Column: After December Nights, Balboa Park’s holiday fun is just getting started
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Holiday activities in Balboa Park include a food truck festival, indoor ice skating at the Fleet Science Center and stunning ornaments at the Timken Museum
Depending on your tolerance for crowds and your need for a funnel-cake fix (because the San Diego County Fair was so long ago), Balboa Park’s annual December Nights holiday blowout is either the must-do event of your year or the must-avoid of a lifetime. But if you are a savvy San Diegan, you know and love the park’s December Nights shindig for what it really is:
The opening act.
This year’s edition wrapped up last weekend, and whether you happily indulged or avoided it like a pint of expired eggnog, now is a good time to remember that December Nights is so much more than a gridlocked party in the park. It is the kickoff of Balboa Park’s holiday season, which is alive with lights, shopping and festive action long after the hordes have gone home.
As my gift to you, here is a guide to holiday happenings in Balboa Park. The Mexican mochas at Daniel’s Coffee Cart are not optional. Tell them San Diego Santa sent you.
The weekly free Sunday concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion get a few (hundred) extra sets of pipes this Sunday during the Spreckels Organ Society’s annual “Christmas Carol Sing-Along.” San Diego Civic Organist Raúl Prieto Ramírez and song leader Lauren Leigh Martin will guide you and your fellow carolers in a one-hour performance starring you and your holiday spirit. The sing-along starts at 2 p.m. There will be more music to come on Sunday with a 6 p.m. holiday concert featuring Ramírez, singers from the San Diego Opera and members of the Navy Band Southwest Wind Ensemble.
No matter how crazy your friends, neighbors and Instagram influencers go in the home-decorating department, no one does holiday excess with the class and flash of the Timken Museum of Art. The museum’s annual “Jewels of the Season” installation showcases the dazzling, gem-encrusted ornaments designed by San Diego artists Florence Hord and Elizabeth Schlappi. The installation also features model trains from the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. The “Jewels of the Season” show runs through Dec. 31. As always, admission to the Timken is free. You can’t put a price on the experience.
Forget the crush of the mall and the robot call of the online marketplace. For a holiday shopping experience that will not rob you of your soul, head for Balboa Park, where the museum gift shops and the studios of Spanish Village will help you put creativity at the top of your list. The artisans of Spanish Village Art Center offer everything from handmade wooden puzzles and stylish coffee scoops to hand-blown glass ornaments, one-of-a-kind scarves and jewelry and gorgeous ceramics. There are eclectic coffee-table books at the Museum of Photographic Arts, locals-only goodies at the San Diego History Center, funky stocking-stuffers at the San Diego Art Institute and chic accessories and other indulgences at the San Diego Museum of Art. Speaking of indulgence, save room for the park’s Holiday Food Truck Festival, which brings gourmet food trucks, music and museum specials to the Plaza de Panama from Dec. 26 though Dec. 30. Whatever you want, you’ve probably earned it.
During “Jungle Bells” season, the San Diego Zoo stays open late and decks its halls with animal-shaped sculptures, acrobats and a blizzard of twinkle lights. And suddenly, everyone’s favorite staycation attraction becomes a holiday escape hatch. It runs through Jan. 5. There is more joy to be had at the Fleet Science Center, where the new “Winter Paradice” exhibition will blow your So-Cal mind with a synthetic ice-skating rink, ornament-making in Studio X and the chance to create your own ice cream flavor in the cafe. “Winter Paradice” runs through Jan. 26.
When it’s time to outsource your holiday mood-boosting to the professionals, the Old Globe Theater, the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet and the WorldBeat Center are waiting in the park with candy canes and heart-busting good cheer. The Globe is doing double happiness duty with its annual production of “Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and the spanking-new “Ebenezer Scrooge’s BIG San Diego Christmas Show.” Both shows run through Dec. 29. The Civic Youth Ballet is all about cultural comfort food, thanks to its yearly production of “The Nutcracker,” through Dec. 22 in the cozy Casa del Prado Theater. And the WorldBeat Center will reacquaint you with the concept of inner calm during its annual Kwanzaa celebration, which will soothe you with poetry, ceremonial candle lighting, live drumming and a free feast of vegetarian soul food. The Kwanzaa celebration runs from Dec. 26 through Dec. 30. The good vibrations should help you cruise painlessly into 2020. New decade? No problem.
May peace in the park be with you!