Top 10 Best Things to do in Balboa Park
Whether you want to visit a San Diego Museum, take your family on a walk through a beautiful park, or listen to live music performance, you’ll be able to do it all when you visit Attractions in San Diego like Balboa Park. Visiting the Park is one of the most exciting things to do in San Diego, and the excitement is just moments away from downtown.
Balboa Park is undoubtedly San Diego’s most popular attraction. It is huge at 1,200 acres andis the largest cultural urban park in the country with 15 museums, many gardens, fountains and the famous San Diego Zoo.
Balboa Park is an incredible park with tons of things to do and see. It is impossible to see everything in one day, but you should take in as many attractions and sites as possible. Balboa Park has a large concentration of museums covering various themes. Some of the museums include; the Centro Cultural de la Raza, Marston House, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego History Center, San Diego Model Railroad Museum, San Diego Automotive Museum, San Diego Air & Space Museum, Reuben H Fleet Science Center, and the San Diego Museum of Man, San Diego Natural History Museum, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Veterans Museum & Memorial Center and the renowned Timken Museum of Art.
Balboa Park is an amazing place to take your children. They will adore the world-famous San Diego Zoo, the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad, and the Balboa Park Carousel. They will also enjoy the United Nations Building. The park also has many open green spaces and places where children can play, and many special performances geared towards kids.
The main thoroughfare of Balboa Park, El Prado is the “downtown” of the park, where the public gathers and strolls to enjoy the magnificence of Balboa Park’s beauty and architecture. Accented by the Spanish Moor-influenced buildings, remnants of the 1915 and 1935 World’s Fairs, El Prado is the picture postcard spot of San Diego where you’ll find most of the park’s cultural venues: the Old Globe Theater, San Diego Museum of Art, Museum of Man, Natural History Museum, Museum of Photographic Arts, Mingei Art Museum. When you stroll down El Prado, seeing how everyone is enjoying the park, you realize how much Balboa Park means to both residents and visitors alike. El Prado is a must for anyone needing to feel invigorated about living in San Diego.
I know, it’s a pretty obvious selection – when you’re in San Diego, you visit the San Diego Zoo. But the Zoo is as much a part of Balboa Park, even though it’s separated by an admission gate. At the same time, Balboa Park is home to one of the world’s greatest zoos, with one of the most extensive and unique collections of animals and plants found anywhere. The exhibits and animal enclosures are innovative, especially Elephant Odyssey, Lost Forest and Polar Rim. And, of course, there are Giant Pandas. That alone gives you reason to check out the San Diego Zoo.
Balboa Park Carousel and Railroad
If you’ve been to the San Diego Zoo, then you have likely noticed the nifty carousel and miniature railroad outside of the Zoo entrance plaza. The 1910 Balboa Park Carousel is a menagerie of animals and all but two pairs are original with hand-carved European craftsmanship. Also original are the hand-painted murals surrounding the upper portion of the carousel and the military band music. This carousel is one of the few in the world still offering the brass ring game for everyone taking the 5-minute ride. The Balboa Park Miniature Railroad takes a 3-minute, ½-mile trip through four acres of Balboa Park. The train, operated by the San Diego Zoo Department of Transportation, is a model G16 – now a rare antique with as few as fifty currently remaining.
As you walk along the El Prado section of Balboa Park, you’ll notice the Lily Pond first, and then the curious lattice structure of the Botanical Building. In fact, the view of the Botanical Building with the Lily Pond in the foreground is one of the most photographed scenes in Balboa Park. Built for the 1915-16 Exposition, along with the adjacent Lily Pond, the historic building is one of the largest lath structures in the world. Inside you’ll find more than 2,100 permanent plants, featuring fascinating collections of cycads, ferns, orchids, other tropical plants, and palms. And don’t forget to check out the Carnivorous Plant Bog.
Balboa Park Activity Center
Some sports might not initially seem like they are popular participation sports. But if you were to wander over off the beaten path of Balboa Park near the site of the old Naval Hospital, you can check out some fierce competitors in badminton, table tennis, and also volleyball. The Balboa Park Activity Center is a 38,000 square-foot multi-purpose gymnasium built to accommodate those gymnasium sports that the basketball-centric Municipal Gym across Park Blvd. can’t accommodate. Located at 2145 Park Blvd. and set amid beautiful landscaping, public art and spacious outdoor plazas, the Balboa Park Activity Center is a first-class sports facility.
Model Railroad Museum
This list purposely doesn’t include Balboa Park’s museums because they are such known attractions. Except maybe this one: the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. Tucked away in the Casa Del Prado, the museum isn’t always noticed by visitors heading to the Natural History Museum or the Fleet Science Center. But if you want to see something cool, you’ll want to make a detour here. At 28,000 square feet, the museum is the world’s largest operating model railroad museum. This unique museum contains four enormous scale and model layouts, built by separate clubs, which depict railroads of the Southwest in O, HO, and N scales. In addition, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum features a Toy Train Gallery with an interactive Lionel layout for children and state-of-the-art theater lighting.
Lawn Bowling Greens
If you’ve ever been on the west 6th Avenue side of Balboa Park, near the Cabrillo Bridge, you might have noticed a congregation of people dessed in all white rolling things on a smooth, flat lawn. That, my friends, is the San Diego Lawn Bowling Club conducting matches. Organized in 1932 with five founding members, the San Diego Lawn Bowling Club is still going strong with active members. Club membership is open to anyone with an interest in the game. And level of club involvement can range from playing in the occasional club social game, to participating in club tournaments, to competing in high-level regional and national competition. Sitting and watching the games is very calming, but at the same time you realize there is a level of skill involved. And if your curiosity is such that you want to give lawn bowling a try, club members gladly give the public lessons.
House of Pacific Relations International Cottages
I always wondered why Balboa Park’s House of Pacific Relations Internal Cottages included representative countries like Denmark, England, Sweden, France and Germany – pretty far from the Pacific Ocean. Then I found out that “pacific” means “peaceful.” Duh. Now it all makes sense – these cottages represent and promote peaceful education and cultural exchanges to the public. Housed in historic 1935 Exposition cottages, 32 groups promote multicultural goodwill and understanding through educational and cultural programs. Every Sunday, throughout the year, if you wander through the cottage complex between the Organ Pavilion and the Air and Space Museum, you might learn a thing or two of a foreign country during an event or presentation.
Morley Field Sports Complex
A lot of people don’t realize or just forget that Balboa Park extends beyond Park Blvd. east across Florida Canyon. You won’t find museums or theaters here, but you will find a whole lot of recreational opportunities at the Morley Field Sports Complex. Frisbee golf? Track cycling? Tennis? All found here. Located at Texas and Upas Streets in the northeast corner of the Park, this complex offers a vast array of sporting activities from tennis, swimming and archery to disc golf, bocci ball and velodrome cycling. Four athletic fields (one lighted), a two-mile jogging trail plus an 18-station fitness course are part of the complex as well.
Spanish Village Art Center
Tucked between the San Diego Zoo and the Natural History Museum is one of my favorite places to just sit and enjoy the arts and crafts taking place. It’s a unique courtyard of art shops called the Spanish Village Art Center. Thirty-seven working artist studios/galleries host over two hundred independently juried local painters, sculptors, metalsmiths, jewelry designers, clay artists, gourd artists, photographers, printmakers, fiber artists, basket weavers, mixed-media artists, glass artists, and more. The historic Spanish-tiled buildings, the colorful patio tiles and the working artist studios all make for a very creative setting.
About San Diego’s Balboa Park
One of the most exciting attractions in San Diego is Balboa Park. Balboa Park is much more than a park, however, as you know if you’ve been there before. It is one of the top Things to do in San Diego, featuring several botanical gardens, 15 major San Diego Museums, renowned performing arts venues, and the famous San Diego Zoo.
No one will dispute the fact that Balboa Park is San Diego’s unmistakable jewel – 1,200 acres of greenbelt, culture, recreation, and attraction. It is San Diego’s community gathering place, enjoyed by all citizens, of all walks of life and economic backgrounds. Sure we all know about the great museums and the Old Globe Theatre, but Balboa Park is much more than that. I know, everyone has their favorite Balboa Park spot, but here are a few known, and less known, places to discover in Balboa Park.
Why Visit San Diego’s Balboa Park
When you’re looking for Things to do in San Diego, you can come to Balboa Park and have dozens of Attractions in San Diego to choose from. In fact, you could stay in San Diego for nearly 3 weeks, and choose 1 San Diego Attraction in Balboa Park a day to explore, and still not see it all.
Balboa Park presents a changing calendar of live music concerts, theatrical performances, San Diego Museum exhibits, educational classes, and so much more. In one amazing location, you can view Lionel model trains, take your kids to a children’s museum, stroll through lovely flora and fauna, and learn a little about the fine arts.
Tips for Visiting San Diego’s Balboa Park
- San Diego’s Balboa Park sits in downtown San Diego. Take a taxi, private car, or public transportation and get to one of the top attractions in San Diego within minutes.
- Make sure you visit some of the San Diego Museums inside of Balboa Park, such as the Rueben H. Fleet Science Center and the San Diego Museum of Man.
- Many San Diego visitors like to walk through the stunning Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park.
- The Balboa Park Visitors’ Center, located across the street from The Prado Restaurant in the House of Hospitality, has a comprehensive stockpile of brochures, maps, and audio tours to help you get the most out of your visit to Balboa Park.
- You can visit the grounds of Balboa Park 24 hours a day, but the hours at the San Diego Museums and buildings inside the Park vary, so call ahead.
Interesting Facts About San Diego’s Balboa Park
- Active military and their families can get into many Balboa Park facilities for free on the first 4 Tuesdays of the month.
- Balboa Park features a gift shop, which sells interesting books, CD’s, videos, gifts, and signature items made by the Park.
- Admission to Balboa Park is free, but most of the facilities inside the Park do charge (the Botanical building and most of the gardens are exceptions).
Balboa Park is an incredible park that always has events going on throughout the year. On any given day, you will find theatre events, musical shows, performances, exhibitions and films. If you’re planning on visiting Balboa Park, then check out the calendar on the park’s website so you can know what to expect. Some of the venues that hold musical and theatre events are the Old Globe Theater Complex, the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, and the Starlight Bowl.
If you’re in the park, you will also want to enjoy the beautiful architecture that adorns its many buildings. For example the El Prado Central area has many architectural gems made with a Spanish Colonial Revival Architecture style.
Balboa Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The park is so big that the museums and attractions all have different operating hours and admission prices.
San Diego’s Balboa Park Location and Contact Information:
San Diego’s Balboa Park is located at 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101 – Tel: 619.239.0512