photo: San Diego Botanic Garden

Balboa Park’s December Nights celebrates its 40th year this weekend––and don’t miss the dazzling Garden of Lights at San Diego Botanic Garden and Helen Woodward Animal Center’s Frosty Farm––where you can visit with Santa and cute critters and also try your luck at an elf obstacle course! Read on for the scoop on these festive events and more!

Balboa Park

Balboa Park December Nights
The treasured holiday event returns more festive than ever! The heart of the holidays in San Diego, Balboa Park December Nights will celebrate its 40th year in grand fashion on Fri., Dec. 1, from 3-11 p.m. and Sat., December 2, from noon-11 p.m. The nation’s premier holiday extravaganza promises to sparkle with even more food, fun and festivities in its milestone year. This great gathering is not only the largest free community event in San Diego — it’s also the start of the holiday season for over 350,000 people. December Nights brings friends, families, and neighbors together for a celebration of the season with arts and culture; dazzling lights; delicious delights; original gifts and amazing attractions throughout Balboa Park. Wander the wonders of the Balboa Park museums with complimentary admission from 5-9 p.m. each night. Give your taste buds something to talk about with foods from around the globe, and put smiles on overdrive with a tour of the spectacular lights, sights and sounds throughout the park. Fri. & Sat. Event details.

Rancho Santa Fe

Frosty Farm at Helen Woodward Animal Center
Frosty Farm will give your whole family even more reason to smile this holiday season! This unique event gives you the chance to pose for pictures with Santa, interact with cute critters, enjoy holiday treats, create crafts, excel in the elf obstacle course and more! Sat. & Sun. Event details.


Garden of Lights
After the sun goes down in December, the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas is transformed into a dazzling winter wonderland – Southern California Style! More than 125,000 sparkling lights illuminate the flora of this fantastic 37-acre urban oasis each evening for a magical holiday experience. Bring the family and enjoy the Garden at night as the lights illuminate several spectacular Garden areas, including the iconic Lawn Garden, Tropical Rainforest, Waterfall Deck, Undersea Succulent Garden, Eucalyptus Grove, Seeds of Wonder (children’s area) and Bamboo Garden, containing the nation’s largest collection of bamboo. Garden of Lights has events and activities that everyone in your family will enjoy. Nightly entertainment, including local blues and jazz bands, as well as delicious food from Red Oven Artisanal Pizza and Pasta and hot coffee and treats from the Feel Good Coffee Cart, will be available. Numerous family-friendly activities are also part of the festivities including: Horse-drawn wagon rides and snow for sledding (on selected evenings), holiday crafts, spin art, Nutcracker display, carolers and more! There will also be visits with Santa from Dec. 2-23. Note: There is no Garden of Lights on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Additional fees apply for some of the activities. Sat. & Sun. Event details.

Little Italy

Little Italy Tree Lighting
San Diego’s Little Italy will kick-off this holiday season with festive family fun at the 19th Annual Little Italy Tree Lighting and Christmas Village. Families, friends and neighbors will experience Little Italy’s Christmas magic and will be able to enjoy the community’s festive décor, seasonal vendors, live music and entertainment, horse carriage rides, holiday treats, a tree lighting, a visit from Santa and more! Santa will make an appearance to chat and take photos with the neighborhood kids starting at 4 p.m. He will be listening to kids’ Christmas wishes in “Santa’s Living Room” on India Street until 6:30 p.m. Kids will be able to participate in arts and crafts right next to “Santa’s Living Room” with Washington Elementary STEAM Magnet School and ArtReach. Families will be able to browse the seasonal vendors and select Little Italy Mercato vendors along India Street between W. Cedar and W. Grape Streets to pick-up stocking stuffers and other holiday goodies! Little Italy’s 25-foot tower of more than 1,100 beautiful Poinsettias, located in the center of Piazza Basilone, will be lit-up the whole evening and then the community will gather at the new permanent 20’ tall live tree, that will be lit at 6:30 p.m, at the Piazza della Famiglia on W. Date and India Streets. Salt & Straw will be vending throughout the duration of the event from 4-8 p.m. serving single serves of their delectable ice cream in flavors: Chocolate Gooey Brownie, Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons, Honey Lavender and Roasted Strawberry Coconut (V). Sat. Event details.

La Jolla

Seas ‘n’ Greetings
Celebrate the Holiday SEAson! From Dec. 1-31, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography is transformed into a holiday wonderland full of SEAsonal activities for the whole family. Deck the Hall (of Fishes) and get into the holiday spirit every day and check the schedule for special appearances by Scuba Santa, crafts, activities, as well as live holiday music on weekends. All holiday activities are included with admission. Fri.-Sun. Event details.


Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella is the Tony Award®- winning Broadway musical that’s delighting audiences with its contemporary take on the classic tale returns to San Diego. This lush production features all the moments you love. There’s the pumpkin, the glass slipper, the masked ball and more—plus some surprising new twists! It’s a hilarious and romantic Broadway experience for anyone who’s ever had a wish, a dream… or a really great pair of shoes. Fri.-Sun. Event details.

Into the Woods
The Brothers Grimm hit the stage with an epic fairytale about wishes, family and the choices we make. James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim take everyone’s favorite storybook characters and bring them together for a timeless, yet relevant, piece… and a rare modern classic. The Tony Award-winning book and score are both enchanting and touching. The story follows a Baker and his wife, who wish to have a child; Cinderella, who wishes to attend the King’s Festival; and Jack, who wishes his cow would give milk. When the Baker and his wife learn that they cannot have a child because of a Witch’s curse, the two set off on a journey to break the curse. Everyone’s wish is granted, but the consequences of their actions return to haunt them later with disastrous results. Fri.-Sun. Event details.


Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play
The heartwarming holiday classic retold in the tradition of a live 1940’s era radio broadcast. When a department store Santa claims he’s the real Kris Kringle, his case gets taken all the way to the Supreme Court. Watch the miracle unfold when the belief of a little girl makes all the difference in this iconic story. Staged with live Foley effects and a score of favorite holiday tunes, Miracle on 34th Street is sure to melt even the most cynical of hearts. Fri.-Sun. Event details.

Where are you enjoying the weekend? Share in the comments!

––Beth Shea