The Organ Pavilion during December Nights at Balboa Park
The Organ Pavilion during December Nights at Balboa Park

The holidays are all about traditions, and one of my favorite San Diego traditions is December Nights in Balboa Park. I’ve been every year since moving here, which makes tonight my sixth time fighting the crowds of 350,000+ people. As San Diego’s largest free community festival, parking and traffic are usually a disaster, but the festival is worth it.

Tonight is the 38th annual event, which always takes place the first weekend in December. The park’s museums stay open late and offer free admission (but will be crowded). There’s food, music and entertainment, but my favorite part is to see all the festive holiday lights. A local choir sings Christmas carols in the Organ Pavilion, while the International Cottages serve up cuisine from around the world, and the beer garden and international spirits garden offer adult beverages. My favorite drinks are the spiced mulled wine (glogg) and the hot chocolate with rum.

One of the very few restaurants located in Balboa Park is The Prado. Although pretty much everything within a 5-mile radius will be filled with people this weekend, The Prado is in the center of the action and has an amazing view of the park. I recently went to dinner there on a Tuesday night to take advantage of their Tuesday Date Night promotion, which includes two entrees and a bottle of wine for $39.95 per couple – what a deal! I opted for the braised short ribs and cabernet, which were both good. If you go, ask to sit out on the patio. Even if it’s chilly outside, they have tons of heat lamps to keep you warm.

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