This year, December Nights at Balboa Park takes place on December 6 and 7. For those who’ve never been, it’s a free annual affair that draws out thousands from San Diego and beyond, including my husband and I. There are many events scheduled throughout the park and most of the museums offer free admission during the event’s evening hours.
I won’t lie. Driving to the event, finding parking, and walking through the park requires a lot of patience because so many people attend. But with a little planning, December Nights can be for you what it has been for my husband and I these many years: a fun way to get in to the holidays!
Now, to the tips!
Keep it in the immediate family. My husband and I love our family and friends. But unless we meet at one person’s place to carpool or caravan, we attend the event on our own. Keeping track of the two of us is easy; keeping more than six people together is work.
Bring cash. It’ll make transactions at the many food vendors that much simpler.
Plan to carpool and/or caravan. Fewer cars means less time parking. And save yourself the headache of trying to meet in the park! Planning a carpool or caravan also encourages you and your party to meet outside of Balboa Park and enter the event together. This helps keep everyone together from the start.
Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged, but don’t rely on it. Cell phone service can be iffy in the park when thousands of others are calling and texting at the same time. So don’t expect to immediately connect with whomever you’re trying to call or text.
Review Balboa Park’s Parking and Transportation page. The event coordinators know what they’re talking about! Just make sure to read the page carefully as there is an important note about the free shuttle service taking people to and from the PETCO Park and City College lots. Also included on the page is a PDF map of the event that points out the locations of $20/vehicle preferred parking lots.
Arrive closer to 5 p.m. Most of the museums that are offering free admission during December Nights are open to the public from 5-9 p.m. on both days. Plus, if you plan to park at PETCO or City College, you’re encouraged to park no later than 7 p.m.
Once inside, agree on an “If You Get Lost” spot. Since cell phone service isn’t guaranteed, it doesn’t hurt to have a backup plan for reconnecting, especially if there are kids with you. Consider using spots like the Japanese Friendship Garden’s concrete sign or Santa’s sleigh as if-you-can’t-find-us-within-10-minutes-of-losing-us-come-back-here spots since both are in the center of Balboa Park and face Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
Buy food from the booths around the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages. Filipino chicken adobo and pancit. Turkish baklava. Peruvian arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and picarones (donuts)! Bratwurst from the House of the Czech and Slovak Republics. Everything around the International Cottages is so much better and homier than the carnival-like vendors around the fountain. To see a tentative list of what each of the 32 cultural organizations will sell, check out the event’s Food & Spirits page.
Pick one museum you HAVE to see. I like to take my time to appreciate one thing well rather than split my time over many things I only have time to appreciate half as well.
This year, I’m hoping to check out the San Diego Museum of Art’s new exhibit, “Women, War, and Industry.”
If you’ve never been to December Nights and you’ve got kids in your pack, I recommend visiting the San Diego Model Railroad Museum because the Lego Train City Exhibit never disappoints.
Pick a second museum to serve as backup if you can’t get in to see your first choice. The Mingei International Museum is a great folk art museum almost secretly located across from El Prado. If we can’t get in to SDMA, I’m definitely open to seeing Mingei’s “Please Be Seated” exhibit and Quilts exhibit.
Otherwise, there’s always the San Diego Museum of Man’s BEERology exhibit.
>>> Do you have tips for enjoying December Nights? Please leave them in the comments! <<<
Balboa Park’s December Nights | Friday, December 6, from 3-11 p.m. and Saturday, December 7, from 12-11 p.m. | Free to attend | Visit the event website for a full list of the days’ entertainment, vendors, and activities.