Best holiday event ever? It just might be. December Nights in San Diego's Balboa Park is the perfect combination of the kitschy and the classic versions of the holiday season, making it a festival worthwhile for any taste.
Sure, San Diego has a lot going for it, but even if you stripped away the weather, the beaches, and the mountains, Balboa Park would remain one of the best cultural centers out there. This isn't some grassy knoll with a couple of flowers. This is where most of San Diego's museums, performing arts, artisans, gardens, restaurants, recreation, international culture center, and all the local clubs that go with it reside. Cities whose cultural scenes suffer take note: San Diego's museums are no Smithsonians, however they are alive and well. Free Tuesdays (museums rotate their participation in a month), have enabled me to see that most museums are largely locally focused instead of pulling in visitors with something "world-class" like...Van Gogh's ear. Point is, this is a place worth looking to when questioning what's wrong with a city's culture society (Cincinnati).
With the exception of the zoo (okay the zoo is world-class strong), everything in the park opens free of charge for these two nights with holiday performers sprinkled throughout the museums, theaters, and outdoor stages. The artisans at the Spanish Art Village break out their full collections and the International Cottages feature cuisines from their corresponding countries. If I make one recommendation about the whole event, it's to forego the Holiday Taste of San Diego also at December Nights and stick to the food options at the International Cottages. Unsurprisingly the food is more varied, there are more booths, and there's better atmosphere since the cottages are so close to Organ Pavillion where Holiday performances are in constant rotation.
The kitsch comes mostly with the carnival and some Christmas decorations. But before you start thinking that this festival is strictly Christian, there are some, uh, blue lights and the Atheist Coalition present.
The cultural and holiday combo is a good one. If that's not convincing enough, a quarter of a million other visitors agree.