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How to Have the Ultimate Christmas Family Vacation in Downtown San Francisco

12/13/2016 01:20pm ET | Updated December 13, 2017
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I'm addicted to the spirit of Christmas - so much so that I would happily pull up roots and move to Santa's Village if the big guy extended an invite.

This ever-present craving for all things jolly, cheery and evergreen-y pulled me to downtown San Francisco two weeks before The Big Day. I wanted a chance for my young son, husband and I to get away for a mini and merry trip before we were absorbed into the loving chaos of our extended family.

While most Christmas themed areas leave me wanting more (more mistletoe, more lights, more hot chocolate, more classic holiday tunes, more wreaths, more red, more green, and more cheer) I left my holiday getaway to SF full of joy, wonder and peppermint flavored spirits.

Have a hankering for your own holiday themed sojourn? Here are events and activities in downtown San Francisco to help you create the ultimate Christmas family vacation.

Breakfast with Santa at Hyatt Regency San Francisco. Walking into the Hyatt Regency, located in the heart of the festive Embarcadero Center in downtown San Francisco, filled me with that holiday giddiness I experienced as a Santa-believing child: they have mastered the art of conjuring a legit Wintertide Wonderland. The giddiness was amped up as I saw the face of my three-year-old son: he wasn't blinking.

We had a reservation for breakfast with Santa, which I assumed meant gorging on a buffet then meeting Santa for a moment under the Hyatt's massive Christmas tree. But no, we actually had breakfast with Santa: he sat down at our table and regaled my son with tales of eating too much pumpkin pie, getting stuck in our chimney last Christmas, a hiccup with getting the reindeers on the roof of the hotel and more, as my son sipped on the best hot chocolate EVER- and continued to not blink.

We could have ended our day then, with our tank of stokedness overflowing. But there was more . . .

After my son re-filled his plate at the (tiny and adorable!) children's buffet with Christmas cookies, he noticed fake snow falling in the center of the hotel: he ran into the snow and danced in happy spastic circles around a ho-ho-ho-ing Santa.

Drop the mic.

Donate Toys at Embarcadero Center. As we walked off our buffet-bellies in the decorated walkways of the Embarcadero Center attached to the Hyatt we felt abundant: so abundant we wanted to give some away.

Luckily, there are toy donation boxes scattered around this center. My son's initial inclination was to swipe a toy for him self, which offered an excellent teaching opportunity about the delicious emotions attached to giving; much to his dismay we bought a new toy and convinced him to abandon it in the box.

Cable Car Caroling. To get the full flavor of San Francisco we traveled via cable cars - many of which have been in service since the 1940's. During the holidays, these classic rides are decorated with festive wreaths and a surprising amount of folks dressed in Santa costumes.

To amp up the jolliness of the cable car experience, hop on during the annual Cable Car Caroling event, where carolers travel via cable car to sing to isolated older adults and adults with disabilities at assisted living centers, skilled nursing facilities and individual homes. Funds from this event support IOA's Friendship Line, a 24-hour toll-free hotline for seniors and adults with disabilities.

Aquarium at the Bay. There are few things as magical as watching alien-like creatures glide through elaborate aqua-scapes - with the exception of watching a toddler watching the creatures. And to connect to that warm and fuzzy festive feeling, think on the fact that a portion of the aquarium's proceeds go towards protecting and restoring San Francisco Bay, and its watershed.

If you're able to make it to the aquarium on a Wednesday in December you'll see the three resident otters romping in 1,000 pounds of snow in their river habitat.

The Velveteen Rabbit. San Francisco offers as many live performances as it does drool-worthy eateries, but the show that exudes that holiday je ne sais quoi (and won't put the kid to sleep) is the Velveteen Rabbit, performed at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts by the OCD dance company.

I was skeptical about a live performance being able to soothe my son's constant impulse to fidget and talk, but the colorful costumes, creative choreography and dramatic atmosphere captured his attention, and held it for a few days: we now have a lot of scribbled drawings of dancing rabbits.

Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center. If a white Christmas isn't an option, an expanse of ice that's suitable to slide on is a jolly alternative. The ice rink at Embarcadero pumps fun tunes to slide around to, and is surrounded by mega-decorations. My three-year decided he wanted to strap on some skates - and the shenanigans that followed were epic . . .

So, my merry friends, if you ever find yourself in short supply of holiday cheer, head to the heart of The Golden City to recharge your gingerbread scented jolly juju.

*The author is not affiliated with any of the listed establishments.