As arguably the most popular attraction for San Diego County during Christmas, Balboa Park December Nights is a fantastic two-day event that hundreds of thousands of people go to every year and that is great for the whole family. The day consists of food, music, Christmas cheer and for four hours each day all of the museums are free. That being said, make sure you plan out the event so you can avoid crowds and have a good time. Here is all the details on what I did in 2015 and what you can see.
- First Friday and Saturday of December but make sure to check their site for hours
- Museums are usually free from 5-9PM each day
- Parking: Click here for parking info
There are entire blogs dedicated to how to park here so I won’t touch on it too much other than to say get there early. I got there at around 1:45PM on Friday and was able to find a free parking spot about a half mile away. By 5PM though, when the museums were free, it was hard to even walk around the park itself and cars were backed up for miles just trying to get close to it. If you can’t get there early I would just consider getting a shuttle from Petco so that you don’t have to drive around for hours or walk from miles away.
When you get into the park you will literally have multiple days worth of stuff to try to fit into a few hours at night. There are over 10 fantastic museums on the property, the international houses serving up traditional food from their region, performances at Spreckels Organ Pavilion and more vendors then you can count. Here are my recommendations for what to do:
You should come here hungry as there are so many things for you to eat. If you are looking for something new and exciting then head over to the international houses as each house serves the traditional meal from their culture and it can be a lot of fun to try something new while learning about a culture.
If you want to just go nuts though you can browse the 100 or so vendors that line the walkways and sell everything from deep-fried Twinkies to nachos. I ended up scoring some apple fries from one of the vendors, which was a bunch of deep-fried Granny Smith apples complete with whipped creme and caramel. It was just as good as it sounds.
There were also Boy Scout troops, moms groups and a school for the blind selling different treats for a good cause as well. So there was a ton to choose from and a lot of it supported great local organizations.
Like I said above, this is one of the main attractions since each of these museums can easily cost $20 a person to visit if they were not free. With a normal sized family a night like this can literally save you hundreds of dollars. Of course the cost of the museums being free is huge crowds. Many of the smaller ones you can walk right in and out of, but the larger ones often have lines that can take 30 minutes to get through.
I always try to hit the most popular ones early, so this year I went to the Air and Space Museum first, then headed over to National History Museum, Train Museum and the Art Museum. The longest I waited was at the Natural History Museum and it was about 15 minutes as it was later in the night so it was more popular.
The Museum of Man was the longest wait and I didn’t end up going in there as it was just too long and I had been before.
While the museums have a lot of people in them, I never felt like it was too crowded to not be worth it. There are places where it bottlenecks up but overall you can walk at the pace you want and see what you want to see.
The Festival of Trees
Located near the Museum of Natural History, the festival of trees is a collection of different tree celebrating eras since the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. It is a fun spot to walk around in and get in the christmas spirit.
Listen to Carols
One of the main draws to Balboa Nights is the beautiful living tree that gets set up each year in Speckles Organ Pavillion. It is the perfect backdrop to listen to different singers and musicians performing traditional christmas songs. Just walking through Speckles is amazing, even if you do not stay and listen the music being played. The pavilion itself is lined with beautiful white lights and it is something you really need to see.
Play in the Midway
Located down on the South side, near the Air and Space Museum, is a full midway like what you would see at a state fair. You can ride rides, play carnival games and indulge in deep-fried food here. This is a bigger draw for families but I found myself trying to pop a few balloons with darts while I was there.
Take Lot of Photos
Of course there are many different things that you can see that I did not include. This area is big and I didn’t even see half of it during my 4 hours there. There are things like the Grinch tree, Lily Pond and overall lighting displays that should be taken in as well. Here are a few more pictures.
I can honestly say that the first time I went I was not at all excited about going here. I don’t like crowds and I figured it would be super overwhelming. However, after attending I can now say it is a ton of fun, as long as you get there early. It will be sure to get you in the Christmas spirit and is something that I highly recommend if you are looking for a unique night out with the family. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.