Frolicking In Nation’s Largest Urban Cultural Park – Balboa Park, San Diego CA
Every time I go to Balboa Park I always end up wondering why I don’t go more often. It’s one of the hidden gems of San Diego (that is if you can call 1,200 acres in the smack middle of a city “hidden”) but with so much going on here it always seems to fall on the wayside list of places to go.
And that, honest to say, is a darn shame.
In matter of fact Balboa Park is the largest urban cultural park in the nation (oh yeah, much larger than that famous jobbie in NYC) and you could easily spend a whole week exploring the area and still not be half-done. I promised you a few more blog posts on San Diego before we left and this was one of the ones I just had to include. It goes on the absolute “must see” for the whole family, including your furry friend, and if you come here you simply have to go!
It all started in 1915-16 with the Panama-California Exposition (celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal). San Diego was chosen as the host city and created a park with Spanish-Renaissance style buildings to commemorate the event. Luckily the park “stuck” and grew, staying true to its original architectural roots and expanding steadily to become the fabulous attraction it is today. There is so much to do here that it’s almost impossible to list everything in one post, but I’ll give you just a sprinkling of the fun items for the taking:
- Museums Galore – The park has 15 major museums with constantly updated exhibits including the Museum of Photographic Arts, the Air & Space Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Art just to name a few. If you like museum-hopping be sure to buy the park pass “Passport” that gets you into all of them for one low fee.
- Artistic Culture – The park contains 4 grand theatres including the iconic Old Globe and hosts a fabulous “artists colony” with over 200 working artists with free access to all.
- Garden Hopping – There are 14 separate gardens each with their own draw. All are free and paw-friendly except for the Japanese Friendship Garden.
- Doggie Heaven – The park hosts 3 off-leash dog areas and has several outdoor restaurants where you can sit and eat with pooch.
- Sport Swinging – Within the park grounds there is a full (and recently upgraded) golf course, several tennis courts, lawn bowling, archery course, gymnasium and sports field.
- Zoo – The well-known and well-loved San Diego Zoo is right on-site.
- Hiking/Biking – Believe it or not there are 65 miles of hiking/biking trails within park grounds!!!
Oh this thing is HUGE!!!! The majority of the park is free and your 4 paws are welcome everywhere except within the museums and a few of the gardens!
We headed on over to Balboa Park on a perfect spring afternoon with pooch in tow to walk around and enjoy the sights. It’s only a few minutes drive from down-town and after a quick stop at the visitor center for a park map we wondered off to enjoy the free sights and architecture of the park. Our walking tour took us past several museums, gardens, outdoor restaurants, theatres and finally into the artists colony at the Spanish Village Art Center (which is probably my favorite spot in the whole place). We literally spent the whole afternoon strolling around, and would have stayed for one of the many free concerts if they’d been on that day. We’ll be back for another jaunt and some hiking before we leave too.
A great park, a paw-friendly place and a “must see” for everyone who comes to San Diego. Have you been to the park?
P.S. Thanks so much for everyone who sent in tips for our trip to OR. We’ve got LOTS of ideas of stuff to see and places to go. Really looking forward to sharing it all with you on the blog!
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this blog post may be affiliate links, so, if you click on the link and make a purchase, I will receive a commission. Amazon, the Amazon logo, AmazonSupply, and the AmazonSupply logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. WheelingIt is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Linda Sand says
Being train nuts, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is our favorite part of Balboa Park. There are several model railroads within the museum. The biggest one is the La Mesa Club which models the Tehachapi Loop area and operates realistically. I got to be the Caliente Operator at a session once and it was a blast!
Oh yeah, the Model Railroad Museum. Another fabulous stop (and I’ve never even been). Gotta go see it.
The Good Luck Duck says
Looks pretty darn Duck-friendly, alright!
The Good Luck Duck
Yup, fur, feather and paw friendly! Nina
Never heard of Balboa Park…and to think it is the largest urban park…amazing. Our daughter was just there and we told her not to miss the Zoo. She loved it. She had only 7 hours to spare and was exhausted when she was done.
We are headed for Oregon June 1. Can’t give you any advice since this will be our first time. Looking forward to reading about your adventure
The Zoo is definitely one whole visit in itself (it not more!)
GOOD LUCK on your trip to OR. DO let me know if we cross paths. I’ll be keeping the blog updated on our location.
We checked out the park and the Zoo a couple years ago for two days, just loved it, definitely a must see.
Yup, I do love the Zoo. Also enjoy the Wild Animal Park (now called Safari Park I think) up north. Both are great visits and easily worth several whole days to themselves.
Kevin and Kim says
Wow this post is HUGE! (too). Don’t know how you make the time to do this so well. Balboa Park (San Diego Zoo is located there, also) is definitely a wonderful place to visit. It looks like Nina, Paul and Polly are having fun. 🙂
Where are you staying in San Diego? It’s a pretty pricy place to visit, so we’d love to learn of an affordable RV campground. We honeymooned in San Diego 40+ years ago and stayed at the El Cortez Hotel. Is the El Cortez still standing? We also bought a watercolor painting in Balboa Park. We still have it.
There’s a couple of spots we really like to stay in San Diego, all depending on what you’re looking for. Winter is the cheapest time to stay, but you can still find some deals in summer:
1/ Mission Bay RV Park – It’s a so-so park, but in a FABULOUS location right next to bay and beach. It is expensive in summer at full price, but they offer very good monthly deals in winter and also support Passport America 50% discount Mon-Thurs. You can see my pics of the place HERE.
2/ Santee Lakes – Probably one of the nicest RV parks in the area with lots of green, space, lakes and activities. We stay here when we’re looking for relaxation and green. Daily rate is a pricey, but their monthly rate is a very good deal and they offer it year-round. It’s ~15 miles from town. Link HERE.
3/ County Parks – Outside of these 2 spots we like the County Parks. They offer very reasonable prices with large sites and nature thrown in. MUCH, MUCH better deal than State Parks in the area (which are very pricey). Check out the link HERE
4/ Casinos – You can stay for FREE at the Casinos if you’re willing to dry-camp. I wrote about one of them recently HERE.
Hope that helps!!
Paint Your Landscape says
As Terry and I read your post we commented on how we had intended to go back to Balboa Park and just haven’t done it yet. As you so often do, you gave us that nudge to get out there. Thanks Nina!
Glad to be able to nudge! Nina
Robert Nuttmann says
Nina – you left out lawn bowling. Right across from the large off leash area on the west side of the bridge. I love going to Balboa Park and usually make it once a week. Sundays at 2pm is the free outside concert on the Spreckels organ. You have a picture of this above. I have been to Central Park in NYC and I have to say our Zoo is much nicer. But the Met Art Museum is unparalleled with the possible exception of the Louvre. And the American Museum of Natural History is by itself worth the visit to NYC.
You guys have been in SD a long time this stop. Getting tired of travel? Not that my home town is not a great place to be though.
No, no…I actually mentioned it in the “sport’ section. We saw the guys lawn-bowling as we left the park and it took me back to my UK days 🙂 Lots of fun.
We’re leaving SD this Sunday. We have indeed been here a long time (and there’s a long and rather sad story to accompany that), but that’s for another blog post…maybe.
Robert Nuttmann says
Whoops – did not see your lawn bowling referral in the sports section.