The Beauty of Balboa Park

Botanical Building and lily pond

Botanical Building and lily pond

Imagine a vast expanse of wonder set in a bustling port city, with large green lawns where dogs play and lovers nestle close, with trees reaching for the sky and spreading their branches to welcome urban wildlife, and where in the heart of a park, surrounded by Spanish Renaissance style architecture, you are transported to another land.  That is but a small essence of the Beauty of Balboa Park!

Balboa Park

Larger than Central Park in New York City and home to more museums than any urban park in the United States Balboa Park began as 1400 acres set aside by San Diego’s civic leaders in 1868 and was then known as City Park.  It stayed much the same for over 20 years until Kate Sessions, now known as Mother of Balboa Park, helped begin the beautification of the park in 1892, she offered to plant 100 trees a year in the park and donate trees and shrubs around San Diego for a lot of 32 acres for her commercial nursery.  In 1910 the name changed to Balboa Park in honour of Spanish-born Vasco Nurez de Balboa who was the first European to spot the Pacific Ocean.  The First World’s Fair of 1915 -1916 (the Panama – California Exposition) was held in San Diego commemorating the opening of the Panama Canal and this is when many of its grand buildings were built along the El Prado pedestrian walkway (still a main thoroughfare to the park), and were done in the Spanish Renaissance style that is very flamboyant, this was the first time this style had been used in the United States.  Balboa Park is now down to 1200 acres but still maintains its style and charm.

It’s amazing when on your first visit to a city, on the first day out exploring, you encounter an awesome place that touches your heart, your spirit and all of your senses.  For me, in San Diego, it was Balboa Park – I was immediately drawn in to all it’s splendor and I must admit I was in the park for at least part – if not all of every day I spent in San Diego.  I was in love with all that it had to offer!

San Diego's Museum of Man

I was immediately struck by the stunning and intricate architecture, especially the front faces of the Museum of Man and The San Diego Museum of Art both in Spanish Renaissance style.  I felt like if I stood and explored each face all day I would still miss precious pieces.  My favourite building in Balboa Park and probably my most photographed structure on my entire West Coast Adventure was the Museum of Man built for the 1915 World’s Fair.  I felt like it had so much to showcase, from its front face of ornate detailed art to the tall Cali Tower, that you could hear chime almost anywhere in the park and it’s beautiful, mosaic dome.  I felt like no matter where I was in the park, in view of the museum, it was just asking to be admired and filmed!

Balboa Park has something for everyone, it’s where you’ll find the World famous San Diego Zoo, 15 museums ranging from art to science, a Botanical Building overflowing with outstanding orchids, and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion (also built for the First World’s Fair) that has one of the largest outdoor pipe organs in the World and holds concerts every weekend in the summer, 4 theatres, plus all of the meandering trails and green lawns just waiting for nature lovers to explore.  And this may surprise you, but Balboa Park even has Wi-Fi, I couldn’t believe it!

Balboa Park's cactus garden

Along with the Botanical Building, that is free and was built in 1915 and is one of the largest lath structures in the World,  there are other stimulating gardens to stroll through all free except the Japanese Friendship Garden that is a very reasonable $6.  If you enjoy a diversity of gardens then look no further than Balboa Park, from the character filled orchids in the Botanical Building to a plethora of colours in the rose garden and a cactus garden that will blow you away (especially if you’re a northern gal like me), and of course the tranquility of the Japanese Garden is not lost even through their expansion – which looks to be epic.  One real must see is their landmark Moreton Bay fig tree that was planted before 1915 and is now, at almost 100 years old, over 60′ tall and with a spread of 120′.

Moreton Bay fig tree

If you only need one reason to add San Diego to your must visit list – it will be Balboa Park!  From experience, I recommend you get there nice and early, before the crowds take over, find a bench and a café Americano and just breathe it all in – it is truly spectacular!

Have you been to Balboa Park?



I'm a Canadian gal with a passion for wildlife, the great outdoors and travel and hope to inspire others to feel the same way! Travelling mostly solo I love to explore Ontario Gems in my own backyard as well as exotic cities around the world.

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6 Responses

  1. The Two Gallivants says:

    Great stuff, I stayed in San Diego for a few weeks in 2006. Loved it and Balboa Park was one of my favourite days out there 🙂


  2. We were just in San Diego visiting colleges. I wish I knew about this place sooner. Looks like a fun place.

  1. July 13, 2014

    […] in the heart of San Diego’s beautiful Balboa Park you’ll find the Japanese Friendship Garden.  The garden opened in 1990 and they are currently […]

  2. July 19, 2014

    […] the island you’ll head into San Diego’s beautiful Balboa Park, the home to museums, a Japanese Garden and the San Diego Zoo.  Then you’ll head to the last […]

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