Christmas by the Bay

Catching "snowflakes" on my tongue in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency

HILLS NEWSPAPERS: December 23, 2011

It’s Christmas by the Bay …

There’s much to be said for a white Christmas. It’s the stuff of carols and cards and Currier and Ives paintings. But singer Tom Hockenberry had it right when he proclaimed the best Christmas is just across the Bay — in San Francisco.

It’s our family tradition to spend Dec. 24 in the city. On the day before Christmas, it’s anything but calm, and that’s how we like it. We don our red apparel and head straight for holiday central — Union Square.

The stores are decorated, and a chill is in the air, we’ll be holding hands together by the tree in Union Square. The Christmas tree and the ice rink are two of our favorite draws.

All around us, shoppers with packages bustle through the square and children press noses to Macy’s windows to see the rescue animals there.

The Golden Gate is glowing on this cool December night, and the city’s highest towers shine, like presents wrapped in light.

The silver bells are ringing, with each passing cable car. An Irish Coffee greets us at the Buena Vista bar.

The Westin St. Francis is one of the city’s high towers, and it offers a wondrous view from on high. Take the elevator to the top and you’ll see the skyline from a whole new angle — every twinkling light. Have a bite in the lobby or walk down to the Palace Hotel, where tea has been served with grand elegance in the Garden Courtyard for more than 100 years.

You might be surprised to hear carolers on the cable cars, but they’ve been known to break into song at any time, along any route at this time of year. It’s a part of the fun to hop a cable car to some of San Francisco’s best Christmas venues.

The Hyatt Regency, for example, has the world’s largest atrium lobby bedecked in thousands of cascading lights with a 30-foot tree and snowfall three times a day. Outside is the city’s biggest holiday ice rink, a magical experience as you skate in the shadow of the Ferry Building and the thousands of lights on the Embarcadero.

Then grab the California Street cable car and go up to Nob Hill for a walk through the Fairmont, where a giant gingerbread house graces the lobby with 1,200 pounds of royal icing, 12 gallons of chocolate and 650 pounds of candy. If you time it just right, you can walk out at the top of the hour and hear the chimes of the Grace Cathedral as they fill the air with the sounds of Christmas.

In our family, we wrap up the evening in church, where the bells of Old St. Mary’s call worshipers to their historic brick building in Chinatown. By this time the shops are closing and a blanket of peace settles over the city. It’s a transition that, quite frankly, takes you by surprise.

It’s Christmas by the Bay. A time to celebrate in a San Francisco way. I’m with you, in my favorite place on my favorite holiday.



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