My Top 5 Favorites from December Nights at Balboa Park

Imagine tens of thousands of people congregating in one location for the celebration of the season! That’s exactly what I experienced during my day at December Nights in San Diego’s historic Balboa Park. This event has been a city tradition for 35 years, attracting locals and travelers of all ages. December Nights, formerly Christmas on the Prado, has everything you could want in a holiday celebration and then some! – Countless vendors and food trucks lined the walkways, the International Houses showcased cultural performances and dishes, the Organ Pavilion (amphitheater) hosted music performances, and the museums graciously opened their doors for FREE during the evening-night.

This was my second year going to December Nights and I came prepared! Here’s a clip of my itinerary:
AJ's December Nights ItineraryNotice how I scheduled in spots for “food” ;). I spent a total of 10 hours at the park and there wasn’t a dull moment, especially since I had my camera on hand and took lots of pics (which I still have yet to fully sort through). There were so many things to talk about that I’ve decided to pick my Top Five Favorites:

#5: The Japanese Friendship Garden –
If you’re looking for a quiet place to escape the crowd, this garden is the perfect spot. The Japanese Friendship Garden features a couple walkways, one leading to a shed of bonsai trees, and the other leading to a tranquil koi pond.


#4: The Spanish Art Village –
A hub of arts and culture, the Spanish Art Village provides studios for local artists to display their works, as well as conduct their day-to-day business with clients and with each other. The entire village participated in the festivities, showcasing their finest crafts and Christmas decor. Some artists also conducted public demonstrations of their skills; for several minutes, I watched as a woman spun llama wool tightly around a spool. I then proceeded to the kiln to watch a man blow glass. It was truly awe-inspiring seeing him work away at his piece of molten glass, unfazed by the heat.


#3: Reuben H. Fleet Science Center –
This was my third favorite because of all the activities available for families. It was very busy inside but I was always able to find something to do and discover a new piece of information along the way. The science center has this exhibit called “Grossology”, explaining all those things we consider gross about our bodies – burps, acne, snot… you get the picture.


#2: The Christmas Story –
A classic tale of the birth of Jesus, the Christmas Story at the Organ Pavilion is hosted by a local Baptist Church who’ve donated the large Christmas tree on stage. This pretty much remains the same every year but I always look forward to it. The performance is different than most because of the scenes that accompany the story; the Christmas tree opens up and a different scene from the story is displayed by actors.


#1: International FOOD –
The food at the International Houses was awesome! Where else can you find a place that has so many interesting cultures at once? With that in mind and an empty stomach, I went on a food-crawl to the International vendors. My first stop was the House of Spain, serving up delicious paella. Afterwards, I proceeded to the House of India for chicken curry, the House of the Philippines for lumpia, then the House of Italy for an espresso. As the night grew colder, I stopped by the House of Lithuania for some hot apple cider. YUM!


The Bad: Parking has consistently been a problem for years due to the sheer popularity of the event. I’ve heard of horror stories of people circling around the area for several hours only to find out they had to be redirected to another location and take the shuttles (which were crowded too).

Parking Tips: The park however, offers parking for $20 but I suggest only using that as your last resort; it’s very convenient and helps pay for the free shuttle system for the event. Another great parking lot is at the San Diego Zoo but that too is hard to enter after 1 pm. Some parking can also be found on nearby streets a few blocks away, luckily Balboa Park has been aware of this problem and has recently initiated a construction project to build a parking structure across the bridge.

If you’re ever visiting San Diego during the holidays, I highly suggest coming to Balboa Park for December Nights! There is something for everyone to enjoy. And it’s a great way to get in the holiday spirit! 🙂

Happy Holidays,


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