p.m., through Dec. 31
Gray Area, 2665 Mission St.

Head to the Mission District and journey to another planet with Gray Area and Planet Numina Studio. Nocturne X is presented by a group of more than 100 Bay Area artists and creative technologists. Gray Area has activated all 10,000 square-foot of its space with hundreds of bioluminescent sculptures and interactive installations. 

This experience takes visitors on a journey through the galactic ecosystem of planet Nocturne X, which is a 4,000-square-foot interactive forest with surprising stories and hidden puzzles. The team at Numina Studio made hundreds of hand-sculpted glowing plants that respond to touch, sound, and movement. Tickets are $15 for kids and $30 for adults.

Dandelion Project

Fri-Sun, Noon to 7 p.m., through Jan. 21
Japan Center Mall, 1737 Post St.

The Japantown Community Benefit District, world-renowned artist Ryotaro Muramatsu, and art curation company, NAKED Inc. collaborated to activate San Francisco's historic Japantown with an interactive light exhibit that not only increased foot traffic in the historic neighborhood but also connected it to other cities around the world. Shanghai, China, Kyoto, Japan, and Paris, France are just a few examples.

“We’ve had around a thousand people come and visit so far,” said Grace Horikiri, who is the executive director of  Japantown’s CBD. Horikiri told us that the fundamental goal of the exhibit is to demonstrate support by sending a peace prayer around the globe in digital form. The visit features digital dandelions that visitors can interact with using their smartphones—“blowing” on the dandelion and sending its fluff (a symbol of peace) in real-time to other participating locations.

Meaghan Mitchell can be reached at