More than 300,000 people are expected to pack Balboa Park’s 35th annual December Nights festival this weekend, which features free museum admission, continuous live entertainment and gifts and food from around the world for sale.
The festival runs from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday.
Billed as San Diego’s largest free community festival, December Nights expanded seven years ago to include daytime activities, and the change has helped manage the crowds, which have swelled during the past several years. Organizers are expecting an even bigger turnout this year, so come prepared, said Balboa Park spokeswoman Debbie Petruzzelli.
Because the crowds are always so huge, Petruzzelli advises visitors to use public transportation, avoid driving on Highway 163, and arrive early both days to beat the crush.
Featured events include around-the-clock live choir, dancing, music and theater entertainment throughout the park; a holiday marketplace; children’s craft activities; strolling carolers and musicians; art exhibits; and shopping specials in museum gift shops. Santa Claus will also be here, there and everywhere both days, with appearances scheduled in several locations throughout the park.
One of the biggest highlights for most families is free museum admission. From 5 to 9 p.m. both nights, most of the Balboa Park museums will open their doors for free. Inside, the museums are planning entertainment, floral displays and docent-led tours. Although most exhibits will be open, the San Diego Museum of Man has decided to close its not-so-festive “Instruments of Torture” exhibit both evenings.
Museums and local civic groups will be serving festive food and beverage items throughout the park and the international cottages will be open and serving ethnic holiday fare as well as offering live music and dance performances. The Museum of Man will present a Santa Lucia procession, a Scandinavian tradition where costumed boys and girls carry candles and sing songs, through the park’s California square at 6 p.m. each evening.
Among the highlights at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion will be Del Cerro Baptist’s annual “Christmas Story Tree” production, a dazzling music and light extravaganza from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. both nights. The program features an 80-voice choir and drama team presenting the story of Christmas in music and living scenes.
The park’s Botanical Building (the large wood-lattice greenhouse near the koi pond) will open its annual poinsettia exhibit on Friday.
The San Diego Model Railroad Display has its Lego train up and running. And dozens of vendor booths will line the Prado sidewalk. And the Palisades Midway will serve as the family zone, where carnival rides, arcade games and activities will be presented.
Parking is near-impossible for December Nights, so visitors are encouraged to park along Park Boulevard at Inspiration Point and at the San Diego Zoo or use public transportation. Off-site parking will be available at San Diego City College (free) and Petco Park ($5). Free shuttle service to the park will be offered from both locations. For more information, visit balboapark.org/decembernights.
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