Jake’s mom worked at December Nights this year so of course we wanted to go down and see what’s she’s been working on these past few months! She helped organize the vendors in certain areas of Balboa Park and we were able to check out the area she organized, grab some food, and walk around Balboa Park. She also managed to snag us a parking pass in one of the lots near the Aerospace Museum so we didn’t have to walk three miles or take a shuttle. Yay! Jake, T and I decided to head down early so there would be less traffic and less people milling about.
We got there around 11:30AM. Most of the vendors and booths were still setting up so we just walked around and enjoyed the scenery a bit. I haven’t been to December Nights since I was kid (back when it was called Christmas on the Prado). I was surprised to see a carnival area!
We wandered over by the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center. There were a ton of various booths (mostly food) surrounding the fountain. T really wanted a fresh coconut water so we gave him $5 to get one. It was quite refreshing and he got a kick out of the little umbrella in the drink.
One of the booths that caught our attention was this Mexican food booth. Bummer I didn’t take a photo of the name – I do remember they were from LA though.
They were in the process of making fresh pupusas.
They were also making tortillas on the spot. They were just starting for the day.
For whatever reason I saw the rolled tacos and thought they looked quite fresh and ordered those.
Yeah…. they weren’t fresh. I should have known better! They reheated these on the grill and by the time we got to eating them they were incredibly chewy with barely a hint of crunch. Ugh.
Note to future self: Don’t buy rolled tacos from a booth. I should have gotten something made with the fresh tortillas or those pupusas! Sigh. Lesson learned.
We started wandering more and ending up pausing at Suzie’s Gourmet Gifts. They make all kinds of treats, like sparkly cookies, brownie crisps and shortbread. They had samples of shortbread which were completely yummy. I also tried the brownie crisps which were also quite tasty (they taste like crunchy chocolate crackers). I almost bought the glittery shortbread and then I remembered I was planning on making shortbread myself. Hah.
We then strolled through Spanish Village. I loved how decorated it was in this corner of the park!
I thought these mini paintings by Cristiana Brusco were totally adorable.
Time for more treats! There was a line of food trucks right outside of Spanish Village, including the Mangia Mangia truck which we visited.
We were planning on getting more treats from elsewhere and decided on trying out the Meatballs.
The meatballs had a thin coating on the outside and were fried with a stick in it. This made them easier to eat! It was wise to eat these quickly since otherwise the marinara sauce would start to make them soggy. They were good flavor wise, though I can say for sure this is the first fried meatball I’ve ever had. I don’t think the frying was really necessary but it did give the meatballs a little extra texture that I liked. It was $8 for one order though, I’m not sure I’d want them again that price.
T and Jake’s mom went to the Octoberfest in La Mesa this fall and they stopped at this booth: B.T. Express. T really loved their stuff and really wanted to have it again. The owner remembered T and Jake’s mom and urged us to come back, so we did.
Jake and I decided on the Rib Sandwich. It’s on a simple bun with plenty of their housemade BBQ sauce. We all really like the BBQ sauce that they use. The ribs are bone-in, so it makes eating the sandwich a little difficult. But the ribs had a nice flavor to them and they came easily off the bone (but still had a little bit of pull). I’d rather just eat the ribs as is without bread in my way.
T’s favorite is the pulled pork sandwich with the same BBQ sauce. T claims this is “melt in your mouth” tender but it didn’t quite do it for me personally. I was hoping for a little smoky flavor but I wasn’t really getting that from the pork. I think it would have helped, too, if the bun had been toasted. I just thought it was okay.
We also tried the tamales from BT Express but I found them to be way overcooked. The masa was quite dried out and there was not a whole lot of filling in them. I imagine they were cooked awhile ago and them kept warm, which dried them out. Oh well. The owner at BT Express was very kind and very nice – he comped us on the food which he didn’t have to do but it was so nice of him to do that!
After eating BBQ, I wanted a little dessert. I had spied the Shishkaberry’s booth earlier and I knew that’s what I wanted to try. They put strawberries (or bananas) on a stick and dip them in chocolate. You have your choice of milk or white plus there are various toppings that can be added on. I picked the “Nutrageous” one (I don’t remember the exact menu title) which came with almonds all over it.
Here you can see the strawberry peeking out at the top! The strawberries were sweet and the chocolate and nuts made it extra delicious.
After getting our fill of food, we wandered a bit more, going into the Botanical Garden and also checking out a display of Christmas trees.
They had quite a few Christmas trees set up, all with different themes and representations of different countries and states.
This Santa and reindeer set up looks exactly like the one from when I was a kid. I’m sure it is the same one. The reindeer are all scuffed up. It made me feel a little nostalgic.
We watched the carolers sing at the Organ Pavilion for a bit. I know it’s prettier at night with the lights and all, but I didn’t want to wait around until it got REALLY crowded. Pfft. The other bummer? The museums weren’t free until 5PM! What! No museums for us that day.
Our last stop was to wander around the little international houses. For the first time they created tents for the different countries outside of the international houses. I thought it was kind of an odd setup, but considering how crowded it gets in the international houses area I could kind of see what they were going for.
We didn’t buy anything but just wandered around into a few of the houses. Each house has history and photos about their country. Most were selling food of their country inside the house (or they would direct you to their tent). The Philippines have to share their house with France.
The France house had a bunch of yummy looking eclairs, but I passed since I was already full from the treats we had that day.
Viva la France! The little houses were my favorite part of December Nights when I was a kid, so it was fun wandering around in there but it quickly became too congested and way too crowded. And it was only 3PM! Kudos to anyone who ventured out to December Nights at night. It was a lot of fun walking around Balboa Park again for the day – we don’t usually spend much time there anymore. Maybe we’ll make it out sometime to check out free museum day.