Chimney Sweep

Time Journey to Olde London

At the Great San Francisco Dickens Fair you can meet Santa Claus on the streets of Victorian London. You may meet Queen Victoria or her husband Prince Albert. You can also meet Charles Dickens – and listen to him read one of his famous stories. Maybe you'll see Oliver Twist being dragged off to prison. And that is just the beginning.

You'll find dozens of other characters dressed in period costumes and playing roles large and small – from the gentlemen and ladies to a humble chimney sweep. They are all looking forward to talking to you and posing for photos. But your 19th century brain may be wondering what device you're using to take these photos.

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What is the Dickens Fair?

Six weeks before Christmas, the 120,000-square-foot San Francisco Cow Palace is transformed into a bustling 19th-century London street scene.

It's an elaborate party, to say the least, with hundreds of costumed players. You will also find seven stages where singers and dancers provide entertainment.

If all this tires you out, you can enjoy a beer or other liquid refreshments in four traditional English pubs or the Bohemian Absinthe Bar. Or caffeinate instead and enjoy a cup of hot tea and cucumber sandwiches at Cuthbert's Tea House (reservations required). The food stalls offer British-style classics such as bangers and mash, meat pies and roasted chestnuts.

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Reasons to go to Dickens Fair

The Dickens Fair is so captivating that it takes you away from everyday life for a few hours. Don't be surprised if you leave refreshed and relaxed, as if you had taken a trip somewhere else.

Charles Dickens' London may not have been quite like Dickens Fair, but it's still fun to spend some time reflecting on a bygone era. And the players are there to help you do it.

The stores have well-made goods, making the fair a good place for a little holiday shopping – if the people on your list would like what you find. The food is delicious and quite affordable compared to similar events.

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Reasons to skip Dickens Fair

If you don't like Merry Old England, you might not like Dickens Fair either. It's also not the best place if you don't like crowds.

Most adults seem to enjoy it. Younger children with short attention spans may get bored, but others will fully engage with the action.

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Dickens Fair Basics

The Dickens Fair takes place six weekends before Christmas. For details of dates and opening times, please visit the Dickens Fair website. Entry is subject to a fee. Parking is extra and payable on site.

You'll probably spend a few hours walking around, browsing, and grabbing a bite to eat. If you sit down to watch all the shows, stop at all the shops and eat a good meal, you could easily be there for three hours or more.

Reservations are not required. You can purchase your tickets online and download them to your mobile device or collect them from the ticket office when you arrive. Discounted Twilight tickets for entry after 3 p.m. are so cheap that even Scrooge couldn't complain. They are only available at the box office.

Cuthbert's Tea Shoppe serves a fun afternoon tea, but reservations are essential. Check out their website for menus and reservations, which they start accepting in September. It is also recommended to reserve a meal at Tippling Toad, which can be made at the counter or by email at

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Tips for Enjoying Dickens Fair

The event can draw large crowds, but on a Sunday morning in early December it can be just right, with enough people to make it feel festive and fun, but not so crowded that it's difficult to get around.

  • Bring cash or go hungry. Grocery vendors don't accept credit cards, but most retail stores do.
  • If you arrive by car you will have to pay a fee for parking. From the car park it is just a short walk to the exhibition halls, which are located next to the main Cow Palace building. If you don't want to make the walk, you can take a shuttle that will take you to the front door.
  • If you arrive before the show starts, you may be able to find street parking and avoid these costs.
  • You can leave and re-enter the fair if you receive a hand stamp upon exit.
  • Some participants wear costumes, but these are not required. Organizers ask that you do not come dressed as characters from Dickens novels. For more costume information visit the Dickens Fair website.
  • Leave the pets at home. You're not allowed in.
  • The fair is accessible to people with limited mobility and wheelchairs are available for half-day rentals if you need one.

How to get to Dickens Fair

Directions to all major highways can be found on the Dickens Fair website. They also have directions to public transportation. The fair offers free shuttle service from the Glen Park BART station. The address of the Cow Palace is 2600 Geneva Avenue.

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