(KPIX 5) — It all started with a tip from a waitress.

Don Sharp, KPIX 5 News Operation Manager, had driven up to the Boon Fly Café on the Sonoma Highway. The roadhouse, famous for its donuts, was one of Sharp’s favorite destination brunch spots.

But when he showed up one Saturday morning in early December, the popular cafe was practically empty.

“Nobody’s up here,” his waitress sighed. In the wake of the devastating North Bay wildfires, many people were now steering clear of wine country.

The waitress went on to tell Sharp that this Christmas, the first one after so much loss, the town of Sonoma was determined to make its landmark square extra special for the holidays.

It was a true community effort that had led to dazzling results.

Intrigued, Sharp went to check it out – and returned the next night with his drone to capture Sonoma Square’s magic.

His video was the inspiration behind a Sky Drone 5 project that would be a gift to KPIX viewers.

In one week, Sharp and his crew of licensed drone pilots would shoot holiday scenes across the Bay Area.

They had to work under a very tight time frame, as the FAA requires that commercial drones be grounded 30 minutes after sunset. With the sun setting at 4:51 pm during the shooting window, it also came at the busiest time for pilots to feed in stories and video for the KPIX 5 evening newscasts.

Some shots were a bust. While Sharp had hoped to capture the Sausalito boat parade, the boats were stalled and didn’t sail until after 8 pm. But pilot Devin Fehely, who’s stationed in the South Bay, captured beautiful video of decorated boats in Santa Cruz Harbor.

Because San Jose is in an FAA-restricted flight path, Sky Drone 5 pilot Kiet Do flew low to get the Sonic Runway installation in City Hall Plaza. While in the East Bay, pilot Alex Montano flew high over the glowing holiday tree on Emeryville’s Bay Street.

Pilot Shadi Haddad focused on San Francisco, and shot the Embarcadero waterfront and ice skating rink.

Because commercial drones are not allowed to fly over people, Shadi flew alongside the rink to capture the elegant motion of the skaters.  Haddad also shot Huntington Square and Grace Cathedral on the top of Nob Hill.

Which brings us full circle back to Sharp, who has been a pioneer in the use of drone technology for broadcast news.  While he was out scouting Oakland for a holiday lights scene, he spotted the Mormon Temple’s beautifully decorated garden filled with families and children.

While the garden is open to the public and to people of all faiths, the Temple does not permit drones to fly there.   However, thanks to the Temple’s Head of Security Dan Haws, Don was allowed to stand outside the fence, and using a field monitor, float his drone over the magnificent garden.

Happy Holidays from all of us at KPIX 5.

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