Balboa Park, San Diego

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Martí Micolau

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  • Some curiosities about Balboa Park
  • What things to see in Balboa Park?
  • Where is it and how to get there
  • Tour and pass to enter

Those on vacation in San Diego can't help but visit Balboa Park. It is an immense city park that represents one of the most impressive green lungs in the United States.

However, it is not only a nature reserve of rare beauty, as it is home to museums, botanical gardens and the splendid San Diego Zoo. In short, it is a place that allows you to live a 360 ° experience and is ideal for young and old.

Balboa Park is an obligatory stop for those who want to explore the beauties of the Californian city. Come with us to discover the wonders of the park, how to reach it and which tours and passes can be purchased for an exhaustive visit.

Some curiosities about Balboa Park

Balboa Park is located in the northeastern area of San Diego and is one of the main local attractions. It is one of the oldest American public parks and has officially become a city park in 1868.

Inside there are verdant gardens with rare botanical species, museums and above all the San Diego Zoo, one of the most renowned in the country and in the world. There is no shortage of entertainment facilities, as well as restaurants and gift shops.

Balboa Park covers an area of almost 500 hectares and for this reason it may take a couple of days to explore it all. His name comes from the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa.

Became a nature reserve in 1835, in 1915-1916 it was chosen for the Panama-California Exposition which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and in 1935 it was chosen as the site for the California Pacific International Exposition.

During the years of the First and Second World War, the park becomes a training camp and also hosts the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. Between the XNUMXs and XNUMXs there were several renovations and over time new museums were added.

Over the decades Balboa Park has seen many national and international events take place and still today it is a meeting place for various kinds of events.

Balboa Park tour with local guide

What things to see in Balboa Park?

As mentioned, Balboa Park is very large and offers you a long series of attractions of different types. You certainly won't be bored!

The park is crossed by Park Boulevard. The area east of the boulevard is dedicated to golf courses and areas for sports and recreational activities. The western area, on the other hand, is much more interesting for tourists and is in turn divided in two by the pedestrian street The Prado, which is overlooked by some of the best attractions.

Access to Balboa Park is free, while some museums and points of interest are subject to charges. So, if you are planning to explore almost everything, it is preferable to buy a day pass.

So let's go and see what are the main things to see to experience a day of relaxation and fun.

The Balboa Park Museums

Inside Balboa Park you will happen to observe lots of buildings which mainly house exhibition halls and museums that differ in themes and contents. These palaces were not built at the same time, but were erected at various times.

With rare exceptions, the architectural styles chosen are essentially the colonial and the Spanish one which is inspired by the palaces of Andalusia.

Balboa House and House of Hospitality

Both in Spanish Renaissance style, the two buildings have a very characteristic aspect and certainly do not go unnoticed.

Inside theHouse of Hospitality there is a restaurant and the Visitor Center, where you can get maps and information about the park and buy souvenirs. Free weekly guided tours also depart from here.

La Balboa's house it was used by the Navy as a hospital during the two world wars and today it includes 3 museums:

  • Museum of Photographic Arts: is dedicated to contemporary photography and is home to film and photography festivals.
  • History Center Museum: this gallery tells the history of San Diego through a collection of photographs and historical objects. There is no entrance fee and you can make a $ 5 donation.
  • Model Railroad Museum: this is the must-see museum for all train and railway enthusiasts. It is no coincidence that you will find an exhibition of miniature trains and a library with texts on the world of railways.

Meadow House

Always along the El Prado street there is Meadow House which stands out for its charming Spanish colonial style architecture.

It was built in 1915 for the Panama-California Exposition and is mostly used to host arts organizations such as the San Diego Botanical Garden Foundation and Library and the local Symphony Orchestra.

In addition, meetings, public and private events of various kinds are organized. His is very suggestive courtyard, often hired for receptions and weddings. Just behind Casa del Prado there is also Casa del Prado Theater, a theater with over 600 seats that offers a rich selection of shows.

San Diego Natural History Museum

Il natural History Museum it is the perfect stop for families with children. Open since 1874, it is the oldest of the California museums.

The internal rooms are full of prehistoric fossils, reconstructions of dinosaurs, rare plants and insects, all told in an interactive or more static way. In addition to permanent exhibitions, there are also exhibitions on specific themes that change every year.

San Diego Museum of Art

This is the most important art museum in Balboa Park. You can admire works ranging from Asian art to German expressionism. Opened in 1928, was founded in the wake of the celebrations for the Panama-California Exposition.

There are many masterpieces of Spanish artists such as Giotto, Beato Angelico, Giorgione, Canaletto and Tiepolo. Of great interest is the collection dedicated to Asian art and African and Native American culture.

San Diego Art Institute

The San Diego Art Institute is a non-profit organization established in 1941 that primarily exhibits contemporary artwork by artists from Southern California and Baja Norte.

It is housed in a magnificent palace named The House of Charm, built in 1916 in full colonial style.

Timken Museum of Art.

A large collection of European and American pictorial art, to which are added other temporary exhibitions that take place throughout the year.

There are about 60 works in all, but it has nothing to envy to the other museums in Balboa Park. Among these there is also a work of the master Rembrandt. Admission is free for everyone and guided tours are available upon reservation.

Mingei International Museum

The Mingei International Museum exhibits more than 26.000 finds which come from every corner of the globe and are mainly objects of daily use. It is therefore a museum dedicated to popular art.

The various specimens belong to various ethnic groups and historical periods, without distinction. In fact, the primary purpose is to pay homage to the art of everyday life to celebrate the beauty of everyday objects, not just their usefulness.

Museum of us

It is certainly the most extravagant museum in San Diego. Formerly known as the Museum of Man, it is an anthropological institution which tells the most disturbing and macabre aspects of the tribes of the world.

For example, there are facial artifacts that tell of the cannibalism acts of the pre-Columbian era and other finds of the Native Americans and of Mayan and Egyptian origin. In the vicinity of the museum you can also access the California tower, from the top of which you can enjoy a beautiful panoramic view.

Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

Another place to admire in the company of children is the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, a gallery that wants to make known the power of science in influencing the future. There are very nice interactive exhibits that engage visitors.

Adjacent to the museum there is one cinema hall, where you can literally step into what you are looking at. The ticket includes the vision of the film.

Automotive Museum e Air and Space Museum

The Automotive Museum is a must for motoring enthusiasts as you will be told the story of the means of transport on wheels, from the invention of the engine to the present day.

The rooms are equipped with large displays that project images and are replaced every 3 months to adapt to different eras. If you prefer to dream with spaceships, we recommend the Air and Space Museum.

The main themes are space exploration and aviation. Space and air capsules can be observed, some real and others in model form. You will find yourself constantly looking upwards, having a definitely captivating experience.

Balboa Park: treasure hunt

The gardens of Balboa Park

If you are tired of the many museums in Balboa Park, you can always decide to take a look at his spectacular gardens, each with particular and unique characteristics.

You will have the opportunity to see over 130 varieties of roses, rain vegetation, bodies of water and much more. Let's see which ones are not to be missed.

Japanese friendship garden

It is the only paid garden in Balboa Park and is perhaps the most beautiful and fascinating. It was opened for sealing the twinning between Yokohama and San Diego and one has the impression of being in a real Japanese garden.

The main avenue passes through the bamboo canes and runs alongside two ponds with colored carp. At the end of the path you will find yourself in Tea Pavillion, a large pavilion that offers you the opportunity to taste different types of Asian teas and dishes.

Botanical Building

The Botanical Building is the imposing greenhouse that can be seen near the pond on El Prado and is one of the most photographed areas of the park.

Dating back to 1915, it consists of a glass structure with wooden slats and is one of the largest greenhouses in the world. Inside you will immerse yourself in one rain forest, with more than 2.100 tropical plants, orchids and ferns.

Alcazar Garden

The Alcazar Garden draws inspiration from the gardens of the Alcazar Castle of Seville and aesthetically, the similarities with the typical Moorish gardens of Spain are immediately evident.

The flower beds, bordered by low box hedges, have the function of welcoming beyond 7.000 seasonal plants. The small alleys of the garden are then dotted with fountains with green, yellow and blue tiles.

Rose Garden e Cactus Garden

At the far end of El Prado there are two gardens connected to each other. The Rose Garden it is made up of fragrant flower beds displaying dozens of roses of every color and variety, while in the center there is a small pavilion covered with wisteria.

Il cactus garden it is much more exotic and is one of the most loved in the park. You will walk along sandy paths that will lead you into a desert environment and you will walk among cacti and desert plants.

Other attractions in Balboa Park

Those already mentioned are the most important attractions to see in Balboa Park. However, if you have a lot of time to walk around the park, we recommend that you take a look at other buildings and places of great beauty which take a few minutes. Among these are:

  • Spanish Village Art Center
  • Speckels Organ Pavillon.
  • Raza Cultural Center
  • Worldbeat Cultural Center
  • Veteran museum
  • Marston House Museum & Gardens
  • House of Pacific Relations

The San Diego Zoo

Before leaving Balboa Park you should definitely stop by the zoo, located in the north of the park. The most noticeable feature is that there are no suffering animals in cages as they have been thoroughly recreated the various natural habitats of the different species.

In this way it will be possible to observe a fauna that roams free in special areas that make the stay more pleasant. With his over 4.000 animals and 40 hectares of land, the San Diego Zoo is one of the largest in the world and one of the few to house giant pandas.

For more details on the San Diego Zoo we refer you to Official site, where you will receive all the information you need to plan your trip.

San Diego Zoo: 1 day ticket

Where is it and how to get there

Balboa Park is located north of the East Village and Downtown and east of the San Diego International Airport. Long Park Boulevard you will find most of the internal car parks, from which you can start your visit.

Being one of the most famous attractions of the Californian resort, there will be no major difficulties in reaching the park by car. Those who do not want to travel by car can still count on public transport.

just take bus n.7 and get off at Park Blvd & Village PI. In a few minutes on foot you will reach the information center.

Tour and pass to enter

They are available on a weekly basis two free guided tours which last about an hour and depart from the Visitor Center. Here you will be informed of every detail and of any delays or changes in schedule.

On Tuesdays at 11:00 the tour is conducted by a park operator. Instead at 11:00 on Sunday a ranger will guide you. For the other days of the week there is the possibility to do private tours.

As for the entrance tickets, access to Balboa Park is free. However, you will have to pay the ticket for almost all 16 museums.

Anyway, the park has made available to the dedicated passes:

  • 4 Attractions Day Pass: $ 56;
  • All Attractions Day Pass: $ 67;
  • Annual pass: $ 129.

To be always updated on prices, it is good to consult the official page dedicated to passes.

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