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Balboa Park

Park Boulevard, San Diego, California

Home to world-class museums, manicured gardens, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park tops the list of San Diego city sights. Its 1,200 lush acres (486 hectares) comprise the largest urban park in the United States. Apart from its many attractions, Balboa Park also features lengthy walking and hiking trails, distinctive landscaping, Golden Age Spanish buildings, and one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs.

A visit to the park is included on most San Diego city sightseeing tours, and Segway tours are another popular way to explore Balboa. The central part of the park houses the renowned San Diego Zoo and its more than 3,000 animals. At the Museum of Man, part of the California Quadrangle and its distinctive arch, you can see Native American artifacts and other cultural archaeology exhibits. The San Diego Museum of Art displays a number of European works, and nearby sites include the Timken Museum of Art, the Botanical Building, the Natural History Museum, Alcazar Gardens, the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, and the Spanish Village Art Center. The east end of the park holds the Balboa Park Municipal Golf Course and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

  • Explore the area on foot or use the free Balboa Park Tram, which loops continuously around the main areas of the park daily from 9am to 6 or 8pm.

  • Balboa Park is kid-friendly, with a miniature train, playgrounds, and play areas in most museums.

  • With so many options, it’s best to prioritize your desired stops in the park. You can pick up a park map at the Balboa Park Visitors Center in the House of Hospitality.

  • Free concerts on the Spreckels Organ are held every Sunday at 2pm, and on Monday evenings at 7:30pm from late June through August.

  • Eating options abound throughout the park. Be sure to check out the Prado for diverse cuisine and museum-inspired decor.

Set in downtown San Diego, Balboa Park is easily reached by bus. By car, Park Boulevard provides easy access to the site’s free parking areas near most of the exhibits. The most scenic approach, however, is over the Cabrillo Bridge from the west—the steep roadsides, lush with hanging greenery, resemble a rain forest gorge.

Balmy San Diego is famous for its year-round sunshine and mild climate. Balboa Park is open year-round and 24 hours a day, with the Visitors Center open from 9:30am to 4:30pm. The zoo, museums, and other attractions have varying opening hours.

Although countless activities are available in Balboa Park, the location is an ideal base for seeing some of San Diego’s other top sights. The beaches of La Jolla, the charm of Old Town, and the bustle of the historic Gaslamp Quarter are just a short drive away.

Yes, you can take guided tours of Balboa Park. Expert guides lead free hour-long tours of the Central Mesa from the visitor center. Tours cover aspects of the park’s history and attractions. Custom private tours also are available for a fee and can be tailored to individual interests and needs.

Allow at least one full day to explore Balboa Park and more time if you have interests in specific park attractions. There are many different places to see, including the San Diego Zoo, galleries, museums, and gardens, each of which is worthy of at least a couple of hours.

Spring is a great time to visit Balboa Park as the gardens are especially colorful. Winter also is a good time because it tends to be quieter than during the busy summer months, and weather conditions are ideal both for strolling outdoors and exploring the indoor museums and galleries.

The best and most popular walks in Balboa Park are the Seven Bridge Walk and the Gardens Loop. The Seven Bridge Walk is 5.7 miles (9.3 kilometers) and takes around two hours. The Gardens Loop is a leisurely 1.4-mile (2.3-kilometer) trail that takes around 30 minutes.

Yes, visitors can walk around Balboa Park and visit the gardens for free. Only the museums, galleries, zoo, performances, events, and other self-contained attractions within the park are ticketed. Balboa Park is a great budget travel destination because you can see and do a lot without spending any money.

Many attractions and museums within Balboa Park offer free entry to San Diego residents on the first, second, third, or fourth Tuesdays of the month, on a rotating basis. Free access may be restricted, and entry conditions and dates may change without notice or not apply during certain months.


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