As thousands of people file into Balboa Park this weekend for December Nights, parking for the large-scale event and security will likely be top of mind for many.
About 350,000 visitors are expected over the course of the two-day holiday festival, which runs from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. It’s the year’s largest free community festival in San Diego.
That being said, parking and traffic around Balboa Park during December Nights is always a challenge. Attendees are urged to use free shuttles to get into the event or take public transportation.
Organizers say commuters should avoid the southbound 163 between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on both days, as that freeway is always backed up during the holiday event.
Free shuttles for December Nights will run from 3 p.m. to midnight Friday and from 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday. The final shuttles depart toward the park at 8:30 p.m. on both nights. The last shuttle from the park back to the parking areas leaves at 11:45 p.m.
Free parking, with shuttle service, can be found in the City College parking lots between 16th Avenue and B and C streets. The shuttle will drop off passengers at 6th Avenue and Laurel Street, right outside Balboa Park. People can also walk from City College to Balboa Park, which is about a quarter-mile. To get to the City College lots while bypassing that busy SR-163, drivers should use Interstate 5 and exit at B Street.
Organizers say there are also several $5 parking lots in downtown San Diego, on Ash Street between 5th and 6th avenues. There’s also free street parking in that area after 6 p.m. The free shuttle will also take passengers from those lots and drop them off at 6th Avenue and Laurel Street throughout December Nights.
Visitors should note that there is no free shuttle from Petco Park this year. Also, by 1 p.m. Friday, the parking lot at the nearby San Diego Zoo was nearly full, and the same was expected for that lot on Saturday.
Balboa Parks December Nights has partnered with LYFT this year, so if you use the ride-sharing service to get and from Balboa Park during the festival, you can get a 20 percent off discount for up to two rides, with up to $5 off per ride. The code is BPDN50.
NBC 7 spoke to festival organizers Friday about security measures in place this year during the big event.
Tomas Herrera-Mishler, Executive Director-Chief and Executive Officer for the Balboa Park Conservancy, said security for December Nights last year was increased by 20 percent from 2014. This year, security remains the same. He said organizers are given security recommendations by the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) on how much security to staff for the event and they stick to that recommendation.
He said, as always, safety is the No. 1 priority at December Nights.
Herrera-Mishler said additional SDPD officers will be on hand at Balboa Park starting Friday afternoon, as well as extra crews from the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD).
He said organizers will also have 20 “Zone Ambassadors” scattered around Balboa Park during the event, assigned to oversee designated areas of the festival. Those ambassadors are all connected to a phone system with one another so they can notify each other in case they spot any suspicious activity in their zones. They are also meant to act as resources for December Nights attendees who may have questions as they make their way through the event.
For tips on what to see and do once you get to December Nights, click here. For a fun look at the festival by the numbers, and exactly what it takes to put on December Nights year after year, click here.