Travel: Celebrating Winter Solstice Downtown (Where All The Lights Are Bright)



I’m not entirely sure why, but this is my favorite time of year. Perhaps it’s a holdover from childhood, when year’s end meant two weeks off from school, and of relative freedom.  But I do think it’s deeper  than that. It has to do, I think, with the change of season, with the solstice, when the nights are longest and hours of sunlight the fewest. Because the sun is lower in the sky, colors are more vivid, and everything feels lighter and less tense. It’s the time of the big yin, a time to turn inward, a time for less action and more contemplation. Our bodies, whether we acknowledge it or not, are attuned to these changes. For many plants and animals, winter is a time of rest, and shouldn’t it also be for us? I wonder if some of the extra illness so many of us experience in winter isn’t partly because we fail to heed this seasonal call to rest, and instead press ahead with ever more work and social activity.

Having said that, it’s also true that there’s a great deal to enjoy now. As the weather turns colder, people seem to gather more closely, and the bustle of cities becomes more alluring. I’m not much of a shopper, but once a year or so I enjoy the crowds in downtown San Francisco, which at this time reach an almost New York-like intensity. I agreed to meet up with my friends Susanne Jensen and Sophia Hummell to take in the music, the decorations, to people watch and to have a pre-Christmas lunch. Although it was the Winter Solstice and only four days before Christmas, with temperatures in the 60’s, and a bright sun, the crowds seemed both larger and more relaxed than usual. It felt as if we’d all taken a pledge to be in a really good mood. And so, here’s a little bit of what I saw, on my own, and with Susanne and Sophia on the shortest day of year. Whether or not you observe a holiday this week, I hope you are able to slow down, take a breath, and enjoy this special time of the year. Best wishes in all you do.


Photos: Top–The world’s largest gingerbread house? Who knows, but you can walk through this edible marvel in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel, on Mason Street at the top of Nob Hill. Occasionally, the story goes, people nibble on it and the hotel pastry chefs must make repairs.  Above: A Christmas tree and menorah side-by-side in Union Square. We were dismayed that neither this tree nor any of the the other trees we saw was real.

Panettone, the traditional Italian Christmas cake, stacked nearly to the ceiling at Molinari's, on Columbus Avenue in North Beach.

Skilled musicians perform Christmas songs at the entrance to Union Square.

Wayfare Tavern, celebrity chef Tyler Florence's Sacramento Street entry into the San Francisco restaurant scene.

You don't usually see ice and palm trees in the came scene, but here it is. This ice rink at Embarcadero Center is one of three in downtown San Francisco. The Ferry Building is in the background.

Shopping opportunities abound, even at City Lights, the legendary North Beach bookstore. "Howl" sweatshirts, tee shirts or caps, anyone?

Lunch al fresco at Cafe de la Presse, corner of Bush and Grant, across from the Chinatown gate.

Have your gift wrapped and donate to the American Red Cross.

What I want for Christmas: La Cornue, the Rolls Royce of kitchen ranges, at Williams Sonoma on Post Street. One could buy a small house for that these beauties cost.

Meeting up at the Christmas tree with friends Susanne and Sophia.

I don't usually eat in shopping center restaurants, but the food at Cupola, on the fourth floor of San Francisco Center was fabulous. We ate four kinds of vegetable antipasti, a margherita pizza, butternut squash ravioli, and a salad.

This tree in a shop window is decorated with pandas, dragons and other delightful Chinatown kitsch.

Shop local: Heath Ceramics, the esteemed pottery which has been manufacturing its tableware and tiles in Sausalito since 1948, has a shop in the Ferry Building.

Finally, this sugar cube castle decorates the lobby of the St. Francis hotel, on Powell Street just across from Union Square.


3 responses

  1. This was a great post! I grew up in S.F. so its nice to see what’s going on there this time of year, especially because I live in the the country now!
    Heres hoping that you will have a wonderful day. Just wanted to tell you that while I loved your site before, its become indispensable to me since I got diagnosed with a couple of food allergies. I’m very grateful to you and your contributers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: