If you have ever considered visiting San Diego, you have probably heard of Balboa Park, but did you know there are seventeen museums in Balboa park you could visit?
We gathered our best nine tips you need to know before visiting the Balboa Park Museums into our handy guide. With this guide, you’ll be visiting museums like a local.
Tip 1: What is Balboa Park?
Balboa Park is a 1,200 acre urban oasis located about two miles north and east of downtown San Diego. It has two canyons that divide the park into three mesas. The majority of the park’s attractions are located on the Central Mesa along El Prado. You can access the Central Mesa from the 6th Avenue Mesa (western side) via the Cabrillo Bridge. The East Mesa (home to Morely Field) has limited access the rest of the park so keep that in mind.
Tip 2: How do you get to Balboa Park?
The best way to get to Balboa Park is by driving. Highway 163 runs through Balboa Park (under the Cabrillo Bridge) and provides easy access to the park. There is also ample free public parking lots around the park. We usually park at the back of the zoo in the South Carousel Lot, but the Organ Pavilion Parking Lot is a good option too. Some of the other lots are smaller and tend to fill up quickly on summer weekends.
It is somewhat difficult to reach Balboa Park without a car. San Diego has a fantastic trolley system that doesn’t reach the beaches or Balboa Park. It takes an ardent walker or biker to climb the hills to reach Balboa Park. If you check on your maps program, you will find several bus routes to the park you can take.
Tip 3: Which are the Premier Museums in Balboa Park?
Balboa Park features five “Premier Museums”. You can expect to spend about 1-2 hours in each of these museums exploring and interacting with the exhibits. These are a great way for families to learn while on vacation.
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center – $20 San Diego Natural History Museum (theNAT) – $19 San Diego Air & Space Museum -$20 San Diego Museum of Art – $15 San Diego Museum of Man -$13
Tip 4: Are There Other Museums at Balboa Park?
The Balboa Park features other museums that offer niche exhibits and regional interests. They are a great way to beat the heat, get out of the sun and find something the really piques your interest. These museums are:
San Diego History Center – Donation based San Diego Mineral and Gem Society – Free Timken Museum of Art – Free (Fine arts) Botanical Building – Free (shade house and garden) Museum of Photographic Arts – Donation based Centro Cultural de la Raza – $5. Dedicated to Chicano and Native American culture. San Diego Art Institute – $5 Veterans Museum at Balboa Park – $5 (Military history and artifacts) San Diego Hall of Champions -$8 (sports history) San Diego Automotive Museum – $9 Japanese Friendship Gardens – $10 Mingei International Museum – $10. Dedicated to the art of the people. San Diego Model Railroad Museum – $11 George W. Marston House: $15 walking tours of historic Balboa Park and surrounding neighborhoods
Trick 5 – What are the Special Attractions in the Museums?
For an additional price, you can visit extra special attractions inside of each of the premier museums. You can see from the 2018 lineup, there is a lot to do in these museums.
Cannibals: Myth & Reality – Museum of Man Climb the California Tour – Museum of Man Living with Animals – Museum of Man IMAX – Fleet Center (one show included with ticket) The Sky Tonight (Planetarium) – Fleet Center Max Flight Simulator – Air and Space Be The Astronaut – Air and Space 3D/4D Zable Theater – Air and Space Giant Screen Theater – Natural History (one show free with ticket)
Tip 6 – Can you Combine Balboa Park With the San Diego Zoo?
The San Diego Zoo is immediately adjacent to Balboa Park Museums. If you like busy days traveling, you can explore the Zoo and Balboa Park. It’s a lot to see but your kids will sleep well that night.
Tip 7 – What is There to eat at Balboa Park?
The Prado at Balboa Park offers gourmet dining with a patio that overlooks the Japanese Gardens. They have a great happy hour and a Tuesday Date Night that you need to see to believe. Outside of the park are the hip, urban dining centers of Banker’s Hill, Hillcrest, North Park and South Park, just to name a few. You will not be disappointed with the close and ample treats to sample.
Tip 8 – What can you do at Night in Balboa Park?
Most of the museums in the park close at 5:00 pm, but the park buildings and Cabrillo Bridge are lit nightly for your viewing pleasure. After dinner at one of the fine restaurants, you should consider returning for the light show at the park.
There are also two summer night time offerings at the park. The San Diego Zoo offers their Zoo at Night Time Zoo experience. There are concerts and performances throughout the zoo, some of them starting at 8:00 at night. After the late show, you can just head over and check out Balboa Park all lit up.
Not to be out done, there are the Balboa Park After Dark events on Summer Fridays. The premier museums offer discount tickets for the late night special and a food truck roundup comes in for your dining pleasure. Imagine watching the sunset from the historic California Tower at the Museum of Man. You can buy a timed ticket that will let you do just that at Balboa Park After Dark.
Tip 9 – Which Gardens are at Balboa Park?
Walking trails wind all through Balboa Park’s canyons and mesas, but what really sets it apart are the plentiful manicured gardens. The gardens of Balboa Park are:
- 1935 (Old) Cactus Garden
- Alcazar Garden
- Australian Garden
- Botanical Building and Lily Pond
- California Native Plant Garden
- Casa del Rey Moro Garden
- Desert Garden
- EthnoBotany Children’s Peace Garden
- Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve
- Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden
- Japanese Friendship Garden
- Marston House Garden
- Palm Canyon
- San Diego Botanical Garden Foundation
- San Diego Floral Association
- San Diego Zoo Botanical Collection
- Trees for Health Garden
- Veterans Memorial Garden
- Zoro Garden
Make the Most of Balboa Park Museums
Since 1835, Balboa Park has been reserved for public recreational use. It served as San Diego’s host location for the 1915-16 California-Panama Exhibition to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal and the 1935-36 World’s Fair. If the Balboa Park Museums were in a more mundane location, they would still be interesting to visit. Since they are in this beautiful, historic park you can spend all day (and night), and still not see it all.
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About the Author
Jenn and Ed Coleman// Coleman Concierge
We are Jenn and Ed, aka Coleman Concierge. Let us serve as your guide to help you and inspire you to get out, expand your work and seek adventure, even in your own backyard. Along with our perspective and personality, we strive to provide tools and tips for you to experience heightened adventure in your own life.