Mayor Kevin Faulconer waves at Santa (aka Bill Swank) after opening ceremony at Taste of December Nights. Photo by Chris Stone

With stay-at-home rules looming, San Diegans on Friday were glad to pick up some of the food they munched on during December Nights of old. Maybe just in the Nick of time.

Gone this year because of COVID-19 are Balboa Park streets filled with families strolling past holiday lights, exploring museums for free, listening to music, and sampling fare from food trucks and international cottages representing 32 cultures.

Past December Nights have drawn more than 350,000 people.

But in the spirit of making the best of things in the middle of a pandemic, San Diego officials “reimagined” the tradition as “Taste of December Nights” — the city’s largest free community celebration becoming a drive-through event.

Story continues below

The focus is on safety, said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Outgoing Councilman Chris Ward called it a “very COVID-safe December Nights celebration” and said the city needed to “preserve some kind of a feeling here that December Nights brings out for our community and our family.”

Said Hellen Silva of El Cajon: “It’s different. You just have to be patient.”

She said her family has attended the annual holiday event for 30 years. And though “it’s not even close” to previous years, “It’s better than nothing.”

While waiting in her car to order food, she pointed to the music and atmosphere that she misses from past years.

But since vendors have a chance to make some much needed money, “We have to support out community,” she said.

The event, which began Friday and continues through Sunday, has longer hours – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is held three days instead of the traditional two. The first 500 visitors every day get a tote bag, with some including prizes (hats, shirts, museum tickets, zoo and Safari Park passes and Padres merchandise).

Access is via Inspiration Point Way (in the Naval Hospital parking lot) off Park Boulevard. (Take Presidents Way east.)

Menu for Taste of December Nights (PDF)

Upon entry, people are handed a map and menu. Drivers are directed past two rows with 20 food trucks.

Food prices range from $3 for steamed buns to $45 for a lobster, filet mignon and shrimp combo. The menu includes pizza, crab cakes, gator bites and frog legs, coconut rice with meats and vegetables, calamari, corn dogs, turkey legs, BBQ chicken and roasted corn.

Sweets aren’t forgotten. Besides cookies, also offered are kettle corn, mini donuts, French macarons, ice cream and, last but not least, Death-by-Chocolate cake from international cottages (served only during the day). Also: bread pudding with whiskey sauce.

Santa greets children young and old between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

On Friday morning, visitors told city officials that they enjoyed the opportunity to get out of their homes and enjoy tasty food.

The rules of the road include remaining in your car, and wearing a mask while ordering.

Here are the no’s:

  • Smoking
  • Parking
  • Pedestrian access
  • Scooters or other motorized devices
  • Restrooms
  • Drones
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Littering

At Friday morning’s opening, Santa (aka Bill Swank) said he was going to miss all the kids and families he used to visit with in the Organ Pavilion.

Then Santa said: “Remember: Wear a mask, wash your hands thoroughly, and maintain six-feet social distance.

He then added, “Stay cool, San Diego. LET’S EAT!”

Map of food trucks at Taste of December Nights (PDF)