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Arts & Culture

Your Guide To December Nights 2018

The Christmas Story Tree at Balboa Park's December Nights.
Richard Benton
The Christmas Story Tree at Balboa Park's December Nights.

You can say that in San Diego, the holidays don't officially begin until December Nights weekend.

The free holiday festival in Balboa Park is famous for its twinkling lights, international foods, music and dance performances, shopping and free admission to the museums. This year, the event celebrates its 41st anniversary, and more than 350,000 people are expected to fill the park on Friday and Saturday.

Here's a guide to navigating your way through December Nights.

How do I get there?

With so many people trying to get to Balboa Park, driving there won't be easy. Finding parking, even less so.

If you want to park near the event, get there early. The only free parking on site is at the San Diego Zoo and it fills up very quickly. You can find free disabled spots at the Fleet Science Center lot and the Federal lot. For $20 to $25, you can park near the Natural History Museum and Inspiration Point.

There is also free parking at City College, but this year there is no shuttle from that location. The only shuttle stop is downtown on Ash Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, near some free and low-cost lots. There will be bicycle corrals for those who want to ride into the park, and Lyft has December Nights ride-sharing discounts.

Those taking public transportation can plan the trip via the MTS site.

What are some December Nights favorites?

Del Cerro Baptist Church performs its annual Christmas Story Tree, a living nativity featuring a full choir, at 8:30 p.m. each night.

The Santa Lucia Procession is a Swedish Christmas celebration that features a candlelight procession and folk songs at 6 and 8 p.m. each night. There is also traditional food for sale, including meatballs, breads and spiced wine.

There will be free performances from many local dance and music schools. Make sure to catch excerpts of San Diego Civic Youth Ballet's "The Nutcracker" and San Diego Civic Dance Arts showcase among many others.

A 2016 photo of dancers from San Diego Civic Dance Arts.
Chantal Darquenne
A 2016 photo of dancers from San Diego Civic Dance Arts.

What is there to eat?

A big draw to December Nights is the International Cottage Christmas Festival where people can sample traditional foods from around the world.

Favorites include meatballs from Sweden, Austrian meatloaf, French quiche and crepes, Irish stew and soda bread, Mexican tamales, Spanish paella, Norwegian waffles, Korean bulgogi, latkes from Israel, Iranian kabobs and more.

There are also hundreds of food vendors offering everything from sausages and burgers to hot chocolate and cider.

What's happening at the museums?

The Balboa Park museums are free from 5 to 9 p.m. both nights.

Some museums will offer holiday crafts and events, including the popular poinsettia display at the Botanical Building, concerts at the San Diego Museum of Art and a holiday bazaar at the San Diego Art Institute.

Another favorite is Jewels of the Season at the Timken Museum of Art, a display of more than 1,400 beautifully bejeweled holiday ornaments.

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