San Diego Essential Guide

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San Diegans celebrate December Nights in Balboa Park

Balboa Park's Organ Pavilion during December Nights celebration.

Balboa Park’s Organ Pavilion decked for the holidays.

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.)

San Diegans celebrate December Nights in Balboa Park.

December Nights in Balboa Park. (Photo by Richard Benton)

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 in Balboa Park can get frosty. (Alison DaRosa photo)

December Nights can get frosty. (Alison DaRosa photo)

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 art right off the walls at the San Diego Art Institute. And don’t forget to buy a sprig of locally sourced mistletoe from Natural History Museum Canyoneers.

With so many attending December Nights, parking can be tougher than fitting down a chimney.  Your best bet is to take public transportation or park for $5 at PETCO Park or for free at City College. Free shuttles will ferry celebrants to and from 6th & Laurel from 3 PM to midnight on Friday and from 11:30 a.m. until midnight on Saturday.

And be sure to bundle up.  While San Diego may better known for sandmen than snowmen, it can get downright chilly here on December nights.