San Diego’s Balboa Park Offers Museums, Concerts, and Architecture That Won’t Quit

San Diego’s Balboa Park Offers Museums, Concerts, and Architecture That Won’t Quit

The Balboa Park Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego on Dec. 20, 2019. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)

Kimberly Hayek
Kimberly Hayek

7/4/2024

Updated: 7/4/2024

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Balboa Park is one of San Diego’s must-see spaces. It also won’t take you too far from the downtown area, as it is within walking distance of many popular attractions in America’s finest city.
When entering Balboa Park from the west, be sure to walk across the landmark Cabrillo Bridge from Sixth Avenue and look at the 163 Freeway nestled in the rolling brown and green hills as you approach the Central Park of San Diego.
Take your time here, for the bridge offers breathtaking views of downtown and overhead planes on their final descent into San Diego International Airport. Soak in the mostly redwood-constructed bridge, built in 1912, and its cantilever architecture.
As you enter the 1,200-acre park, you'll notice people practicing archery on the hillside just under the bridge, surrounded by greenery and trees.
At the park in the morning, local residents jog while tourists stop to take pictures of the architecture, gardens, ponds, fountains, and more. Moms push strollers as a group meditates on the grassy lawn, and cafes set up chairs and brew the first pot of coffee for the day’s customers.
Within the buildings’ Spanish facades, 15 museums spark wonder. The world-famous San Diego Zoo on the same property inspires the imagination of 14 million guests who visit the park every year.
The museums offer free admission to county residents on a rotating basis, as well as to military and dependents. At the museums, guests can view art, model railroads, sports memorabilia, rare aircraft, and more.
You won’t want to miss out on San Diego Museum of Us, Mingei International Museum, and the Japanese Friendship Garden.
Balboa Park is the result of excellence in horticulture, architecture, and landscape design, all under the cohesive umbrella of California’s Spanish Colonial architectural heritage. (Jeff Perkin for American Essence)

Balboa Park is the result of excellence in horticulture, architecture, and landscape design, all under the cohesive umbrella of California’s Spanish Colonial architectural heritage. (Jeff Perkin for American Essence)

Visitors wade in the fountain in front of the Reuben H. Fleet Space Musuem at Balboa Park in San Diego on Aug. 2, 2008. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Visitors wade in the fountain in front of the Reuben H. Fleet Space Musuem at Balboa Park in San Diego on Aug. 2, 2008. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

At the Science Museum, children can have fun in the Kid City exploring gravity, pulleys, and more, or watch a 3D film in the IMAX theater.
Throughout the park, just outside downtown San Diego, seasonal gardens and shady groves provide plenty of serenity.
Balboa, one of the oldest recreational parks in the U.S., is dressed in Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, a blend of European Spanish architecture and the Spanish Colonial architecture of New Spain-Mexico.
You can see it in the large plazas, colorful courtyards, sprawling lawns, and the grand outdoor Spreckels Organ Pavilion, built for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition. It was the first time the architectural style had been used in the U.S.
At the pavilion, free concerts are held every Sunday at 2 p.m. Designed by Harrison Albright, the pavilion is an important cultural center for San Diego. For instance, when David Bowie passed away in 2016, the civic organist at the time, Carol Williams, held a tribute to him.
Within view of the Organ Pavilion, children play on a huge dragon statue made of rocks, colorful marbles, turquoise stones, and pieces of mirrored glass.
Balboa Park also is home to its share of theaters, such as The Old Globe Theatre, with three stages and 550 performances each year. At Christmastime, there’s a huge Christmas tree outside the theater while holiday-themed plays go on inside.
One of the buildings along El Prado at Balboa Park in San Diego on Aug. 2, 2008. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

One of the buildings along El Prado at Balboa Park in San Diego on Aug. 2, 2008. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The beautifully lit tower of the Casa de Balboa overlooks the Plaza de Panama on a moonlit Balboa Park night. (Jeff Perkin for American Essence)

The beautifully lit tower of the Casa de Balboa overlooks the Plaza de Panama on a moonlit Balboa Park night. (Jeff Perkin for American Essence)

The House of Pacific Relations International Cottages consists of 32 cottages, home to groups of diverse national origin which “promote multicultural goodwill and understanding through educational and cultural programs.” The cottages are open every Saturday and Sunday, showcasing traditional cultures from places around the world.
The park has many places to sit out on the grass for a picnic, three leash-free dog parks, lawn bowling, canyon trails for hiking, and even a golf course.
My favorite thing about Balboa is the architecture overall. As a mom, my favorites are the museums, especially the Science Center. Almost all the museums are free on Tuesdays for San Diego residents (different ones on different days).
The park is open 24/7, 365 days of the year. The grounds are free but most attractions require admission.
Grab the Balboa Park Explorer pass for some overall cost savings.
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