It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Shannon Tracey Headshot

Flickr Todd Lappin“City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style…”

One of the benefits of living in a thriving urban area is the incredible rich calendar of events that beckon us at the holidays. The smorgasbord of season’s greetings can also be a drawback.  For my family, doing too much is a recipe for toddler meltdowns and parental overwhelm…not exactly the holiday spirit we’re looking for.

So how to choose?  Here at TransForm, we’re always looking for fun things to do that get us out of the car and into our community.  So this year, consider paring down that crazy list by focusing on car-free holiday adventures.  In addition to saving on gas and stress, you can get to know new places and help spare our air and climate.

Here are a few of our favorite holiday activities that involve walking, biking, and public transportation. 

On foot

Neighborhood caroling
Many neighborhoods organize caroling, and some even hold a few rehearsals before hitting the streets.  My neighborhood starts off by singing for the residents of a senior housing development before spreading the joy to the general public.  If there’s nothing going yet in your neck of the woods, you might just start a new tradition!

Holiday lights
Okay, maybe singing isn’t your thing.  You can still take a walk around the block and see what creative holiday décor is going on in your neighborhood.   This can be a great warm-up for our next suggestion…

On bike

Crazy holiday lights
There are always those folks who go all Chevy Chase with the lights. You can take advantage of their enthusiasm and offset their carbon emissions by biking to the show.  In the East Bay, Alameda’s “Christmas Tree Lane”  and Monterey Avenue in North Berkeley will dazzle your eyes. Tom and Jerry’s Christmas tree in Noe Valley is a popular San Francisco destination; to the north, the Marinwood Mickey Mouse Christmas House awaits; and on the Peninsula, Eucalyptus Avenue in San Carlos is the place to go.
Where: Search the map on this website to find crazy lights near you.

Bike-In Movie: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Riding your fixie to downtown Oakland and bundling up to watch a Tim Burton movie outside in December might sound a tad too hip for your style...but it’s sponsored by the Oakland Public Library and there will be free hot cocoa!  Bring your own flask.
When: December 16

Light Up The Night
Every year, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition hands out hundreds of free bike lights to people riding in the dark. They keep their distribution location secret to ensure that lights go to folks who need them the most.  Members are invited to volunteer and help give the gift of safety this holiday season.
When: December 15

On transit

Caltrain Holiday Train
Nothing beats a train that’s totally decked out for the holidays plus collects toy donations to share with less fortunate children.  Hop aboard at several stations along the Peninsula – it’s free!
When: December 5 & 6
Transit: Caltrain


Lighted Yacht Parade
If you’re more of the sea-faring type, take the bus or ferry to Jack London Square for the 59th annual Lighted Yacht Parade.  You can even ride the ferry in the parade!  You’ll see everything from giant sailboats to rowing shells strutting their stuff along the Estuary between Oakland and Alameda. Festivities on land include music, shopping, and crafts.
When: December 5
Transit: AC Transit, SF Bay Ferry

Chanukah Festival of Lights in Union Square
In 1975, San Francisco became the first place outside of Israel to hold a public celebration of Chanukah. The spark has now spread to over 500 cities worldwide.  Celebrate this lighting of the 25-foot-tall Bill Graham Menorah each night (times vary) with special performances on the first and eighth night of the festival.
When: December 6-13
Transit: BART to Powell Street

A Charlie Brown Christmas - Live
The San Francisco Symphony offers a number of holiday-themed concerts, but our favorite is the one that involves Snoopy. This year, the show begins with a sing-along led by special guest Jodi Benson, the original voice of Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid.  If you want to continue the fun after the show, you can walk over to Union Square to see San Francisco’s giant Christmas tree and take a spin around the ice skating rink.
When: December 18-23
Transit: BART to Civic Center

What are your favorite holiday outings that don’t require you to drive?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit