Thousands of San Diegans will gather in Balboa Park for the kick-off of the annual December Nights event, formerly known as Christmas on the Prado.
From 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Dec. 2 and noon to 11 p.m. on Dec. 3, families enjoy walking through the park and seeing the sights and sounds of the holidays.
One of the perks of the event: Balboa Park museums are open with no admission both nights, from 5 to 9 p.m.
Inside the Fleet Science Center, festival goers can have a picture taken with Einstein or for just $5, make a unique snowflake.
Stop by the San Diego Automotive Museum for a photo with Santa in a classic car.
There are also free arts and crafts offered for children at the San Diego Air & Space Museum, which is open free from 3:30 to 10:30 p.m. both days.
Also, admission to the Japanese Friendship Garden is free on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.
Parking can be a challenge so you will want to carpool or plan on using a free shuttle to get from the nearby lots to the heart of Balboa Park. Check the map for parking information. The last shuttle departs for the park at 8:30 p.m. so organizers suggest you get to the parking lot to pick up the shuttle no later than 7 p.m. Get shuttle information here.
Event organizers have also partnered with Lyft. Use the code BPDN2016 for 20 percent off up to two rides, with up to $5 off per ride. Rides must be to and from Balboa Park. Valid only the weekend of the event.
Before you head over to the park, take a moment to peruse the listing of food options so you can be strategic in your snacking. Vendors are offering everything from lobster rolls and lasagna on a stick to cannoli and beignets.
The largest collection of food options can be found in the Cascade and Pallisade sections of the event. The San Diego Art Institute will be offering roasted chestnuts while Panama 66’s the go-to for craft beer.
Eugenie King, president of the House of Pacific Relations of Balboa Park’s International Cottages, said all of the cottages will be open on December Nights, showcasing the food, drinks, music and customs of the countries that they represent.
“We will have lots of food tents along the side,” she told NBC 7. “It’s an opportunity to taste food from around the world. It is going to be great.”
King said the International Cottages will also host a spirits and beer garden for the 21+ crowd behind the House of Finland and the House of the United States. This area will feature drinks from around the globe, including cocktails from about two dozen nations.
Suzy Hegstrom, member and recording secretary for the House of Sweden, said her cottage will serve traditional Swedish treats on December Nights including meatballs, lingonberries, brown bread and cucumber salad.
In the spirits garden, the Hegstrom said the House of Sweden will serve homemade Glogg, a traditional Swedish drink that consists of hot, mulled wine with spices, port and brandy.
Speaking from experience attending and participating in many December Nights, King said visitors to the big event should make their transit plans in advance, as Balboa Park parking lots get filled to capacity.
King suggested taking a shuttle or bus, or parking outside of Balboa Park and walking in.
By this time next year, King said the International Cottages area will likely look a little different, as the House of Pacific Relations works to add new houses for member countries, set to be up and running by December Nights 2017.
A few other December Nights highlights will be the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet performing excerpts of The Nutcracker Baller and the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus. However, it may be a great opportunity to enjoy a little folklorico, some zydecho or yuletide tuba.
Check out the long list of entertainment options here.
When you’ve had your fill of museums, food and music, be sure to stop by the Botanical Building for pictures of the annual display of poinsettias. For those who love plants and holiday decorations, the San Diego Floral Association is putting together 30 decorated Christmas trees in the Casa del Prado. Authentic mistletoe will be sold by the Museum Canyoneers at theNAT: San Diego Natural History Museum.
Another great experience is the Santa Lucia procession with a cup of warm Glogg in the California Quadrangle.
Make a note - The California Tower Tours is not open during free admission 5 to 9 p.m.