Balboa Park San Diego is a fabulous place just waiting to be explored. There’s so much to do here. Visit the animals of the famous San Diego Zoo, explore the exhibits of the its many museums, enjoy fine dining, hike the trails and paths, see a play, or simply enjoy a picnic in the park. Every time I head to the park, I discover new things I had no idea were at the park. It really is an amazing place!
This is the largest urban cultural park in the country. It is a place of natural beauty, stunning architecture, and wonderful cultural exhibits and events. It’s a special place where you can experience a variety of opportunities depending on your interests.
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World Famous San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is home to more than 3,700 animals. It’s one of just a few zoos around that world that breeds pandas. Begin your visit to the zoo with a guided tram tour that takes you to 75% of the zoo. The overhead gondola ride, Skyfari, gives you an aerial view of the zoo. Walk through two different aviaries where hundreds of colorful birds are flying.
San Diego Zoo Website
Museums Balboa Park San Diego
San Diego Aerospace Museum
This museum is a Smithsonian affiliate and covers 5 centuries of aviation history with displays of more than 60 aircraft and space vehicles. An interactive exhibit lets visitors operate the controls of a real airplane. Take a look at the only Global Positioning Satellite on public display. Military personnel receive complimentary admission with I.D. Open daily 10AM – 5:30PM
Museum of Man
Devoted to anthropology, arts, culture, and scientific achievements, this San Diego museum is located beneath the 200 foot California Tower. Here you can explore Mayan monuments, Egyptian tomb artifacts, and Peruvian mummies as well as enjoy visiting exhibits from around the world. Open daily 10AM – 4:30PM.
San Diego Automotive Museum
This museum is home to a collection of more than 90 historic automobiles and motorcycles including Russell Crowe’s Harley Davidson and Frank Sinatra’s 1967 Austin Petrol Hire Car. It’s an amazing collection. Open daily 10AM – 5PM
San Diego Natural History Museum
This research facility is dedicated to interpreting the nature of the region through research and education. Watch films on a giant screen and enjoy a variety of changing presentations. This museum contains many fascinating exhibits. One of the highlights is Fossil Mysteries. This interactive exhibit traces the 75-million-year fossil-rich prehistory of southern California and Baja California, Mexico.Open daily 10AM – 5PM
San Diego Museum of Art
In addition to hosting exhibits from around the world, this San Diego museum features a good selectio of European old masters, 19th and 20th century American art, a comprehensive Asian collections, contemporary, and Latin American art. Open Tuesday through Sunday 10AM – 6PM
This small Balboa Park museum houses the Putnam Foundation collection of European old master paintings, American paintings, and Russian icons. Admission is always free. Open Tuesday through Saturday 10AM – 4:30PM and Sundays 1PM – 4:30PM
Mingei International Museum
This San Diego museum features folk art from around the world in six galleries of changing exhibitions. Open Tuesday through Sunday from Noon-4PM
Museum of Photographic Arts
Visit the changing exhibits showcasing the history of photography at this San Diego museum. Open daily 10AM – 5PM
San Diego Art Institute: Museum of the Living Artist
Every four to six weeks a new exhibit of works by local San Diego artists opens in this 10,000 square foot gallery. Open Tuesday through Saturday 10AM – 4PM and Sundays Noon – 4PM
Veteran’s Museum & Memorial Center
This Balboa Park museum preserves and honors the men and women who served in the Armed Forces, Coast Guard, and Wartime Merchant Marines from the Civil War to the present.
Open Tuesday through Saturday 9:30AM – 3PM and Sundays 10AM – 3PM
Performing Arts at Balboa Park San Diego
Spreckels Organ Pavillon
Enjoy the sounds of one of the largest outdoor pipe organs in the world. This unique pipe organ was donated to San Diego in 1914 for the Panama California Exposition. Free concerts are held on Sunday afternoons. You’ll find concerts are other days as well.
The Starlight Bowl offers live musical productions in Balboa Park during the months of July, August, and September. This historic outdoor theatre was constructed for the 1935-36 Pacific Exposition. It is located in Balboa Park near the Pan American Plaza.
The Old Globe Theater
This is San Diego’s largest theater company. 15 productions are performed every year on the stages of this highly acclaimed regional theater complex. Check out their schedule and experience quality theater in this beautiful theater. You will be glad you did!
Gardens of Balboa Park San Diego
The design of these gardens is patterned after the gardens of Alcazar Castle in Seville, Spain. They are located next to the Art Institute and Mingei Museum. A stroll through these gardens includes ornate fountains, a shady pergola, and colorful Moorish tiles. The formal garden is bursting with color thanks to the more than 7,000 annuals. Alcazar Garden is open 365 days a year with free admission.
This building along with the Lily Pond out front is one of the most photographed locations in Balboa Park. This historical building was built for the 1915-16 Exposition. Enjoy these Balboa Park gardens featuring seasonal flower displays and gorgeous collections of cycads, ferns, orchids, palms, and other tropical plants. The Botanical Building is closed Thursdays and holidays and offers free admission.
The Cactus Garden was developed for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. It was designed by Kate Sessions and contains a large collection of cactus and succulent specimens. This garden is located on the west side of the Balboa Park Club. Admission is free.
Casa del Rey Moro Garden
This garden was designed for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition and is influenced by the Moorish gardens of Ronda, Spain. Located next to the House of Hospitality, the gardens are lovely and perfect for a romantic stroll. The grounds include a replica of the wishing well in the Guadalajara Museum of Gardens. Admission to these Balboa Park gardents is free but the garden is closed during private events, such as weddings.
Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden
Inez Grant Memorial Rose Garden offers a stunning display of approximately 2,500 roses on a 3 acre site that is colorful, fragrant, and beautiful. The gardens are in bloom from March through December, with the roses usually at their peak in April and May. This is another popular site for weddings. The garden is located across from the San Diego Natural History Museum. You can access these Balboa Park gardens via the Park Boulevard pedestrian bridge. Admission is free 365 days a year.
Japanese Friendship Garden
Telephone: (619) 232-2721
These Japanese gardens are located on two acres near the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. They originated as a teahouse during the 1915-16 Panama California Exposition. Enjoy a romantic stroll through the winding paths where you will find a Zen garden, koi ponds, waterfalls, a bonsai exhibit, ceremonial gate, a wisteria arbor, and other lush landscaping. Enjoy lunch at the Tea Pavilion http://www.sandiego-romantics.com/balboa-park-restaurants.html. The Japanese Friendship Garden is open from 10 AM – 4 PM everyday but Monday.
Enjoy a romantic stroll down the winding paths into a shady, lush canyon. Palm Canyon is a tropical oasis with more 450 palms covering its two acres. Cross the picturesque wooden footbridge leading from the Alcazar Gardens parking lot to cross the street from the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Admission to these Balboa Park gardens is free 365 days a year.
This garden was originally designed as a nudist colony for the 1935 California Pacific Exposition. It is now a butterfly garden where you can see monarch, sulfur, and swallowtail butterflies among the colorful flowers. Zoro Garden is open 365 days a year with free admission.
Restaurants of Balboa Park San Diego
There’s a magical atmosphere at Prado Restaurant. Take a stroll around the area where the restaurant is located to enjoy the beautiful Spanish Colonial architecture, water fountains, and lovely landscaping. Inside the restaurant you find a classic Spanish feel mixed with colorful accents such as the blown glass sculptures and unique chandeliers. It’s an upscale establishment with a unique setting and great food.
The premier restaurant in the park is Prado Restaurant. There are also smaller places to dine throughout the park. Many of the museums have small restaurants. The Japanese Friendship Gardens has a restaurant serving Japanese tea and food.
Other Attractions in Balboa Park San Diego
Balboa Park Golf Complex
This city golf course is situated in Balboa Park. It provides panoramic views of downtown San Diego and Coronado from many holes. The grounds include a par-72, 18-hole course, a 9-hole executive course, driving range, practice putting greens, and a coffee shop. Enjoy golf and beautiful San Diego scenery at the Balboa Park Golf Complex.
Balboa Park Minature Railroad
Open: Daily 11-4:30 most of the year. Extended summer hours: 11-6:30. Enjoy a 3 minute 1/2 mile train ride. This antique train is a model G16. This minature railroad is located near the San Diego Zoo. There are picnic tables nearby.
Balboa Park Carousel
Open daily during the summer and weekends and school holidays during the remainder of the year.
The Balboa Park Carousel is located next to the San Diego Zoo. This carousel boasts a menagerie of animals and all but two pairs are original with hand-carved European craftsmanship. The hand-painted murals surrounding the upper portion of the carousel and the military band music are also original. This carousel is one of the few in the world still offering the brass ring game. Enjoy the nostalgia of days gone by at this historic Balboa Park attraction.
House of Pacific Relations International Cottages
Address: 2125 Park Blvd., San Diego, CA 92101
Telephone: (619) 234-0739
Open every Sunday between Noon and 5:00 PM.
The House of Pacific Relations was founded in 1935 as a not-for-profit community organization dedicated to furthering cooperation and understanding between national groups in the United States.
The House of Pacific Relations consists of 31 national groups, many of which have their own small cottage in San Diego’s Balboa Park. These cottages offer visitors a glimpse into each country’s culture, history and traditions.
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
Opens daily at 9:30 AM/Closing hours vary
This popular attraction houses an IMAX Dome Theater, science exhibits, and a planetarium.
Spanish Village Art Center
Open daily 11AM – 4PM (except Thanksgiving, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1).
The Spanish Village Art Center is located between the San Diego Zoo and the Natural History Museum. These charming buildings and courtyards were built in 1935 to depict a charming old village in Spain for the second California Pacific International Exposition.
Over 50 artists and craftspeople work on site. Art includes painting, sculpture, photography, jewelry, woodcarving, glass blowing, and pottery. Art shows with food and entertainment are held throughout the year. Admission to this Balboa Park San Diego attraction is free.
Balboa Park Visitors Center
Address: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 95201
Telephone: (619) 239-0512
Open daily 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM
Maps, brochures, and other information about the park are available from the Visitors Center. Most of the organizations that operate within the park are privately run by local nonprofit groups. These groups offer free admission on Tuesdays throughout each month on a rotating schedule.
Make the Visitors Center your first stop when visiting Balboa Park San Diego. Then hop on one of the free buses that will drive you throughout the park. The drivers are generally aware of what’s going on in the park and can offer you valuable suggestions. You might want to tour the entire park for one loop before disembarking to explore this amazing urban park.
If you have visited Balboa Park San Diego, please tell us about your experiences in the comment section below.