A San Diego Holiday Tradition: Balboa Park December Nights

balboa park lily pond botanical building december nights san diego holiday celebration

Balboa Park December Nights is as close as San Diego gets to becoming a winter wonderland, and this year’s event promises to be bigger and better than ever. San Diego’s largest free festival, which is designed to be the city’s holiday gift to the community, is expected to draw at least 300,000 in this its 35th year.

The two-day celebration of entertainment, food and fun, takes place Friday, Dec. 6, from 3–11 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 7, from noon–11 p.m. Balboa Park is decked in twinkling lights and silvery garlands. Fanciful Christmas trees abound, and the aromas of multi-cultural holiday treats waft through the air.

balboa park lily pond botanical building december nights san diego holiday celebration

The Lily Pond and Botanical Building decked out for December Nights. (Photo by Manny Cencieros)

In the spirit of the season, participating park museums open their doors to the public free of charge from 5–9 p.m. both evenings. Many present special holiday programs. Kids will be awed by the elaborate gingerbread constructions at the Mingei International Museum and can join in holiday-inspired craft projects at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. All ages will be enthralled by the amazing handbell ringers who perform at the San Diego History Center, and don’t miss the San Diego Floral Association’s exhibit at the House of Hospitality of 30 beautifully decorated holiday trees.

balboa park organ pavilion san diego december nights holiday event

Festive performances take place on the beautiful stage of the Organ Pavilion.

Festivities are family friendly, multi-cultural and staged throughout the park.  The San Diego Civic Youth Ballet will perform excerpts from “The Nutcracker” on the Casa del Prado Stage. Steps away on the California Quadrangle near the San Diego Museum of Man, revelers can see the Santa Lucia Procession and children’s choir performances. The San Diego Civic Dance Company will present Rockettes-style routines, while a puppet version of “The Christmas Carol” will be presented at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater. African drumming and dance performances and Reggae music performances are planned at the WorldBeat Center. Dozens of singers, dancers and musicians will take to the stage at the Organ Pavilion.

Dr. Seuss' how the Grinch Stole Christmas Old Globe Theater San Diego Balboa Park December Nights holiday event

Kids can get their photo taken with the Grinch at the Old Globe.

Youngsters will have the opportunity to visit with Santa as he strolls the park, and they can pose for a photo in the Old Globe courtyard with Dr. Seuss’s Grinch who stole Christmas. Kids of all ages can join with Junior Theatre students singing holiday songs. A series of children’s holiday movies will run nonstop both evenings in the theater at the Hall of Champions. There also are plenty of carnival rides to keep the younger set entertained.

Hungry? December Nights is known for its mouth-watering range of food and drink offerings. The House of Pacific Relations International Cottages offer traditional holiday foods from a smorgasbord of nations: think empanadas, egg rolls, shepherd’s pie, pasties, pancit, samosas, plantains, pierogi, bourekas, baklava, paella, and even blueberry soup. Many museums offer tasty treats as well. You’ll find roasted chestnuts at the San Diego Art Institute, yakisoba at the Japanese Friendship Garden and hot toddies at the Hall of Champions. In addition, numerous food vendors sell an array of yummy holiday delights, from melted Swiss raclette to fresh-baked gingerbread cookies.  The 21+ set can sip a locally crafted brew at one of several beer gardens.

House of China Food International Cottages San Diego Balboa Park December Nights holiday event

Ethnic food specialties are part of the delicious fun at December Nights.

December Nights are prime time for holiday shopping.  Find great gifts at museum stores, from Spanish Village artisans and at a wide range of arts and crafts booths.  For $300 or less, buy a piece of original art right off the walls at the San Diego Art Institute. And don’t forget to buy a sprig of locally sourced mistletoe from San Diego Natural History Museum Canyoneers.

With so many attending December Nights, parking can be tougher than fitting down a chimney. Your best bet is to take public transportation or park for $5 at Petco Park or for free at City College. Free shuttles will ferry celebrants to and from 6th & Laurel from 3 p.m.–midnight on Friday and from 11:30 a.m.–midnight on Saturday.

Finally, be sure to bundle up!  While San Diego may better known for sandmen than snowmen, it can get downright chilly here on December nights.

What’s your favorite part of December Nights in Balboa Park? Let us know in the comments.



Art in Bloom at the San Diego Museum of Art’s Art Alive

Art Alive at the San Diego Museum of Art
Art Alive at the San Diego Museum of Art

Art Alive at the San Diego Museum of Art

One of the best smelling museum events in the country returns to San Diego this April. If you’ve never experienced the San Diego Museum of Art‘s “Art Alive,” prepare to have your senses overwhelmed. The museum is a treat for the eyes all year long, but the annual Art Alive event transforms the galleries into a floral explosion that’s a feast for eyes and nose alike.

At the heart of the event is a spectacular exhibition where floral designers are invited to interpret works from the museum’s collection in their medium. The beautiful floral creations are presented alongside the original works throughout the galleries from April 13 – 15. However, Art Alive is more than just a weekend exhibition of floral arrangements – it’s also a time to celebrate and learn. From the elegant Opening Reception to the hip Flowers After Hours to the educational events for both kids and adults, Art Alive features a variety of ways to get involved and have some fun with flowers.

Want a preview of what you can expect to see? Check out last year’s video preview of the event!

For a complete listing of Art Alive events, visit the San Diego Museum of Art’s website.

Benjamin Eastman

St. Patrick’s Day Nightlife in San Diego

Shamrock in the Gaslamp Quarter

The luck of the Irish has befallen us this year because St. Patrick’s Day is on a Saturday! What exactly does that mean? It means a full day of holiday revelry – and you know how San Diegans like a good holiday!

Shamrock in the Gaslamp Quarter

Shamrock in the Gaslamp Quarter. Photo courtesy of The Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation


Probably the largest St. Patty’s Day bash will be the Gaslamp Quarter’s block party Shamrock! In its 17th year of production the Shamrock crew has gone above and beyond this year to make it a day (and a party) to remember! 80,000 square feet of green astroturf, 3 stages of DJs and River Dancers, and plenty of beer and Jameson Irish Whisky are just some of the features to look forward to at this year’s event.

Green ShamRock Sea in the Gaslamp Quarter

Green ShamRock Sea in the Gaslamp Quarter. Photo courtesy of The Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation

Predominantly located on 5th & 6th streets between E and G Streets, Shamrock will take place from 2:00 – 12:00 pm. General Admission pre-sale tickets are currently at $40 and on-site tickets will be $45 (with a $25 Club VIP upgrade available for those who really take their St. Patty’s Day partying seriously!).

Hooley Fest

Hooley Fest, in San Diego’s East County, became so popular they had to split it into two locations. Both the Rancho San Diego (original location) and La Mesa locations will feature live music from 5:00 pm to midnight and plenty of Guinness. A safe ride home will be offered to locations within a five mile radius of each party. Tickets are $15 in advance and $25 day-of. Treat yourself like a Conrí with a $30 VIP ticket that includes seating, special restroom access and a private bar.

Shakespeare Pub and Grill

Who put an English pub in here? Well, even the English like a good party and the Shakespeare will start things early with a traditional breakfast starting at 7:00 am and live England versus Ireland 6 Nations Rugby coverage at 10:00 am. For later in the day, bain sult as corned beef specials, commemorative t-shirts, live bagpipers and drummers, and the best part, No Cover!

Other St. Patrick’s Nightime Excitement

For those wanting to celebrate on a smaller scale, you can always visit your friends at Dublin Square, The Field or Stout Public House. Or, if you just can’t stay in one bar for long, check out the San Diego St. Paddy’s Day Pub Crawl which starts at Taste & Thirst but gives you $2 drafts, 2-for-1 mixed drinks and $4 shots at over a dozen participating bars in Downtown. Tickets cost $25 and are available online.


My Goodness, My Guiness

Tell us in the comments, how do you usually celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day?


Quality Social Mixes it Up for Cocktail Week

At Quality Social the "H" is for happy.

The San Diego Spirits Festival starts tomorrow and downtown’s Quality Social will be there with a booth serving Pickleback shots and tasters of their new Kitchen Cocktails.

Pickleback shots may sound quirky but they’ve got an impressive pedigree. At Quality Social, they pair a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey with a shot of homemade pickle brine to create their Pickleback shots.

With Kitchen Cocktails, QS is taking farm-to-table from cuisine to cocktails. Muddling farm-fresh produce from local purveyors into lively libations, bartenders create concoctions like the Strawberry Fizz. Made with fresh chandler strawberries from Crows Pass Farm, mint bitters, house infused lemon vodka and simple syrup, the drink is vigorously shaken, strained over ice, topped with soda and garnished by a slice of strawberry and organic mint.

Try them both this weekend at the San Diego Spirits Festival but, first, head down to Quality Social today and order up today’s Cocktail Week special pictured above. They are highlighting their signature “H” cocktail for just $5. Named in honor of one of their favorite bartenders on the West Coast, it’s an easily crafted, booze heavy, summer time porch-sipper.

1/4 oz simple syrup
3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1 1/2 oz Square One Cucumber Organic Vodka
Cucumber slice
Fresh ground black pepper

Shake first four ingredients in cocktail shaker and strain over ice into a collins glass garnished with fresh cucumber slice. Top with splash of soda and finish with pinch of pepper. Enjoy!


From Garden to Glass at the Grant Grill

Summer's bounty on the rocks at the Grant Grill!

Cocktail Week rolls on toward the San Diego Spirits Festival with amazing specials on cutting-edge cocktails at some of San Diego’s most legendary bars.

Certainly, the Grant Grill at the iconic US GRANT falls into that category. The 100-year old hotel has cocktail history on lock down (with prohibition era tales all its own) but continues to look to the future. They recently transformed their downtown rooftop terrace into an intimate garden farm, growing produce that inspires the seasonal culinary and specialty cocktail menus at the Grant Grill.

There, super talented mixologist Jeff Josenhans creates seasonal cocktail menus utilizing ingredients that are grown in the garden. His recently launched summer cocktails, like the Cinnamon Basil French Julep, highlight the seasonal bounty of summer’s fresh herbs. To make this light, summery drink, Josenhans combines Pierre Ferrand Cognac and orange blossom sugar with muddled pink lavender and Cinnamon Basil from the rooftop garden before topping it with bubbly, delicious Moet Chandon.

Today and tomorrow you can order up a Cinnamon Basil French Julep or any of Josenhans’ signature specialty cocktails for just $4 when you mention ‘Cocktail Week’…now that’s reason to celebrate!


Coastal Cool: Ted Gibson at George’s at the Cove

Ted Gibson of George's at the Cove...gonzo bartender!

Are you looking forward to this weekend’s San Diego Spirits Festival and the Ultimate Bartender Battle?

Over the last few months, San Diego’s top bartenders have been battling it out for the right to represent their neighborhood in this ultimate showdown. This week, I’m sharing a couple recipes from the competitors.

Today we have the “Dear Rum Diary” from Ted Gibson at La Jolla’s landmark George’s at the Cove. This is the drink that snagged Ted top honors in the ‘coastal battle’ and it definitely captures that laid-back, coastal vibe:

2 oz Plantation Rum (Barbados 5 year)
2/3 oz Homemade vanilla bean/raw sugar syrup
2 Lemon wedges
3 Japanese shiso leaves

Start by muddling the lemon wedges and shiso leaves in a mixing glass. Fill that glass with ice and add the rum and vanilla syrup before shaking and straining into a cocktail glass over fresh ice. Garnish with vanilla bean pod fresh shiso leaves.

You’ll probably notice that this drink is half the ingredients and 1/10th the work of yesterday’s recipe. That’s because Ted’s focus was to create an original drink that was approachable, easily replicated and delicious in its simplicity.

The name, “Dear Rum Diary,” is a reference to an early Hunter S. Thompson novel (The Rum Diary).  Set in Puerto Rico in the 1960’s, it’s a story of love, jealousy, and crazy, rum-fueled adventure.

Sounds perfect for our ‘coastal’ winner…and I can’t wait to see what Ted whips up this weekend!


Mike Yen, Mixology Maestro of Avenue 5

Mike Yen works his mixology magic this weekend!

One of the highlights of this weekend’s San Diego Spirits Festival will be the Ultimate Bartender Battle. Over the last few months, San Diego’s top bartenders have been competing in neighborhood battles for the right to represent their ‘hoods in this ultimate showdown and, this week, I’ll be sharing a few recipes from the competitors…starting with the most technically challenging of the bunch.

The recipe below is for “Asians Driving Cadillac,” the drink that won Mike Yen at Avenue 5 top honors in the Uptown battle. This, my friends, is a master at work:

  • 2 oz – Milagro silver Tequila
  • 1 oz – Yuzu juice (filtered)
  • 1 oz – Aloe juice (filtered)
  • 1/2 oz – Lime juice (filtered)
  • 1/4 oz – St. Germaine elderflower liqueur
  • 1/4 oz – Milagro agave nectar
  • 2 slices – Baby ginger
  • swab – Blood orange perfume
  • 1 – Cadillac “olive”

Swab the rim of chilled cocktail glass with blood orange perfume. Set aside. Muddle ginger with agave nectar and St. Germaine. Add remaining fluid ingredients and ice. Shake until chilled and strain into prepared glass. Garnish with speared “olive.”

Sounds simple, right?

But, it’s all in the preparation. To get those juices to the perfect clarity, Yen filters them with grade 203 filter paper and a Buchner Flask. To create the blood orange perfume, he uses a microplane to zest six blood oranges and soaks that zest overnight  in a cup of Grand Marnier before boiling it down until only sugars and oils remain.

For the piece de resistance, the Cadillac “olive,” he hollows out a white grape before injecting a mixture of fresh blood orange juice and Grand Marnier that has been infused with calcium lactate. Then, he submerges the grape in a sodium alginate bath and allows the gelatin barrier to form and seal in fluid contents.

Why go to all the trouble?

Yen says “My inspiration was to provide a creation that offers illusion, flavors, and technique. The goal was to present the image of a dirty martini, but playfully deliver a completely different flavor profile by applying Asian flavors to a popular drink, the Cadillac Margarita.”

Mission accomplished. Can’t wait to see what he comes up with this weekend!

Brent Bernasconi

San Diego County Fair Opening Day

Del Mar Fair Fun Zone

While the doors to the San Diego County Fair doors officially open today at 11:00 am, the fun will begin at 10:00 am with the opening ceremonies. During the opening ceremonies, there will be entertainers, a marching band, raising of the national flag and singing of the national anthem.

After the ceremony ends you can head inside to enjoy rides, shopping, carnival games (I can never knock down all three bottles!), concerts and of course deep-fried goodness (try the deep-fried Koolaid, it tastes like a pink doughnut). For thrill seekers, try the 130 foot bungee jumping. I got a chance to jump during the Fair’s media night last week and while it looks easy from the ground, it gets a little scarier as the crew slowly raises you up to the apex. You just have to lean forward and let go!

For today you can check out the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge to see top canine athletes compete in diving, pole weaving and more (if only my dog was that well-trained). If you stay well into the evening, Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo will be performing at the Heineken Grandstand Stage and Badd Co, a Bad Company tribute band at the Coors Light Rock on Stage.

For a full list of entertainment and concerts, check out the San Diego County Fair website. Also, check out our tips for frugal fair-goers.

Robert Arends

5 To Try: Bloomin’ Good Times in Coronado

Flowers, families and fun! (photo credit:

Spring has sprung – in Coronado! The enchanted island is gearing up for one of its most popular events of the year: the 86th Annual Coronado Flower Show, happening this weekend, April 16-17. A Coronado tradition since 1922(!), it’s the largest tented flower show in the West, drawing thousands of flower and gardening enthusiasts – locals and visitors alike – to Spreckels Park (600 block of Orange Ave.).

This year’s theme is “Dig, Design and Dine.” Hundreds of colorful flower exhibits will be displayed inside tents surrounding the park’s central gazebo, which becomes the stage for live entertainment and trophy presentations.

But did you know… Several other big community events coincide with this spectacular floral fete. Following are 5 to try:

1.  Dig it… The Coronado Flower Show – of course! Coronado is always pretty as a postcard, but when you add a kaleidoscope of colorful spring blossoms it becomes that much more beautiful! Other festivities include a flower/plant/rose marketplace, food pavilion and beer garden. Admission: $5 for adults, children 12 and under are free. Hours: 1:00 – 5:00 pm on Saturday and 10:00 am – 4:00 pm on Sunday. Don’t miss the trophy presentations on Sunday at 3:00 pm to see the best of the blooms!

Coronado's gorgeous gardens also take center stage this weekend.

2. Home grown… In addition to the bounty of blooms at the flower show, view gorgeous award-winning Home Front Gardens located throughout Coronado, designated by First (blue), Second (red), Third (yellow) and Honorable Mention (white) ribbons displayed in their yards or windows. You can get a list of winners with addresses at the flower show.

3. Wheel fun… MotorCars on MainStreet is a must-see on Sunday, April 17. Check out 300 or so hotrods, trucks, custom and classic cars along Orange Avenue. The best thing: it’s free to the public. That’ll get your motor running!

4.  Heart art… Art in the Park. Also in Spreckels Park, just outside the flower exhibit, will be dozens of artists from the Coronado Art Association displaying their works: paintings, photographs, wood and metal working, stained glass, ceramics and more. You’re sure to find a one-of-a-kind treasure or two!

5.  Book it… Just across the street from the Flower Show will be the Friends of the Coronado Library Book Fair, one of the best and biggest annual book fests in San Diego. Hours: 9am – 5pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Here you CAN judge a book by its cover and then take it home with you – cool!

See you in Coronado this weekend where the forecast is sun, fun and flowers! Also check out our San Diego-wide 5 to Try.


5 to Try This Weekend: Free Holiday Events

Parade of Lights

  1. The 39th Annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights sets sail this Sunday from 5:30–9 p.m. More than 100 private boats covered with holiday lights and decorations will parade around San Diego Bay, followed by an extravagant firework show over the water. Great views are available on dry land from Shelter Island, Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, Marina Park and Coronado’s Ferry Landing. 
  2. See Old Town State Historic Park decked out for the holidays during Holiday in the Park.  Learn how residents celebrated the holidays in the 1800s, enjoy candlelight tours, holiday singers, live performances and complimentary refreshments; Holiday in the Park takes place this Saturday from 6–8 p.m.
  3. Visit the Village of La Mesa and see it transform into a Victorian Wonderland for Christmas in the Village. Enjoy street performers, carolers, horse-drawn carriage rides, carnival rides, entertainment for the family and more; Christmas in the Village takes place from 5–10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.  
  4. Enjoy the Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade this Sunday in downtown San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter. Owners and their dressed-up pets will march down the decorated streets of the neighborhood and end at a Pet Expo featuring an awards ceremony for best-dressed pups.  The parade starts at 3 p.m. and the Pet Expo will be open from 1–5 p.m.
  5. Celebrate holiday cheer during Christmas in the Park – Poway.  The event features a tree lighting ceremony, visits from Santa, train rides, live music, theatre performances, food, treats, crafts and more. The fun takes place this Saturday from 3:30–8:30 p.m.