Balboa Park in San Diego is the largest urban park in the United States. Located near downtown San Diego, it encompasses 1,200 acres with 15 museums, beautiful Spanish architecture, water fountains and features, an outside theatre, numerous walking trails and of course the World Famous San Diego Zoo. Be sure to include this destination in your next visit to San Diego.
Balboa Parks Visitors Center is a great place to start your visit to the park. Located in the House of Hospitality near Prado Restaurant, here you will find up to date information on the latest happening in and around the park including the museums. The Visitors Center is open from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm daily. Pick up a map or brochure, ask the friendly staff and volunteers any questions you might have about the park, or join a free guided tour of the Park. You may even find a souvenir at the gift shop full of a wide selection of gifts including those locally made.
A Little History
In 1868, land was set aside by civic leaders to become the city park. It was rough and undeveloped. Just after the turn of the 20th century, the City Park as it was known, finally received a formal master plan for improvements. Water lines, roads and planting of trees and shrubs continued. When San Diego was named to host the 1915 Panama Exposition, the Parks named changed to a more distinctive name, Balboa Park, named after, and in honor of, Spanish-born Vasco Nunez de Balboa. With the Exposition coming, building began for the Spreckels Organ pavilion, the Cabrillo Bridge, the California Tower and dome, and the San Diego Museum Association (Museum of Man).
Gardens of Balboa Park
One of the most photographed scenes in Balboa Park is the view of the Botanical Building with the Lily Pond in the foreground. Be sure to stop by and see the Koi, water lilies, and capture the picture yourself. The Botanical Building built for the 1915 Exposition is free to enter. It houses more than 2,100 plants including tropical orchids and palms. This building is a kid friendly place with a Carnivorous Plant, and Venue Fly Traps for kids to enjoy. If you are a garden enthusiast, Japanese Friendship Garden is one garden to must see complete with a Koi Pond where one can feed the fish. There are so 17 other gardens or areas each with their own special style or type of garden. Ask at the Visitor Center if you are looking for a specific kind.
Museums of Balboa Park
The 15 museums in Balboa Park are sure to pique an interest for everyone. With museums ranging from science, air and space, to art, sports, and automotive, there are buildings to pick and choose as you please. If multicultural exploration is an interest, there are 32 groups participating in the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages. Many of these international cottages will feature music, dance, arts and crafts and ethnic food on the weekends.
World Famous San Diego Zoo
San Diego Zoo is a popular attraction. Home to more than 4,000 rare, exotic and endangered animals, this zoo at Balboa Park is a must see. Rare Giant Pandas are usually on visit from China. Or, check out the koalas. If you visit at the right time, you might just get to see baby pandas! Inside the zoo, there is a special area called “The Children’s Zoo”, with animals and activities geared for kids. The San Diego Zoo is known for their conservation program and to date have reintroduced 33 species back in to the wild.
Spreckels Organ Pavilion
One of the world’s oldest outdoor pipe organs is the Spreckels Organ. It contains 4,530 pipes. It was donated to the city of San Diego by John D. Spreckels for the 1915 Exposition. The Pavilion can seat over 2,400. It is highly recommended to be in one of those seats for a free concert every Sunday at 2:00 pm.
There are nearly a dozen places to find food. From award winning restaurants to cafes, there is a variety of food in Balboa Park. There are also snack carts around the park where you can enjoy ice cream, hotdogs, or a drink. Of course, you can also bring your own picnic and enjoy the acres of green grass and abundant trees. You can also enjoy the 65 miles of trails throughout Balboa Park. All are clearly marked with varying degrees of difficulty.
Spend a day or a weekend at Balboa Park. With free parking, abundant activities for the family, you’ll be entertained with sights and sounds around Balboa Park. Enjoy the near ideal year round weather in San Diego. Whether you enjoy the zoo, gardens, or museums, there is truly something for everyone at Balboa Park.