With the week’s downpour just a memory, tens of thousands of San Diegans flooded into Balboa Park on Friday to celebrate the 37th annual December Nights and kickoff the park’s exposition centennial observance.

Crowds reminiscent of the San Diego County Fair Midway feasted on international food specialties, Christmas music, carnival games and Fun Zone rides. The county fair will promote the park this year.

But the crowds didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits. Families cheered loudly when local dignitaries flipped the switch to light the huge Christmas tree at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion on the mild night.

People also took advantage of free admission to the park’s museums.

Santa and the Grinch made their annual holiday appearances, along with handbell performers, singers and dancers.

New this year is the “December Flights” zipline, which goes two hundred feet, passing the lighted Moreton Bay Fig Tree.

Abundant food was a main attraction, from roasted chestnuts to crepes to Swedish meatballs to bacon-wrapped bratwurst.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer said Friday night’s celebration was a wonderful promotion of the city’s “Crowned Jewel” and thanked the Balboa Park Conservancy for its work.

Falconer, San Diego City Council President Todd Gloria, State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Congresswoman Susan Davis spoke about the park’s varied attractions and plans for the upcoming centennial celebration.

The holiday activities resume at noon Saturday and continue until 11 p.m. More than 300,000 people are expected to attend the two-day event. Museum admissions are free from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Saturday’s schedule includes performances by the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir, Nutcracker Excerpts from the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, a puppet show at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, the Rockin’ Cranberries and Flamenco with Roots.

Free parking is available in the San Diego Zoo lot. Village Place parking is $25 per vehicle and Inspiration Point lots are $20 per vehicle. Free parking for persons with disabilities is available in the Federal and Space Theater lots.

Free shuttle service is provided from PETCO Park ($5 per vehicle parking) and City College (free parking). Shuttles run Saturday from 11:30AM-midnight. All shuttles pick up and drop off at 6th Avenue and Laurel Street.