San Diego For Free: December Nights at Balboa Park – The Biggest Celebration in Town

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December Nights – The Biggest Celebration in Town

Location: Balboa Park

Best For: Revelers, families, holiday cheer, San Diegans both native and adopted

Date & Time: Friday, December 7 (5 – 10 PM), Saturday, December 8 (Noon – 10 PM)


Winter is coming.
– George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

This Friday and Saturday mark the 35th annual December Nights celebration in Balboa Park. The event is expected to draw more than 300,000 people over the two-day stretch and is a great time to visit Balboa Park since most of the museums and other sights are free to visit. Additionally, there are is wide assortment of food and drink to enjoy and presentations of song and dance to take in.

The December Nights website has information on all of the events taking place but following are a few that caught my eye.

Free Museum Admission (Free from 5 PM – 9 PM both nights)

The best opportunity all year to visit the museums in Balboa Park for free. Please note that many of the museums will have long lines so don’t plan to visit them all. Take your time and enjoy a couple but don’t spend all your time indoors with so many other events going on throughout the park.

Participating museums include:

  • Mingei International Museum – showcasing gingerbread creations
  • Museum of Photographic Arts
  • Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
  • San Diego History Center
  • San Diego Model Railroad Museum – featuring a LEGO train exhibit
  • San Diego Museum of Man
  • San Diego Natural History Museum – the Canyoneers group will be selling real mistletoe in front of the museum and you can pick up a free guide for their wonderful nature hikes program
  • The San Diego Museum of Art – vocal performances will be held at 5 PM and 7 PM each evening inside the museum to accompany visitors with music during their tours
  • Timken Museum of Art – Christmas tree displaying an intricate collection of ornaments. Free from 10 AM – 9 PM both days.
  • House of Pacific Relations International Cottages

These cottages, each representing a different nation, offer foods from many different parts of the world. You’ll find many foods you’re familiar with and likely many that are new to you as well. Countries represented include Sweden, Panama, India, Spain, and many more. On the lawn in the middle of the cottages a stage is erected with dance performances from many cultures throughout the evenings as well.

  • Japanese Friendship Garden (Free from Noon to 4 PM on Saturday)

Enjoy a stroll through the relaxing atmosphere during daylight hours. Japanese cuisine will be offered on the patio and throughout the year you can purchase a cup of soothing tea to enjoy.

 In addition to the above there will be other events throughout the park – please see the December Nights website for a more comprehensive list of events and times, as well as a map to help plan your visit.

Please be forewarned that traffic and parking can present issues with so many people visiting the park for December Nights. Walking or bicycling are the best bets to avoid traffic hassle, or to use public transportation to get to the park and then walk from there. However you arrive, please take care to do so safely and remember you’re heading to a celebration. Smiles are strongly encouraged.

December Nights is one of my favorite events in San Diego. Newly sworn-in Mayor Filner has made many comments this week about taking care of the neighborhoods of San Diego instead of just downtown. This message is about more than the border lines that divide neighborhoods and equally allocating funds; it’s about taking care of and connecting the incredibly diverse communities we have in San Diego.

People from many areas of the world have settled here and to hear music, taste food and drink, and gather together people with roots in so many different places reminds us that although we reside in one small part of the world we are all part of the broader family of humanity that covers the globe. As the days shorten and the year ends it’s a good time for reflection on these kind of thoughts and to lift a glass to health and happiness in the coming year. It’s hard to imagine a better setting than the middle of a beautiful park in the cool, crisp air of a December night.

Take care and have a great weekend!


John P. Anderson

John was an accountant in a former life and now devotes his time to child-rearing, reading, writing, and working to ensure that San Diego is truly America's Finest City. Interested in environmental issues, John enjoys connecting with others that want to improve the health of our world and community. You can find John at or on Twitter (@j_p_a_). Comments, suggestions, wisdom, and complaints are enthusiastically welcomed.


  1. avatarRick Lopez says

    I’m so glad we can be a part of how grand, we San Diegians, celebrate such a joyest time of the year, “Christmas!” I think Balboa Park has always been and will forever be a guaging tool for all to see just how powerful love can be. Beauty is the offspring of faithfulness and commitment and all can see just how committed and faithful we are to our unique and extraordinary city, San Diego, found in the heart of the “American Dream.” God Bless America, RIGHT!!! hahaha….Merry Christmas San Diego!!!