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
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  • Bird of paradise flower at Balboa Park
    Bird of paradise flower at Balboa Park
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  • Casa del Prado in Balboa Park, San Diego
    Casa del Prado in Balboa Park, San Diego
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  • Pawtuxet's Profile Photo

    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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  • VeronicaG's Profile Photo

    San Diego's Balboa Park

    by VeronicaG Updated Mar 5, 2008

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    Casa del Prado at Balboa Park

    We loved San Diego--the balmy weather, beautiful scenery and Balboa Park! Balboa Park is an urban park nestled within the city itself.

    Within Balboa Park is the San Diego Museum of Art, which is the regions oldest and largest art museum. Plan to have lunch at one of the outdoor cafes, then trod over to see noteworthy artwork at this museum. Hours are Tues.-Sun. 10 am-6 pm and Thurs. 10 am-9 pm. For more information call (619) 232-7931 or www.sdmart.org

    We also took the time to tour San Diego Natural History Museum, which is inside the park. Its dramatic entrance drew us to want to look inside! It was established in 1873 and is the oldest Scientific Institute in Southern California. Hours are 10 am-5pm daily. For more information call (619) 232-3821 or www.sdnhm.org.

    The Balboa Park visitors center is a wise stop to make, located at 1549 El Parador. You'll find helpful information here, but you can also call, (619) 239-0510 or www.balboapark.org.

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  • Pawtuxet's Profile Photo

    Exotic trees of Balboa Park

    by Pawtuxet Updated Apr 21, 2007

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    There are many wonderful trees throughout the park. Many worthy of photographing. I don't want to bore you, so I've put a few extras into a travelogue for those who are interested. I noticed people stopping constantly to look at the odd varieties. Some were shedding their bark...many had been upturned in the heavy rains the preceding week.....some drooped lazily while others had trunks and roots like an octopus. I wish they had been marked. I know they come from all over the world.

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    Kate Sessions in Balboa Park

    by Pawtuxet Updated Apr 21, 2007

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    Kate Sessions

    Kate Sessions is known as the "Mother of Balboa Park", altho casual visitors don't know that. She devoted her life to horticulture. She was the single largest influence in transforming the Park's barren mesa tops and canyons into the extensive botanical collection it is today. Her statue, was created by sculptor Ruth Hayward, and made possible through the support of the members of the community.
    There is a self guided tour which you can take. Brochures are available near Kate's statue. Kate lived in the early 1900's. Bless these people who give to their community with such energy and devotion. Where would places like this be without them?

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  • lmkluque's Profile Photo

    Balboa Park

    by lmkluque Updated Dec 21, 2013

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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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  • Yaqui's Profile Photo

    Balboa Park

    by Yaqui Written Aug 21, 2005

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    Balbo Park is a huge array of museums, gardens, theaters, restaurants, shopping, recreation, and a zoo. There is everything imaginable for everyone of all ages to enjoy here. There is a vistor center located in the House of Hospitality. So if your ever bored, just ventured down here and I am sure you'll find plenty to do and see;-)

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  • bren1125's Profile Photo

    A full day of activity.

    by bren1125 Written Sep 20, 2007

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    Home to 15 major museums, renowned performing arts venues, beautiful gardens and the San Diego Zoo, the Park has an ever-changing calendar of museum exhibitions, plays, musicals, concerts, and classes.

    Admittance to the Park grounds is free. The Botanical Building, outdoor gardens and some additional attractions are also offered free of charge.

    Passport to Balboa Park, San Diego's best cultural value, offers visitors the chance to experience 13 museums in the Park, with savings of more than 50% and the convenience of a one-time purchase. The Passport is valid for seven consecutive days, and includes one admission to each of the 13 attractions. The Zoo/Passport Combo includes the Passport to Balboa Park plus one-day deluxe admission at the San Diego Zoo, all for one low price. Passport products may be purchased online before your visit

    Balboa Park Audio Tour -one and a half hour audio walking tour of the Park can be rented at the Balboa Park Visitors Center.

    A Walk in Balboa Park:Self-Guided Walking Tour by Pam Crooks
    This convienient pocket sized book has a handy central map and insights into the history, buildings, major botanical gardens and various other features of the park.

    The beauty of Balboa Park offers a lovely setting for destination weddings.

    The Museum Stores of Balboa Park present unique merchandise-from jewelry to artifacts, from photos to folk art, from gardening items to history books. Spanish Village Art Center presents more than 50 artists and craftspeople with their arts for sale in a charming setting, the UN Building's International Gift Shop sells world handicrafts and The Old Globe offers an assortment of theater-related products

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  • RCollins1205's Profile Photo

    You can spend days in Balboa Park

    by RCollins1205 Updated Dec 2, 2003

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    Balboa Park is in the heart of San Diego and although it is cut by a freeway (163 - the Cabrillo) you can easily walk to most attractions. A good map is adviseable. Otherwise, you might run into a dead end. There is also a free mortorized tram that winds through the park.

    The park is situated on a mesa and is relatively flat. I think there are over 12 museums. To save admission, you can buy a pass that gets you in all of them. But you will need to plan more than one day. Highlights for people who are usually not interested in museums would be the Imax theater at the Fleet Center and the Aerospace museum. The usual natural history and art museums are well represented.

    For dining, go to the Restaurant next to the main gift shop in the center of the park (the Prado Restaurant). It is highly rated.

    Did I mention theaters? There are several theaters that are world renouned including The Old Globe..

    If you come on Sunday you can hear an organ concert at the Sprekels Outdoor Organ.

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  • racheljapi's Profile Photo

    Everything!

    by racheljapi Written Oct 16, 2004

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    Take the day and spend it in Balboa park, not going to the zoo or anything like that, but just Balboa park. There are amazing museums, restaurants, and gardens to see. You can sit by the space museum and watch kids play around the huge fountain or get fresh ice cream cones dipped in chocolate or dress up and go to one of the best restaurants in SD (although I forget the name. hehehe)

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  • anagrettel's Profile Photo

    Museums at Balboa Park

    by anagrettel Updated Apr 10, 2006

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    Balboa park is a great place not just to visit museums, is great for walk and relax. see beautiful architecture buildings.

    Check calendar for cultural free events and free museum entrance on tuesdays. (each week of the month you get free tuesday entrance to 3-5 museums, check calendar online for dates)

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  • Dabs's Profile Photo

    Balboa Park

    by Dabs Updated May 4, 2008

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    Balboa Park is home to the San Diego Zoo and a wealth of museums but it's also a lovely place to have a stroll on a sunny day. Frommers has a nice online walking tour of Balboa Park that takes about 2 1/2 hours if you don't stop and see any of the museums or attractions.

    Named for Spanish explorer Balboa, the 1st European to see the Pacific Ocean, Balboa Park dates back to 1868 and is the 2nd oldest city park in the US after Central Park in New York City. The Spanish style buildings were built for the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition that celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal. They were intended to be temporary exhibit halls but were reused for the 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition. The now permanent structures now house a variety of museums.

    Balboa Park also has extensive gardens including a beautiful rose garden, a cactus garden, Palm Canyon, a Japanese Friendship Garden and the Alcazar Garden modeled to look like the one in Seville Spain.

    I was lucky enough to grab one of the few parking spots near the Museum of Art since I got there before the museums opened, but there is more parking near some of the other museums. It was quite crowded the day I was there due to a graduation and another luncheon going on that day.

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  • Yaqui's Profile Photo

    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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    Spreckels Organ Pavilion 1914

    by Yaqui Written Apr 25, 2010

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    This lovely ornate theatre caught my eye when exploring Balboa Park. I had no idea it has an actual 1914 pipe organ that contains 4,530 pipes. It is secured by a medal door. After researching it was John D. and Adolph Spreckels dream to donated this lovely organ to the city he loved. It is considered one of the world's largest outdoor pipe organs. It found a home here during the 1914 for the Panama-California Exposition.

    On Sundays they perform free weekly performances sine 1917.

    Hours:
    Concerts, Sun. 2:00–3:00 p.m.; mid-June–Aug.
    International Summer Organ Festival Mon. 7:30 p.m.

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  • bellatrix's Profile Photo

    Balboa Park

    by bellatrix Written Mar 27, 2003

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    Balboa Park is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon, with varied flora and even some fauna to enjoy. It's a very large park, and contains the San Diego Zoo, some museums and an Imax, among other things. Great place to walk or bike around, with beautiful gardens and lovely old Spanish architecture around the museums.

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    "...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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