For artist and surfer Aaron Chang, San Diego is perfect fit. With access to incredible waves all year-round, a vibrant and engaging art scene, and great family activities, as Aaron would say, “I would defy you to be bored in San Diego!”
Both a photographer and gallery owner, Aaron has enjoyed watching the art scene in San Diego evolve and grow and sees a bright future for the arts in San Diego. But that’s not the only reason why he loves San Diego. Check out Aaron’s picks for what makes San Diego paradise for art and surf lovers alike!
Aaron Chang behind the scenes filming San Diego’s Guides to the Good Stuff
Aaron Chang’s Favorite Artsy Endeavors
Mission Federal ArtWalk: the largest art event in San Diego showcases fine art in many mediums alongside live musical performances, food and beverage booths and activities for kids and families.
Cedros Design District: running the length of Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach, this district is home to a bevy of luxury home décor and design boutiques as well as great art galleries and a live music venue.
Museum of Photographic Arts: dedicated to all forms of photography and film, this small but innovative museum has been bringing world-class photography to San Diego for more than 30 years.
The Headquarters at Seaport District: this former police station turned retail center offers tremendous restaurants and unique, shops. Plus, it’s home to one of Aaron’s gallery locations!
Aaron Chang’s Perfect Day
How would Aaron spend a perfect day in San Diego? Try a few of his favorite San Diego activities:
What?! Spend time in San Diego indoors? Yes! Take some time to visit these amazing exhibitions at museums throughout the county and you just might forget about the beach.
During San Diego Museum Month in February, you can use the half-off admission offer to explore some of these exciting exhibitions.
Please Note: Some special exhibitions may require an additional entrance fee. Also, this is not a complete list of exhibitions by any means! There are plenty more to see.
Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship
Real Pirates tells the true story of the Whydah – a real pirate ship that sank off the coast of Cape Cod nearly 300 years ago – and showcases treasure chests of coins and gold, jewelry, weaponry such as cannons, pistols, and knives and a replica of the actual ship that visitors can board.
One of San Diego’s most popular exhibit, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! returns to the San Diego Air & Space Museum weirder and wackier than ever. The exhibit has been updated with new amazing oddities and additional kid-friendly activities while keeping the fan-favorites.
Experience the science, sound, history and cultural impact of the guitar in an exhibition that contains more than 60 instruments – ranging from the rare and antique to the wildly popular and innovative – along with engaging, entertaining and educational displays specific to the guitar, including historical artifacts, models, posters, video screens, interactives and kiosks.
Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives That Transform Communities
Empowering Women explores the work of ten female enterprises in ten countries by providing an intimate look at the compelling personal stories of these women and the exquisite traditional art works that they create. Discover how these women work together to create folk art in order to provide income for their families, preserve their cultural heritage, improve education, and influence major changes that lift up themselves and their communities.
SIN DIEGO: The Stingaree’s Transformation from Vice to Nice showcases the development, and eventual “clean up” of San Diego’s infamous redlight district. During its heyday around the turn of the 20th Century, the Stingaree boasted 71 saloons, 120 bawdy houses, opium dens, and gambling establishments.
Chicanitas: Small Paintings from the Cheech Marin Collection
Jari WERC Alvarez 2008 – Cheech Marin Collection
Each of the works in the exhibition takes the format of approximately 16 inches square or smaller and depicts subjects of a personal nature – familiar landscapes, notions of cultural heritage, familial relationships, and social community. In Chicanitas, Marin has drawn together a rich variety of works that express the complex texture of Chicano experience.
The large-scale autographical paintings of Jarmo Mäkilä reflect personal childhood memories and the mythology of his native Finland. Ritualistic scenes of boys playing cruel games are a favorite subject.
How did the banjo emerge from the plains of West Africa to plantations in the American South? How did it survive the disturbing years of minstrelsy and eventually thrive under the bright lights of country, folk and bluegrass? And finally how did the instrument break from its traditional roots to influence nearly every genre of American popular music, from jazz to rock, from funk to punk?
Take a tour of San Diego County’s thriving marine scene, and see it through the eyes of an artist! The artists of the Plein Air Painters Association of San Diego (PAPASAN) exhibit 35 impressionistic, contemporary paintings which document the rich beauty of San Diego’s maritime subjects.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It may not seem like it now, but Friday is just around the corner. To help you plan, here are our top things to do in San Diego this weekend.
Whale Watching in San Diego is definitely one of the top things to do in San Diego during the winter season.
Winter is peak season for catching the magnificent sight of gray whales breaching the water during its annual migration. Whale watchers might even be lucky enough to see something else amazing…like last week’s sighting of thousands of dolphins swimming together to form a super-pod!
KuumbaFest is San Diego’s longest running and premier celebration of African-American expression, culture and heritage. The three day festival will include traditional African art and pageantry, drama, educational workshops, community leadership awards, an African marketplace, a health fair, Hip Hop Showcase, tribute to the famed Apollo Theatre “Live at the Lyceum,” a Gospel Concert, and powerful guest speakers and artists.
This is the last weekend to take advantage of San Diego Museum Month. Pick up a coupon from a local Macy’s and bring it to 42 museums throughout the county to receive 50% off general admission. This is a great opportunity to check out these new exhibitions in Balboa Park.
The Biblical story of Samson and Delilah returns to the San Diego Opera’s stage in a production described by the North County Times as “…one of the most memorable San Diego Opera productions of the past decade (with) stunning and gargantuan sets, vivid lighting, gorgeous costumes, an erotic ballet and a seeming cast of thousands…” Samson and Delilah will be sung in French with English translations above the stage.
Harri Hawk – one of the raptors you may spot at HawkWatch!
Bring your binoculars and cameras to the Wildlife Research Institute in Ramona to spot magnificent wintering and resident raptors, including Golden Eagles, Ferruginous Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Prairie Falcons and Red-shouldered Hawks, to name a few. While you’re there, say hello to the herd of bison that call this “raptor hotspot” home!
Believe it or not, February is a great month to explore new exhibitions in San Diego’s Balboa Park. Why? Because February is also San Diego Museum Month, a month long event offering a 50% discount on regular admission to 42 museums throughout the county.
Please note that some special exhibitions require an additional entry fee.
New Exhibitions in Balboa Park
Ripley’s Believe It or Not
Believe it or not, this is a vehicle made out of wood…and it floats!
Step right up and marvel at the ludicrously strange and extremely amusing including an actual shrunken head, unusual modes of transportation, ordinary people performing amazing feats, outer space and aviation oddities, and more inside the Ripley’s Believe It or Not exhibition at the at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. Don’t wait too long because these interesting artifacts won’t be back in Balboa Park for another 80+ years!
See classics like this 1951 Chevy Truck Lowrider at the Lowrider Legends of San Diego exhibition.
Listen to this as you ride on over to Balboa Park’s San Diego Automotive Museum to marvel at some of the finest examples of lowriders created in the San Diego region. Included in the Lowrider Legends of San Diego exhibition are such classics as a 1951 Chevrolet truck, 1949 Hudson, 1982 Cadillac, 1939 Chevrolet and more.
“But be forewarned! The stars of this exhibition are sure to delight the young, inquisitive minds in your family and some grownups might find the little creatures quite outrageous.” Dr. Michael W. Hager
Behold the Devil with Two Heads centipede, tremble before the Goliath Bird-Eating tarantula, gaze upon the Glowing Terror scorpion! Dr. Entomo’s Palace of Exotic Wonders brings the most peculiar and astonishing bugs on Earth to the San Diego Natural History Museum (theNAT). In addition to the local insects theNAT brings to the exhibition, Dr. Entomo’s also includes 18 baffling species of live critters, as well as mounted specimens.
A self-taught artist from Montgomery, Alabama, Bill Traylor’s depictions of life in rural and urban Alabama made him one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century. The exhibition will feature more than 60 rarely seen drawings from the two largest public collections of his work, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.
Cygnet Theatre and Mingei International Museum have partnered to help maximize audience for two important shows during Black History Month: the exhibition Bill Traylor and the play Gem of the Ocean running at Cygnet from January 24 – February 24.
Music, food, drinks, rides and more! Find some Holiday Cheer at Balboa Park’s December Nights
Balboa Park’s December Nights – the city’s annual holiday gift to the community – promises to be bigger and better than ever this year. The 35th annual two-day celebration is the city’s largest free festival, expected to draw at least 300,000 this year.
December Nights is as close as San Diego gets to becoming a winter wonderland. 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.
Free Entry into the Museums
For the occasion, park museums open their doors to the public, free of charge, from 5:00 until 9:00 PM 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 bell ringers who perform at the San Diego History Center.
Things to Do During December Nights
Enjoy a traditional Santa Lucia Procession in the California Quadrangle in front of the Museum of Man
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. Dozens of singers, dancer and musicians will take to the stage at the Organ Pavilion.
Youngsters will have the opportunity to visit with roving Santas and can pose for a photo in The Old Globe courtyard with Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! At the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, they can see puppets come to life in an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and they can join with San Diego Junior Theatre students singing holiday songs. A series of children’s holiday movies will run nonstop both evenings in the theater at the San Diego Hall of Champions. There also are plenty of carnival rides to keep the younger set entertained.
December Nights are prime time for holiday shopping. Find great gifts at museum stores, from Spanish Village Art Center artisans and at a wide range of arts and crafts booths.
December Nights Food Options
Sample delicious delicacies from around the world including traditional dishes from the House of China.
Hungry? December Nights is known for its mouth-watering range of food and drink offerings. The International Cottages of the House of Pacific Relations offer traditional holiday foods from a smorgasbord of nations: Think empanadas, eggrolls, aebleskiver, samosas, fried plantains, pierogi, bourekas, baklava, paella, even mashed potato stew. Many museums offer tasty treats: Find roasted chestnuts at the San Diego Art Institute, yakisoba at the Japanese Friendship Garden, 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.
Getting to December Nights
With so many attending December Nights, parking can be tougher than fitting down a chimney. Shuttles are provided from PETCO Park (where parking will cost $5), the County Administration Building and several City College Parking lots offering free parking. Carpooling with all your friends is a must!
Since parking can be a little rough, consider saving yourself the hassle and taking public transportation. Ride the Orange or Blue Trolleys to the City College stop on 11th Avenue and then either hop on the Number 7 bus or enjoy a brisk walk up park. From Hillcrest, Uptown, Mid-City, Normal Heights, City Heights, and North Park communities take any bus to University Avenue and Park Blvd and transfer to a special Route 7 shuttle heading to Park Blvd.
Want to relax without worrying about which stop to get off at or if you can get to the parking spot before it’s gone? Consider taking a taxi or using the posh Uber private driver service.
If you are close enough, try getting some fresh air and cycling into Balboa Park. There are plenty of bike racks throughout the park. The biggest bike racks can be found by the entrance of the San Diego Zoo. Please remember to be safe and to wear a helmet and reflective vest, and to use front and rear blinking lights.
Balboa Park’s December Nights General Information
Location: Balboa Park Dates: December 7-8, 2012 Times:
– Friday, December 7: 5:00 to 10:00 PM
– Saturday, December 8: 12:00 to 10:00 PM Cost: Free Website:www.balboapark.org/decembernights
And be sure to bundle up. While San Diego may better known for sandmen than snowmen, it can get downright chilly here on December nights!
Fall is a great time for the kids to explore many of San Diego’s free outdoor activities including the beach, hiking sports, sightseeing and more.
Below are just 25 of the free things kids can do this fall in San Diego:
Head to one of San Diego’s 33 beaches, all open to the public, and perfect for body surfing, boogie boarding, building sandcastles, collecting seashells and basking in the sun.
Catch a magnificent Pacific sunset and watch sea lions play along the shoreline at La Jolla Cove, one of the most spectacular natural settings in the world.
Take free fly-fishing lessons from the San Diego Fly Fishers club on Sunday mornings from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM at Lake Murray, located in La Mesa. If you don’t have your own gear, arrive early for a free equipment loan.
Sample some of the more than 200 varieties of fresh produce grown in San Diego at one of the region’s many Farmer’s Markets, held daily at locations throughout the county.
Bike, walk or play along Mission Bay Park’s many trails. Bikers, walkers and joggers share more than 20 miles of scenic paths winding through sunlit and shade near the shoreline.
Rollerblade, skateboard, or bicycle along the Mission Beach and Pacific Beach Boardwalk, a scenic three-mile boardwalk running along the coastline of these lively neighborhoods.
Take a scenic drive to Mt. Laguna to hike, bike or picnic while enjoying the fresh mountain air whispering through the pines.
Hike the trails of Torrey Pines State Reserve and see the rare and elegant Torrey pine trees, a number of animal species and miles of unspoiled beaches below.
Visit Mission Trails Regional Park featuring a state-of-the-art Visitors Center where guests explore and learn about the wonders of nature and the native people who once lived on the land. The park also offers over 40 miles of natural and developed hiking and biking trails.
Go scuba diving or snorkeling off San Diego’s shores to see spectacular creatures of the sea. La Jolla Shores and Cove offer some of the clearest waters on the California Coast, as well as miles of protected underwater preserve to explore.
Walk along the downtown Embarcadero and view impressive public art sculptures, tributes, and memorials set along San Diego Bay. The artworks celebrate San Diego’s international ties, cultural diversity, military significance and unique oceanfront environment.
Watch tail-waggin’, Frisbee-catchin’ and stick-fetchin’ dogs splash in the surf. Man’s best friend is permitted to roam leash-free at all hours of the day on designated dog beaches in Ocean Beach, Coronado and Del Mar.
Talk a walk through Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in the United States, and discover its beautiful Spanish Colonial-Revival architecture and glorious gardens. Also, visitors can take advantage of the Park’s variety of other free offerings, including ranger-led walking tours at 11:00 AM on Tuesdays and Sundays.
Gather friends, family and firewood for a cozy beach bonfire at one of San Diego County’s bonfire-friendly beaches, located in Coronado, Ocean Beach, Oceanside, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach.
Go on a self-guided walking tour of The Stuart Collection, a display of contemporary sculptures scattered throughout the University of California, San Diego campus in La Jolla. Tour maps are available at the Gilman Drive campus entrance.
Spend an afternoon at Tidelands Park in Coronado. The park’s 22 bayfront acres feature four baseball fields, a playground, skatepark, picnic tables, small beach with an exercise course, boat access, fishing pier and bike and pedestrian paths.
Explore the clear shallow tide pools of La Jolla Cove and Point Loma when the tide is low and the pools are teeming with aquatic life.
Visit Julian in San Diego’s East County and enjoy this quaint, historic mining town that grew into San Diego County’s second largest urban center during the Southern California gold rush of 1869.
Take a drive to the top of Mt. Soledad in La Jolla, home of the Mt. Soledad Veterans War Memorial, for breathtaking, 360-degree views of San Diego. Spectacular views also await at the top of Mt. Helix in La Mesa, offering visitors a birds-eye glimpse of San Diego’s East County communities.
Witness the living legacy of California’s birthplace in Old Town State Historic Park, San Diego’s first “downtown.” The six-block park features 12 acres of Mexican lore and historical sites presented in shops, restaurants, museums and several carefully preserved or restored adobe and wooden buildings.
Visit the U.S. Olympic Training Center, the nation’s first warm-weather, year-round Olympic training facility, located in Chula Vista. Free guided tours of the 150-acre lakefront facility are offered at 11:00 AM on Saturday; tours begin at the Copley Visitor Center. Self-guided tours are also available 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Mondays – Saturdays.
Visit downtown San Diego’s Seaport Village for hours of free entertainment, leisurely strolling and window shopping. Enjoy a laid-back day of hanging out in the grass and watching the many passing yachts and ships on picturesque San Diego Bay.
Fly a kite along the grassy field in the Tecolote Shores of Mission Bay Park, a 4,600-acre aquatic park.
Hang 10 at the California Surf Museum, which houses a permanent collection of historic boards, photographs and videos on Highway 101 in Oceanside. During free admission day on Tuesdays, visitors can explore its colorful and educational display on the sport of surfing and the legends who braved the waters over generations.
Head over to La Mesa for the annual Oktoberfest. Traditional German celebration in San Diego’s East County featuring dancing, Bavarian bands, arts and crafts and more.
Even More Kids Free Fun this October
Visiting with the kids during October? After they have checked everything off the list above, save on other attractions, food and more with over a hundred kids free offers.
Get ready for the ultimate family vacation! During the entire month of October, kids eat, stay and play for free throughout San Diego. Take advantage of great deals at over 100 participating partners including Amtrak, world-class attractions, museums, hotels, restaurants, surf companies, tour companies and more.
Cirque returns to San Diego with TOTEM April 25-May 20, 2012 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. TOTEM traces the fascinating journey of the human species from its original amphibian state to its ultimate desire to fly. The characters evolve on a stage evoking a giant turtle, the symbol of origin for many ancient civilizations.
On April 28-29 head over to Little Italy to experience ArtWalk. It is the largest art event in San Diego. More than 400 visual artists from all over the world show and sell their art. Live music and dance stages, interactive art for children and the picturesque background of hip and historic Little Italy make this event a must-do every spring in San Diego.
If you are looking for a little beach time, head over to Fiesta Island for Beach Soccer Jam, April 28-29. Beach Soccer Jam is a faster, hotter version of the world’s most popular sport. A soft sand surface allows players to try diving headers, bicycle kicks and exciting tricks more freely. The sand also adds another dimension to the sport, putting aerobic strength, teamwork and individual skills to the test. The sport is spectacular!
Learn the History of the region's Tuna industry at the San Diego History Center
The San Diego History Center has unveiled the new exhibit TUNA!, showcasing the time when San Diego tuna fishing industry was booming from the 1920’s until the 1960’s. The exhibition will let visitors view the world through the eyes of the fisherman’s families and experience hands-on pole-fishing, demonstration stations, packing and canning activities and taking a trip down memory lane with favorite icons of the area.
To The Arctic IMAX at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
Through the power of IMAX, audiences will be transported to one of the most remote and spectacularly beautiful places in the world and experience an emotional story of love, family and hope, with the documentary adventure To The Arctic at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. Running daily through August 2012.
Tell us in the comments below, what will you be doing?
This annual celebration brings colorful street performers like sword swallowers, jugglers on unicycles, escape artists and comedic stuntmen to the cobblestone streets of downtown’s Seaport Village, Saturday and Sunday, March 24-25. The extraordinary and bizarre talents at this year’s festival will provide outdoor amusement for all unlike any other festival in the region.
The Holy Family Returning to Nazareth, The Timken Museum of Art
Stop by the Timken Museum to see a concentration of French 17th century paintings on display including the loan of Nicolas Poussin’s The Holy Family Returning to Nazareth from the Cleveland Museum of Art. In honor of the loan of The Holy Family Returning to Nazareth, the Timken has arranged for it to be shown alongside four paintings by Poussin’s contemporaries: the Timken’s own Christ Healing the Blind by Philippe de Champaigne; its Pastoral Landscape by Claude Lorrain; the San Diego Museum of Art’s Aeneas and his Father Fleeing Troy by Simon Vouet; and The Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist in a Classical Landscape attributed to Nicolas or Pierre Mignard and generously lent from a private collection in San Diego.
On Saturday, March 24th from 6:00 – 10:00 pm, South Park comes alive for the first walkabout in 2012. There will be free Trolley rides, a free Urban Safaris walking tour at 6:30 pm (from Juniper Street) as well as live music. Be sure to take in the gallery show openings, new shops, sales and specials. Additionally, Beech Street eateries will serve up Walkabout plates with tasty BBQ’d goodies for a small fee.
Tell us, what is your favorite free weekend activity in San Diego?