The best holiday lights in the Bay Area, mapped

As December is just around the corner, here's a great map to show you where all the best holiday lights are around the bay area. 

20 illuminated spots guaranteed to bring cheer

The Bay Area is no slouch when it comes to decking the proverbial halls. There are plenty of spots that take the business of holiday light decorating seriously—from a lavish private residences in Marin to a well-known cemetery in the East Bay Hills, these illuminated destinations will get you in the holiday spirit and light up the darkest of winter nights.

Bundle your family and friends into a car (or an Uber) and check out the biggest and brightest this holiday season that the Bay has to offer.

1. Rombeiro’s Christmas House

Unapologetically extravagant, this family home in Novato is truly a holiday miracle with 140,000 lights decorating the outside. Guests are treated to five decorated spaces inside the house, including a train room that boasts an impressive miniature winter wonderland scene.

2. Mickey Mouse Christmas House

It is hard to go wrong with this Disney-themed holiday display in San Rafael. The Mize families stared collecting Disney memorabilia since the 1970s and proudly display it each year amid their holiday decorations. A must for any Disney enthusiast.

3. Holiday Circle of Lights

Do not let the fact that this light display is in the Mountain View Cemetery deter you. The elaborate setup is at the front fountain, where glowing trees, trains, reindeer, skating figures, and scenes from Santa’s workshop light up the night.

4. Fisherman’s Wharf Lighted Boat Parade

This legendary boat parade takes place on December 15, where boats decorated to the nines will parade along the waterfront. The staring point is at Pier 39 and goes all the way down to Crissy Field, passing the Marina Green, and Aquatic Park. If you miss the parade, fear not since the Fisherman’s Wharf Fishing Fleet stays lit all season at Sport Fishing Harbor.

5. Oakland California Temple

Illuminated palm trees in the foreground of the temple makes for a holiday light display that is worth trekking out to Oakland for. Bonus: there’s a spectacular view of the twinkling city lights from this elevated spot in the Lincoln Highlands.

6. Holiday Nights & Sights City Tour

Jump on a motorized cable car to be whisked around the city to decked-out sights like Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, the Embarcadero and Pier 39. This 80-minute tour is the perfect way to show off San Francisco during its holiday finest. Ideal for family and friends visiting from out of town.

7. Jack London Square Christmas Tree

Admire a 55-foot Mount Shasta fir tree that is adorned with 5,000 sparkling lights on Oakland’s waterfront. Make it an evening, and grab dinner before strolling along the water afterward amid the highly contagious holiday cheer.

8. Fairmont San Francisco

As one of the city’s iconic hotels, the Fairmont has decades of experience under its belt with spreading holiday cheer to all who visit. There is an impressive decorated floor-to-ceiling tree, but the star of the show is the life-sized gingerbread house that has holiday lights dripping from the eaves, and fills the entire room with its delicious, spicy aroma.

9. Union Square

There is nothing more classic San Francisco during the holidays than joining the maddening downtown crowds, and admiring Macy’s sky high Christmas tree in Union Square that brightens up the night with 43,000 LED lights.

A few feet away is the Macy’s building that does not skimp when it comes to holiday decorations, with all its windows and exterior ablaze with lights.

10. Westfield SF Centre Inverted Christmas Tree

Take a break from your holiday shopping to admire the city’s most Instagramed Christmas tree. Hanging upside down from the domed skylight, this tree is made out of thousands of tiny crystals. Talk about holiday bling.

11. Holiday Train

Make your way to a Caltrain station on December 2 or 3rd to witness the holiday transformation of this train decked out in lights as it makes its way from San Francisco to Santa Clara. Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the crew are the only passengers allowed on board this holiday express, but you can say howdy to them at each station on the way.

12. Illuminate SF Festival of Light

36 light installations in 16 neighborhoods light up the night in San Francisco. Choose a neighborhood and view local artists’ illuminated masterpieces. Best of all, all the light installations are all accessible by public transportation. There are also free guided tours to learn the inside scoop on the art and artists.

13. McLaren Lodge Holiday Tree

Located at the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park, this holiday tradition will celebrate its 88th year this holiday season. Participate in the tree lighting ceremony on December 7th at 4p.m., which includes kids activities, live music, and even a visit from the old man himself.

14. Christmas Tree Lane

This festive neighborhood block in Alameda features homes that go the distance decorating for the holidays. Each house has its unique holiday themes, and if you are lucky you might spot Santa strolling around.

15. Tom and Jerry’s House

A longtime San Francisco tradition, this house in Dolores Heights is hard to miss with its giant illuminated Christmas tree, oversized toys decorating the exterior, and the owners’ huge stockings hung over the garage with care. If you are lucky enough, Santa Claus will make a much-anticipated appearance.

16. ZooLights

The twinkling animal light displays throughout the park will bring a smile to visitors both young and old. Catch a ride on one of the lit-up gondolas that soars through the night and provides an uninterrupted view of the Oakland Hills. For a grand finale, make sure to stay for the impressive laser light show.

17. Widmer World

This Christmas wonderland created by the Widmer family in Pleasanton, has been outshining all its neighbors for decades. Elaborate light displays are featured in both the front and back of the house, but it is the backyard that goes above and beyond with over 30 miniature decorative displays.

18. Christmas Tree Lane

Fulton Street in Palo Alto has a special tradition of decorated holiday houses that has been going on since the 1940s. Visitors are recommended to park nearby and admire the lights on foot. Decorations are brought out two weeks before Christmas, and the lights are turned on from 5 p.m.-11 p.m. daily.

19. Willow Glen Holiday Lights

Wander through this San Jose neighborhood, where residents go out of their way to light up the night with impressive holiday displays. The stretch from Markham and Mayette Avenue (nearby Willow Glen High School) is a good place to start observing the magic.

20. Fantasy of Lights

This spot allows you to fully immerse yourself in the holiday spirit by driving through this Los Gatos park with miles of light displays while listening to holiday tunes. Most nights are dedicated to driving through, but a few nights are reserved for walking if you prefer to see the lights up close.

Free shuttles care of Netflix are provided since there is no parking on-site.


Historic Hibernia Bank Building Sold, Positioned for Redevelopment

This historic building is so beautiful. No doubt the facade will be preserved as the developers decide what to do with the 55-foot height limit! 

Having hit the market last month touting its excellent redevelopment potential, as we first reported at the time, the sale of the historic Hibernia Bank building at 1098 Valencia Street has closed escrow with a $11.898 million contract price.

Designed by Arthur Brown Jr. of Bakewell & Brown and City Hall fame and built for Hibernia Bank in 1924, an addition to the concrete and steel reinforced building on the northwest corner of Valencia and 22nd Street was added along the bank parcel’s Valencia Street frontage in 1995 and the now 12,700-square-foot structure was leased to the government for use by the Social Security Administration which has occupied the building(s) ever since.

Once again, while the GSA’s lease runs through July of 2022, the government doesn’t have an option to renew and the corner site is zoned for development up to 55 feet in height, with housing encouraged above the ground story and no hard limits on the number of units allowed to be constructed based on the size of the lot.

And yes, while original building has been identified as a historic resource, said designation wouldn’t prevent a new building from rising behind its façade.


Cupertino: Unbuilt Hills at Vallco project receives architectural award

Voters in Cupertino voted down this project in November. It is just too bad this award winning design won't get built. Wish I could have seen it! 

The Hills at Vallco has been deemed an award-winning project despite its status as an unbuilt proposal.

The voter-rejected overhaul of Vallco Shopping Mall was named “Best Mixed Use Project” at the 15th annual Architectural Review’s MIPIM Future Projects Awards in Cannes, France on March 15. It was designed by Rafael Vinoly Architects and pitched by Sand Hill Property Co. roughly two years ago.

The Hills at Vallco was among 10 other “unbuilt” winners from eight different countries for categories such as “Old and New,” “Sports and Stadiums,” “Innovation” and “Cultural Regeneration.” The overall winner was an apartment complex project in New York.

The future of the Cupertino project and Vallco property remains unclear. The Hills project was brought before city voters during the Nov. 8 general election by way of ballot initiative Measure D, but was defeated along with a competing slow-growth initiative, Measure C. It is unclear if and when the project—or a similar one—will be resurrected and brought before city officials.

The large-scale redevelopment would have converted the 1970s-era mall into 2 million square feet of office space, 640,000 square feet of retail, approximately 400 residential units and a 339-room hotel, along with a 30-acre green roof which developer and site owner Sand Hill Property Co. touted as the “largest in the world.” Current entertainment options like the ice rink, movie theater and bowling alley would have remained and been integrated into the design.

Reed Moulds, managing director of Sand Hill Property Co., told this newspaper that the project is deserving of recognition.

“It was very exciting, at the end of the day, for this project to receive the validation of a global award, so we’re thrilled that we won the award this year,” he said. “Obviously the design is remarkable, and when we unveiled the project in mid-2015, there was obviously a huge response globally; it was much in response to the green roof, which is not just a design feature but part of this public realm.”

He said the project goes beyond just the green roof, and he believes it was chosen for this reason.

“I think this award wasn’t really just about design but recognizing that the project was unique,” he said. “The town center fit right into the Cupertino community and was a unique place for the community to come and gather and enjoy. It was a unique solution to a problem that I think was genuine to the needs of the community. We don’t do this to try and win awards; we do this to try and make something that fits into a community.”

Moulds also mentioned that the award leaves Sand Hill wanting more.

“It’s bittersweet because had the measure passed, we’d be under construction right now,” he said. “But it’s validating because I know the effort was completely genuine and we did our very best to see it through.”

According to the Architectural Review website, at the March 15 event, “the architectural industry elite came together from across the globe for a night of unrivaled networking and celebration of the world’s best future designs. The awards are a celebration of architectural excellence in unbuilt or forthcoming projects spanning 11 categories.”

Nandy Kumar, design and construction principal with Sand Hill, accepted the award.


The best ice skating rinks in the Bay Area, mapped

Looking for something to do with your family over this Thanksgiving weekend? Check out some of the best ice-skating rinks across the bay area.

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A long holiday weekend awaits, and what better way to get in the spirit than by putting blade to ice? Whether you are staying in San Francisco for the holiday or visiting relatives in outlying suburbs, there are some pretty cool rinks to visit. Go on and hit the ice and let your inner Brian Boitano shine.

1. Snoopy's Home Ice

This charming indoor rink is done in the style of a Swiss Chalet. It is across the way from the Charles Schultz Museum. Don't miss the Warm Puppy Cafe.

1667 W Steele Ln
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
(707) 546-7147
Visit Website

2. Marin On Ice

Marin’s only real outdoor ice skating rink features 6,400-square-feet of ice. Open until January 7. Tickets are $15, price includes skate rental.

5800 Northgate Dr
San Rafael, CA 94903
Visit Website

3. Walnut Creek on Ice

This is an 8,000-square-foot outdoor rink in Walnut Creek's Civic Park. Through January 3.

1365 Civic Dr
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
(925) 935-7669
Visit Website

4. Oakland Ice Center

When it’s not hosting hockey games, it’s the best ice skating rink in the East Bay. Check out the public skate schedule here. Admission is $11 ages 13 and older, $9.45 ages 12 and under; $4.75 skate rental.

519 18th St
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 268-9000
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5. Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center

Billed as the largest outdoor rink in the Bay Area, this Embarcadero rink, nestled next to the Vaillancourt Fountain, is open until January 7. Sessions are Sunday-Thursday (10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.) and Friday-Saturday (10 a.m.-11:30 p.m.). Tickets run $12-$7 general; skate rental $5.

4 Embarcadero Center
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 837-1931
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6. Holiday Ice Rink In Union Square

Ice rink hours are from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. each day. Ice skating sessions begin every even hour and last for 90 cool minutes. Admission is $18 for adults and $13 for kids under 9; skate rental included.

333 Post St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 781-2688
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7. California Academy of Sciences Ice Rink

A new addition to city, this is the only ice skating rink in Golden Gate Park. Bonus: It’s outdoors, too! Sessions are 55-minutes. Admission cost $12 ($10 members), including skate rental. Sessions must be reserved online or at the museum on the day of the visit.

55 Music Concourse Dr
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 933-6159
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8. San Mateo Central Park

Boasting a whopping 9,000-square-feet of ice, this Silicon Valley rink will be open until January 15. Admission runs $15, includes skate rental. Sessions start every even hour.

50 E 5th Ave
San Mateo, CA 94401
(650) 522-7400
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9. Winter Lodge

Outdoor skating through mid-April in Silicon Valley. $11 entrance; $5 skate rental.

3009 Middlefield Rd
Palo Alto, CA 94306
(650) 493-4566
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10. Downtown Ice

This outdoor rink is located in the center of San Jose, and within a ring of palm trees. They string lights on the trunks of those trees, making the open-air experience magical. The rink is open on Thanksgiving Day, and through February 7.

120 S Market St
San Jose, CA 95113
(408) 610-4055
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Housing Pipeline Holds as Construction Rises in San Francisco

As we wind down the year, I'm repeatedly asked what the market will look like in 2018. While there are many factors that affect our market, I'm keeping a close eye on the inventory on the horizon. Socket site reports that the pipeline for new construction units in the City is holding steady.


With new proposals having been submitted to the City for roughly the same number of residential units that finished construction in the second quarter of the year, the overall pipeline of apartments and condos under development in San Francisco is holding around 63,500 having peaked at 63,700 in the third quarter of 2016.

As we first noted last year, the year-over-year growth in the pipeline has been trending down since the fourth quarter of 2015. And the year-over-year gain of 204 units in the second quarter of 2017 is compared to a year-over-year gain of 8,725 units in the second quarter of 2016.

That being said, there are roughly 7,000 units of housing under construction across the city which should be ready for occupancy within the next year or two (including the remainder of Avalon’s 326-unit Dogpatch development at 800 Indiana Street, as pictured above), which is an increase of 26 percent from the 5,600 units under construction in the first quarter of the year.

In addition, there are now 11,150 net-new units of housing for which building permits have either been issued, approved or requested, and 31,500 units in projects that have already been approved but not yet permitted (which includes the majority of the 10,500 units by Candlestick, 7,800 units on Treasure Island and 5,680 units at Parkmerced, projects which have overall timelines measured in decades, not years).

And with proposals for another 13,800 units of housing under review by the City’s Planning Department, which is up from 13,300 the quarter before but versus 17,800 under review in the second quarter of 2016, San Francisco’s Housing Pipeline totals 63,500, including 10,600 “affordable” units which are to be offered at below market rates, according to our accounting of Planning’s database.

At the same time, the pace of new construction condo sales in San Francisco appears to be slowing down, at least one index suggests that new condo pricing continues to drop, and rents in the city are down as well.  We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.