Foggy Day Studio

Christmas (Decorations) in San Francisco

DIY + handmade, friends + family, outdoors + seasonal, parties + events, San Francisco, style + designMaddy

"Oh the weather outside is frightfulBut the fire is so delightful And since we've no place to go Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"

Ok, let me just get this out there in the open: it doesn't snow in San Francisco. It doesn't snow near San Francisco. I think one time in high school there was a rumor that some nearby hill had snow, but it was probably under half an inch and was largely unsubstantiated.

That said, we had some marvelous rain storms this past weekend that really got me into the Christmas spirit. Then, imagine my joy when my friend Rachel asked me to get coffee at this little Union Square spot right next to the ice rink (aka right next to the glorious Macy's displays) which allowed us to take a gander at some beautiful holiday decorations.

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We grabbed a cuppa, spent some time getting dive bombed by pigeons and little brown sparrows alike, and then took a leisurely stroll around the square, surveying the decor.

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(I'm trying to convince Rachel to gift herself this backpack for Hannukah!)

We also watched the multitudes of people lingering around the skating rink. I've always wanted to go skating at one of San Francisco's seasonal outdoor rinks, and I've never done it, and yet this year when I have someone who I could ostensibly talk into taking me (read: someone who would love to go), I want to go the least of any year! Maybe it's because I've realized the rinks are only large and magical if you're the size of a third grader, and I'd rather spend that $40 a piece on a few holiday drinks at the Starlight Lounge or Rickhouse or getting sushi for dinner? Maybe?

Or maybe it's because both Charlie and I have been so busy working our tails off this season between jobs and holiday fairs and friends and family, that taking a turn around a tiny frozen rink hasn't seemed quite as appealing as staying in and watching A Muppet Christmas Carol. Adult priorities are depressing sometimes, but they're oh-so-real.

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While we may not have the same magical, snowy, fairytale Christmas that the East Coast experiences every year, I think the San Francisco architecture holds its own. Especially on a slightly overcast or rainy day - the cream and white buildings, the Victorian stylings, all come together for a visage of days long past. Somehow Christmas always reminds me of living in the 1880s, you know?

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Even my favorite sushi joint on Powell Street seems to be in on the good cheer.

While I love Christmas more than almost anyone I know, I am still living on a young professional's salary in one of the most expensive cities in the world. In fact, San Francisco is quickly catching up to New York for the title of Most Expensive City in the U.S. Add to that fact that I'm living in a studio apartment without roommates, and paying student loans, and you've got Christmas Spirit On a Budget.

Enter: How to Decorate Without Breaking the Bank

Pick your palette.

Are you going to go monochrome? I've seen lots of all-white decor this season, which can easily make a room look pulled together without much effort. Or do you prefer bright and colorful? Is non-traditional your thing - a pink tree with neon lights and multicolored ornaments? Other simple ideas are:

  • traditional red-and-green
  • red-and-gold
  • gold-and-silver with snowy white accents
  • neon - pinks, blues, greens, and oranges

Picking a few colors to stick to will ensure that your space looks uniform and cohesive without requiring that you buy all the bells and whistles of matching ornaments, stockings, and garlands.


Add texture

Felt and woolen/knitted textures are an easy way to cozy-up your home without necessarily needing to maintain a strict holiday decor code. For example, the above felt tree was purchased at Target for under $10 two years ago, and it has held up quite well for two seasons now. The white and gold coloring means I can break this guy out from October through February without issue, and the textured appearance conveys warmth and welcome to a somewhat messy apartment.

Other ideas:

  • Felt ornaments
  • Sewn characters or elves to place on bookshelves
  • A heavy blanket laid over an armchair that might normally be too warm for the rest of the year.

Go traditional

An obvious choice is to follow the traditional decorative scheme: get a tree, line it with lights and ornaments, and place small wrapped gifts beneath its boughs.

If you're in the mood for taking care of a real live tree, then fantastic! Even dense cities have many tree lots which sell trees of all sizes to fit any living space. Just be sure to account for falling needles during set up and the life of the tree, and remember to water it regularly so it doesn't get too dry and pose a fire hazard with lights.

Or, go the reusable route. I purchased this small tree (again, at Target) two years ago for a craft fair and have loved being able to easily pull it out of the closet each year, with lights still on, and setting it up in the corner of my apartment on my makeshift bookshelf. The first time this year I switched on these little Restoration Hardware lights, I could feel the season shift from fall to winter.

(This also ensures you won't need to water or do any real clean up after the holidays are over.)

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Use what you have

I bought these little globe bulbs at Target (yes yes there's a theme here - everyone go to Target for your decorative needs. And no, this isn't an ad!) for $1 to decorate the table of my most recent holiday handmade market, but they make wonderful wall decor as they are lightweight and battery operated. They even serve as a makeshift mantle for the taped up stockings.

I wanted to knit stockings for Charlie and myself this year but ran out of time. So, old magazines came to the rescue - I tried to stick to a festive color scheme and picked wintery scenes to clip out. As there's no fireplace in this apartment, the radiator will have to do!


The point is, you don't need to dress up your home like the McAllisters (seriously, what did that father do for a living? That house is huge!) to show your seasonal spirit, and to make a difference in the otherwise everyday decor of your abode. You may have to be a little more purposeful in your choices than simply throwing up a wreath and a heavily decorated tree, but it is possible to decorate on any budget.

And, don't get me wrong. I too have visions of living garlands and plaid ribbon wound around banisters and having picture perfect decor someday. Someday!

But this will do nicely for now.

How do you show your holiday spirit around the house? Let me know in the comments!