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Holiday traditions?

We are very new to the area and hosting Christmas at our house this year. We will have family in town for over a week and wanted to put together a tentative eating schedule. This may be far reaching, but I was hoping get a few suggestions for good holiday tradition type places to eat, order food from and get snack/bakery type items.
We are in Marin, but willing to travel to the East Bay, Sonoma and into the city. While everyone loves to eat, most are not that keen on exotic (and that includes most Asian food, aside from the occasional Chinese dinner). We aren’t looking to be tourists, but rather start making some traditions in the area so maybe everyone will be willing to come back again next year. The group includes 5 adults and two young kids (3 & 5).

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  1. Holiday tea at Nieman Marcus rotunda
    Dungeness crab
    Sees candy
    A selection of cheeses from Cheeseboard in Berkeley or the Oxbow Cheese shop in Napa
    Cheeseboard's fruitcake
    Anchor Steam Christmas beer
    Shopping at the Berkeley Bowl Christmas week, especially the day before. Ok, I'm kidding about this one.

    What are the beginning and ending dates for the schedule?

    Lots of wineries have Christmas events, but usually they are thru by Chrismas week.

    Where are people coming in from ... mid west, east coast?

    It sound like you want Christmas at home. A cool way to spend Christmas Eve would be the brunch at the Top of the Mark on Nob Hill in SF then attending services at Grace Cathedral ... maybe kill some time riding the cable cars earilier in the night. Usually the cable car operators knock out some Christmas songs with the bells and the cable cars are often decorated. You could take the cable car from Nob Hill to Fisherman's Wharf and have an Irish coffee at the Buena Vista.

    4 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Perfect! This was what I was looking for. Family will be in town three days before and three days after Christmas and are coming in from Texas. Even though they may not be able to make it to the wineries, do you know of one or two that would be having Christmas events that might be kid friendly during the next few weeks? Thanks so much!

      1. re: troybruno

        The Sunday SF Chronicle is a good source of holiday events.

        This is last minute, but McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma is having a Christmas open house Sunday Dec 4th "music and light refreshments, including our just-bottled 2011 Olio Nuovo and other estate-produced specialty foods" It is free, but you need to register online
        http://mcevoyranch.com/open_house_reg

      2. re: rworange

        I agree on the holiday hotel tour. High Tea at the Palace Hotel during the holidays is also awesome. And the Christmas Trees at Davies Symphony Hall, though I guess you have to buy a ticket to get in. Skating at the rink by Embarcadero, though the Occupiers are marring that scenery at present.

        1. re: artemis

          There's a ice rink in Union Square, which you can combine with looking at all the decorated store windows and hot chocolate and popovers at Nieman Marcus.

      3. We do a lots of things: On Christmas we go to Union Square and surrounding area and look at all the store windows(macey's puppies and kittens are a must) and inside decorations. Every hotel we pass we go in and have a drink. We do a lot of walking and you can hold a lot of booze.

        The hotels also have decorations, huge gingerbread castles, gingerbread house contests, train exhibits. We sometimes have dinner somewhere in the city with a view.

        We do the Berkely Bowl Chirstmas week. And we go to Oakland Chinatown for crab and veggies. Or we go to 99 Ranch for veggies, crab and other seafood.

        We have found it is better to go to Grace Cathedral early while the choir is practicing. It is a much quieter time than during the service. But either is good.

        Don't be afraid to be a tourist. We have lived here off and on 30 years. We still do tourist things. Our tradtition is to do what feels fun at that time. One year,before it became a huge deal, we sat on rocks and watched the Maverick contest.

        We also have gone to Muir Woods on Christmas Eve. You can't get much closer to a church feel than that. We ate in the little cafe they have. Not great food, but a great time.

        Trust me when you live in the Bay Area, you have no problem with family coming to visit.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Janet

          Thanks for the wonderful suggestions. I had wanted to visit a hotel or two, but never thought to hit a bunch at one time. Sounds like a lot of fun. Is there a day or time to hit the Berkeley Bowl to maybe avoid some of the crowds?

          1. re: Janet

            I just realized the the Berkeley Bowl is a grocery store. I had always assumed it was an outdoor market. It seems very similar to Texas's Central Markets. I have been missing Central Market immensely and am excited to check out the Berkeley Bowl. Assuming that if we get there early during the holidays, the crowds will be a lot more bearable?

            1. re: troybruno

              Go to Berkeley Bowl West, which has much more parking (overflow on Heinz if the basement is full). Yes, early in the day is better and earlier in the week, too, especially if you're getting meat or seafood from the butcher counter. Waits can be very long.

              1. re: troybruno

                Speaking of open-air market, you should hit Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Saturday morning -- it should be very festive. From there you can head into Chinatown, North Beach or along the Embarcadero to the wharf.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  And consider taking the ferry. We always take one from Jack London Square to the Ferry Building during the holidays. The OP could take one from Marin. It's particularly fun this time of year.

                  1. re: Glencora

                    I agree (weather permitting, of course).

            2. The original comment has been removed
              1. "Do you know the way to San Jose?" I mean San Rafael and it's Mi Pueblo Market.

                1 Reply
                1. re: wolfe

                  I discovered Mi Pueblo about a month ago when trying to recreate my beloved cheese enchiladas left behind in Texas. The place is great!

                2. In Marin, the Pelican Inn at Muir Beach and the Caprice in Tiburon are long time Christmas traditions. The Cowgirl Creamery in Pt. Reyes Station is a great place to get local cheeses.

                  In the city, Greens Restaurant and the Waterfront have great views and great food. It's a bit touristy, but everyone should have a Irish coffee at the Buena Vista Cafe and a chocolate sundae at Ghirardelli's at least once.

                  If you can get a reservation, Chez Panisse is a great holiday tradition.