The holiday season means traditions and rituals, and we Sacramentans have our share. For many of us, November and December wouldn't be as festive without a drive across the Bay Bridge and a waltz around ritzy Union Square, known as "the heartbeat of San Francisco." There will be loads going on there from now into early January.
Anchoring the square is the grade dame herself, the historic Westin St. Francis Hotel. In 2009, the owners of the 12-story classic (1904) invested $40 million in what they termed a "transformation," but was really a restoration. More than ever, walking into the St. Francis is all about stepping back in time.
One of the hotel's special holiday features will be unveiled in the lobby Wednesday and exhibited through Jan. 3. The 1,200-pound Sugar Castle was created by executive pastry chef Jean-Francois Houdrein to resemble a French chateau (pictured). Its 20 towers, 30 rooms and illuminated windows overlook a detailed medieval village, two running trains and a forest.
Beyond that charming display, the hotel has prepared for the season with an expanded schedule of events, high teas, special dinners, lodging and shopping deals, wine-tastings and holiday cocktails, discounted theater and concert tickets, and more. Details: www.westinstfrancis.com/holiday-events.
More holiday festivities are happening around Union Square plaza, including:
Macy's 22nd annual Great Tree lighting ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday. The "reusable" tree is 83 feet tall and shines with 33,000 twinkling lights and 1,100 oversize ornaments. Hosting the event will by Olympic skating star Johnny Weir, who will perform on the nearby ice-skating rink. P.S.: Be sure to get close to the other towering tree on the square, the one inside Nieman-Marcus.
The Holiday Ice Rink is open now through Jan. 16, attracting skaters of all ages and skills from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily. Rent skates at the kiosk or bring your own. Cost: 90-minute sessions are $10 for adults, $6 for 8 and younger. Information: (415) 781-2688, www.unionsquareicerink.com.
Complementing the strolling carolers and musicians who perform around the plaza are the artistic holiday-themed windows at places like Bulgari and Tiffany, Gucci and Saks Fifth Avenue. The SPCA will again have puppies and kittens in Macy's windows, in displays guaranteed to soften up any Scrooge.
For more Union Square holiday activities, special events and tips on getting around: www.visitunionsquaresf.com, and www.gocalifornia.about.com/cs/sanfrancisco/a/ unionsquare.htm