A 1200-acre oasis amid one of America’s largest cities, Balboa Park is a destination one could visit again and again and still have not have seen and done it all. To begin with, the park is home to numerous museums, theaters, a picturesque collection of gardens and open spaces and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Adding to the park’s eternal allure are the always evolving museum exhibits, the variety of festivals that take place here and the seasonal blooms of the park’s many exotic flowers and trees. There is so much to do and see here, one article can hardly do the park justice. Here are some of the highlights.
Fascinated by dinosaurs? A lover of fine art? Or perhaps photography is your passion. There’s likely a museum at Balboa Park for you. The many museums here are sometimes difficult to keep up with. At last count there were 16 within the park, among them the San Diego Museum of Art; the San Diego Air & Space Museum; San Diego Museum of Man; the Mingei International Museum; the San Diego Model Railroad Museum; the San Diego Natural History Museum and the Museum of Photographic Arts.
Children love the San Diego Model Railroad Museum and the dinosaur exhibit at The San Diego Museum of Natural History. For the adults meanwhile, the Museum of Photographic Arts is constantly staging new exhibits (recent offerings included collectives of Czech photography, works by Ansel Adams and more). And all ages enjoy the IMAX at The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, which screens larger than life films about topics ranging from the ocean, to humpback whales, and journeys to space.
If you plan to visit, buy a Balboa Park “Explorer” pass, rather than pay individual entry fees at each and every museum, which can quickly add up. One-day Explorer passes cost just 45 USD (26 USD for children) and provide entry to five museums.
The many outdoor activities at Balboa Park
Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and ranked San Diego’s #1 historic landmark, Balboa Park was named for the Spanish maritime explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, and dates back to 1835 when the property was placed in reserve. Today, the park remains one of the oldest public recreational spaces in the United States.
Pack a picnic basket, a blanket, and perhaps your rollerblades or bicycle in order to take full advantage of this expansive park. Start your day museum hopping perhaps, and then pause for a picnic lunch outside on one of the park’s many green spaces, while children frolic in a nearby fountain and local musicians play their cello, guitar or violin for the crowds to earn extra money. Wrap up your day walking through the famed rose garden, Japanese Friendship Garden or the ornate Botanical Building.
The Japanese Friendship garden includes winding paths, a Zen garden for meditation, koi pond, and bonsai exhibit. The park’s Botanical Building houses more than 2,100 plants including collections of cycads, ferns, and orchids. And the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden showcases some 1,600 roses, (more than 130 varieties), on a three-acre site at the edge of Balboa Park.
The park’s latest attraction
Balboa Park has been in the news lately because one of its oldest and most photogenic structures, the California Tower, recently reopened to the public. Built in 1915 and standing more than 150 feet tall, a climb to the top of the tower provides a gorgeous 360-degree view of San Diego County, its beaches skyline and beyond. The tower had been closed to the public in 1935. Its reopening is yet another reason why visiting the park these days makes for a great stop on any tourist itinerary.
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Balboa Park - A highlight of any visit to San Diego
There are so many things to see and do when visiting San Diego, it can often be hard to settle upon just a few. But Balboa Park, with its many museums, gardens, green spaces and activities, provides a view of San Diego life and culture at its finest. Just be sure to do plenty of research before heading to the park, in order to get the most out of your visit.
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