A December Night in Balboa Park
San Diego’s Balboa Park is one of our nation’s great urban parks. The 1200-acre park is home to the world famous San Diego Zoo, as well as 18 different museums, a variety of sports complexes, hiking trails, playgrounds, restaurants, and an outdoor concert venue. Every December, Balboa Park plays host to San Diego’s largest free community festival, December Nights. This year, 300,000 visitors are expected to enjoy two days of food, music, and entertainment from around the world as well as the opportunity to visit several of the park’s museums free of charge. This year’s December Nights takes place on Friday, December 2nd from 5-10 P.M. and Saturday, December 3rd from 12-10 P.M. Here are some of the highlights not to miss in case you’ve got flights to San Diego this December.
International Christmas Festival: One of the more unique features of Balboa Park is The House of Pacific Relations, a consortium representing 32 countries via little cottages used to showcase national traditions. Normally, these houses are only open to the public on Sundays from noon to four but during December Nights, the cottages open their doors for two days in celebration of their International Christmas Festival. Besides displaying the Christmas traditions of countries around the world, the cottages also serve food from their native lands. Be sure to bring your appetite so you can enjoy empanadas from Argentina, pierogis from Poland, and chicken adobo from the Philippines. Those in a particularly festive mood can also enjoy Swedish glögg, Panamanian rum, and Scotch whiskey in the International Beer and Spirits Garden.
Christmas-themed performances: During December Nights visitors can enjoy a variety of free performances throughout the weekend. Balboa Park is home to the world’s largest outdoor musical instrument, the Spreckels Organ, and civic organist Carol Williams will be kicking off the festival with a performance on the city’s treasured 100,000 pound pipe organ. Over on the Casa del Prado Stage the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet will be performing various excerpts of The Nutcracker Ballet. At 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on both nights of the festival, the 30th annual celebration of the Santa Lucia Procession will take place on the California Quadrangle stage. Lucia is the traditional Swedish candle-crowned Queen of Light known to bring hope to the world and during the candle light procession; Lucia’s attendants sing traditional Swedish songs of peace. If you are looking for something truly unique, stop by the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater to see the twelve puppeteers from the Balboa Park Puppet Guild use animal characters to bring A Christmas Carol to life.
Museums: Most of Balboa Parks museums open their doors to the public free of charge during December Nights. In addition to their regular exhibits, many have special exhibits or activities planned in honor of the festival. The San Diego Air and Space Museum is featuring a Winter Wonderland theme with aviation holiday crafts, live entertainment, a beer garden, and Santa Claus photo ops in addition to their Pavilion of Flight, 3D-4D theater, and flight simulators being open. The San Diego Art Institute will have handmade Christmas ornaments for sale at artisan shop and roasted chestnuts, cider, kettle corn, and coffee and soda available for purchase. The Reuben Fleet Science Center has 100 hands-on exhibits and three IMAX theaters films open year-round and during December Nights, clam chowder bread bowls, holiday cookies, and hot chocolate are for sale at Galileo’s Holiday Eats. At the San Diego Museum of Man be sure to stop by the Holiday Hofbräuhausand Christmas Cantina for beer, wine, tacos and brats as well as exhibits on ancient Egypt, the Mayans, and native Californians. Finally, although the San Diego Zoo is closed after dark during December Nights, the Skyfari Aerial Tram Ride will be operating and offering magical views of the festivities from high up above.
Getting There: As you can imagine, traffic can be a nightmare during December Nights and parking will be extremely limited inside of Balboa Park. Your best bet is to take advantage of the free shuttle service. Shuttles will pickup from Tailgate Park (PETCO Park Shuttle) at Imperial Ave. and 13th St., the County Administrative Building at 1600 Pacific Highway, and the City College lots between 16th and B St. The park will also be accessible via bus, trolley, or train.
Photo: Thom Watson