This time of year NYC gets lauded so much praise for its holiday grandeur – from the big tree at Rockefeller, to the holiday parades – even the storefront windows become something of visual merchandising legend. That being said, sometimes it’s the smaller gestures that count, and upon a recent trip to San Francisco I found the holiday spirit alive in the city in a much more casual, California way.  Ellis Street near San Francisco’s well-known shopping district of Union Square was closed to traffic and instead transformed into a casual holiday park. An open air holiday cocktail bar anchored the “lawn” with string lights and picnic tables. It was surrounded by food trucks, “3D” sculpture Christmas trees and children riding “talking animal holiday scooters”. Nothing formal or fancy about it, but basking in the warmth of the California sun it felt just right.

But more importantly the city seemed rooted in the spirit of giving. Everywhere I went retail seemed to be reminding everyone of the true meaning of the holidays. It wasn’t just the Salvation Army stand outside Macy’s, but rather each retailer I visited asked for a small donation for a greater cause. Williams Sonoma celebrated the donation with a ringing bell, Crate and Barrel had simple messaging at the cashwrap reminding guests to “share a meal” and my favorite were the kittens in Macy’s storefront windows ready for adoption in support of  SF SPCA – yes, real kittens, just screaming take me home!

Don’t get me wrong there is something magical, theatrical and grand about being in NYC this time of year, but thanks to the City of San Francisco, a city rooted in love, shared a “fresh perspective” with a casual holiday spirit and a gentle reminder about the true meaning of the holidays.