Six ways to spend Thanksgiving 2017 in San Francisco

Thanksgiving in San Francisco

Thanksgiving doesn’t really mean much for expats. It’s not a holiday that we have memories from childhood of (unless you grew up in the US).

Unlike New Year’s Day or Christmas, in some cases, Thanksgiving can turn out to just be two days off work that feel like you’re on your own. The shops are closed, apart from the Black Friday sales, and most of your friends are gorging on turkey with their families.

How can you take advantage of that long weekend without resorting to burrowing into a blanket fort and binge watching TV? I’ve got some ideas for you.

P.S. I wrote a similar post last year, that has a lot of great ideas in it. But I like to keep things up-to-date, so I decided to create a new list this year.


If you’re an early bird and don’t like to waste the day, why not try Unthanksgiving on Alcatraz Island. It’s also known as the Indigenous People’s Sunrise Gathering and looks back on the occupation of the island by the “Indians of All Tribes” back in 1969.


It’s the only way you’ll get to Alcatraz on Thanksgiving Day, and will teach you all about the two-year occupation of the island. Boats start leaving for the island at 4.15am and everyone must be on the last boat back at 8.45am.

Buy tickets in advance from the Alcatraz website.


Ever since I moved here I’ve wanted to rent a bike and ride up Embarcadero and over the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito.

Bike San Francisco for Thanksgiving

But I’m not what you’d call a confident cyclist, or navigator, so I’ve never actually done it yet. Thanksgiving would be the perfect time though.

Think about it, there’s much less traffic on the road in the city and you probably won’t have to deal with as many crowds as usual. You might need to bring a picnic lunch with you just in case though!

There are many bike rental and tour companies in San Francisco. Blazing Saddles will be open from 8am on Thanksgiving though.


They’re not for everyone, but museum-lovers might like to know that some will be open on Thanksgiving Day.

Muir Woods Thanksgiving

Here’s a little list, along with their hours for Thursday, November 23.

  • Aquarium of the Bay: 10am to 5pm
  • Beat Museum: 11am to 7pm
  • Botanical Gardens: 7.30am to 5pm (free admission day)
  • California Academy of Sciences: 11am to 3pm
  • Contemporary Jewish Museum: 11am to 5pm
  • Golden Gate Bridge: 5am to 6:30pm (for pedestrians/cyclists)
  • Japanese Tea Garden: 9am to 4:45pm
  • Muir Woods: 8am to 5pm
  • San Francisco Zoo: 10am to 4pm


A couple of people who can’t make flights “back home” for the holiday weekend are hosting “Friendsgivings”.

Thanksgiving in San Francisco

They’re gathering people in a similar situation and doing a Thanksgiving for them. If you’ve got a bunch of expat mates, you could organise the same.

If you’re all from the same country, get everyone to make a dish from home to share. Or you could do the same from everyone’s different country and see how it pans out.


For those who like to feel like they’re helping the world become a better place, think about volunteering for Bridgewatch on Thanksgiving Day.

The Golden Gate bridge is a well-known suicide spot, and it is patrolled by police and Bridgewatch volunteers for that reason.

You can volunteer from either 10am to 2pm or from 2pm to 6pm on Thanksgiving Day on the bridge. Smiling and chatting to anyone who seems down and engaging people who are walking alone and displaying signs of depression.

Sign up here to volunteer.


Have you been watching The Great British Bake Off or did you see Halloween Wars on TV? Then you need to get down to the Westin St Francis to see the St Francis Holiday display.

The hotel’s executive pastry chef Jean-Francois Houdre bake, ice and build a land fit for the Christmas season and display it in the lobby.

It’s all unveiled on Thanksgiving Day and will include a Sugar Castle (which is apparently very popular) and the St Francis Enchanted Castle.

Thanksgiving |Thanksgiving in San Francisco | San Francisco | things to do on Thanksgiving in San Francisco | Aussie | Expat | Aussie Expat in US

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36 thoughts on “Six ways to spend Thanksgiving 2017 in San Francisco

  1. Wow I had no idea volunteers were doing watch on that bridge .. I have been there many times… we were supposed to go for Christmas but decided to travel closer to home !

    Love this list !


  2. How awesome is Bridgewatch?! I think I’d be all over that sugar castle – so cool – and the Japanese Gardens are a favourite of mine. I went to the Contemporary Jewish Museum while I was in town and didn’t really get anything out of my visit except a decent sized hole in my wallet. That said, the deli, Wise Sons in the lobby is not to be missed (and you don’t have to buy an admission ticket to eat there!)

    1. IKR? When I read about Bridgewatch, I just knew that I had to include it in the post.
      Ever since I visited Seattle and saw the Star Wars themed gingerbread creations, I’ve been hunting down every incarnation I could. Last year I think I went to the Fairmont Hotel in SF, they had a life sized gingerbread house.

    1. I’m so glad to hear that you like San Francisco so much! I love it too, but I don’t know whether it gets top billing. That might be reserved for New York ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. We don’t have Thanksgiving in Italy and yet this tradition is so fascinating. We once had a dinner much similar to the traditional Thanksgiving one in NY and it was awesome, I can’t imagine how delicious would it be!

    1. It’s always fun to try out other country’s traditions! I usually travel at Thanksgiving here, but this year we stayed with my boyfriend’s parents and it was really nice.

  4. I’ve never heard of UnThanksgiving, but I love it! I actually grew up in the SF Bay Area and I remember not knowing what to do on Thanksgiving when everything was closed. These are great ideas! I will definitely use your tips if I ever find myself back home.

  5. San Francisco seems like a great place to explore and be outdoors, even for those of us who grew up celebrating Thanksgiving. I also like the idea of volunteering– be it Bridgewatch or in a shelter or something different yet.

  6. What an interesting and thoughtful post about Thanksgiving. I hope the way you spend it will see you well-cared for and fed. Much love…thinking of you. D xx
    Thank you for linking up for #lifethisweek 45/52. Next Week: Best Birthday Ever.

    1. Thanks Denyse, I was very well cared for (and continue to be). I was served a plate stacked with double the amount of food I’d usually eat. And they were the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever tasted. Mr M’s dad sure is a phenomenal cook. I can see where Mr M gets his culinary talents from ๐Ÿ˜€

  7. This is so awesome – I kind of wish I were in SF today to celebrate! I’ll have to take your advice on my next trip out there…Thanksgiving or not ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. Great ideas on SF, especially the bridgewatching! Hope you have amazing holidays and some great adventures in the city ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. We don’t have a Thanksgiving tradition where I’m from but I’ve spent so many holidays abroad as an expat that I know how boring and miserable it can be alone. I love the idea of an Alcatraz early morning cruise to watch the sunrise or even a long weekend staycation somewhere with a sea view and ocean breeze.

    1. A long weekend staycation is a great idea Razena! The perfect opportunity to explore your own city. Because Thanksgiving is so busy for flying that you probably wouldn’t want to be anywhere near an airport.

  10. These are wonderful ideas! I haven’t been to Alcatraz yet but would be interested in hearing the Indigenous Peopleโ€™s Sunrise Gathering’s take on it. Also, appreciate your including the Bridgewatch option. As sad as it sounds it could make the difference in someone’s life. <3

    1. You’re not wrong Cynthia, and it’s heartening to know that there are people who will volunteer to help others on a holiday that they could be spending with family or friends.

  11. Unthanksgiving day seems like the perfect way to spend this weekend. I feel like there’s so much I can do to remind people of Thanksgiving’s pretty sordid past. Thanks for the suggestion!

    1. Yep, the sentiment behind Thanksgiving is genuine and it’s always great to spend time with your family but the history behind Thanksgiving is pretty awful.

  12. These are awesome ideas! I am originally from San Francisco and think that everyone in the area should experience the Sunrise Gathering. I also really like the idea volunteering at the bridge. I knew that there volunteers but the holidays can be an especially difficult time of year, especially for someone battling depression.

    1. I should plan to get to the Sunrise Gathering next Thanksgiving then I think. Thanks for backing up the recommendation Julia ๐Ÿ™‚ And I’m glad that people spend Thanksgiving helping out others.

  13. I never knew you could visit Alcatraz on Thanksgiving, so bizarre and cool! It’s awesome that people volunteer for Bridge watch. I am yet to travel to San Francisco but next year could be the year!

    1. I think the jail is closed but there’s a ceremony by Indigenous Americans that you would go for. And you can probably wander around a little bit? I hope you get here soon!

    1. Yeah, that tour was definitely only for the proper early birds. Because otherwise, why would you be up at that time on a holiday?

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