Did you know that Balboa Park is bigger than Central Park? We only had an afternoon to explore Balboa Park, so we really had to narrow down what we wanted to do. Balboa Park is a gorgeous area with gardens, walking paths, museums, and of course, it's world famous zoo. With the variety of choices, we settled on something that would only take up a few hours of our time.
We decided on visiting the Japanese Friendship Garden and the Botanical Building of Balboa Park since it was such a beautiful day. We heard wonderful things about both gardens from our friends and we love Japanese gardens. The museums and gardens are all located pretty close to one another, so if we wanted to change our plans, it would not have been a problem at all.
JAPANESE FRIENDSHIP GARDEN
Admission : Adults $8 Children (under 6) Free
When you walk into the Japanese garden, there is a small booth where you pay the entrance fee. From the outside we couldn't see how large the garden was so we weren't sure how long we would be exploring. As soon as you enter the gardens, you really feel like you are in Japan and we love anything that reminds us of home.
We walked along a beautiful winding path that lead us to the bottom of the hill to a large traditional Japanese building. A good idea to wear flats since the path goes downhill. Once we got to the bottom, we sat and listened to the sounds of the streaming water. It was so peaceful and serene.
We don't want to give away everything we saw, but there are a few more things in this garden that gave it that Japanese essence. The best part was that we went on an early Saturday morning and it wasn't crowded at all.
Admission : Free
We were told that this was a must-see and planned on going after seeing the building from a distance. The large lath structure and beautiful Lily Pond really stood out. It's a gorgeous area with playful ducks swimming in the pond and lagoon. Off to the side, in the grassy area, we saw people lounging and practicing acroyoga.
There was no line to enter the building and we were surprised at how compact the space was. We spent about 10-15 minutes walking around reading some of the plant descriptions. We noticed that there wasn't a whole lot of color besides green. We assumed that depending on the time of year (we went in November), the plants that are blooming must be different. We both enjoyed the outside grounds much more with the ducks and koi pond.
A FEW TIPS
* Parking is a bit tricky on the weekends if you want to park near the museums and gardens. The park has plenty of free parking and offers free tram rides if you can't find nearby parking spots. I usually try to look for parking on 6th Ave. & El Prado before I take the tram option.
* If you're a resident, some of the museums offer free admission on Tuesdays.
* If you want to take photos without a bunch of people in your shots, go super early (before the museums open). The grounds are open 24 hours. We went around 8AM and there were a few people jogging and walking their dogs. Other than that, it was quiet with plenty of parking. The backdrop of the Spanish Colonial buildings look amazing in photos.
Hours: The Balboa Park grounds are open 24 hours a day, the Visitors Center is open 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily, and museum hours vary by institution.
Address: 1549 El Prado, Balboa Park, San Diego, California, 92101