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 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.