Balboa Park is situated on a bluff overlooking downtown San Diego and its magnificent, natural bay is one of the most spectacular parks in the world. Built for the first World Fair, today, you can stroll along the El Prado pedestrian walkway and visit the Spanish-Renaissance style architecture, and shaded alcoves, with fountains and fabulous street performers in every nook and cranny. Balboa Park is quintessential California at its best.
Beginning as a relatively barren mesa sectioned off by city officials in 1868, San Diego’s Balboa Park—then known only as City Park—looked quite different than it does today. The park now covers almost 2 square miles and is an epicenter of cultural and outdoor activity in the city, claiming the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, a host of San Diego museums, and miles of biking and hiking trails. Still, with everything Balboa Park offers its more than 10 million annual visitors, its lush green spaces and winding paths hide some little-known secrets.
Balboa Park has a storied history – one that is central to the story of San Diego. It started 150 years ago, when civic leaders took the audacious step of setting aside 1,400 acres of a scrub-filled mesa overlooking downtown San Diego to establish a park. While San Diego was home to just 2,300 residents in 1868, its leaders had the vision and desire to create an iconic park that would serve its citizens and visitors for years to come. In fact, San Diego was the second city to dedicate a large urban park behind only New York City’s Central Park. In 1870, the state legislature passed a law stating that the lands would be held in trust for a park forever.
Balboa Park’s 65 miles of trails give visitors plenty of places to get lost in gorgeous, natural surroundings, and Palm Canyon is one of the park’s best—yet sometimes overlooked—spots to do just that. True to its name, the trail is packed with more than 450 palm trees, some of which have held roots in the canyon since the early 1900s. Hikers traversing the tropical stretch of parkland can walk across a wooden footbridge that looks like it was taken from The Swiss Family Robinson, and there’s a massive Moreton Bay fig tree whose sprawling, twisting roots resemble an art piece more than a natural phenomenon.
Surviving fires, wars, and strife, this mega green space at the city’s center now provides beautiful sights, fun things to do and an alternative outdoor oasis to the beach. Offering cultural growth, enrichment, relaxation, community building, educational programs, family-friendly entertainment, sporting programs, creative activities, exercise and mindfulness spaces and more, Balboa Park welcomes everyone and is open 365 days a year. Check out these must-see attractions on your next vacation to San Diego.
The Old Town Trolley is a convenient way to explore Balboa Park while maximizing your vacation time. With stops throughout San Diego, you can hop on and off at the sites you want to visit and learn about the rest during the fully narrated historic sightseeing tour that’s less than two hours. Find the lowest price and money-saying packages by purchasing tickets direct through the website.
The Japanese Friendship Garden (JFG) is named San Kei En (three scene garden – water, pastoral, and mountain) which expresses the ties between the people of San Diego and its sister city, Yokohama. JFG blends the two cultures to create a unique and immersive experience that anyone will enjoy. JFG represents a new stage in the development of the Japanese garden outside of Japan. The design of the San-Kei-En is guided by the original principles of the Japanese garden (people, natural environment, and culture) while incorporating the local regional landscape and climate.
As a valued asset to Balboa Park, the Japanese Friendship Garden of San Diego is also an educational resource to the community, providing a variety of seminars, classes and workshops as well as accredited horticultural classes. The Japanese Friendship Garden of San Diego is proud to present a remarkable collection of Japanese artifacts, a Bonsai exhibit with circulating exhibitions by Bonsai Masters and many more valuable living collections.
Other Attractions in Balboa Park
- Fleet Science Center
- Centro Cultural de la Raza
- Marston House
- San Diego Model Railroad Museum
- San Diego Zoo
- WorldBeat Center
- Museum of Photographic Arts
- San Diego Art Institute
- Mingei International Museum
- San Diego Automotive Museum
- San Diego History Center
- San Diego Museum of Man
- Timken Museum of Art
- San Diego Museum of Art
- Natural History Museum
- Veterans Museum at Balboa Park