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.



Football Paradise: 2013 College Football Bowl Games in San Diego

College football bowl seasons is one of America’s great holiday traditions. San Diego hosts to two games each December: ‘America’s Most Exciting Bowl Game’, the National University Holiday Bowl, and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl both call QUALCOMM Stadium home.

The Holiday Bowl pregame festivities include a 100-yd flag

The Holiday Bowl pregame festivities include a 100-yd flag

This year, the games are separated by just 4 days. The Poinsettia Bowl will be played at 6:30 on Dec. 26, and the Holiday Bowl kicks off at 7:15 on Dec. 30. That means a college football junkie could have an ultimate getaway in San Diego.

The burning question now is which teams will be invited to enjoy the legendary hospitality rolled out by the San Diego Bowl Game Association, and televised nationally on ESPN. Here’s a preview.

UCLA vs Baylor in the 2012 Holiday Bowl

UCLA vs Baylor in the 2012 Holiday Bowl

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl

This is the most uncertain of all potential matchups. The Poinsettia Bowl will feature teams from the Mountain West Conference, and the Mid-American Conference. The Mountain West’s most likely teams are Utah State, San Diego State, or Boise State.

The big question mark is with the MAC, where Northern Illinois, Toledo, Ohio, Buffalo, Ball State, or Bowling Green are all possibilities. If Northern Illinois can win their final two games, they’ll be unbeaten and headed to the BCS. Should the Huskies happen to trip and suffer their first loss, the Poinsettia Bowl would love to welcome them.

National University Holiday Bowl

The Holiday Bowl is in the final year of a contract welcoming Big 12 squads against a Pac-12 foe. Starting in 2014, the Pac-12 will square off against a Big 10 opponent. For the 2013 game, the Big 12’s most likely teams are Texas, Texas Tech, or Kansas State. The Pac-12 would likely be represented by USC, Arizona State, or Stanford.

The Baylor Bears won in '12, who will hold the Holiday Bowl trophy in '13?

The Baylor Bears won in ’12, who will hold the Holiday Bowl trophy in ’13?

Regardless of who is selected, San Diego promises a first-rate pair of games as well as the best series of events anywhere in the bowl landscape.

The streets of downtown San Diego will come alive with “America’s Largest Balloon Parade.” The Port of San Diego Big Bay Balloon Parade features marching bands, floats, entertaining drill teams and more giant character balloons than any parade in the country. That’s right, even more than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

More than 100,000 streetside spectators will line the one-mile bayfront parade route and join a national television audience.

After you open your gifts, load up the football fans, and make your way to San Diego for Bowl Season!


Top Things to Do in San Diego: Nov. 27 – Dec. 1, 2013

Surfing Santa Seaport Village San Diego holiday event

The holiday season has definitely arrived in San Diego. This weekend, you’ll find lots of festive events, as well as live jazz and and a tasty chili fest to keep things a little spicy.

Here are the top things to do in San Diego, Nov. 27 – Dec. 1 , 2013:

San Diego Jazz Fest

san diego jazz fest

A New Orleans-style street band is just one of the jazz types you’ll find at San Diego Jazz Fest.

Presented by the America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society, this annual festival features all types of jazz, ranging from traditional to ragtime to rockabilly and everything in between. Held every Thanksgiving weekend, the 34th Jazz Fest will offer big dance halls as well as small listening rooms to draw jazz lovers of every taste and style.

Where: Town & Country Hotel and Convention Center, 500 Hotel Circle North, San Diego, CA 92108
When: Nov. 27 – Dec. 1, 2013
Time: 7 – 11 p.m. (Wed. and Thurs.), 10 a.m. – 11 p.m. (Fri.), 9 a.m. – 11 p.m. (Sat.), 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Sun.)
Cost: Varies; single day tickets start at $15 and multi-day tickets start at $95
>Find out more about the San Diego Jazz Fest

Surfin’ Santa’s Arrival at Seaport Village

Surfing Santa Seaport Village San Diego holiday event

Take a picture with surfing Santa!


The magic of the sea comes to life at Seaport Village when Santa arrives by jetpack and soars above the ocean surface to greet kids and adults. This family event will include pictures with Santa surfing a giant wave, ornament making, live music and plenty of holiday cheer at this cobblestoned shopping and dining hub located along the Downtown waterfront.

Where:  Seaport Village, 849 W. Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101
When:  November 30, 2013
Time:  1 – 5 p.m. (Santa arrives at 1pm in front of the Pier Café)
Cost:  Free
>Find out more about Surfin’ Santa at Seaport Village

Jingle Bell Jump at Mission Marketplace in Oceanside

santa parachute jump

Where else can you see Santa arrive by parachute?

Kids and families will witness Santa parachuting from the sky to greet those who attend this fun-filled community event in the city of Oceanside. The festivities include photo opportunities with Santa, a complete snow playground, kids’ crafts, live music and much more!

Where:  Mission Marketplace, 471 College Blvd, Oceanside CA 92057
When:  November 30, 2013
Time:  12 – 3 p.m.
Cost:  Free
>Find out more about Jingle Bell Jump

SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off

SoNo Chili Fest San Diego

Enjoy chili, beer, live music and more at the SoNo Fest.

The neighborhoods of South and North Park come together in a friendly chili competition among 29 top local restaurants competing as guests try out their chili in hand-spun ceramic bowls. The event offers two free live music stages, great holiday gifts and crafts from local artisans, five food trucks, a game truck and a kids’ activity zone with free cookie decorating, and craft beer and wine garden featuring 10 local breweries.

Where: 3216 Thorn Street, San Diego, CA 92104
When: Sunday, December 1, 2013
Time: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: Festival is free; handmade ceramic bowls with chili tastings: $20
>Find out more about the SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off

Luminaria First Light in South Park

buona forchetta south park san diego

Enjoy some pizza from Buona Forchetta or other tasty treats in South Park.

The historic craftsman neighborhood of South Park kicks off the holiday season with a beautiful display of luminarias presented by local businesses and homeowners. After 5 p.m. tree lighting, stroll the scenic streets to shop local boutiques and enjoy live music and tasty treats from neighborhood eateries.

Where: Beech St., between Fern St. and 30th St., San Diego, CA 92102
When: Sunday, December 1, 2013
Time: 5 – 9 p.m.
Cost: Free
>Find out more about the Luminara First Light in South Park

More Top Things to Do in San Diego

Browse the Event Calendar

What will you be doing this week in San Diego? Let us know in the comments.

Benjamin Eastman

San Diego Halloween Parties That You Shouldn’t Miss!

Zombie crawl san diego halloween 2013

As we all know, San Diegan’s don’t really need an excuse to dress up in costume…but when there’s an actual holiday with costumes involved, you know this city gets behind it! And while the kids are out trick-or-treating in the early evening, the ghoulish get down at night.

Here are just some of the San Diego Halloween parties that will be sure to get you moving:

San Diego Monster Bash

monster bash san diego halloween 2013

Dancers get the party going at last year’s San Diego Monster Bash

Without a doubt the largest and most spectacular Halloween party in town! They’re shutting down 8 blocks of downtown San Diego to create a massive street party with 3 music stages, 10 bars, 50 dancers and thousands of costumed party-goers.

When: Saturday, October 26th, 6:00pm – Midnight
Where: 7th Avenue & Market Street, San Diego, 92101 
  $40 Advance General Admission; $45 Day-Of General Admission or upgrade to VIP status for lots of fiendishly fun extras
> Get your tickets to Monster Bash 2013

San Diego Zombie Crawl

Zombie crawl san diego halloween 2013

Things might get scary at Zombie Crawl

As the perfect add-on to your Monster Bash tickets, or even a great party on its own, your Zombie Crawl pass will get you into 22 different Halloween parties at participating downtown bars and nightclubs and includes a free drink at 15 different locations! Enjoy no cover charge access to Halloween hot spots including Bassmnt, F6ix, Stingaree or the Pussy Cat Dollhouse – with free shots at any number of local restaurants, bars and nightclubs. And for those day-walkers who want to party all night, admission to Side Bar’s FIVE TEN “Crack of Dawn” party from 5:00-10:00 a.m. is included!

When: Saturday, October 26th, 5 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Where: 820 5th Avenue, San Diego, 92101
Cost:  $60
> Get your tickets to Zombie Crawl

Hard Rock Hotel’s Halloween Haunts

hard rock hotekl san diego halloween 2013

The Hard Rock Hotel’s annual Halloween bash features lots of room to party

Start the Halloween party early on Saturday night with 3 floors of the Hard Rock Hotel dedicated to Halloween hijinx, featuring 4 venues and 15 DJs! Then come back for more mischief on Halloween night to party with the EC Twins and other featured entertainers in 2 separate venues.

When: Saturday, October 26th and Thursday, October 31st, 9 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Where: 207 5th Avenue, San Diego, 92101
Cost:  Saturday – $60 pre-sale/$75 Day-Of; Thursday – $30
> Find out more about Hard Rock Hotel’s Halloween Haunts

Night Fright at Wave House Beach Club

night fright wave house san diego beach club halloween

Night Fright is your stop for Halloween on the beach

For those Halloween revelers who just can’t give up being in the sand – even for a wild night of partying – look no further than Fortune 421’s Night Fright party at the Wave House in Mission Beach.  Dance the night away under the stars to the beats of Andy Caldwell, Ayla Simone and Chris Liosi.

When: October 26th, 8 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Where: 3125 Ocean Front Walk, San Diego, 92109
Cost: $12.50 Early Bird/$17.50 Day-Of
> Find out more about Night Fright at the Wave House

Know of any other great San Diego Halloween parties?  Comment below and let us know!

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?

Benjamin Eastman

New Years Eve Parties Big and Small

San Diego nightlife venues are jockeying for position in what is often the biggest celebration of the year! Whether you’re a club-goer looking to dance the night away, prefer to keep it quiet and intimate, or just want to have a good brew…there is a New Year’s Eve party for you!

San Diego’s Big Night

Arguably one of San Diego’s biggest NYE parties is Big Night San Diego at the Hilton Bayfront hotel. I’ve attended the last two years and each year gets bigger and better! With 6 dance floors featuring different styles of music, 12 themed rooms, an open bar from 9:00 pm – 3:00 am and roughly 4,000 of your closest friends, this all-inclusive event is definitely one for NYE partygoers who want to go BIG!

New Years on the Water

If Hornblower Cruises & Events has anything to say about it, you’ll be yelling “I’m on a boat!” come December 31st. Their yacht, the Hornblower Inspiration will play host to Millenium Events’ 6th Annual NYE Yacht Party with all inclusive tickets including 12 bars, 3 levels of entertainment and one of the most unique venues in San Diego.

A Beer New Year

If you prefer something a little less crowded but no less awesome, check out Stone Brewery’s New Year’s Celebration. Running from 8:00 pm – 1:00 am, enjoy an evening on Stone’s 1 acre compound in Escondido and delight in included craft beer, wine and sake, sushi, seafood and buffet stations (if you haven’t tried Stone’s food yet, I highly recommend it!) and music from live bands and DJs! Where else can you party into 2012 surrounded by gigantic containers of craft beer?

Wine of a Time

Or if you’re more of a vinophile than a beer drinker, might I suggest attending South Coast Winery’s New York New York New Year’s Eve celebration. A food and wine lover’s paradise, South Coast Winery has an exciting evening of award-winning food and wine paired with the croonings of Dan DeLurgio. Enjoy New York without the bitter cold temperatures and the expensive plane ticket!

After Party

So you watched the ball drop, counted down the last seconds of 2011 and kept on partying until the lights got turned up and the music started to fade away… It’s time to go home, wind down and sleep in on New Years Day, right? Not if you’re a true baller! Why stop the party at 2:00 or 3:00 am when you can hit up Side Bar’s Five/Ten After Party from 5:00 am – 10:00 am? For those who truly want to start 2012 off with a bang, you have to check this out!

Whether you prefer your New Year’s Eve party larger than life, or just end up at a house party with friends…be safe everyone and have an awesome New Year’s Eve!!

Robert Arends

‘Tis the season: Holiday Festivities in East County!

SoCal's largest ice skating rink at Viejas Outlet Center

San Diego’s bucolic East County always beckons me this time of year. I don’t know if it’s the crispness in the air, change of color in the leaves or subtle scent of pine trees as you drive out into the backcountry that’s so enticing, but it’s absolutely wonderful and welcoming! It’s where locals and visitors alike go to experience winter in San Diego. And yes, we even get snow on occasion in the higher elevations. Our historic mountain town of Julian is particularly nice – like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life when the first snow falls.

With Thanksgiving and the official launch of the holiday season just around the corner, following are some fun and festive activities for folks to enjoy in East County:

El Cajon's Mother Goose Parade!

  • Make some merry at the 65th Annual Mother Goose Parade on Nov. 20. This very popular, local holiday tradition is the largest parade in San Diego County and largest of its type west of the Mississippi, attracting thousands of spectators to the streets of El Cajon. The free fete features marching bands, colorful floats, equestrians and this year’s Grand Marshal, Taylor Guitars.

    Carriage ride through Julian.

  • There’s nothing more charming than a good ol’ fashioned Christmas celebration. Jingle up to Julian on Nov. 26 for the Julian Country Christmas & Tree Lighting, featuring strolling carolers, horse-drawn carriages, the scent of freshly-baked apple pies (yum!) and Santa Claus’ arrival aboard a bright red fire engine for the tree lighting.
  • The delightful downtown of La Mesa is transformed into a Victorian wonderland on Dec. 9 & 10 during their family-friendly Christmas in the Village, featuring horse-drawn carriages, strolling minstrels, carolers, an outdoor market with gift ideas galore and jolly ol’ Saint Nick.

    Ice skating at Viejas Outlet Center

  • The quaint town of Alpine joins in the festivities on Dec. 9 with its 16th Annual Alpine Village Christmas Parade of Lights & Snow Festival, complete with a snow hill for sledding! Just down the road, Viejas Outlet Center (awesome holiday shopping deals!) is home to the largest outdoor ice-skating rink in Southern California – open now through New Year’s.

    Santa on the North Pole Limited train in Campo.

  • All aboard… the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum’s 8th Annual North Pole Limited! This popular Christmas vintage train ride through the backcountry to the “North Pole” takes place on Nov. 25-26, Dec. 2-3, 9-10 and 16-17.The one-hour adventure begins at the Campo Depot and features an on-board reading of a famous Christmas train story (hint: see photo above 😉 ), hot cocoa, holiday cookies and an appearance by Santa Claus and his elves. Reservations are required; sure to sell out! 

    Wintertime in Julian.

     Happy Holidays from East County!