Sitting on the edge of downtown San Diego, Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre cultural and recreational center offering
something for everyone. The largest such urban park in America, its highlight is the world-famous San Diego Zoo, considered to be one of the
finest in the world. Balboa Park also features a wide variety of museums, exhibitions,
performing arts, world-famous gardens, recreational facilities, restaurants, and a variety of other attractions.
San Diego Zoo, Highlight of Balboa Park
The San Diego Zoo is without a doubt the most popular attraction in Balboa Park, and is considered
one of the finest zoos in the world. It is located in a lush canyon with the animals presented in a natural setting.
The feeling is more of a park than a zoo. The Giant Panda Exhibit is the most popular attraction, which presently (summer, 2011) houses three giant pandas including a juvenile born in 2009. The San Diego Zoo botanical collection is also superb. More than 6,000 species of plants are integrated within a lush canyon that is very beautiful just in its natural state.
The plants are used to create natural animal exhibits which closely resemble the animals' native habitats.
Balboa Park Museum and Performing Arts Venues
Balboa Park truly has something for everyone. You can visit the San Diego Museum of Art or the San Diego Model Railroad
Museum. Take the kids to the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre, or let them ride the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad.
The railroad's rare antique locomotive has been pulling passengers here since 1948. If you are a vet, the Veterans
Museum and Memorial Center may be for you. The San Diego Aerospace Museum will excite kids of all ages. Theater, ballet, and symphony are also found in the park.
Most of the museums and performance centers have changing exhibits and shows as well as ongoing displays. There are also many
special events taking place throughout the year.
Below are some of my favorite Balboa Park places.
Rueben H. Fleet Science Center. The Fleet houses the world's first IMAX® "Dome Theatre" which is
sort of a cross between the standard IMAX® and a planetarium. This allows the presentation of large-format films
as well as astronomy shows. The center also features five galleries with about 100 "hands-on" exhibits, which are highly popular
and educational for kids.
For current exhibits and showtimes, visit the Rueben H. Fleet Science Center's web site.
San Diego Aerospace Museum. Aircraft museums are always a big hit with adults and kids of all ages, and everyone
wants to see the classic military craft. The Aerospace Museum provides plenty, including one of the very few RAF Spitfires
remaining in existence. The museum is also currently displaying the original Apollo 9 command module. It is on loan from the
National Air and Space Museum until at least 2007.
For current exhibits, visit the San Diego Aerospace Museum's web site.
San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum. The national's largest multi-sport museum focuses on memorabilia
related to San Diego. This of course includes a tribute to the great baseball player of the Boston Red Sox, Ted Williams, who was a native son of San Diego.
For current exhibits, visit the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum's web site.
Museum of Photographic Arts. Dedicated exclusively to photographic arts, the museum displays works representing
the history of photography. There is however a focus towards contemporary work including social documentary and photojournalism.
(Photo, above right, the Museum of Photographic Arts is located in the classic Casa de Balboa building.)
For current exhibits, visit the Museum of Photographic Arts' web site.
The many beautiful gardens offer a magnificent backdrop to the various attractions. (Photo left, Botanical Building) The ever-changing floral displays
give the park a different look with each visit. The most stunning botanical collection is within the San Diego Zoo.
Balboa Park History
The park was the site of the Panama-California International Exposition of 1915-1916 honoring the completion of the
Panama Canal. The exhibit halls were largely constructed in the very ornate Spanish Colonial Revival style, and many
of these beautiful building are still in use today, such as the Casa del Prado Theatre, at left.
Many of Balboa Park's other buildings were constructed for the California-Pacific
International Exposition of 1935-1936. The architectural theme for the second expo was the native pueblo style of the
southwest and Mexico.
Visiting Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, and San Diego
Admittance to the Park grounds is free. The Botanical Building, outdoor gardens and some additional
attractions are also offered free of charge. But most of Balboa Park's museums require admission fees.
The Passport to Balboa Park
offers visitors the chance to experience thirteen park museums and attractions with savings of more than 50%.
The Passport is good for seven days. The Zoo/Passport Combo
includes the Passport, plus a one day deluxe admission at the San Diego Zoo.
The Passport to Balboa Park
is available for purchase at the Visitor Center in the park,
at participating museums (but not the zoo), or online at the
Balboa Park web site.
The Balboa Park web site also includes complete information on attractions, new and ongoing exhibits,
and upcoming events.
For more info on visiting the zoo, visit the San Diego Zoo's web site.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located in Escondido, California, about 35 miles north of the zoo.
The park is located at the intersection of the Interstate-5 and California-163 freeways in downtown San Diego. For more information, including detailed travel directions, you may visit the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau. Or, call the Bureau at (619) 236-1212.