Tag Archives: balboa park

USA 2016 – 28 Exploring the iconic San Diego Zoo (2016-07-19) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 12 AUG 2018

The San Diego Zoo is an iconic, award-winning, world famous zoo. Established in 1916, situated in the mesmerizing Balboa Park and home to over 3,700 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies, the zoo is also known for having one of the largest zoological membership associations in the world – almost a half million people! It was also the primary pioneer in the concept of open-air, cageless zoo exhibits (that simulate natural animal habitats) – much like you would find in our very own National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, aka Pretoria Zoo.

Having originally grown out of the abandoned exotic animal exhibitions of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, these days the San Diego Zoo sprawls across an area covering 40 hectares (about half of Pretoria Zoo’s size) of Balboa Park, and is jam packed with the  most remarkable, carefully crafted and maintained enclosures, exhibits, walkways and gardens.

As an addition to exploring the park on foot, the zoo also offers a pretty neat, open air guided bus tour that traverses about 75% of the park, as well the Skyfari – an overhead gondola lift that gives you an aerial view of the park down below.

The exhibits are all designed around particular habitats, which then groups together animals that tend to be found side-by-side in the wild, usually alongside with that habitat’s native plant life. For example, there were the gorillas in an African rain forest, polar bears in the Arctic taiga and tundra, and elephants and giraffes on dusty African plains.

Massive free-flight aviaries are littered about, and on top of all that, the zoo also maintains its grounds as an arboretum, with a botanical collection that includes more than 700,000 exotic plants!

The animals, the crafted environment, all of it just comes together to form an absolutely breathtaking zoo experience, a place where you can happily spend pretty much an entire day (which essentially I did) moving through the various habitats and exploring all the nooks and crannies of this wondrous zoo.

So a quick rundown of the current exhibits then: Monkey Trails and Forest Tales (monkeys and other animals from the rainforests of Asia and Africa), Owens Aviary and Scripps Aviary (tropical and local birdlife), Panda Canyon (pandas, takins and snow leopards from China), Urban Jungle (giraffes, gazelles, cheetahs and Indian rhinos), Polar Bear Plunge (polar bears, reindeer and foxes of the Arctic), Discovery Output (lizards, snakes, turtles and frogs), Ituri Forest (okapi, duikers and hippos from the rainforests of central Africa), Elephant Odyssey (elephants, lions and jaguars), Gorilla Tropics (gorillas!), Absolutely Apes (orangutans and siamangs), Sun Bear Forest (Bornean sun bears, macaques and silvery lutung monkeys), Tiger Rivers (tigers and gharials of Malaysia), Outback (koalas, wombats and tasmanian devils), and the newly opened African Rocks – which unfortunately was still being built when I was there but which is a massive new addition to the zoo, featuring a variety of distinct African biospheres and the animals that they contain.

While not a massive fan of zoos or aviaries in general, I do understand the need for zoos and enjoy zoos which are really well put together – and in that regard the well financed San Diego definitely does not disappoint. Everything is colourful, the grounds are immaculate, the animals are all well looked after, and as a bonus, I saw loads of creatures that I would almost assuredly never encounter back here in South Africa.

A thoroughly enjoyable visit then, and just as it had been with my visit to Disneyland, I kind of really wished that I had my girls with me in order to show them around this remarkable space!

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(Remember how I said that my phone was charging hence the distinct lack of photos of Balboa Park in general? Yeah well, I took a LOT of photos in the zoo!)

Related Link: San Diego Zoo | Wikipedia | Balboa Park | San Diego | #USA2016

USA 2016 – 27 Balboa Park in San Diego (2016-07-19) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 09 AUG 2018

San Diego’s Balboa Park is just an absolutely amazing attraction. Honestly, even if you had a month dedicated to exploring every nook and cranny of this world of wonder, it still wouldn’t be enough. Home to 16 museums, 17 recognized gardens, a host of theaters and other attractions, and of course 1 world famous zoo, Balboa Park stands tall as something that any other city in the world would proudly to lay claim to.

Spanning a massive 1,200 acres of land, the rectangular-shaped Balboa Park was established in 1868 (then sized at 1,400 acres and known as “City Park”), marking San Diego as having been the second city in the United States to dedicate such a large park for public use (following New York City’s 1858 establishment of Central Park).

Originally a scrub-filled mesa, Balboa Park sat for 20 years without any formal landscaping or development taking place – it was only once botanist, horticulturalist and landscape architect Kate Sessions became involved that the park’s real beautification started.

This was accelerated in 1903 and once a city tax was levied in 1905, water systems, paths, and roads started to make their appearance, and in 1910 (with the prestigious 1915 Panama-California Exposition looming large for surprise host city San Diego) City Park was renamed to the more memorable Balboa Park – chosen in honour of Spanish-born Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the first European to cross Central America and see the Pacific Ocean.

The 1915-16 exposition itself (which commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal), as well as the later 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition, provided a major impetus for the creation of the Park as it appears today. Many of the cultural institutions as well as stunning Spanish-Renaissance style architecture were introduced as part of these expos.

In terms of museums, Balboa Park simply can’t be beat, housing the likes of the Mingei International Museum, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego Art Institute, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Man, San Diego Natural History Museum, Timken Museum of Art, and keeping with San Diego’s strong ties to the U.S. Navy, the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center.

Then there is an as ridiculously long list of named gardens also to be found in Balboa Park, like the Alcazar Garden, Australian Garden, Botanical Building, Casa del Rey Moro Garden, Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve, Marston House Garden, Lily Pond, Palm Canyon, Trees for Health Garden, Veterans Memorial Garden, Zoro Garden, and the Japanese Friendship Garden.

As if that is already not enough natural beauty, history and culture to take in, Balboa Park further ups the ante with attractions like the vintage Balboa Park Carousel, Balboa Park Miniature Railroad, Balboa Stadium, Casa del Prado (home of San Diego Youth Symphony), House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, Old Globe Theatre, San Diego Junior Theatre, San Diego Mineral and Gem Society, Spanish Village Art Center, Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Starlight Bowl, and the WorldBeat Cultural Center.

Then there is of course the world famous San Diego Zoo. (Which I naturally spent WAY too much time wandering about in!)

Johann and I started and ended our tour of San Diego aboard the excellent Old Town Trolley Tours bus in Balboa Park, but due entirely to time constraints, I sadly only got the smallest of tastes of this remarkable wonderland. Also, my phone was busy charging, meaning that instead of the usual gigantic image gallery that I should be posting here, this is all I have in my photos folder:

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As I mentioned at the start of the post – you probably need at least a month to do this amazing creation justice in terms of exploring all of the cultural and historic riches on offer, and that said, honestly, it really isn’t that hard to understand just why Balboa Park is by far San Diego’s largest tourist attraction.

Related Link: Balboa Park | Wikipedia | San Diego | #USA2016

USA 2016 – 24 Exploring San Diego on an Old Town Trolley Tours Bus (2016-07-19) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 31 JUL 2018

San Diego is a magnificent city. The history, the weather, the landscape – it is impossible to visit and not come back loving it. It is the second largest city in California, the eighth largest in the United States of America, and boasts a population of over 4,9 million people. The city is know for its mild year-round climate, natural deep-water harbour, multitude of beaches, long association with the United States Navy (the deep water harbour, remember), and these days, its role as somewhat of a healthcare and biotechnology development center.

Oh, and it happens to also host the world’s best Comic-con too.

One of the best ways of getting an overall look at the city, its history and layout is to jump on one of the many distinctive green and orange Old Town Trolley Tours’ hop on hop off busses, which is exactly what Johann and I did for my third day in the city.

The San Diego branch of Old Town Trolley Tours launched in 1989, and its (rather large) fleet of busses continuously operate on a 40 km loop that moves through 10 neighbourhoods with 10 destination stops.

We caught our first bus in the gorgeous Balboa Park, with our tour operator/driver being a an extremely enjoyable and amicable ex-policeman with a lot of great local stories to blend in with all the San Diego information being fed to us as we drove through Little Italy, headed towards the Old Town Market.

After a hop off and a bit of exploration there, we jumped back on a bus, this time heading down to the Embarcadero Marina, then Seaport Village and the Marriott Marquis and Marina. On to the Horton Plaza Park, through the revived Gaslamp Quarter, past the East Convention Center, Petco Park and Hilton Bayfront, and then over the bridge into Coronado.

After a nice refreshing drink and a bit of an exploration of the iconic Hotel del Coronado, we stepped back on a bus and rode it all the way up to our starting point back at Balboa Park.

Honestly, the entire experience was lovely. The entertaining guides were great with their local knowledge and the trip itself turned out to be a great way to see a large swathe of the city which I might not have otherwise had the chance to.

It genuinely is a pretty good way to get introduced to San Diego, and as such is a pretty easy recommendation for anyone visiting the “America’s finest City”.

As for the rest of the day? Well I was going to spend it at the zoo of course!

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(Oh, and if your teenage years were in the 90’s like me, then it is worth knowing that San Diego was also responsible for delivering to us both Tony Hawk and blink-182. An all important factoid if ever there was one!)

Related Link: Old Town Trolley Tours | San Diego | #USA2016