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See San Francisco’s Most Spectacular Holiday Trees

Written by Christina CampodonicoPublished Nov. 05, 2023 • 10:00am
10,000 origami paper cranes decorate the branches of Grace Cathedral's "World Tree of Hope."
Grace Cathedral's "World Tree of Hope" is decorated with 10,000 origami paper cranes. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy/The Standard

While it’s only November, in just a few weeks, San Francisco will be decked out in its finest holiday regalia, including luminous twinkling lights, cable cars wrapped in garland and towering Christmas trees.  

In the spirit of the season, The Standard has put together a guide to the city’s most spectacular ornamental evergreens and when they’re lit. 

From the Fairmont Hotel’s regal setup complete with a giant gingerbread house to Grace Cathedral’s intricate origami tree of 10,000 paper cranes, here’s a rundown of some of the city’s most dazzling displays.    

Union Square Christmas Tree 

🗓️ Nov. 10 through early 2024
📍 170 O’Farrell St.

While no public tree lighting ceremony is planned this year, Macy’s confirmed with The Standard that the tree outside its Union Square store can be viewed by the public from Nov. 10 through the start of the new year.

An illuminated Macy’s building stands behind a decorated Christmas tree at night in Union Square in San Francisco, California on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022.
Macy's Christmas tree at Union Square will be viewable by the public starting on Nov. 10, 2023. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy/The Standard

More of Macy’s seasonal offerings follow, including photo ops with Santa starting on Nov. 19, and the department store’s annual Holiday Windows display showcasing adorable adoptable kittens and puppies, courtesy of the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, starting Nov. 17.

The Palace Hotel Christmas Tree

🗓️ Nov. 27-Jan. 1, 2024
📍 2 New Montgomery St., SoMa

Dreaming of a Victorian-style Christmas? Other than, say, the Dickens Fair, the Palace Hotel may be the closest you’ll come to physically inhabiting 19th century San Francisco

A 40-foot-tall Christmas tree stands in the glass-ceilinged Garden Court of the regal Palace Hotel in San Francisco, California.
The Palace Hotel’s Christmas Tree stands 40 feet tall in its glass-ceilinged Garden Court. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy/The Standard

So for a feeling of period grandeur, head to the historic hotel first opened in 1875, for a spot of tea and some Christmas cheer. Housed under the landmark’s glass-ceilinged Garden Court, the 40-foot tree is a beauty to look upon as you sip on Earl Grey tea and pretend to be a very posh San Franciscan or faux Brit.   

Grace Cathedral’s ‘World Tree of Hope’

🗓️ Dec. 4-Jan. 5, 2024
📍 1100 California St., Nob Hill

Grace Cathedral’s 15-foot-tall tree of 10,000 origami cranes returns with a tree lighting ceremony and concert on Dec. 4 from 6:30 to 8 p.m., emceed by drag queen Donna Sachet. 

A close-up photo shows a portion of the 10,000 illuminated origami paper cranes make up Grace Cathedral's "World Tree of Hope."
Handwritten origami notes fill Grace Cathedral's “World Tree of Hope” in San Francisco, as seen on Dec. 9, 2022. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy/The Standard

The irreverent order of LGBTQ+ drag nuns, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, give the tree a special blessing. The San Francisco Boys Chorus and Queer Chorus of San Francisco lift their voices. And Grammy-winning jazz pianist Tammy Lynne Hall and operatic soprano Leberta Lorál also perform. 

Civic Center Plaza Tree 

🗓️ Starts Dec. 6, 4-7 p.m.
📍 Civic Center Plaza

An illuminated Christmas tree stands in front of a lit up San Francisco City Hall at night on Dec. 9, 2022.
Lighting a holiday tree in front of San Francisco's City Hall has been a tradition since at least the mid-1930s, according to a city historian. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy/The Standard

A tradition since at least the mid-1930s, a holiday tree will once again light up Civic Center Plaza in front of City Hall with a festive glow starting Dec. 6. Tap-dancing Christmas trees, performers with the Topman All Stars, magician Josh Farenbaugh and singer Doris Bumpus will entertain crowds at the family-friendly event also featuring an appearance by Santa and a toy giveaway. The festivities kick off promptly at 4 p.m., with Mayor London Breed flipping the switch on the 50-foot noble fir at 5:30 p.m. 

McLaren Lodge’s ‘Uncle John’s Tree’ 

🗓️ Starts Dec. 7, 4-8 p.m.
📍 501 Stanyan St.

Although the historian-in-residence for the city’s Recreation and Park Department disputes the claim, local lore says the Monterey cypress in front of Golden Gate Park superintendent John McLaren’s historic residence is San Francisco’s official Christmas tree. 

A fake train carrying presents sits below the light-filled “Uncle John’s Tree” in San Francisco.
“Uncle John’s Tree” in Golden Gate Gate has been illuminated for the holidays almost every year since 1929. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy/The Standard

However, “Uncle John’s tree” has a long tradition of being lit up during the holidays. 

This year, the department celebrates with carnival rides, cookie decorating, food trucks, live entertainment and more along John F. Kennedy Promenade in Golden Gate Park from 4 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 7.

The Fairmont Hotel Christmas Tree & Gingerbread House

🗓️ Nov. 25-Jan. 1, 2024
📍 950 Mason St., Nob Hill

A 23-foot Christmas tree almost tickles the top of the Fairmont Hotel’s lobby. But the grand entrance also boasts a giant gingerbread house sporting See’s Candies. 

A culinary marvel, it’s made from thousands of home-baked gingerbread bricks and artfully decorated with the beloved California candy brand’s lollipops, candy canes and chocolates. 

A 23-foot Christmas tree decorated with blue and gold ornaments, twinkly lights and icicles stands tall in the middle of the Fairmont hotel's elegant lobby, which also houses a life-size gingerbread house decorated with gingerbread bricks and See's Candies.
The Fairmont Hotel's lobby not only boasts a 23-foot Christmas tree but also a life-size gingerbread house that can be reserved for private dining. | Source: Courtesy The Fairmont

While we don’t advise plucking sweets off the house, you can make reservations for an exclusive dining experience inside the 22-foot-high confection. For $500 plus a minimum of $1,200 in food and beverage, groups of up to 10 can enjoy a very fancy dinner or sip on high holiday tea. Naturally, such a splurge will require a reservation and an (emailed) letter to “Santa.” 

If your pockets aren’t quite that deep, See’s hosts a pop-up at the hotel during peak holiday periods. The Fairmont also hosts holiday-themed teas from Nov. 24 to Dec. 31. For anyone who’s in town for Thanksgiving weekend, a ribbon-cutting with complimentary holiday refreshments, heartwarming holiday music and photo ops with Santa Claus happens at 11 a.m. on Nov. 25. 

Christina Campodonico can be reached at

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