December 2019 | Holiday arts, music & events calendar

Photo courtesy of Erik Tomasson, San Francisco Ballet.

The most wonderful time of the year is here! Sure, snow and ice skating rinks aren’t normally associated with California living, but ‘tis the season to make snow angels. Gather your family and friends, ride BART, and make your way to any of these events across the Bay to enjoy winter fun that’s welcoming to all. This holiday season, make BARTable moments.

December Arts, Music and Entertainment 

Photo courtesy of Aurora Theatre Company.

Changing and Unchanging Things: Noguchi and Hasegawa in Postwar Japan (now through Dec 8) by Civic Center/UN Plaza

Changing and Unchanging Things: Noguchi and Hasegawa in Postwar Japan considers the consequential friendship of two artists, one Japanese American but drawn to Japan, the other Japanese but influenced by the West, both in search of a new direction for modern art in the aftermath of the Second World War. This exhibit at the Asian Art Museum, a five-minute walk from Civic Center/UN Plaza, is now through December 8. Tickets are available online

Testmatch (now through Dec 8) by Civic Center/UN Plaza

How can we understand the present, if we won’t acknowledge the past? Tony Award winner and American Conservatory Theater's Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon, in her Strand Theater debut, directs this scorching world premiere by playwright Kate Attwell - a contrast of two time-traveling stories focusing on cricket, a game of strict rules and hidden violence. A.C.T.'s "Testmatch" is showing at the Strand Theater, minutes from Civic Center/UN Plaza, now through December 8. Tickets range from $25-$55 and are available online

Bull in a China Shop (extended now through Dec 15) by Downtown Berkeley

Fierce feminist Mary Woolley becomes the president of Mount Holyoke College in 1901, on a crusade to stop training pious wives and start giving women a real education. The students respond, even starting a fan club for Woolley’s long-term romance with teacher Jeannette Marks. But leading a revolution from inside an institution isn’t easy, and neither is maintaining a relationship through years of challenges and change. Inspired by real letters between Woolley and Marks, this fast-paced comedy asks: What is revolution? What does it mean to be at odds with the world? And how the hell do we grow old together? The Bay Area premiere of Aurora Theatre Company's Bull in a China Shop begins November 8 and tickets are available online ranging from $40-$70. Take BART to Downtown Berkeley and the theatre is a two-minute walk away.  

Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.
Cirque du Soleil Amaluna (now through Jan 12, 2020) by Embarcadero 

Amaluna invites the audience to a mysterious island governed by goddesses and guided by the cycles of the moon. Their queen, Prospera, directs her daughter's coming-of-age ceremony in a rite that honors femininity, renewal, rebirth, and balance-which marks the passing of these insights and values from one generation to the next. In the wake of a storm caused by Prospera, a group of young men lands on the island, triggering an epic, emotional story of love between Prospera's daughter and a brave young suitor. But theirs is a love that will be put to the test. The couple must face numerous demanding trials and overcome daunting setbacks before they can achieve mutual trust, faith, and harmony. Under the Big Top at Oracle Park, tickets for Amaluna are available online and begin at $54. Take BART to Embarcadero and transfer to Muni T Third or take a 25-minute stroll along the Bay to the Big Top.

Oakland Museum of California | No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man (now through Feb 16, 2020) by Lake Merritt 

Marvel at the spectacular artwork and large-scale installations from one of the most widely-celebrated cultural events in the world as No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man takes over the Oakland Museum of California. Each year the weeklong Burning Man event attracts over 70,000 people to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Participants create and build Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis where experimental art installations—some ritually burned to the ground—are the centerpiece for innovators, makers, and a burgeoning artistic community. The exhibition will illuminate the values of Burning Man through its guiding Ten Principles: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-reliance, Radical Self-expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation, and Immediacy. Don't miss the West Coast debut of the first major museum exhibition of its kind. More information and tickets can be found online. Take BART to Lake Merritt and walk five minutes to the museum. 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (now through May 17, 2020) by Powell St

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a new play by Jack Thorne is coming to San Francisco’s Curran. With record-breaking productions currently running in London and New York, as well as the February 2019 opening of the first Australian production in Melbourne, the San Francisco production will mark the fourth engagement of the smash hit play, as well as its West Coast premiere in North America. Tickets can be purchased online and start at $59. Take BART to Powell St and walk seven minutes to the theater.  

Photo courtesy of The Great Dickens Christmas Fair.

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair (Nov 23-Dec 22) by Glen Park 

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair is a one-of-a-kind holiday adventure into Victorian London, an elaborate party with hundreds of costumed players performing and interacting with patrons in over 120,000 square feet of theatrically-lit music halls, pubs, dance floors, and Christmas shops. It's a twilight evening in Charles Dickens' London Town - a city of winding lanes filled with colorful characters from both literature and history. Enticing aromas of roasted chestnuts and hearty foods fill the air. Cries of street vendors hawking their wares ring out above the bustling crowd. Dozens of lamplit shops are filled to overflowing with Christmas gifts. The Dickens Christmas Fair is a treasured Bay Area tradition since 1970 and a splendid way to celebrate the holidays. Tickets are available online and at the door. Take BART to Glen Park and catch the free shuttle to the Cow Palace. 

62nd Annual San Francisco International Auto Show (Nov 28-Dec 2) by Montgomery St

The San Francisco Chronicle 62nd Annual International Auto Show, presented by Golden1 Credit Union and supported by the California New Car Dealers Association, will feature the newest releases and many of the 2020 model-year cars, trucks, SUV’s, crossovers and alternative fuel vehicles from the world’s major auto manufacturers. In addition to the newest model vehicles, the Auto Show will feature Free Test Drive opportunities from several manufacturers; alternative fuel and hi-tech vehicles; exotic sports cars; the Academy of Art University Classic Car Collection; the San Francisco Auto Salon featuring some of Northern California’s best custom cars, plus exhibits from the Ferrari Club of America, the Aston Martin Club, an exhibit of privately owned Tesla’s, an auto accessory booth area and much more. Tickets are available online and at the door. Take BART to Montgomery St and walk eight minutes to Moscone Center.

The Golden Girls Live! The Christmas Episodes (Nov 29-Dec 22) by 16th St Mission

No matter how long it’s been since the ‘80s television series stopped filming, “The Golden Girls” remains a cult classic. Revisit the fun times and foibles of Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia in a new light when this SF theater production returns for its holiday script. Zaniness from the Miami ladies comes to the Mission’s Victoria Theater in the form of four drag queens playing the starring roles during this nostalgic parody, which runs November 29 through December 22. Tickets are available online and range from $30-$60. Take BART to 16th St Mission and walk one minute to the Victoria Theater

Photo courtesy of A.C.T.

A.C.T.’s A Christmas Carol (Nov 29-Dec 24) by Powell St

Following another successful run in 2018, A.C.T. welcomes back the Bay Area’s favorite holiday tradition, A Christmas Carol. Featuring a lively cast of dozens, delightful music, gorgeous costumes, and deliciously spooky ghosts, this version of A Christmas Carol, adapted by Paul Walsh and Carey Perloff, stays true to the heart of Dickens’s timeless story of redemption and brings a playful sensibility to his rich language. Now in its 43rd year, A Christmas Carol is a cornerstone of the A.C.T. repertory and has become a holiday tradition for families around the Bay Area. Playing November 29 to December 24 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater, seven minutes away from Powell St station. Tickets are available online and range from $22-$160.

Asleep at the Wheel Merry Texas Christmas Y’all (Dec 5-6) by Downtown Berkeley

New Routes the brand-new album by Asleep at the Wheel, marks both a new path forward and a nod to the freewheeling roots (get it?) of one of Texas’ most beloved bands. After a decade of collaborating on record with friends, including Willie Nelson on 2009’s Grammy Nominated Willie and the Wheel and in 2015 their critically acclaimed and Grammy winning tribute to the groundbreaking music of Western Swing pioneer Bob Wills, titled Still the King. With New Routes the Wheel has released their first album of new material in over a decade! Asleep at the Wheel’s Merry Texas Christmas Ya’ll with special guest, Chris O’Connell will be at Freight & Salvage December 5-6, minutes from Downtown Berkeley station. Tickets for this Texas Christmas are on sale online and range from $20-$40.

Shotgun Players’ Vinegar Tom (Dec 6-Jan 5, 2020) by Ashby

If witches have so much power, then why are they always poverty-stricken? Vinegar Tom is a wild mash-up of desperate women living in 17th century society with modern musical numbers connecting the tale to our own troubled times. This is writer Caryl Churchill at her best: raw, satirical, political, and mad as hell! Vinegar Tom begins previews on Friday, December 6; opens on Friday, December 13; and runs through Sunday, January 5, 2020, at the Ashby Stage, right across the street from Ashby station. Tickets are available online and range from $7-$42.

Photo courtesy of San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band.

Dance Along Nutcracker (Dec 7-8) by Montgomery St

Each year, the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band blends Tchaikovsky’s classic The Nutcracker ballet with an entertaining theme (this year think space and Star Wars). The result is a fun-filled original musical production brimming with wit, artistry and ingenuity. The talented cast sings and dances their way through a parody version of The Nutcracker. And when the “Dance-Along” sign flashes, the audience is invited to tug on their tutus and sashay along with the cast. This dance along takes place at the Yerba Buena Center of the Arts December 7-8 and tickets are available online and range from $35-$50. Take BART to Montgomery St and walk (or sashay) seven minutes to Yerba Buena Center of the Arts.

Holiday Soul with India.Arie and the San Francisco Symphony (Dec 10-11) by Civic Center/UN Plaza

Try an alternative to traditional versions of holiday carols. This Christmas concert joins three powerful forces for a modern approach to some revered classics: India.Arie, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and the San Francisco Symphony take the stage together on December 10 and 11 at the SF Symphony’s home—near Civic Center/UN Plaza—for a performance blending jazz, soul, and seasonal cheer. Tickets begin at $45 and are available online.

San Francisco Ballet’s The Nutcracker (Dec 11-29) by Civic Center/UN Plaza

Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” is a staple on any winter holiday season soundtrack, and SF Ballet was the first American company to bring the full ballet performance stateside in 1944. No matter how many times you’ve watched “The Nutcracker” on television or in person, it never seems to get old. The San Francisco production from Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson lights up the story of Clara and the Mouse King with stunning ballet wizardry. Celebrate the ballet company’s 75th anniversary of this timeless stage delight that runs December 11 through December 29. Tickets are available online and start at $25. Take BART to Civic Center/UN Plaza and walk seven minutes to the War Memorial Opera House.  

Photo courtesy of Smuin Contemporary Ballet. 

Smuin Contemporary Ballet’s The Christmas Ballet (Dec 12-23) by Montgomery St

Light up your holiday season with Smuin’s The Christmas Ballet! Snow white classical selections set to cherished carols top off Act I, The Classical Christmas. Don’t miss the return of old favorites, including “Ave Maria,” “The Gloucestershire Wassail,” and “Magnificat,” alongside new creations from local renowned choreographers. The Christmas Ballet is at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts December 12-23 and tickets are available online ranging from $36-$97. Take BART to Montgomery St and walk six minutes to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Snow Day in the Gourmet Ghetto (Dec 8) by Downtown Berkeley

Building snow people or having snowball fights in Berkeley may seem like an impossible thing. Thanks to Another Bullwinkel Show productions, the East Bay will host a snow-laden strip of Shattuck Avenue. For one Sunday, December 8, families can don white-Christmas attire for Snow Day in the Gourmet Ghetto, from 10am until 3pm. Live music, assorted kids’ activities, and an appearance by the Snow Queen will enliven the area just six blocks north of Downtown Berkeley station.

Fairy Winterland (Dec 13-23) by 19th St/Oakland

Children’s Fairyland is already a signature family experience in Oakland year-round, and the storybook-themed amusement park gets dressed for the holidays during the last month of the year. From December 13-23, kids and parents can participate in Fairy Winterland activities: Santa Claus, a daily Festival of Lights Parade, holiday arts and crafts, and (of course) rides. In its attempt to honor all ages and backgrounds, the park rotates through Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas, Diwali, and Chinese New Year celebrations. Take BART to 19th St/Oakland walk 12 minutes to Children’s Fairyland. 

Winter Fest at OMCA (Dec 13) by Lake Merritt

Oakland Museum of California’s 2019 Friday Nights series culminates in its final Friday event of the year, which is a multi-ethnic holiday affair on December 13 from 5-9pm. In true OMCA fashion, Winter Fest honors myriad traditions (including Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah) through performances and activities designed to both entertain and educate. Sample the full array of food, storytelling, dance, and museum exhibits. Take BART to Lake Merritt and the museum is a two-minute walk away.

Becky Nurse of Salem (Dec 19-Jan 26) by Downtown Berkeley

Becky Nurse is an outspoken, sharp-witted tour guide at the Salem Museum of Witchcraft who’s just trying to get by in post-Obama America. She’s also the descendant of Rebecca Nurse, who was infamously executed for witchcraft in 1692 — but things have changed for women since then… haven’t they? After losing her job for calling out "The Crucible" in front of schoolkids, Becky visits a local witch for help. One spell leads to another, and then everything really goes off the rails.  A world premiere by MacArthur “Genius” Grant winner Sarah Ruhl, "Becky Nurse of Salem" is an offbeat dark comedy that follows a woman coming to terms with her family’s legacy and finding her voice in our “lock her up” era.  Tickets are available online and range from $30-$97. Take BART to Downtown Berkeley and walk 3 minutes to Berkeley Rep.

Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker (Dec 21-22) by 19th St/Oakland

The spirit of the holidays is brought to life by the Oakland Ballet Company with beautiful dancing, magnificent scenery and imaginative costumes. Cheer on Marie and her soldiers as she rescues the Nutcracker Prince from the evil Rat King and then soar with our dancing snowflakes to the Land of Sweets where luscious treats await. With the Oakland Symphony along with the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir bringing Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score to life – Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker is fun for the whole family. The Nutcracker is at the Paramount Theatre, minutes from 19th St/Oakland, December 21-22. Tickets are available online and start at $20.

Winter Holidays at the Exploratorium (through Jan. 26) by Embarcadero

Looking for creative ways to spend quality time with loved ones? Celebrate the holidays Exploratorium-style as two winter traditions return—the whimsical handmade machines of Curious Contraptions and the dazzling lights of Glow.  Explore hundreds of perception-altering exhibits, awaken your senses in our famous Tactile Dome, and savor adults-only Thursday nights at After Dark. Plus, you’ll find unusual holiday gifts for everyone on your list, from unique gadgets to an entire year of memorable experiences. Located at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero, just 20 minutes from the Embarcadero station.  Tickets range from $20-$30 and can be purchased online.

Soft Power at SFMOMA (now through Feb. 17) by Montgomery

Look inside Soft Power, SFMOMA's largest-ever contemporary art exhibition, and you'll find work centered on the enduring effects of slavery, California's ecological crises around fire and fracking, undocuQueer leadership, and the real repercussions of political wars. With 20 international artists exploring important and timely issues, Soft Power is a platform for valuable viewpoints historically excluded from the museum space. Tickets are available online ranging from $25 for Adults, $22 for Seniors, $19 for Young Adults and free for Members and for visitors 18 and under. Take BART to Montgomery Street station and walk 5 minutes to the museum.

Ice Rinks

Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center, by the Ferry Building in Downtown San Francisco. Near Embarcadero BART Station. BARTable.
Photo courtesy of Embarcadero Center.

Walnut Creek on Ice (now through Jan 20, 2020) by Walnut Creek

Walnut Creek is usually known for warmer temperatures, but during winter it hosts this “cool” community gathering space of the East Bay. Public ice skating in Civic Park’s holiday ice skating rink let’s locals cruise alongside friends, kids, a signature Snowman, and even Disney characters. Not ready for skates? Less-confident skaters can rent gliders to still make their mark across the rink. Ice skating tickets start at $13, dependent on the skate date. Take BART to Walnut Creek and catch the free trolley to Civic Park.

Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square (now through Jan 20, 2020) by Powell St

The Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square returns to San Francisco's iconic plaza surrounded by festive lights, and the sights and sounds of the season. From families to friends to coworkers, everyone can enjoy this outdoor ice-skating experience. This San Francisco holiday tradition is at Union Square until January 20 and is only a three-minute walk from Powell St station. Tickets start at $13 and are available online.

Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center (now through first week of Jan) by Embarcadero.

Celebrate the holidays in San Francisco at the Bay Area's largest outdoor ice rink. Ride BART to Embarcadero station and walk four minutes to the twinkle-lit holiday ice rink across from the historic Ferry Building. The signature San Francisco ice rink is open until the first week of January and perfect for holiday fun. Tickets start at $12 for adults and $7 for children and are available online.

Winter Park Ice Rink at Civic Center (Nov 22-Jan 5) by Civic Center/UN Plaza.

In its second year, the newest winter-themed wonderland is coming back to San Francisco. The Winter Park Ice Rink at Civic Center is scheduled to open November 22 and run until January 5. It's San Francisco's holiday ice rink and track, which includes a 400-foot skating track weaving through a lighted tree forest. Tickets start at $13 and are available online. Take BART to Civic Center/UN Plaza and the rink is in Civic Center Plaza, right in front of San Francisco City Hall. 

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