One of San Diego's most beloved holiday traditions will once again take the spotlight at Balboa Park this Friday: December Nights.
The free, festive event -- returning for its 42nd year -- goes down from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Dec. 6 and from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Dec. 7 in the heart of the landmark.
The two-day, multicultural celebration of the season is Balboa Park's biggest event of the year and the city of San Diego's largest free community event.
As usual, it's expected to draw more than 350,000 visitors to Balboa Park for festive, family-friendly fun, which includes live music, arts and crafts, photos with Santa Claus, activities, drinks and food from across the globe and, of course, plenty of twinkling holiday lights. Select Balboa Park museums will offer free admission during December Nights, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., on both days, too.
As always, attendees will find everything merry there, and every little nook of Balboa Park will offer something fun to do for the whole family.
Traffic is notoriously tough during December Nights, and parking can be even tougher once you arrive. Consider taking a ride-share or public transportation.
If you choose to drive, be prepared to wait for a parking space, as lots fill up quickly. The only free parking lots are at the San Diego Zoo and the City College. Otherwise, paid parking options will be offered at the Natural History Museum lot ($25 per car), the South Carousel lot ($25 per car), the Inspiration Point parking lot ($20 per car) and various Ace Parking lots ($5 per car).
Free shuttle rides to December Nights from downtown will also be offered. There is no shuttle service from the City College lot.
The shuttle for Friday will run from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. On Saturday, it runs from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. The last shuttle to Balboa Park will leave at 8:30 p.m. on both nights; the last return shuttle to the lots is at 11 p.m.
You could also opt to take public transit to the event. The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System will offer its trolley and bus services around Balboa Park. You can purchase and store a $5 trolley and bus ticket on your smartphone using the MTS Compass Cloud app.
Lyft is partnering with December Nights to bring riders a 20% discount off two rides with the code DECNIGHTS, with a maximum savings of $5 per ride. There is a limited quantity of these deals available and the code is only valid between Dec. 6 and Dec. 7 within the coverage area.
To learn more about December Nights 2019, visit the event website.
By the way, the City of San Diego said Wednesday that December Nights is in the running for a 10 Best Award from USA Today in the -- what else? -- "Best Holiday Lights Display" category.
Those who love the elaborate, twinkling light displays at December Nights can vote daily for the event through Monday on this website.
The USA Today contest ranks 20 holiday light displays across the nation and, as of Wednesday -- with exactly one month until December Nights 2019 -- the San Diego event ranked a solid No. 2 among the 20.
December Nights started in 1978 as part of "Christmas on the Prado" in Balboa Park, a small holiday celebration put together by a dozen institutions along El Prado. The crowds and event grew over the decades and, in 2002, it was renamed December Nights.
Each year, the event signals the start of the festive season in San Diego, drawing families from all over the county to the heart of the city.
Shine on, December Nights. And happy merrymaking, San Diego.