San Diego, it’s just the place to be to celebrate the holidays. The weather is nice and the events are even nicer. We just do the holidays so well. This includes Balboa Park December Nights in San Diego, a lovely 2-night event that happens every single year to celebrate the holidays.
I remember when I was a kid, seeing my sister get so incredibly excited every time it came around. When I was finally old enough to go, it was a beautiful dream come true. There’s so much to do and it’s an amazing time to take a break from life’s stressors and enjoy the little things that life has to offer. There’s a very slim chance that you can’t find something that you’d like at December Nights. Join me for a few moments to gush about it. Check out, what San Diego December Nights 2023 has to offer.
December Nights 2023
What Is Balboa Park December Night?
December Nights San Diego is an annual event that the San Diego community throws every year to give back to the lovely city that they live in. It welcomes in the holiday season while not shoving the merriment down your throat.
This 2 night event is held in Balboa Park, home to some of the most lovely exhibits and activities in the city. For more than 40 years, people come down to the park to see the beautiful lights, eat the delicious foods, and just absorb the richness of San Diego as a whole.
December Nights San Diego – Things to Do
Every single year, the City of San Diego puts on this 2-night festival the first week of December to kick off the Holidays and start to welcome in the good vibes for the festivities.
The weekend is also meant to showcase the flavors of this lovely city while giving thanks for everyone’s hard work. It can get very busy down in Balboa Park during December Nights and here are a few reasons why:
- The museums are FREE!! Yes, that’s right. From 5pm to 9pm, all 17 museums that call the park home are free entry on all nights. I highly recommend visiting the Natural History Museum, the exhibits are thrilling and their collection of fossils are fascinating. However, be prepared for long lines no matter which museum you choose to visit during the free period.
- The live music and dancing! There are dozens of performances scheduled every single day, each just as beautiful and well done as the last. It’s not just the NutCracker either, you can see performances from all over the world and all over the rainbow spectrum.
- The FOOD. There is food from all over the world. There are food trucks and vendors that proudly feature food from their beloved cultures. Every year, I would try to get a little something from every vendor over the weekend. Each dish tells a story and it’s just a shame that there’s not enough time to eat it all. The good news is that they usually have another location outside of the festival that you can plan to go to a different time.
- Local Crafts. In San Diego, there’s a certain pride about having local vendors set up shop for a festival. It’s nice to not buy from the big retailers and even nicer to speak with the person who made it. More often than not, you’ll discover why they do what they do and it’ll touch your heart. Just looking at the handcrafted items, you see the love and effort they put into it, the stories that they tell, and the beauty that their creator is trying to put into the world.
- The Lights and People Watching. Like with any good event, the decorations and the people that attend are always nice to see. The lights are beautiful, strolling down the roads with a loved one holding your hand really sets a sweet mood. On top of that, you can see the gorgeous costumed performers. This also gives you an opportunity to talk to those performers, provided they aren’t occupied, to learn a little something-something about their culture and traditions.
- Check out the International Cottages as they share local Holiday traditions and crafts as well.
- Ice Rink: For the first time this year, there is an ice rink where you can go ice skating during December Nights. It is open Friday from 3 to 10:30 PM and Saturday from 11 AM to 10:30 PM and costs $9.95 per person.
- Family Zone offers various activities that are perfect for the whole family, including Skateboarding demos, free photo ops with Santa, storytime, holiday hat-making, face-painting, and more.
I look forward to December Nights every year because it just encompasses the good vibes of San Diego and the safe place that it is to be yourself and be proud of that self, no matter your ethnicity, sexuality, or identity. San Diego encourages that expression, it hungers for it and I think that’s beautiful.
Where To Park – Balboa Park December Nights
Here are my tips for finding parking near Balboa Park for December Nights.
I recommend parking a little bit away from Balboa Park rather than in Inspiration Point. I say this because I know that getting in (depending on the time you get there) will be easier than getting out. There’s traffic at the end of the night and I guarantee that you do not want to deal with that.
Alternatively, you can take some public transportation or rideshare. What I do is take the trolley to Little Italy an hour or two before the events start so I can walk around downtown a little bit while still having plenty of time to get to the event. It takes about 30 minutes (1.6 miles) to walk from the Little Italy trolley stop to El Prado. If you prefer to walk less, you can take the trolley to the Civic Center trolley stop and walk to the bus stop on 4th/Ash and take the 3 up to Laurel Street. Then you just have to cross the bridge and you are there. Another great idea is to simply book a hotel near the park itself.
What Should You Bring?
This is event is can take a little bit of a physical toll so I suggest you bring a backpack with you packed with these important things:
- Refillable water bottle
- Portable charger
- Pepper spray or other protection (just in case)
I also recommend bringing a bigger bag for this stuff so that way you have room to store any items that you get or buy during the festival. It always sucks to be stuck with a bunch of stuff you can’t actually carry. So plan a little bit ahead.
What To Wear to December Nights?
I recommend layering, as it can get quite cool in December and you’ll be spending lots of time outside. I do advise that you wear something comfortable to walk in since you’ll be doing a lot of that.
If you plan on walking around afterward when it’s dark, try and wear something that cars and bikes can see you. If you want to dress up in ugly Christmas sweaters or matching holiday outfits for the whole family, feel free to add to the Holiday spirit.
What Time Should You Go?
December Nights begins at 3 pm and ends at 11 pm on Friday and 11 am to 11 pm on Saturday. So you could ideally go anytime between then.
HOWEVER. If you’re like me, then you might like to see the behind-the-scenes of it all or you just want to be the first in line for a particular museum or get the best spot for a particular performance. In this case, you should go an hour or two beforehand. Other people will have had this idea and go early too. If you’re just going to vibe, then go whenever you feel like it.
Some More Tips Before You Go
- Put Safety First. No matter where you go or what you’re doing, you should do your very best to be safe. Carry protection on your person and stay with a partner or group at all times. It’s a large-scale event so keep your phone charged in the event that you get lost.
- Be A Good Samaritan. This means not littering. Our community works really hard to keep the area looking nice so don’t go out of your way to leave a mess. It’s just basic decency.
- Be Aware of Cameras. When you walk into the event, there is a chance that you will be captured on video. The people who put on the event document it and make videos of the things that happen during said event. Simply by entering the area, you’re consenting to interviews, photography, videography, etc. to be used in the media in some way. So please be aware.
Balboa Park December Nights is a night of dreams, love, and celebration. The joy and love radiate all over the place. This is a weekend to share your stories and for you to listen to someone else share their stories. I do hope that you join us to celebrate the year and thank the community for their hard work. It’s a beautiful time of year.
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Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by Maria Haase