With the prospect of long lines, surly baggage screeners, and yet another in-flight screening of The Santa Clause 2, jolly old St. Nick has decided to scrap his usual round-the-world journey this year and make his visit to the City by the Bay via, well, the bay. The whole family can greet him when he comes ashore at "Christmas at Sea." This is one day of the year when the city's teeming waterfront is transformed from a tacky-souvenir mecca for Midwestern tourists into a holiday tableau, complete with seasonal décor and joyous revelers soaking up the festive spirit. Kids can make Christmas cards and decorations with a nautical theme, or listen to the retelling of classic Christmas stories, while parents can enjoy live yuletide music performed by veterans of the sea chantey program, and even join in on the caroling if they wish. Partygoers can make Christmas tree ornaments to bring home (just don't let the scrooges at Wal-Mart find out about it).
Many of the pier's historic seagoing vessels, including the celebrated World War II submarine Pampanito and the 1895 schooner C.A. Thayer, are also docked, decked out for the holidays, and open for tours. The highlight, of course, is when Santa arrives by reindeer-drawn ... rowboat? That's right. Apparently, the pointy shoes are too much of a hassle to take off at airport security. The famously fat guy gets his feet wet at 2 p.m. at San Francisco's Maritime National Historical Park, located at Hyde Street Pier, at the foot of Hyde near Jefferson, S.F. Admission is free-$5; call 561-6662 or visit www.maritime.org. -- Jack Karp
Time for Slime!
Alcatraz Island: freezing cold, fog-enshrouded, forbidding, and, save for a few park rangers on the clock, uninhabited. Or is it? Find out about the creatures that make their home on the chilly isle at "Slime and Spine," a nighttime tour that spotlights the Rock's presumably law-abiding wildlife. Here you can learn more than you ever wanted to know about the repulsive banana slug, the surprisingly gentle sandy shark, and the other birds, amphibians, and rodents that call the park home. Proceeds benefit the former prison's restoration projects. The tour begins at 4:20 p.m. with the Alcatraz ferry from Pier 41, Beach & Embarcadero, S.F. Admission is free-$23.50; call 561-4926 or visit www.parksconservancy.org. -- Joyce Slaton
Experts estimate that an extra million tons of waste is generated every week in this country between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Ouch! We recommend that, in addition to reusing your gift wrap, you consider the "Sustainable Sno-Globes Workshop." Part of a slew of "Green Gifts" classes at the Crissy Field Center, the series teaches families with kids 5 or older to use "trash" to make presents. Ordinary jars are transformed into tiny, glittery wonderlands via glue, water, and tinselly bits. Grandma will love 'em, and so will the landfill. The workshop begins at 10 a.m. at the Crissy Field Center, 603 Mason (at Halleck), S.F. Admission is $5 per child; call 561-7752 or visit www.crissycorkboard.org. -- Hiya Swanhuyser
Mythical Beasts Invade S.F.
You can't blame Barney-era parents for an aversion to brightly colored reptiles. But before you let one annoyingly chipper dinosaur mar the reputation of an entire species of imaginary animals, give Dragon Tales Live a chance. The sweet PBS cartoon comes to life in this musical stage show, as Emmy, Max, and their fire-breathing friends embark on adventures that just might be educational and heartwarming at the same time. The dragons fly into town at 7:30 p.m. (and the show continues through Sunday) at the Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway (at 20th Street), Oakland. Admission is $12-35; call (510) 465-6400 or visit www.dragontaleslive.com. -- Jack Karp