With its daytime temperatures peaking in the 60s, San Francisco seemed like an unlikely place for outdoor ice skating last Wednesday. Yet there they were, almost a hundred visitors from all over California—skating in a circle around a frozen swath of Union Square.
I’m a gal from Tacoma, a Pacific Northwest city where the streets do freeze on occasion, and where snowcapped mountains are constantly within view. I’m also a gal who would glide on any tiny puddle if she had skates handy, so I was excited to see what the Union Square Holiday Ice Rink had to offer visitors from Oakland, my home of several years, and beyond.
Much better than a tiny puddle, what I found was a serious ice rink packed with holiday shoppers. In Tacoma, ice rinks are “produced” by inclement weather. In San Francisco, they’re produced by Willy Bietak Productions, a company staffed mostly by professional skaters who’ve created ice rinks on movie sets, on the streets of Las Vegas, and on the beaches Los Angeles. According to rink staff member Rich Thompson, San Francisco brings its own character as a setting for ice skating.
“Union Square is a fantastic venue,” Thompson said. “You get the hustle and bustle of the crowd. It has a central location and it’s easy to access.” Asked if he sees office workers playing hooky at the rink, Thompson was diplomatic. “I see people from all walks of life, wearing all kinds of clothes,” he said.
The rink is one of several close to Oakland this season—another outdoor rink is open in San Francisco at the Embarcadero Center for the holidays, and the Yerba Buena Ice Center is open all year offering lessons and activities. Oakland has its own indoor rink, the Oakland Ice Center, and North Oakland will have a miniature outdoor rink for one day at the Temescal Holiday Stroll on December 11 at 49th street and Telegraph Avenue.
Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, was one of the Union Square Holiday Ice Rink’s busiest days yet, Thompson said. People waiting in line heard that they might not get in on the current session because the rink was running out of skates. An hour into the ninety minute session, the ice was chopped up quite a bit, but families and couples made their way around the rink with good cheer.
While plenty of small children clung to the rails while inching along, absent were the ice jockeys one typically sees at a larger rink, practicing spins and lutzes. Denee Berliner of Hillsborough brought her two children and their friends to the rink after they were dismissed early from school for the holiday. “She’s so coordinated!” Berliner said of her 7-year-old daughter Kendal, who gamely skated by on one of her first attempts at the pastime.
The rink will host a Drag Queen Night on Thursday, December 2, in which several drag queens will take the ice to skate with San Francisco’s families. “It’s open to all ages—we’ll get some skates on everybody,” said Thompson. “I’m still not sure quite what to expect with that.”
“What could be more good-spirited and ‘San Francisco’ than a legion of drag queens ice skating and laughing with moms, dads and children?” said rink manager Brian Klavano in an article published by BroadwayWorld.com.
If, like me, you are far from the frozen streets of Tacoma this winter, above is a map of Bay Area rinks that offer skating during the holidays.
In a previous version of this story, Union Square Holiday Ice rink manager, Brian Klavano’s last name was misspelled, written as Travano. OaklandNorth.net regrets the error.