Festival of Lights Balboa Park

From wistful holiday displays to magnificent Christmas lights, Southern California is packed with amazing displays and fun activities that can be enjoyed by all ages.

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Festival of Lights Balboa Park
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One of the most popular events in Southern California is the Festival of Lights at Balboa Park. The entire park is decorated with multiple light displays and decorations while food trucks and vendors various kinds of food and performers put on entertaining shows.

The community festival also features live concerts as well as free admission to the museums inside the park. From festive dances to musicals, local bands, and holiday sketches, the Festival of Lights at Balboa Park is one of the most exciting events in Southern California. The organ pavilion is also a wonderful sight to see during the festival due to its magnificent architecture and vibrant holiday lights.

Festival Dates

Balboa Park usually hosts the Festival of Lights every year, but dates do vary. Last year, the event lasted three days, from the 4th of December to the 6th of December 2020. Due to the pandemic, the festival was held in a drive-thru setting to prevent the spread of the virus. More than 20 food vendors and trucks attended the event and served their most popular and delicious menu items. The date for this year’s festival has not yet been set due to the pandemic.

Where is the Balboa Park and How to Get There

Balboa Park is accessible by biking or walking from the nearby neighborhoods as well as by public transportation and car. It’s located north of San Diego’s town center. If you’re coming from the north, you need to take I-805 or I-15 and use Hwy 163. Then, take the Park Blvd exit. Turn left on Park Blvd and follow the signs to the park.

If you’re coming from the east, you are going to take I-8 and use Hwy 163 south. Then, take the Park Blvd exit. You have to turn left on Park Blvd then follow the signs to the park. The main parking area for the park is at Inspiration Point.

A free tram offers access to the park’s attractions and museums. The tram runs daily and picks up visitors every 8 to 10 minutes. Additional parking is offered at smaller lots throughout Balboa Park, including behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion and at the end of the President’s Way.

Festival Hours

The Festival of Lights at Balboa Park usually runs from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm daily. Last year, the attendees had to remain in their cars throughout the event. They were also required to wear a mask

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Cost to Visit the Festival

The Festival of Lights is open and free to the public. Balboa Park is open 24 hours a day, and you can get in without paying for anything.

Aside from the towering museums and trees adorned with festive décor and bright Christmas lights, you can also enjoy other attractions in the park-like the outdoor gardens and Botanical Building.

Weather and What to Wear

Balboa Park can be found in San Diego, which is known for its low humidity. It’s among the lowest-humidity towns in the United States.

Even if it’s very warm during the daytime, it can get a bit cold in the evening. During summer, the average temperature is only about 10⁰ above winter temperature. The warmest months in San Diego are September and August.

The average daily high temperature during the warm season is 76°F. The coldest months are February, December, and January. The average daily high during this season is 65°F. Your choice of clothes depends on the activities you plan to do while in San Diego.

Since the Festival of Lights is held in December, you should wear layers not to get cold. Wear a base layer, a pair of socks, boots, and a sweater or jacket. You may also want to wear a coat.

Hotels Near the Fest

If you’re going to stay in San Diego for a few days to see the Festival of Lights, you should book a hotel near the park. Whether you are looking for a budget-friendly hotel or something modish and downtown, you will find the perfect accommodation in the area. Here are some hotels that you can consider.

Pendry San Diego

Pendry San Diego has luxurious rooms with a desk, closet, private bathroom with a hairdryer and shower, air conditioning, and flat-screen television. Selected rooms have a seating area. The hotel also offers an outdoor pool, bar, fitness center, restaurant, free Wi-Fi, 24-hour front desk, ticket service, and room service. Pendry San Diego also offers an American breakfast, a hot tub, and a car rental. Balboa Park is 3.7 kilometers away from the hotel.

Marriott Vacation Club Pulse

Marriott Vacation Club Pulse offers lavish suites with modern furnishings. The hotel also offers free Wi-Fi, dry cleaning services, a tour desk, and luggage storage. The suites have air conditioning, a television with film, cable, and satellite channels, a private bathroom with free toiletries, a hairdryer, and a shower.

The rooms also have a seating area with a coffee machine, microwave, and sofa bed. Balboa Park is 1 mile away from the hotel. Downtown San Diego is only a 6-minute walk from Marriott Vacation Club Pulse.

TownePlace Suites

All rooms at TownePlace Suites include an in-room work station, specialty closets, a flat-screen television, air conditioning, a private bathroom with free toiletries and shower.

The hotel also offers a fitness center and free Wi-Fi. An American breakfast is provided every morning at TownePlace Suites.  Balboa Park is 1.1 miles away from the hotel.

Stay Classy 

Stay Classy offers a shared kitchen, luggage storage, a shared lounge, and a 24-hour front desk. The hostel is approximately 1.4 miles from Balboa Park. Stay Classy also offers a shared bathroom with a hairdryer, shower. All rooms have access to free Wi-Fi as well. San Diego International Airport is 3.1 miles from the hostel.

The Sofia Hotel

The Sofia Hotel is a lavish boutique that offers the perfect combination of modern comforts and historical heritage. It’s only two blocks from the Gaslamp District restaurants, shops, and entertainment. The hotel offers a 24-hour fitness center, business center, yoga studio, and weekend walkabout tours.

All rooms at the hotel have a 42-inch flat-screen television, free Wi-Fi, and surround sound clock radio. There’s also a spa treatment room where you can enjoy relaxing spa treatments. Balboa Park is only a 16-minute walk from the hotel.

What to Eat

You have a lot of food choices throughout the park during the festival. Food trucks and concession stands line the path with delicious treats. You will also find a lot of restaurants in Balboa Park. Here are some of your options.

Casa 1915 

Casa 1915  offers gourmet coffee, fresh local pastries, and customized rice bowls, salads, and burritos. Diners can design their own salads, rice bowls, and burritos as well. Casa 1915 offers vegetarian options and a child-friendly menu. The restaurant is located in Casa de Balboa.

Panama 66

Panama 66 serves locally sourced, handmade drinks and foods. Whether you’re looking for seasonal cocktails or sandwiches, you can find them here. The bar also offers a wide selection of craft beer taps.

Village Grill

Village Grill offers fast food items like soups, hamburgers, and hotdogs made on-site. The restaurant also serves freshly made sandwiches and Famous Angus burgers. There’s also a gourmet menu that includes chicken marsala and salmon.

Albert’s Restaurant

Albert’s Restaurant serves a wide selection of unique dishes, including seafood specialties, exotic salads, healthy kinds of pasta, sandwiches, chicken and beef entrees, and pizzas. There’s a children’s menu as well. They have a full-service bar that offers exotic cocktails, fine wines, and craft beers.

More Things to Do in the Area

Aside from the festival, you can enjoy other activities in the area, such as museum hopping. The park is home to different museums such as the Fleet Science Center and the San Diego Air and Space Museum. The latter offers interactive features that allow visitors to experience what it’s like to be an astronaut.

If you are an aviation enthusiast, you should visit the Air and Space Museum. It is among the biggest aviation museums in the U.S. You will find many original spacecraft and aircraft as well as reproductions in the Air and Space Museum.

If you’re fond of trains or you have a kid who loves trains, consider including the San Diego Model Railroad Museum in your must-visit list. It’s the biggest museum of its kind in the U.S. There is also a kid’s area where they can push various buttons.

You can also visit the San Diego Natural History Museum. It’s a great place for those who want to learn more about the Foucault Pendulum and Southern California’s flora and fauna. You will find prehistoric sharks, bugs, and other animals in the museum. There’s also a Giant-Screen Theater where you can watch movies with your kids.

The Timken Museum of Art is a haven for art lovers. It is the only museum in San Diego that has a Rembrandt in its collection. You will find sculptures and paintings by ancient European masters and works by Russian icons and American artists.

Aside from museum hopping, you can also hike Balboa Park alone or with your family and friends. Enjoy over 65 miles of walking, biking, and hiking trails throughout Balboa Park. The trails also offer picturesque sceneries. Palm Canyon, for instance, is lined with over 450 palm trees.

You can also enjoy some street entertainment along El Prado, where you can watch henna artists, musicians, religious groups, and other entertainers as they showcase their skills and expertise in their craft.

Arik Akunis
Arik Akunis

My name is Arik Akunis and I have been in the field of lighting for over the last 20 years, I started my journey in the world of lighting in the lighting niche for events where I first came across a festival of lights and immediately fell in love with it.