The Coast News Group

Northbound: Taking to December Nights

I attended the Balboa Park December Nights event this past Friday for the first time as a North County resident.

The usual magic could be found everywhere — wide-eyed children; glimmering light displays; and a cacophony of singers, music and merry visitors.

Memories were being made, and traditions retained.

As a born-and-raised Northern Californian, I chuckled to myself at the overdressed San Diegans I saw in heavy wool coats, mittens and head scarves; the evening’s 60 degree weather would have required at most a hooded sweatshirt back in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Kudos to the city of San Diego and the Balboa Park Conservancy, the event co-producers, for putting on a fantastic event.

With more than 350,000 people in attendance over the two-day event, I guess we have come to expect long lines and crowds at December Nights; still, I thought there was some room for improvement for next year.

My friends and I spent a good amount of time in the International Spirits Garden, where representatives from the various International House organizations were selling customary holiday drinks from their respective part of the world. At least three houses sold hot mulled wine (Denmark, Sweden and Finland), while others sold a variety of exotic cocktails and beer.

Missing from the Spirits Garden was a bathroom — you had to exit in order to use portable toilets located right outside the entrance. Re-entry required waiting in a massive line to get back in. Why not just have a few bathrooms for patrons to use inside the garden, or offer a hand-stamp for quick re-entry, like at the San Diego Zoo?

I was also disappointed in the lack of late-night North County transit options to and from the event. The last northbound Coaster train left the downtown Santa Fe Train Depot at 9 p.m., leaving little time for participants to experience the Park at night. Each Coaster train has a 650-person seating capacity. A few late night trains could free up hundreds of parking spots in and around Balboa Park. You could also have a park and ride system where North County residents could meet at major transit centers to catch a ride on chartered buses that leave hourly.

I’m optimistic these issues can be resolved easily with enough planning for 2016. December Nights is a community gem that just needs a bit of polishing every now and then.

Tip to North County readers: check out the House of Colombia’s food booth next year. There are no Colombian restaurants in our part of the county, so this is a great way to get your taste buds to experience the deliciousness of arepas, empanadas, and bunuelos.


Vince Vasquez is a think tank analyst based in Torrey Pines. He is a Carlsbad resident.