December Nights returns to Balboa Park for two-day holiday extravaganza
December Nights will kick off at 3 p.m. Friday in Balboa Park, bringing back one of the city's largest and most well-attended holiday events.
The two-day event is the city's largest free event and has welcomed millions of visitors to Balboa Park for more than four decades. The event runs 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday.
On Friday, at 6 p.m., Mayor Todd Gloria will join Councilman Stephen Whitburn and event organizers for a festive tree lighting ceremony on the Spreckels Organ Pavilion stage.
"Our December Nights celebration is a joyous and beloved annual tradition that helps San Diego kick off the holiday season," Gloria said. "I want to thank our city of San Diego staff and everyone who bring this event to life every year."
For the first time, the city is introducing the December Nights Mobile Experience, which is intended to make it easy to navigate the event from a smartphone, with information about parking, entertainment, vendors, food and more.
Using the website, visitors can access maps of attractions, performance schedules, transit and parking information, and time-sensitive alerts during the two-day event, a city statement reads.
"This new mobile feature is a way for visitors to plan for their own unique experience while visiting December Nights," said Natasha Collura, executive director of special events and filming. "We're thankful our partner, San Diego Community Power, is working with us to provide this brand-new feature that we hope park visitors will take advantage of with all of the crucial information it provides."
More than 1,600 performers and 70 performance groups will entertain across five stages. There will be more than 200 food and retail booths and museum venues open to the public for free during the evening hours.
Guests have a photo opportunity with Santa in the Family Zone, as well as a Literacy Corner with storytimes, live experiential poetry, holiday hat- making and face painting, suncatcher crafts and skateboarding demos and free milk with Bones Loves Milk and Hollandia Dairy.
Additionally, visitors can lace up their skates and enjoy "Winter Parad-ice," a San Diego-style skating rink. The synthetic ice rink will be in the Plaza de Panama across from the San Diego Museum of Art. The rink will open Friday from 3 to 10:30 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and is sponsored by San Diego Community Power. Skating sessions are $9.95 per person.
Keeping with tradition, during December Nights the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, Inc. will open its cottages so visitors can explore represented cultures and foods.
According to the city, event mobility partner San Diego Community Power will provide free shuttle rides for people coming to Balboa Park from various locations downtown and will host a free bike valet.
There is notoriously limited capacity for parking at December Nights and it's highly recommended that visitors consider other transportation options. There are free and pre-paid vehicle parking options available in the various parking lots around Balboa Park, with event shuttles that bring visitors directly to the event entrance at El Prado and the Cabrillo Bridge.
The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System will also run shuttles between the City College transit hub and the event for free.