1. Travel
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Balboa Park

Guide to San Diego's Balboa Park


The largest cultural complex west of the Mississippi, San Diego's Balboa Park is sometimes called the "Smithsonian of the West" for the concentration of cultural institutions within its boundaries.

Originally built for temporary use during the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego, the buildings here are beautiful enough to be considered attractions in themselves, but the real draw is the culture, history, science and arts held within their walls. Among its attractions are eight gardens, 15 museums, a Tony Award-winning theatre and the San Diego Zoo.

Scenes from Balboa Park

Enjoy some of our best shots in this Balboa Park Photo Tour

Balboa Park Attractions

If you plan to visit more than one or two of the many attractions here, think about buying the Balboa Park Passport, available at any of the 13 attractions it gets you into. If you're looking for an even better deal, you can download a Balboa Park guide to your iPhone, take a free tour or get free admission on Tuesdays. Free admission is on a rotating basis, with two to five locations participating each week.

San Diego Zoo: The world-famous zoo is the best-known of the Balboa Park attractions, but it's far from the only one. In nearby Zoo Plaza, the 1910 Herschell-Spillman carousel has a menagerie of its own, all but two pairs of them original. This carousel is one of the few in the world still offering the brass ring game. Nearby, you'll find the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad, a one-fifth scale model railroad, its locomotive a reproduction of the General Motors F3 diesels which pull the Santa Fe's Super Chief, and the train a rare antique with as few as fifty like it remaining.

Balboa Park Museums

From the Museum of Art to the Museum of Man, Balboa Park museums cover every interest.

Balboa Park Gardens:

Highlights include:

  • The Botanical Building, the largest wood lath structure in the world when it was built in 1915 and home to 2,100 permanent tropical plant specimens
  • Japanese Friendship Garden
  • Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden, voted by the World Rose Society as one of the top rose gardens in the world
  • Zoro Garden, a sunken butterfly garden
  • Palm Canyon, an oasis which contains 450 palms
  • Desert Garden, 2.5 acres of succulents and drought-resistant plants from around the world

Performing Arts at Balboa Park

  • The Old Globe Theatre won the 1984 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre and now produces 14 works a year on three stages.
  • Starlight Bowl host performances by the Starlight Musical Theatre every July and August.
  • At the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre, you'll find the performers may have lots of strings attached.
  • The Spreckels Organ Pavilion is home to one of the world's largest outdoor pipe organs. It hosts year-round Sunday organ concerts and an annual Summer International Organ Festival

Getting to Balboa Park in San Diego

Balboa Park
1549 El Prado
San Diego, CA
(619) 239-0512
Balboa Park Website
Balboa Park is close to downtown San Diego, and most easily reached by automobile. Save yourself a lot of trouble. Leave your car in the Inspiration Point lot, on the east side between Presidents Way and the Balboa Park Activity Center and take the tram, which operates seven days a week.

San Diego Trolley Tours stops here as well as other sights, and it's a good way to get around town with driving and parking hassles. Save time. Order your trolley tickets from Viator.com. They guarantee the best price, and you get a print-at-home voucher right away.

From southbound I-5, take the 10th Ave. exit. Turn left on "A" St. and left again on Park Blvd., the follow the signs to Balboa Park.

From northbound I-5, take the B Street/Pershing exit. Get on Pershing and then turn left on Florida Drive. Turn left on Zoo Place, then left again on Park Blvd.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.