In October of 2013 my family gathered in San Diego, California, to celebrate the 18th birthday of my granddaughter, Jennifer. Prior to our trip, Jen had asked each of us to tell her what we most wanted to do while we were there (sort of a “San Diego Bucket List”).
My list was short and sweet: Besides spending time with my children, I wanted to go to the San Diego Zoo and also to Balboa Park. Both wishes came true!
I’ve previously written about our Zoo adventure; now I’d like to share my Balboa Park experience.
A Little Balboa Park History
San Diego’s Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre cultural complex that includes 15 museums and eight gardens, and has been described as “the largest urban park in North America, exceeding even Central Park in New York in size.”
According to visitor information provided on SanDiego.org, Balboa Park was developed in the early 1900’s to coincide with the opening of the Panama Canal and the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.
Twenty years later, San Diego hosted the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition and added the Old Globe Theatre, International Cottages, and Spanish Village, all of which are still in use today.
In 1977, Balboa Park, and historic Exposition buildings from 1915 and 1935, were declared a National Historic Landmark and National Historic Landmark District, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Built in the Spanish Colonial revival style, many of the buildings are now museums: Reuben H. Fleet Science Museum, the San Diego Air and Space Museum, San Diego Natural History Museum, and the Museum of Photographic Arts, to name just a few.
In addition, there are numerous gardens throughout the park; most are free, and all are beautiful, well-tended and wheelchair-accessible.
The Gardens of Balboa Park
I love museums, and Balboa Park has many of them; some day I will return to San Diego and visit them.
However, Carrieanna and I decided to spend our day at Balboa Park enjoying the warm weather and the beautiful gardens, most of which are open 365 days a year.
Handicap parking was abundant, and it was an easy stroll / roll from the parking lot to the Spreckles Organ Pavilion. According to the Balboa Park website:
John D. and Adolph Spreckels donated the Spreckels Organ, one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs, to the City of San Diego in 1914 for the Panama-California Exposition. This unique organ contains 4,530 pipes ranging in length from the size of a pencil to 32 feet and is housed in an ornate vaulted structure with highly embellished gables. Since 1917, San Diego has had a civic organist, who performs free weekly Sunday concerts.
Since we were there on a Tuesday we did not have an opportunity to see or hear this amazing instrument. We did, however, enjoy the beautiful architecture, and were especially pleased to see that the pavilion is easily accessible.
We then rolled toward the Information Center, bypassing the Japanese Friendship Garden – the only garden in the park that charges an entrance fee. This garden also had a significant incline which might prohibit a wheelchair user from visiting unless accompanied by an assistant.
Even before we reached the accessible entrance to the Information Center, a helpful docent approached us and volunteered information about accessibility, as well as offering suggestions about “must see” areas of the park.
High on his list was the nearby Botanical Building, and his recommendation was spot-on. From our first view of the exterior of the building, to our hour-long exploration within, we found the Botanical Building to be a delight (and I was reminded of another favorite: The Palm House at Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam).
From there we decided to cross Park Blvd. via the pedestrian bridge (with its fairly steep incline) in order to wander through the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden.
Even though October is not the peak season for roses, there were enough in bloom to give us a beautiful view of the garden – and inspire our imagination of how glorious the garden must look during the summer!
After a quick ice cream break at the café adjacent to the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center — yes, we stopped for the sweets and not for the science! — we rolled over to the Alcazar Garden on the western edge of the park.
Again quoting the Balboa Park website:
Alcazar Garden, named because its design is patterned after the gardens of Alcazar Castle in Seville, Spain, lies adjacent to the Art Institute and Mingei Museum. It is known for its ornate fountains, exquisite turquoise blue, yellow, and green Moorish tiles and shady pergola.
Our visit to the gardens of Balboa Park was an absolute joy! Whether you are able-bodied or use a wheelchair (or other assistive device), I would highly recommend that you include Balboa Park in your San Diego itinerary!
9 replies on “Balboa Park, San Diego – A Landscape of Art and Culture”
Wow! Those are really beautiful landscape designs you have there. 🙂
I too love Balboa Park. A short walk from my grandparents’ little cottage upon each visit to SD in my childhood. So interested to read about the “exhibition”. My parents and grandparents had lived in San Diego since the ’23 (Dad) and ’32 (Mom and her parents) and all called it the World’s Fair. Was that an alternate name for the events?
That’s a good question, Virginia.
According to the history of Balboa Park the 1915-16 Panama – California Exposition was called the “First World’s Fair.”
According to Wikipedia, the very first World’s Fair was held in London in 1756. Many have been held since that time, including many in the United States prior to 1915-16.
Thank you for encouraging me to look a little deeper into the history of Balboa Park!
Absolutely beautiful! I can imagine how stunning it would be in the Spring. As usual, wonderful photos! Thank you.
Thank you, Mary Ann!
I remember visiting Balboa Park many years ago. I think your photos and text were more impressive than my actual visit, as I remember it. Thanks for sharing. If you need a literary agent, I’m still available.
Thank you, Ted. We were fortunate to be in San Diego when the weather was perfect, and the crowds were minimal. And you’ve probably noticed that I love visiting gardens!
I would love to have you as my literary agent. You already hold the place as my #1 fan and greatest incentive to write more frequently. Keep sending compliments, and I’ll continue posting!
Lovely, lovely pictures. In addition, you really have a talent for capturing the essence of the places you visit. Thank you.
Thank you, my friend. I’ve found that the *trick* is to visit places that inspire me!