Not everyone celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. But one seasonal ritual that many can get behind is raising a glass to the winter holidays.
With a wealth of holiday-themed bars from the Marina to Hayes Valley, San Francisco proudly honors the long-standing tradition of seasonal drinking. Here are 11 of the merriest bars in San Francisco for the 2023 holiday season, with an extra Palo Alto après-ski experience thrown in for good measure. Sometimes, a mini-ski chalet with a fire pit is too good to pass up.
🗓️Nov. 17-early 2024
📍508 Fourth St.
🔗 Reserve on Yelp
Hybrid bar-arcade Thriller Social Club transforms its second-floor “showman’s lounge” into a scene from the Dr. Seuss holiday classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The walls are not only painted green and plastered with signage nodding to the story’s film version, they’re also accented with glowing neon signage. Gift-wrapped Christmas presents dangle from the ceiling, and a giant inflatable Grinch looms over all.
In addition to Thriller’s full drink menu, the bar is serving a “Grinchmas” cocktail as green as the Grinch himself, made with melon liquor, lime juice, simple syrup and a splash of Sprite. It’s topped with a freeze-dried Jolly Rancher on a pirate sword skewer. But don’t worry about breaking your teeth on this confection. The puff is as light, airy and sweet as a piece of cotton candy.
Thriller expects to keep the pop-up open through January or February 2024, so you have plenty of time to get down with Cindy Lou Who.
🗓️ Through Dec. 31
📍 32 Third St., Financial District
No one works harder than Santa during Christmas, but at Kona’s Street Market, you can imagine taking a beach holiday with Ole St. Nick at this urban oasis. It also doubles as the San Francisco outpost of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s seasonally themed tiki pop-up empire.
The Hawaiian-style bar gives a "Mele Kalikimaka" twist to Christmas, serving tropical drinks in whimsical chalices. Drink a merry mix of tequila, applejack and maple-cranberry syrup from a half-mermaid Santa cup or take a swig—or “ginger snapper”—of Navy-strength rum from a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer shot glass. The North Pole Bowl, filled with spiked black tea, spiced honey and vanilla syrup, comes in a communal tiki tub with plenty of rum for two, while other Christmas-themed cocktails bring the spirit of the season to life in coconuts and shark-shaped mugs.
If you enjoyed the glass you drank out of as much as your beverage, you can purchase a souvenir cup and take it home—and don’t forget to take a selfie with a surfer Santa. No reservations are required, so walk-ins are welcome.
🗓️ Nov. 24-Dec. 30
📍 550 Sutter St., Union Square
🎟️ $10 cover
If you’re still chasing that tropical holiday vibe, take a detour to Pacific Cocktail Haven. Kona’s sister bar decks the halls of its Asia Pacific-inspired lounge annually with loads of lights, garlands and Santa hats. PCH didn’t get back to us with details about its seasonal cocktail menu but announced on its Instagram that “fan favorite,” the “Christmas Cricket”—made with Patron Blanco tequila, Licor 43, Branca Menta, the herbaceous Southeast Asian plant pandan, coconut and bitters—would return for 2023. According to another Instagram post from PCH, seatings are first-come, first-served, festive attire is encouraged, and everyone should expect Mariah Carey on repeat.
🗓️ Nov. 28-January 2024
📍 2036 Lombard St., Marina
🔗 Reserve on bucketlisters.com
If you’re looking for a chance to sport a sexy Santa suit à la Mean Girls’ skimpy little “Jingle Bell Rock” routine, head to this ticketed experience in the back of the Marina’s country-themed Westwood. The emphasis is on the naughty, with the bar teasing creative cocktails in the spirit of the season and plenty of opportunities for fun and mischievous photos in the bar’s backroom, festooned for the holidays. Santa’s elves are still at work on the space, and Bucketlisters’ site is being updated with reservation details, but expect Father Christmas’ style to explode all over and gift wrapping to cover the walls.
Westwood’s sister saloon, Wilder, spreads the Christmas cheer to nearby Fillmore Street, dressing up as a folksy, casual Winter Wonderland and also promising a menu of specialty cocktails.
🗓️ Nov. 22-Jan. 2024
📍1123 Folsom St., SoMa
🔗Reserve on bucketlisters.com
Trademark busts out the Christmas trimmings for Holly Jolly Bar after a festive first-year run at Westwood last year. Among twinkly lights and plenty of tinsel, sip on cocktails served in Santa boots, snowman mugs, gingerbread cups and garnished with sweets such as marshmallows and peppermint. One cocktail or mocktail of your choice is included with the $22 price of admission.
🗓️ Nov. 28-Dec. 31
📍488A Hayes St., Hayes Valley
Around 700 Santa Clauses decorate this Hayes Valley bar, carrying on a beloved holiday tradition that began with its previous proprietor, drag queen Marlena, in 1990. As Marlena’s, the bar’s annual practice of putting up hundreds of vintage Santas on the walls grew and grew, and patrons donated more figurines over the years.
Brass Tacks continues the ritual, says co-owner Anthony Healy-London, bringing out a portion of the collection it inherited from Marlena out every year. A seasonal cocktail menu is still in the works, but expect drinks as cheery as the bar’s surroundings.
🗓️ Nov. 24-Jan. 10, 2024
📍 555 California St., Financial District
The Vault Garden offers seasonal cocktails with a view of 555 California St.’s towering Christmas tree. As you admire its coniferous bough from a tented lounge, sip on cheekily named cocktails such as a Jack Frosted Tonic, made with gin, elderflower tonic, cara cara oranges and a riesling reduction, or a Santa’s Pick-Me-Up, mixed with tequila, mezcal, coffee syrup, vanilla and bitters. Feeling chilly? Warm up with a nonalcoholic Hot & Buttered made with banana, roasted walnut butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla—although you can spike it with a shot of rum or whiskey if you’re feeling naughty.
🗓️ Through Jan. 14
📍679 Third St., SoMa
Amid a sea of sports bars near Oracle Park, the Alchemist stands out as a steampunk haven with luxurious leather couches, exposed brick walls, white damask wallpaper and vintage decorations, like an old-timey gramophone. For the holidays, the cocktail lounge with an old soul turns into a Winter Wonderland—replete with poinsettia-accented wreaths, garlands wrapped around its wooden pillars, Christmas trees tucked into corners and a giant Nutcracker monitoring one hallway. The holiday cocktail menu is still in the works, says principal owner Phil Chen, but we think that a hipster Charles Dickens would approve of knocking back a brandy here.
The Alchemist’s sister bar Downtown, the 1920s-themed Harlequin, will also be dressed up for the holidays.
🗓️Dec. 2-Jan. 19, 2024
📍8 Mission St., Financial District
You don’t need to go to the Swiss Alps for an après-ski experience. 1 Hotel San Francisco is bringing the slopes to the city—transforming the patio of its restaurant-bar, Terrene, into an après-ski experience that looks at the bay instead of Mont Blanc. Sip on effervescent cocktails featuring Fever-Tree tonics and dip some bread into melty fondue made from Cowgirl Creamery cheese. The heated patio and additional hot cocktails (TBD) will keep you warm against the bay breeze.
🗓️ Nov. 17-Jan. 28, 2024
📍 2050 University Ave., East Palo Alto
🔗 Reserve on OpenTable
If you’re feeling extra, head down to the Peninsula to the Four Seasons’ wintry pop-up featuring a skating rink, food truck and semi-private mini chalets. These cozy wooden huts are each equipped with a fire pit, warm blankets and a TV for watching holiday films like The Polar Express. After a spin around the rink, warm your belly with creamy cheese fondue, German-style Kasekrainer sausage or smoked salmon rillettes from an Alpine-inspired menu. Finish off the experience with s’mores and spiked hot cocoa fireside.
Billed as “the merriest pop-up bar in San Francisco,” Deck the Halls has not announced any details for its 2023 season—including, it should be noted, the address—but updates will be found on its Instagram in due time. Last year’s menu brought “flagship” cocktails, including a fire-tinctured tequila Krampus drink with ginger brew, an Iced Chocolate of almond milk, marshmallows and your choice of bourbon or vodka and a S’mored Old Fashioned with graham cracker whiskey, mezcal and cocoa bitters. Bottom’s up!
Christina Campodonico can be reached at email@example.com