San Diego Essential Guide


San Diegans celebrate December Nights in Balboa Park

Balboa Park’s December Nights – the city’s annual two-day holiday gift to the community – promises to be bigger and better than ever this year. It’s the city’s largest free festival, expected to draw at least 300,000 in this its 35th year. The two-day celebration of entertainment, food and fun, is set for Friday, Dec. 6, from 3 until 11 pm, and Saturday, Dec. 7, sfrom noon-11pm. December Nights is as close as San Diego gets to becoming a winter wonderland. Balboa Park is decked in twinkling lights and silvery garlands. Fanciful Christmas trees abound – and the aromas of multi-cultural holiday treats waft through the air. In the spirit of the season, participating park museums open their doors to the public, free of charge, from 5 until 9 PM both evenings. Many present special holiday programs.  (Kids will be awed by the elaborate gingerbread constructions at the Mingei Museum – and can join in holiday-inspired craft projects at the Air & Space Museum. All ages will be enthralled by the amazing handbell ringers who perform at the San Diego History Center – and don’t miss the San Diego Floral Association’s exhibit at the House of Hospitality of 30 beautifully decorated holiday trees.) Festivities are family friendly, multi-cultural and staged throughout the park.  The San Diego Civic Youth Ballet will perform excerpts from “The Nutcracker” on the Casa del Prado Stage. Steps away, on the California Quadrangle near the Museum of Man, revelers can see the Santa Lucia Procession and children’s choir performances. The San Diego Civic Dance Company will present Rockettes-style routines – while a puppet-version of “The Christmas Carol” will be presented at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater. African drumming and dance performances – and Reggae music performances are planned at the WorldBeat Center. Dozens of singers, dancers and musicians will take to the stage at the Organ Pavilion. Youngsters will have the opportunity to visit with roving Santas – and they can pose for a photo in the Old Globe courtyard with Dr. Seuss’s Grinch who stole Christmas.  Kids of all ages can join with Junior Theatre students singing holiday songs. A series of children’s holiday movies will run nonstop both evenings in the theater at the Hall of Champions. There also are plenty of carnival rides to keep the younger set entertained. Hungry?  December Nights is known for its mouth-watering range of food and drink offerings. The International Cottages of the House of Pacific Relations offer traditional holiday foods from a smorgasbord of nations: Think empanadas, eggrolls, shepherd’s pie, pasties, pancit, samosas, plantains, pierogi, bourekas, baklava, paella, even blueberry soup.   Many museums offer tasty treats: Find roasted chestnuts at the San Diego Art Institute, yakisoba at the Japanese Friendship Garden, hot toddies at the Hall of Champions. In addition, numerous food vendors sell an array of yummy holiday delights – from melted Swiss raclette to fresh-baked gingerbread cookies.  The 21+ set can sip a locally crafted brew at one of several beer gardens. December Nights are prime time for holiday shopping.  Find great gifts at museum stores, from Spanish Village artisans and at a wide range of arts and crafts booths.  For $300 or less, buy a piece of original...

Posted by on Dec 5, 2013

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Attractions, Eats, Festivals, Museums

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It’s festival time at Cabrillo National Monument

The annual Cabrillo Festival, Sept. 28-29, will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year – and next month the monument itself celebrates its 100th birthday. A centennial weekend celebration is set for Oct. 12-14.   The Cabrillo Festival commemorates the day in 1542 when Portuguese navigator Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo landed on the shore of what is now known as San Diego Bay. (He had christened it San Miguel.) Sailing under the flag of Spain, he was the first European to land on the west coast of what is now the United States. A highlight of the festival is the re-enactment of Cabrillo’s landing. “Cabrillo,” his soldiers and a priest sail into the bay on the San Salvador (The Californian) and once again claim the land for Spain.   Cabrillo Festival activities begin with a commemorative ceremony at 4 p.m. on Sept. 28 at the monument. That evening there’s a dinner/dance at the SES Portuguese Hall. (Tickets cost $50; phone 619-426-0769.)   The big day is Sunday Sept. 29 at Ballast Point– one of the few times the Navy’s nuclear sub base at the end of Rosecrans on Point Loma is open to the public. (Admission is free, but you’ll need valid photo ID to get in.) Festivities, which run from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., will include music, dancing and activities for children. There will be demonstrations of Kumeyaay basket making and knot tying. Visitors can view a 16th Century Spanish soldiers living history encampment.  Vendors will native-American foods as well as foods from Mexico, Spain and Portugal.  (Cabrillo’s landing is set for around 1 p.m.)   Next month’s Cabrillo Centennial celebration will include living history tours to the top of the lighthouse (from 10 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12), bayside trail hikes, food vendors and entertainment. On Sunday, Oct. 13, an exhibitor fair is planned at the Visitors Center Complex – and actors portraying World War II soldiers will offer tours of newly restored military bunkers. The fun concludes on Monday, Oct. 14, with an 11 a.m. centennial commemoration ceremony.   Admission to Cabrillo National Monument costs $5 per car. Get more info on the Cabrillo Festival at Learn more about centennial celebration at...

Posted by on Sep 22, 2013

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Attractions, Festivals, Museums, Point Loma, What's New?

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Carlsbad Flower Fields are bloomin’ spectacular

Each spring, Carlsbad’s flower fields come alive with spectacular blooms – more than 50 acres of vibrant petal power. From early March through mid-May, visitors can get lost among vibrant rows of flowers on a gentle hillside overlooking the Pacific.  Families can find their way through a sweet pea maze, ride an antique tractor ($5 for adults, $3 for kids 3-10) and stroll through a greenhouse to inspect more than 20 varieties of poinsettias. The season is short – and filled with special events. Enjoy everything from concerts to photography workshops, depending on the day you choose to visit. There’s even a day just for kids.  Check out the calendar of events on the Fields’ website: Flower Fields general admission costs $11, $10 for those 60 and older. Kids 3-10 years old get in for $6, those 2 and younger get in free. Season passes cost $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and $14 for...

Posted by on Apr 19, 2013

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Attractions, North County

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February is San Diego Museum Month

February is Museum Month in San Diego – and everybody gets a gift: half-price admission at 42 county museums and cultural attractions.  You’ll need a pass available this month at Macy’s stores throughout the county; they’re free as long as supplies last. Pass holders get half-price admission for up to four guests per visit at most of San Diego’s top museums – everything from downtown’s New Children’s Museum  to the USS Midway aircraft carrier to the historic Marston House. It’s a chance for the family to visit La Jolla’s Birch Aquarium, the fascinating ships at the bayfront Maritime Museum and more than a dozen museums in Balboa Park — from The Fleet Science Center to the Museum of Photographic Arts to the San Diego Museum of Art – all for half price. The annual promotion was launched in 1989 by the San Diego Museum Council. Get a full list of participants at...

Posted by on Feb 20, 2013

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Museums, What's New?

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Make yourself at home at Marston House

San Diego’s Marston House tells a story that goes well beyond bricks and mortar. This 16-room Arts and Crafts masterpiece on the edge of Balboa Park was the home of George and Anna Marston and their five children. They moved in in 1905. But the story started well before then: George Marston, a philanthropist, civic leader and owner of the city’s premier department store, commissioned renowned architects William S. Hebbard and Irving Gill to build his family an English Tudor-style home. Mid-project, Gill visited his friend Frank Lloyd Wright and was inspired to change the design. The result is San Diego’s preeminent Craftsman treasure. Back then the house sat on a barren hillside, surrounded by sage and chaparral – but not for long. George hired Central Park designer Samuel Parsons to do a landscape plan for the wild open space that eventually became Balboa Park; he donated $20,000 in 1902 for initial plantings. As the plan progressed, he and horticulturist Kate Sessions, known as the mother of Balboa Park, became fast friends. George ran for mayor of San Diego twice. In 1913, his wealth cost him the election in a nasty “Silk Stockings vs. Wool Stockings” campaign. In 1917, he was blasted for being “Geranium George” in a “Smokestacks vs. Geraniums” battle. One wonders what San Diego would look like now, if Geranium George had carried the day. Even without a mayoral victory, George managed to leave our region plenty of geraniums: He bought Presidio Hill, commissioned a design for Presidio Park, built the Serra Museum and donated everything to city in 1929. He used more of his own money to buy land for what has become Torrey Pines State Reserve and Anza Borrego State Park. Visit the Marston House and savor the design. Ponder that the place had solar water heating a century ago.  Marvel at the flush butterfly joints that hold together the old-growth redwood paneling in the living room. Admire the Tiffany lamps and caress the Stickley rockers. But don’t stop there. As natural light filters golden through windows in late afternoon, remember that this was a living home. The place still feels like home. Serene. Comforting. Embrace what it might have been like to be part of the family – and let your mind play. Eavesdrop on George and Anna in easy conversation around their dining room table, with Teddy Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, Kate Sessions. Listen to the squeals of children scampering outdoors. Be transported. Become part of the Marston House story. The Marston House is at 3525 Seventh Ave. in San Diego. It’s open 10 AM to 5 PM Fridays through Mondays. Admission costs $10 for adults, $7 for students & those 65+, $4 for ages 6-12; those 5 and younger get in...

Posted by on Nov 24, 2012

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Explore new ground during “Kids Free” month

Time is closing in October — the month that kids 12 and younger get free admission at dozens of San Diego museums and attractions. Act now to take advantage of  “Kids Free San Diego” month. Participating attractions include all the kids’ favorites: Sea World, the Zoo, Legoland and the New Children’s Musuem.  But don’t overlook the opportunity to introduce youngsters to attraction they may not yet know – such as the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas, home of the largest interactive children’s garden on the West Coast. The botanic garden’s 1-acre Hamilton Children’s Garden is fertile ground for growing young minds – a great place for nurturing a child’s love of nature. It includes 14 themed sites – ranging from a butterfly garden to a rhythm garden, where kids can make music playing nature’s instruments.  Youngsters can make mud pottery in Art’s Garden,  practice their ABCs at the alphabetical Spell and Smell Garden and be awed by fruits, vegetables and flowers growing from bales of hay. A favorite destination is the massive kid-friendly tree house that combines a man-made trunk, with living trees that kids can explore from roots to canopy through tunnels, walkways and rope ladders. Beyond the Children’s Garden there are 36 more acres for exploring – with plants and trees from 15 geographic regions, including Central and South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, the Canary Islands and Mediterranean regions. Visitors can wander everything from an “undersea” succulent garden that simulates a coral reef to a tropical rain forest.  There are herb and topiary gardens – and of course, plenty of native plants and trees. The San Diego Botanic Garden, open from 9 AM to 5 PM daily, is at 230 Quail Gardens Drive in Encinitas.  Admission costs $12 for adults; during October, each paid adult gets to bring along two kids, 12 or younger, for free. Add $2 for parking (except cars with four or more passengers get in free).  There’s a small gift shop, a plant shop, a snack bar and the Children’s Garden has picnic tables. Learn more a...

Posted by on Nov 13, 2012

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Attractions, North County, What's New?

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