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When I first moved to San Diego I was only familiar with the things San Diego was well known for: the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and the amazing weather. I never heard of Balboa Park and when a local first told me about it, I didn't think much of it.
I figured the park was a huge open grassy space for people to relax, walk their dogs, or have picnics. I was very VERY wrong and underestimated Balboa Park. The park is filled with museums, gorgeous architecture (great for photo-ops), gardens, walking trails, and lots more. I can't count how many times I have been back to Balboa Park and I still have so much more to explore. I'm sure I'll be adding more to this list, but here are some of the places I have explored so far.
This area in Balboa Park is so darn cute and colorful. When I first saw the Spanish Village Art Center I was wondering why the buildings seemed so small. I later found out that the village was established in the late 1930s and all the buildings are the original structures with the exception of a new coat of paint. The artists that work or have a studio in the village are not allowed to change anything to the exterior to preserve this colorful historic site.
The Museum of Man has interesting exhibits ranging from Beerology to Monsters to the current Cannibals: Myth & Reality. The Museum of Man is a huge tower and has a lower and upper level and for an extra fee they offer a tour of the California Tower. The tower has been closed for 80 years and it recently reopened to the public. You have to reserve a time for the 40 minute tour and we hear that the views of San Diego are spectacular up there.
The Cannibals: Myth & Reality exhibit may sound a little dark, but it had a variety of fun interactive rooms and some really interesting information about cannibalism. It is an extra fee to tour this exhibit and we definitely thought it was worth it.
Japanese gardens bring back so many childhood memories for us. Our cousin's grandmother had a beautiful garden with a koi pond in her yard and we absolutely loved it when we were kids. We still visit her every year, but she no longer has the energy (she's in her 90s) to upkeep her garden. We were sad to see the garden gone one year when we went to visit, but it's understandable since it's not an easy task to maintain a garden like that. Luckily, many years ago I captured a photo of her garden and was able to find the picture (circa 2005!). When we visited Balboa Park's Friendship Garden it was very similar to her garden but on a much larger scale. The Japanese Friendship Garden is gorgeous and the sounds of the streaming water was very soothing.
Fleet Science Center “Myth Busters”
I love catching that show Myth Busters, so when I saw their banner at the Fleet Science Center I had to check it out. There were a ton of interactive stations and it reminded me of the time I went to Ripley's Believe It or Not! ages ago when I was a teenager. The Science Fleet Center has different exhibitions throughout the year and although this one is no longer available, the current exhibit titled “Press Play-No Adulting Allowed”, sounds exciting and super fun for all ages.
You can also catch an IMAX or digital film at the Fleet Science Center. I didn't have time to watch a film , but I'd love to go back and experience their 76-foot wraparound movie screen. It's a full-dome digital projection system that sounds pretty awesome.
It's hard to miss this building as it sits right in front of a beautiful Lily Pond. If you search the hashtag "Balboa Park" on instagram you will definitely see tons of photos of this pond. Depending on the season you go, the plants that are blooming will be different. We actually enjoyed the outside grounds more with the ducks, lily pond, and koi pond.
Natural History Museum
I visited the Natural History museum an hour before their closing, so I did a quick walk around to get a little glimpse of everything. I had to walk real fast because there were five floors to explore. It's a lot smaller than some of the other history museum's I have visited; however, it had some interesting information about the history of Southern California.
The Cactus Garden is a really quiet spot that I like to walk around to get away from the crowds. This historic garden was directed by Kate Sessions for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. I had no idea what the California Pacific International Exposition was and found out that it was held to help promote San Diego since its economy, at the time, was in decline after the Great Depression. There were various exhibits that were held within Balboa Park and the Cactus Garden was one of them. It's also a great place to capture amazing photos of the different species of cacti.
It makes sense to put a Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park. Did you know (according to Forbes) that Comic-Con San Diego is the largest convention of its kind in the world? Last year, I saw on Balboa Park’s website that they were working on brining this museum to life. It is still under construction and there is no official completion date yet, but you can get updates on their Facebook or Instagram page.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Balboa Park museums free?
There is a fee for museums and select gardens. If you are a San Diego resident, all of the museums and attractions are free on Tuesdays. Click here to find out more.
How much does it cost to go to Balboa Park?
It's completely free to roam around and explore the beautiful grounds. Many of the gardens and trails are free and parking is also free.
How many museums are in Balboa Park?
Balboa Park consists of 17 museums, gardens, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. It's the largest urban cultural park in North America.
ADDRESS: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92102