Trip Tips: Balboa Park

Trip Tips: Balboa Park

San Diego isn’t just beaches, you know! Balboa Park is San Diego’s premier location for museums, and the park also has some great hidden gems.

San Diego isn't just beaches, you know!

Nestled right next to Downtown San Diego, Balboa Park offers a different experience from the typical San Diego sand, surf, and sun. It's San Diego's premier location for museums! Some of note are: the Museum of Man, Natural History Museum, Fleet Science Center, and the Timken. Click here to check out all the museums located in Balboa Park.

Pro Tip: San Diego residents get free admission to a different selection of museums each Tuesday. And some museums (the Timken, for example) are always free! Click here to check out the resident free days.  

If museums aren’t your cup of tea, Balboa Park has plenty of other attractions! Strewn with hiking trails, historical architecture, botanical gardens, and often times live performances, it’s hard to get bored! Click here to check out all of the attractions at Balboa Park.

The intricately detailed California Tower (above) is an icon of San Diego, and attached to the Museum of Man. It was built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition; a fair that was held in Balboa Park to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. Visitors can climb the tower on a tour to see a 360-degree view of San Diego, from the Coronado Bridge, all the way to Downtown!

Pro Tip: Head to Balboa Park at night to see the architecture in an entirely different way, lit with beautiful colored lights! A lot of the main paths are also lit up with string lights, as shown above.  

Balboa's Hidden Gems

Balboa Park is definitely one of those places you should visit more than once, because there’s always something new to discover! Aside from the great museums and historical architecture, there’s plenty of lesser-known spots within the park, and we’ve compiled a list of our favorites. Check it out:

For the Nature Lover

Palm Canyon

Home to almost 500 palm trees, Palm Canyon is a 2 acre canyon full of shaded, winding pathways and a wooden footbridge adjacent to the real star of the show: a single, towering tree with massive roots growing partially above ground.

Zoro Garden

Between the Fleet Science Center and the San Diego History Center, this former nudist colony is now a sunken garden home to butterfly-friendly plants, and of course butterflies during the migratory season!

Old Cactus Garden

This historic garden was developed under the direction of Kate Sessions for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. It contains some of the largest cactus and succulent specimens in the Park and has also been developed to include the exotic African and Australian Protea plants.

For the Foodie

Panama 66

Located in the sculpture court of the San Diego Museum of Art, Panama 66 is not for the early birds - serving only lunch and dinner, with craft beers on tap visitors can enjoy live music, art and food in one sitting.

El Prado

An award-winning, full-service restaurant that offers charming indoor and outdoor dining. The unique décor is inspired by the historical aspects of Balboa architecture, and the diverse cuisine includes an array of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and imaginative entrées.

The Tea Pavilion

Located at the Japanese Friendship Garden, this quaint cafe serves a variety of specialty teas, as well as sushi, traditional soups, and snacks. Visitors can head out to the courtyard or deck and look across the gardens while they eat!

For the History Buff

House of Pacific Relations International Cottages

A complex of 34 cottages in Balboa Park, each one with a uniquely themed interior that represents a different country through interior design, samples of food, and artifacts from that country’s culture.

Spanish Village Art Center

Built in 1935, the Spanish Village Art Center was created to depict a charming old village in Spain. This village became an art destination in 1937, and later during World War II the U.S. Army used the village for temporary barracks. After the war it was reclaimed and restored by the artists, and continues to be a hub for local artists to this day.

Locals - did we miss anything?

Let us know your favorite spot in Balboa Park!

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