The Balboa Park museum exhibitions are always changing. There are musicals, concerts, plays, and classes, and some of the finest big architecture to be seen anywhere. Admittance to Balboa Park grounds is free as is parking. There is some RV parking. Most gardens and some attractions are free of charge. Admission prices vary from $3 to $22 for the zoo.
If going to the San Diego Zoo, plan at least an entire day or two, especially if you are bringing kids along. It is huge and has heavy elevation changes, that means walking up hill a lot. If you can afford it, purchase the deluxe ticket that includes unlimited bus tours and sky lift. It is well worth it.
At 1,200 acres, Balboa Park is the nation's largest urban cultural park with 15 museums, eight gardens, the San Diego Zoo, and renowned performing arts venues. Balboa Park is a walking park so be prepared to take your time. The Balboa Park museum exhibitions are always changing. There are musicals, concerts, plays, and classes, and some of the finest big architecture to be seen anywhere. Admittance to Balboa Park grounds is free as is parking. There is some RV parking. Most gardens and some attractions are free of charge. Admission prices vary for the zoo. The museums offer complimentary admission once a week but during the summer the free days can have a line that ques around and out the door.
For the first few decades of the parks existence it was mostly open land. There was a lack of trees and it was covered in native wildflowers. Some of it's wildlife inhabitants were bobcats, rattlesnakes, and coyotes. The original Balboa Park was named after the Spanish explorer who first saw the Pacific Ocean, and was completed in 1910. However, it was the 1915 Panama-California Exposition that gave the park its character with "Spanish" architecture. All together Balboa Park is an eclectic mix of Spanish Colonial Renaissance with Gothic & Moorish influence, and the borrowed styles of baroque and rococo. The spectacular entrance to the park through the West Gate is the joining of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by the Panama Canal in 1915.
As for the rare and native trees within the park, that is thanks to Kate Sessions as early as 1892. She collected seeds that were imported or collected by her from around the world that she planted and are still standing today.
Above: Picture of 'Casa de Balboa' on El Prado. El Prado is a long and wide pedestrian boulevard that runs through the center of the park. Spanish Colonial Revival architecture is the style of most of the buildings along El Prado. Along this promenade is where most of the park's cultural attractions and museums are located.
El Prado is the main road that runs through the park and is restricted to pedestrian traffic only. At the end of El Prado is the fountain in the Plaza de Balboa where wading is strictly encouraged. At the Organ Pavilion the Spreckels Organ sits behind a 12 ton steel curtain. The keyboard console and the 3,500 pipes are the largest remaining outdoor organ in the world. The Old Globe is California's oldest professional theater organization. The Park also houses a junior theater, puppet theater, and musical theatre. As well, Balboa Park offers history, botanical, architecture, and Park Ranger tours.
Above: Picture of a flower in bloom in one of the many gardens and green spaces around Balboa Park.
Above: Picture of Jason inside the trunk of an old tree within the Desert Cactus Garden.
Above: Picture of the California Bell Tower and San Diego Museum of Man, in Balboa Park.
Above: Picture of an old tree as part of the 1935 old cactus garden. Some of the largest cactus and succulent specimens are in Balboa Park and also includes exotic Australian and African plants.
Above: Picture of a book from the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition.
Jason's thoughts - Balboa Park is a great place to spend at least one day. Huge sprawling complex with incredible plant and tree collections. Shady, fun, but only one really good place to eat - Prado. If going to the San Diego Zoo, plan at least an entire day or two, especially if you are bringing kids along. It is huge and has heavy elevation changes, that means walking up hill a lot. If you can afford it, purchase the deluxe ticket that includes unlimited bus tours and sky lift. It is well worth it. Adults pay $22 to get in and the botanical scenery is worth that alone. Tons of shade but bring your own water or you will spend $20 bucks a day drinking.
Kelly's thoughts - Lots of walking in Balboa Park, sometimes we passed the same buildings three times just to get "over there". We are organized people, what is happening. This is a good day trip, even though we spent two days here. The architecture is beautiful and the foliage throughout the park is awesome. The zoo was all right but a lot of exhibits could not compare to the ones at the Melbourne Zoo in Florida, the Naples Zoo or even Disney's Animal Kingdom.
Above: Picture of mother Aardvark carrying her baby on her back at the San Diego Zoo.
Above: Picture of hummingbird in the Hummingbird House. There are four different aviaries throughout the San Diego Zoo.
Above: Picture of the greater one-horned rhinoceros. This is one of four types of rhinos at the zoo and the safari zoo in San Diego. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park covers 1,800 acres and this allows the wild animals to have much more running space.
Above: Picture of koala sleeping at the San Diego Zoo. The zoo received two koalas as gifts from Sydney Australia in 1925. Outside of Australia, the San Diego Zoo has the most successful koala breeding program, welcomed the first koala joey in the U.S., and has the largest koala population of any other zoo.
Travel Info - Travel 4 miles from downtown San Diego to visit Balboa Park and San Diego Zoo. Carefully follow the signs to the informative Visitors Center in the middle of the Park. Additional information on San Diego in California.
American Road Trips - reviews & pictures of places we visited on $20 a day - food, gas and lodging.