Balboa Park December Nights 2015: What to See, How to Get There

The annual holiday spectacular at San Diego's Balboa Park celebrates the season and cultures across the globe

One of San Diego's most iconic landmarks will officially kick off the holidays this weekend with one bright and epic event: 2015 Balboa Park December Nights, a multicultural celebration of the season.

Running strong for 38 years, December Nights brings more than 350,000 visitors to Balboa Park for two days of festive, family-friendly fun, including live music, arts and crafts, photos with Santa Claus, free entry into select museums, drinks and food from across the globe and, of course, plenty of shiny holiday lights.

This year, the free event runs from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. In the spirit of the holidays, some participating Balboa Park museums will open their doors to visitors free of charge from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. both evenings. This includes the San Diego Museum of Art and San Diego Air & Space Museum.

Many museums will host special events also during December Nights. For instance, the San Diego Natural History Museum’s “Fossil Mysteries” will be set to holiday music in the atrium during the event, while the San Diego History Center hosts screenings of the documentary “Balboa Park: The Jewel of San Diego” and book readings of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” both evenings.
With festive lights strung throughout the park – from the Plaza de Panama canopy to the picturesque Botanical Building – revelers will feel the holiday cheer.

Activities throughout December Nights include lively musical and dance presentation from performers with the San Diego Junior Theatre and San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, among other troupes in the spotlight.

Meanwhile, over at the House of Pacific Relations Cottages, the International Christmas Festival will feature foods from around the world served by different cottages, including traditional fare from France, Mexico, China, Norway, Peru and Sweden, just to name a few worldly stops.

Also, a new addition to December Nights this year is a large children's interactive area, where kids can partake in hands-on crafts, games and entertainment. This area will be located adjacent to the Botanical Building.

This new area will also include a community mural where families can contribute to a giant-sized coloring book page depicting Balboa Park. After December Nights wraps, the community mural will be on display at the park throughout the holiday season.

Visitors can also get some of holiday shopping done at December Nights as local artisans and vendors offer their one-of-a-kind goods. The Centro Cultural de la Raza will have artisanal Mexican holiday gifts for sale both days – just one example of the items to be found at the big event.

Due to the massive turnout for this annual event, parking will be limited at Balboa Park. For this reason. December Nights organizers encourage visitors to use free off-site shuttles to get to the park or take public transportation. Visitors are also urged to avoid southbound State Route 163 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on both nights, as the freeway will be very congested. Alternate routes to get to the park will be more efficient. Maps can be seen here.

As for the free shuttle service, all December Nights shuttles will run from 3 p.m. to midnight Friday and 11:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday. The last shuttle heading to the park leaves all sites at 8:30 p.m., while the last shuttle leaving the park leaves at 11:45 p.m.

The shuttle sites include:

  • City College (parking lots between 16th and B and C streets): Parking is free here and there are more than 1,500 parking spaces. The shuttle drops off at 6th Avenue and Laurel Street, very close to Balboa Park. City College is also about a quarter-mile from Balboa Park, so parking there and walking to the park is also an option.
  • Downtown San Diego (parking lots on Ash Street, between 5th and 6th avenues): Numerous parking lots in this area cost $5 per vehicle. There's also free parking downtown after 6 p.m. The shuttle from here also drops passengers off at 6th Avenue and Laurel Street near Balboa Park.

Organizers say there will be no shuttle service from Petco Park this year.

As for other modes of public transportation, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) will offer its normal bus and trolley service. If taking the trolley, riders can exit at the City College Station downtown and walk from there, or exit there and then transfer to the MTS Route 7 on 11th Avenue to Park Boulevard.

Riders can also take the Orange Line trolley to the 5th Avenue Station downtown and walk two blocks north to the free shuttle that will then take them to Balboa Park. For more info on MTS services, visit the MTS website.

Visitors can also opt to ride their bikes to the event. Bicycle corrals can be found at Balboa Drive and Laurel Street on the west side of the park and also in the Cascades area adjacent to Park Boulevard and the footbridge.

Finally, those who choose to drive to Balboa Park can park for free at the San Diego Zoo parking lot, but it does get very busy and fill up quickly. There are 156 free disabled parking spaces in the lot at the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center on Park Boulevard. The Federal lot at Park Boulevard and Presidents Way also has 33 disabled parking spaces available during December Nights.

Organizers say there is a paid parking option at Balboa Park's Natural History Museum lot and the South Carousel lot, both accessible from Park Boulevard and Village Place. It costs $25 per car to park at those lots. The Inspiration Point parking lot accessible from Park Boulevard and Presidents Way will also offer paid parking at $20 per car.

That's it. Everything you need to know to get jolly at December Nights this year.

The event is co-produced by the City of San Diego and the Balboa Park Conservancy and will close out the year-long “Celebrate Balboa Park 2015,” the centennial of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

For more details on 2015 December Nights, visit the Balboa Park website.

A map of Balboa Park and the December Nights activities can be seen here.

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