When the holiday season rolls around, Union Square is the place to be. Arguably the most festive part of the city, downtown’s epicenter is decked out in lights, wreaths, and Christmas trees from mid-November until after New Years. With pop-up ice rinks, store-front windows filled with puppies and kittens, and tons of yummy food to be found, San Francisco is filled with holiday cheer.
This year while visiting the Square, I took four of my siblings with me to partake in the festivities. The five of us began our night with dinner at Blondie’s pizza on Powell, right off of the cable car tracks. The unique pizza joint offers about a dozen different specialty pies, as well as the classic cheese and pepperoni. The fairly large restaurant is filled with quirky details, like their sculpted staircase — with metal cut-outs of kids, a cow, and the word ‘pizza’ with an arrow pointing towards the top floor — where you order. Out of their many mouth-watering options, I immediately went for their Vegetarian pizza and a Ceasar salad. Blondie’s does not take the word vegetarian lightly. Their pizza is a herbivore’s paradise, piled high with tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, spinach, and olives. Paired with a zesty Ceasar salad, this slice was a total knock-out.
Once we finished our munching at Blondie’s, our little troop headed towards one of our favorite places during the holiday season — Macy’s. The huge shop pulls out all the stops when it comes to holiday decorations, covering it’s storefront on O’Farrell Street with thousands of lights and charming window displays. The windows hold several figurines depicting various winter scenes of children ice skating and playing in the snow. However, the cutest Macy’s window by far is the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), with puppies and kittens lying in cozy beds, snoozing the night away. The SPCA displays these animals every holiday season to boost adoption rates for the sheltered animals in need of a family. SPCA members stand outside accepting donations and answering questions of passers-by. The tiny animals could melt even the coldest of hearts, and the cuddling kittens we saw had us wishing we could take one home.
Inside Macy’s, we made our way up to their Holiday Lane on the top floor. The entrance to this winter wonderland is guarded by two comical, five foot tall nutcrackers. Inside are dozens of Christmas trees, ranging from traditional evergreens, to over-frosted white trees, and quirky blue ones. Each has it’s own array of ornaments, and various decorations, like presents, strewn under it’s branches. Along Holiday Lane is Santaland, where I took my siblings to get their picture taken with Santa Claus –– prepping them for our family’s Christmas celebration.
After we had given Santa our Christmas lists, we bid Holiday Lane farewell and headed toward Union Square itself. From the square, you can see the wreaths lining the windows of Macy’s seven floors, bringing festivity to the busy hub’s atmosphere. Also contributing to the holiday cheer is the enormous Christmas tree reaching almost as high as the buildings surrounding it. Doused in lights, the tree is easily the most eye-catching part of the block, and is a favorite photo-op of many holiday shoppers. Opposite this colossus is an equally over-sized menorah, whose candles are lit in accordance with the eight days of Hanukkah.
Next to the towering tree is an ice rink, hosted by the bay area radio station 94.9. The small rink is a magnet for tourists and locals alike, as no one is ever above the simple pleasure of winter-time activities. Ice skaters ranging from toddlers to elders slip, slide, glide, and race around the freezing rink, and attract crowds of spectators to observe the holiday fun. A quick (or not-so-quick) zip around the ice is the perfect end to a night of good eating and preparation for the holidays.
Here’s hoping your holiday season brings happiness and relaxation, and the New Year offers hope and good luck! Thanks for reading this Fall, see you all in 2015.
Words and images by Clare Kanaley
Header image via Union Square Ice Rink