Balboa Park, San Diego

4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 Stars - 114 Reviews

1549 El Prado (619) 239-0512

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  • Balboa Park
    by apbeaches
  • Bird of paradise flower at Balboa Park
    Bird of paradise flower at Balboa Park
    by Jefie
  • Balboa Parl's Botanical Building
    Balboa Parl's Botanical Building
    by Jefie
  • goodfish's Profile Photo

    "...that fabric of a dream" B. Goodhue

    by goodfish Updated Mar 10, 2014

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    Casa El Prado
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    The area known as El Prado is one of the most visually interesting parts of the park as some of the architecture - both original and reconstructed - was designed for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition: a sort of World Fair celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal. The “dream city" of architects Bertram G. Goodhue and Carleton M. Winslow, the structures feature a bizarrely harmonious mix of Spanish, Moorish, Mexican and Mediterranean influences later christened Spanish Colonial Revival. Some of them - like the tile-domed California Building - were meant to be permanent but others intended strictly for temporary purposes were slapped together from inexpensive wood and plaster with cardboard ornamentation.

    When the fair was over and these "illusions" were slated for demolition, San Diegans kicked up a fuss and so they were either renovated or completely rebuilt, just as they looked, of more durable materials. Others were remodeled for the 1935-36 California-Pacific International Exposition.

    Today these relics of a bygone age house the Visitor Center, museums, arts organizations, offices and a restaurant, and you’ll find most of them along El Prado street and pedestrian sidewalk in roughly the center of the park. Historical tours - both self-guided and escorted - are available:

    http://www.balboapark.org/visit/tours

    Even if you’re not into museums, this is a great spot for photographers (go on a sunny, cloudless day if possible) and architecture buffs.

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    • Historical Travel
    • Photography
    • Architecture

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    Balboa Park - museums - Cabrillo Bridge

    by Pawtuxet Updated Jan 25, 2014

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    Visitors Center - museum complex & plaza
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    Balboa Park was first established in 1868 as a 1,400 acre City Park. It was named after the Spanish explorer, Balboa in 1910. The Cabrillo Bridge was built as part of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal. It was the first multiple arched, cantilever type bridge built in California...costing $214,000. Then Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first person to drive across it.
    The bridge leads you to a series of buildings left from the exposition which now house a Museum of Man, Museum of Art, restaurants, and more. There is also a Shakespeare Theater as well as another musical theater clustered around arched walkways, beautiful landscaping, fountains and a beautiful plaza.

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    • Family Travel
    • Museum Visits

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    Stop and smell the roses

    by goodfish Updated Jan 23, 2014

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    I think our noses found this one before our feet did.

    Our visit to the city happily coincided with peak season (April/May) for all sorts of spring flowers, and Balboa Park’s Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden was in riotous, full-out bloom. Established in the 1970’s, it has grown from 1200 original plantings to 2,500 of 200 varieties, large and small, in all the colors of the rainbow. It takes a volunteer staff of 45 gardeners to keep them fed, watered and pruned to perfection, and the three acres of beautifully tended beds provide a lovely - and very popular - backdrop for weddings and engagement photos.

    Even if your horticultural thumb is closer, like mine, to black than green, this is a pleasant wander, I read, from March - December. Paths are paved and level - nice for baby strollers and visitors with mobility challenges - and wind around a fountain and shady, blossom-covered arbor.

    Open every day, and entrance is free. Closest parking lot (also free) is at the Natural History Museum on the other side of the pedestrian bridge which crosses Park Blvd. to access the garden. See a park map here:

    http://www.balboapark.org/sites/default/files/balboa_park_map.pdf

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    Timken Museum of Art

    by goodfish Written Jan 17, 2014

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    We ran out of time to do the San Diego Museum of Art (next trip!) but had just enough for a peek at this little gem. It’s an intimate, interesting collection of European and American artists of both names you may recognize and others which may be new to you - as they were to me. Among the former are a Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyke, Hals, Bruegel, Corot, David, Murillo, Bierstadt, Copley and West. Of the latter, I was taken by 19th-century Eastman Johnson of cranberry pickers on the island of Nantucket, and a 14th-century Buonaccorso altarpiece.

    Besides being blissfully uncrowded, a wander here is free, and they have docent tours - also free - in English, Spanish and German. Audio guides are available for rent in the gift shop. Children, service animals and donations are welcome but cameras and cell phones are not so please stow those during your visit, OK?

    See the website for hours, lectures, tour schedules and special exhibitions:

    http://www.timkenmuseum.org

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    Prickly things: Desert Garden

    by goodfish Written Jan 15, 2014

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    The location of this botanical collection, right next to the Rose Garden, is an interesting juxtaposition of dignified beds of lush color/greenery and wild, dusty acres of spiky specimens. If you happen to be at the park during the months of January- March, you’ll find the cacti and succulents in bloom but the only bright spots otherwise are from some plantings of flowers here and there. You’re allowed to leave the paved sidewalks and wander around “forests” of larger plants, and the variety of shapes and sizes - from chubby barrel cactus to tangled Candelabra tree - are fascinating.

    Open every day, and entrance is free. Closest parking lot (also free) is at the Natural History Museum on the other side of the pedestrian bridge which crosses Park Blvd. to access the garden. Paved paths are wheelchair and stroller friendly See a Balboa park map here….

    http://www.balboapark.org/sites/default/files/balboa_park_map.pdf

    …and a map of the garden here:

    http://www.balboapark.org/sites/default/files/desert_garden_map.pdf

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  • lmkluque's Profile Photo

    Balboa Park

    by lmkluque Updated Dec 21, 2013

    4.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

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    Balboa Park is just northeast of downtown. It is a beautiful piece of land with vast expanses of lush green lawns, many trees and blooming flowers. At this park there are hiking and biking trails, kiddy play grounds and it is a great place to spread a blanket and take in the sun or have a picnic. Here you can play typical park sports or just watch the fun.

    At the Sixth Avenue and Laurel Street entrance there is a bridge to cross. Once over the bridge you'll enter into the remains of the Panama-American Exposition of 1915-1916 and those of the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935-36. The buildings are lovely and in each building you will find something that is interesting, educational or delicious.

    Update:

    Barriers have been installed to ban cars from the center of the Park making it more of a pedestrian area. Not sure has long this will last as it was the defunct mayor who did this without going through the normal procedure. There still are free parking lots around the park and they still offer free shuttles around the park as well.

    These buildings house most of the bigger museums of SD as well as many of the lesser offerings, they are home to many associations some private, many open to the public and in these buildings you will find something to eat, from a snack to a gourmet meal.

    Now did I mention that in Balboa Park you will also find the World Famous San Diego Zoo? Yes, that too is here.

    Especially on weekends there are special events put on by local societies here, such as the House of Pacific Relations, a group of cottages built for the 1935 Exposition to house as many as 32 social/culture groups of other countries, open Sundays and periodic events such as, one of my favorites, an Orchid Show, the best place to find rare and beautiful orchids.

    Check Balboa Park's website before you arrive to see if there are any special events going on during your stay that might interest you.

    There are more photos and specific information in my Views of Balboa Park travelogue.

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    • Architecture
    • Museum Visits

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    Balboa Park - Special Events

    by tampa_shawn Written Nov 10, 2013
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    There is always a lot to do at Balboa Park and the list of events, plays, exhibits and programs changes all the time.

    One great event is something called Balboa Park December nights - Friday, Dec. 6, 3-11pm, and Saturday, Dec. 7, noon-11pm

    Museums are free from 5-9 PM and there are foods, music, entertainment from around the world

    Plan extra time to get their and park during these events

    For more information see
    http://www.balboapark.org/decembernights

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    Sunday's at Balboa Park

    by tampa_shawn Written Nov 10, 2013
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    Sunday's at Balboa park are very special because there area a lot of extra free events

    + There are free organ concerts every Sunday at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion at 2 PM
    + the international Cottages, which are 32 cottages from around the world hold open houses every Sunday from noon - 4 PM.
    +There are international lawn programs from 2-4 PM most of the year.
    This is on top of all the normal events and things to do at the park

    http://www.balboapark.org/in-the-park/house-pacific-relations-international-cottages

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  • tampa_shawn's Profile Photo

    So much to do

    by tampa_shawn Written Nov 10, 2013
    there are free shuttles to help you get around
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    I love Balboa Park there is so much to do here! Parking is free (or if your lucky like me you can walk to the park). There are museums, stores, restaurants, the zoo and so on. It is also a great place to just walk around and enjoy the park itself. The park is huge so you can't do it in one day.

    I've spent at least 5 days here (I just moved here) and still haven't seen all the park grounds and have only been into one of the museums so far.

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    Nature and culture in the heart of San Diego

    by Jefie Updated Nov 4, 2013

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    Balboa Parl's Botanical Building
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    As early as 1835, a large plot of land was set aside for public recreation in San Diego. The idea of turning it into an urban park came up a few years later, and Balboa Park took on much of the appearance it still has today when it hosted the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Extensive landscaping work occurred at that time, and some magnificient buildings were built along the Prado, the park's main thoroughfare. Unlike most structures built to host world fair exhibitions, the ones in Balboa Park were not meant to be temporary and remain in use to this day. Several of them are now home to the park's numerous museums and theatres.

    The weather was just too nice when we visited Balboa Park to hit any of the museums, so we decided to focus on the park's gardens instead. We stopped at the visitors center to pick up a free map, and spent the entire morning walking all over the park. The only time we had to pay admission fees was to visit the Japanese Friendship Garden ($6), but we figured it wasn't much to pay considering everything we'd seen in the park. It definitely is one of San Diego's attractions you don't want to miss!

    Balboa Park is open to visitors 24h/day, but most attractions are open roughly from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm. Parking is free, but make sure you get there early enough because it fills up fast!

    Related to:
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    • Architecture
    • Museum Visits

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  • Jim_Eliason's Profile Photo

    Balboa park

    by Jim_Eliason Updated Jun 25, 2013

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    Balboa Park
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    This park was built in 1915 for a world's fair. It is one of a few in the country that has survived mostly in tact. Today it hosts literally dozens of museums, theatres and shops. You could easily spend a whole vacation just here.

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    • Museum Visits
    • Arts and Culture
    • National/State Park

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    SDHS Museum and Research Archives

    by matcrazy1 Updated Apr 4, 2011

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    CASA  DE  BALBOA - western wing

    If you are very interested in history of San Diego don't miss SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY MUSEUM.

    HOURS:
    Tuesday-Sunday, 10 to 4:30

    TICKET FARES:
    Adults: $5, Ages 6-17: $2
    Group rate $4/person for 10 or more
    Members get unlimited free admission

    MORE:
    www.sandiegohistory.org/mainpages/locate2.htm

    Need more? Visit SDHS RESEARCH ARCHIVES

    HOURS:
    Thu-Sat: 10am to 4pm; Closed all of August

    TICKET FARES:
    $5 fee; $2 students with ID
    Members get unlimited free admission

    MORE:
    www.sandiegohistory.org/mainpages/locate6.htm

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    HOUSE OF POLAND

    by matcrazy1 Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    HOUSE  OF  POLAND

    This group of small cottages, each home to a different nation, holds open house to the public Sunday afternoons from noon to 4:00 p.m.

    Hmm... opening hours were real tourist trap for me. I was there on Sunday but at 4.30 p.m. - what a pity. All was closed except the French house - there was a banquet inside, one guy invited us to enter but we... didn't go inside.

    MEMBER COUNTRIES:
    House of Argentina
    House of Austria
    House of China
    House of Colombia
    House of Czech and Slovak Republics
    House of Denmark
    House of England
    House of Finland
    House of France
    House of Germany
    House of Hungary
    House of Iran
    House of Ireland
    House of Israel
    House of Italy
    House of Lithuania
    House of Norway
    House of Panama
    House of Philippine Islands
    House of Poland
    House of Puerto Rico
    House of Scotland
    House of Spain
    House of Sweden
    House of Ukraine
    House of United States of America
    HPR Queens Organization

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  • winnietankl's Profile Photo

    Balboa Park

    by winnietankl Updated Aug 30, 2010

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    Spreckles Organ Pavilion
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    Balboa Park is a cultural park in San Diego, California. Beside of open space areas it also contains museums, shops, restaurants, gardens and of course the world famous San Diego Zoo. Go to the park visitor centre before start your tour there. The park is free and for certain museum it is free on Tuesday. It open daily from 9.30am to 4.30pm.

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    Cabrillo Bridge 1914

    by Yaqui Written Apr 25, 2010

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    While traveling along Highway 163 to the San Diego Zoo, you will pass right under this bridge. I commented to my sister that this bridge looks very old tried to click a picture of it, but the traffic was moving fast. I was able to take a picture of it from the zoo skyline tram and while exploring Balboa Park as we crossed it a couple of times. Lots of people walking, bicycling, driving, and jogging across it, so please drive slowly!

    This is an historic 1,500-foot-long bridge with 56-foot-wide archways started out as a pedestrian pathway for the 1914 Exposition. Then Franklin Roosevelt, assistant secretary of the Navy and Mayor Charles F. O'Neill, made an inaugural auto crossing of the bridge. It remained closed to traffic during the Exposition, but gradually traffic increased once the expostion closed. It went through a $3.5 million rehabilitation which was really needed.

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