'Tis the Season
We've made our list and checked it twice. Here are our favorite holiday excursions for the month of December.

If you're passionate about historic houses, don't miss Christmas at the Newport Mansions, the annual event organized by the Preservation Society of Newport County. This year, open houses include the Breakers, the Elms, and Marble House — all National Historic Landmarks that exemplify the jaw-dropping grandeur of the Gilded Age in America. The Rhode Island mansions will be resplendent with fresh flowers and evergreens, and thousands of red and white poinsettias. Dining tables will be laid with period china and silver services, windows will be lit with white candles (a nod to Colonial tradition), and dozens of Christmas trees decorated in myriad styles will delight. Special displays this year include a 15-foot-tall poinsettia tree and model trains at the Breakers; a Gilded Age streetscape with period costumes and sleighs installed in the ballroom at the Elms; and a mantelpiece decorating competition by eight local gardening clubs at Marble House. All three houses will be decorated and open daily for tours through Monday, January 2, 2017. The Breakers and The Elms open daily at 9 a.m.; Marble House opens at 10 a.m. The last tour admission at all three houses is at 4 p.m., and the houses & grounds close at 5 p.m. If you go on a Sunday, you just might see Santa.

Elms Ballroom holiday detail. Photo courtesy of The Preservation Society of Newport County
Marble House Gothic Room. Photo courtesy of The Preservation Society of Newport County

Heading to London this holiday season? Be sure to stop in at Claridge's in Mayfair for their 7th holiday tree installation. This year's tree is created by Australian product designer Marc Newson and Sir Jonathan Ive, Apple's chief design officer, and fills the lobby as part of the annual Christmas at Claridge's festivities. Newson and Ive mark the first product designers involved with the event, as previous years have featured florist Kally Ellis of McQueens and couturiers Christopher Bailey for Burberry, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, Alber Elbaz for Lanvin, and John Galliano for Dior. While at the hotel, which offers a host of holiday guest packages, make the most of the Yuletide atmosphere with a high tea featuring seasonal sweets like nutmeg and cider syllabub and traditional Christmas pudding. You can burn off the calories with a walk through Kew Gardens' mile-long festival of lights tour, or head to Skate at Somerset House, the temporary ice rink (it's up through January 15) set within the courtyard of the spectacular 18th-century palace-turned-arts center.

Skate at Somerset House. Photo courtesy of TimeOut London Life After Print Ltd.

On Christmas Eve 1944, the San Francisco Ballet performed the first complete version of The Nutcracker staged in the United States. It was an immediate success and became a beloved tradition for San Franciscans and visitors alike. Since its inception in 1933, the San Francisco Ballet (America's oldest professional ballet company) has fulfilled its mission to share the joy of dance with an ever-growing and international audience, while offering a dance school of the highest caliber. For the past five years, Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson has presented a luxurious and lavishly visual telling of the Tchaikovsky classic. While casting for the 83rd Repertory Season performance remains secret until right before the event, guests are likely to see principal dancers Sarah van Patten, Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan, longtime principal character Val Caniparoli (one of the most sought after choreographers in the world), and new soloist Wan Ting Zhao. All of the children you will see on stage are students of S.F. Ballet School. To meet demand, the company has increased the number of performances this year, but don't wait to order tickets — every show will be a sellout. The two-hour performances are held at the War Memorial Opera House, a Beaux Arts landmark designed by architect Arthur Brown Jr., and run from December 10 through 29.

San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. Photo by Joel Puliatti
Prima ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan in San Francisco Ballet's "Arabian Coffee pas de tois" of The Nutcracker.
Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy of the San Francisco Ballet