The Magic of Christmas is on full display at the Palace Hotel


For more than 100 years, holiday vacationers have embraced the season at this historic San Francisco hotel.

Stepping into the magnificent Garden Court at the Palace Hotel never fails to blow me away. With its stained-glass dome lined with a series of Austrian crystal chandeliers, the three-story, Parisian-style atrium sits at the heart of the hotel — and it’s at its most beautiful come Christmastime, decked out with a soaring 40-foot tree anchoring the room in splendor.

Three years ago, my husband and I took our then-one-year-old daughter to The Palace in December for a holiday staycation in San Francisco. We’ve done it every year since—recently taking both our 4-year-old and 1-year-old daughters — and it’s now firmly one of my favorite family traditions.

Here’s why the Palace is the best place to get into the Christmas spirit in the Bay Area — and ideas for how to round out your holiday staycation in San Francisco. 

Why the Palace is a perfect Christmas staycation hotel for young kids

As a kid, I was a big fan of the “Eloise” books, which document the life of a mischievous little girl who lives at the Palace in New York, especially “Eloise at Christmastime.” And the Palace in SF has all the Eloise vibes. For more than 100 years, the hotel has created magical Christmas memories for families.

On our recent trip, friendly greeters warmly welcomed my daughters with smiles and chocolates. In the lobby, a “North Pole Post Office” invites kids to write letters to Santa (which hotel staff will answer by email later, letting them know their wishes have been sent off to the North Pole.) Everywhere you look, opulence abounds — Christmas trees and decor make every corner of the hotel sparkle. You would have to be a truly cold-hearted Grinch to not feel charmed and merry at the Palace this time of year. 

The Magic of Christmas is on full display at the Palace Hotel
The Magic of Christmas is on full display at the Palace Hotel

While the Palace is luxurious, it’s different from the kind of place where you’ll be given the evil eye for bringing your kids. They go out of their way to make children feel welcome, and I saw plenty of families dressed up in their holiday best, posing for photos and getting in the spirit.

Rooms are modern and come in various configurations, from a standard King to spacious suites. We had a plate of adorably decorated cupcakes and sparkling apple cider waiting for my daughters in our room. Another kid-friendly perk: there’s a heated indoor pool and hot tub.

Holiday dining experience at the Palace in San Francisco

The Palace has two on-site restaurants: the expansive Garden Court and the historic bar Pied Piper tucked off the main hall.

In the Garden Court, the hotel offers its signature breakfast buffet, daily lunch, and tea service. We always opt for the breakfast/brunch buffet, which is $44 per adult and $21 per kid. It’s a great deal for an all-you-can-eat feast in a stunning setting. The buffet offers all the classic offerings: scrambled eggs, french toast, seasonal fruit, oatmeal, homemade pastries, smoked salmon and bagels, cheese and charcuterie, etc. The staff welcomed our kids, and many families were in the room. If you want to book an experience on Christmas Day, the Palace offers brunch on Dec. 25 for $190 per adult and $95 per child with three seating times: 10 am, 12:30 pm, or 3 pm.

The magic of Christmas is on full display at the Palace Hotel
The magic of Christmas is on full display at the Palace Hotel

Another famous experience at the Palace is their afternoon tea. While we didn’t participate in the experience this year, it never disappoints. If you have older kids, in particular, who may eat more than a few bites like our toddlers and would appreciate the experience, it’s one to consider. The Holiday Signature Tea Service is $120 per adult and $60 for kids 12 and under. The best bet with kids in tow would be the Santa Tea, which offers all the same but with a visit from Santa ($140 per adult and $70 for kids 12 and under.) We were walking through the lobby when Santa was in the Garden Court, and we could get a picture with him (and skip the Macy’s appointment we had booked). 

In addition to the Garden Court, the Palace is home to the legendary Pied Piper, which debuted in 1909. The bar and restaurant are named after a famous mural by Maxfield Parrish that adorns the wall behind the bar. 

While the front of the restaurant is mainly a bar (and great for a nightcap), the back is where you’ll want to head with kids for table service and high chairs. Pied Piper offers a full menu that we found impressive this year compared to years past — I had the Green Goddes Salad (which, fun fact, was invented at the Palace), and my husband had the piri charcoal grilled chicken. They also had a children’s menu, which, in addition to the classic kid staples like a cheeseburger and chicken finger, we appreciated, they also offered more well-rounded options like grilled salmon with broccolini, which was a perfect size. 

Pied Piper also offers live music most weekend nights, and my kids had a ton of fun listening to (and dancing to) the piano music. 

What to do in San Francisco on your Christmas staycation

The Palace is in an ideal location to head out and explore San Francisco’s best Christmas offerings. Here are my favorites:

  • The Union Square tree: The sparkling tree in the Union Square plaza is always a must-see. This year, you can do so while grabbing a coffee or pastry from Miller & Lux Provisions, a new cafe from celebrity chef Tyler Florence. He also opened a Rotisserie Café across the plaza serving rotisserie chicken and sides. 
  • Union Square rink: If you feel like skating, head in line at the Union Square ice rink, which is open through Jan. 15. General admission is $20, children eight and under are $15 — they also have cute animal skate helpers kids can hold onto while learning to skate. 
  • Winter Walk: Running Dec. 15-24, the Winter Walk is back this year after a pandemic hiatus. Free to the public, several streets downtown will be blocked off to traffic to be transformed into a winter wonderland, with live performances, Off the Grid food trucks, a holiday marketplace with more than 60 local vendors, and plenty of kid activities. 
  • Animals in the Macy’s windows: A favorite every year, don’t forget to stop and check out the adoptable dogs and cats in the Macy’s windows from the SF SPCA — and maybe take home a new furry friend.
  • Ferry Building: The Ferry Building hosts robust holiday programming, with something happening almost always. My family and I stopped by to do some holiday crafts and spent several hours there. 
  • The Nutcracker and other theater shows. What better way to get in the holiday spirit than to see The Nutcracker at the San Francisco Ballet, where the show was first performed in America and continues to be beloved by audiences decades later. Regular Nutcracker shows are recommended for kids five and up, though the ballet offers several shows that are friendly to younger kids. Other holiday performances in San Francisco right now include A Christmas Carol At the American Conservatory Theater and San Francisco Symphony’s iconic holiday film performances, including “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
The Magic of Christmas is on full display at the Palace Hotel
The Magic of Christmas is on full display at the Palace Hotel


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here