Your guide to December Nights 2023 at Balboa Park

Balboa Park’s biggest event of the year returns Friday, Dec. 1, and Saturday, Dec. 2, with merrymaking opportunities aplenty.

SD December Nights San Diego Balboa Park

The musical performances at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion during December Nights are not to be missed.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

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There’s so much festive fun happening locally, but for many San Diegans, nothing marks the start of the holiday season quite like December Nights.

The city’s biggest holiday celebration returns to Balboa Park Friday, Dec. 1, 3-11 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 2, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Like last year, the free event has returned to its full, pre-pandemic glory — with twinkling lights, live performances, deals and activities at select museums, and so much food. Here’s what you need to know before you go.


San Diegans — ourselves included — have been waiting all year for December Nights at Balboa Park.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Getting there

  • Locals know parking fills up quickly, so plan ahead. Limited free parking is available at San Diego Zoo and San Diego City College. A free shuttle will take visitors from City College parking garages to December Nights.
  • Paid parking options near the event this year include: Inspiration Point at Balboa Park ($25-$30); Preferred Paid Parking at the Federal Lot ($40); and Roosevelt Middle School ($30).
  • You can park downtown at the ACE lots at Third Avenue and the San Diego Civic Center Parkade and take a free shuttle to and from the event at Third Avenue and A Street.
  • Rideshares can get dropped off or picked up at a designated stop at Sixth Avenue and Laurel Street.
  • MTS is offering several service options to December Nights, including via Trolley with a bus transfer.
  • Once you arrive, check out the city’s December Nights map to get yourself around the festival.
SD December Nights San Diego

Santa posts up at December Nights at Balboa Park.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

December Nights SD

Don’t miss the action at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

Entertainment and activities for the kids

  • Performance areas are spread across spots including Plaza de Panama, Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Spanish Village, Recital Hall Lawn. The schedule features mariachi, dance, San Diego Junior Theatre, Marine Band San Diego, San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus, and Raúl Prieto Ramirez and the Spreckels Organ Society — to name a few.
  • Pro tip: The iconic tree lighting takes place Friday, Dec. 1, 6 p.m., at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
  • Check out the Family Zone in the park’s Palisades area for fun, free activities for the kids including face painting, holiday crafting, pro skateboarding demos, and a silent disco.
  • Find Santa (and make your holiday wish) at several spots: Family Zone, San Diego Automotive Museum, San Diego Model Railroad Museum, and The Prado; times vary at each location.
  • Select Balboa Park museums will offer free evening/nighttime admission during December Nights; keep an eye on the San Diego Museum Council for details.
December Nights SD

Nothing kicks off the holidays in SD quite like this event.

Food and merch

  • December Nights is brimming with vendors, including food and shopping options at every corner. Find food trucks at Palisades North, vendor booths at Plaza de Panama and the Organ Pavilion, plus dishes (and drinks) from around the world at the International Cottagesthat spread is always epic.
SD December Nights San Diego food

Food vendors are plentiful at December Nights — come hungry.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday


December Nights is always held on the first Friday and Saturday of December and signals the start of the holiday season in San Diego.

SD December Nights San Diego

A local holiday tradition, indeed.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Though Balboa Park has been home to various holiday fairs under many names since the 1930s, December Nights was founded in 1978, when 10 cultural organizations in Balboa Park came together to host a celebration originally dubbed Christmas on the Prado. That first year, ~3,000 attended the event. Today — as a city-run event and the landmark’s biggest of the year — it has ballooned to ~350,000 attendees over the span of two days.

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