Culture, nature, science and entertainment collide at Balboa Park in San Diego, California. Originally known as “City Park” but later renamed for Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the 1,200-acre property provides experiences and entertainment for groups no matter their size or interests.
The park’s history as the site of the 1915–16 Panama-California Exposition, which commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal, set the foundation for the park’s infrastructure and vision today. Groups can tour and experience museums, exhibits and programming throughout many of the original Spanish Renaissance-style buildings constructed specifically for the exposition.
Today, the park is home to a variety of performing arts venues, public gardens, walking trails and museums preserving and honoring the history of local and regional stories from past and present. More than 17 museums and cultural buildings and over a dozen unique gardens can be found on-site. From the San Diego Zoo to history in aviation and transportation to prominent arts and culture exhibits, the park boasts a diversity of collections and attractions.
“We have all different kinds of groups who come to Balboa Park — everything from small private tours to large school groups from around the state and country,” said Jordan White, visitor services manager at Balboa Park Visitors Center. “We offer 60- to 90-minute walking tours of the park’s grounds, sharing stories about its history and origin, and information about our gardens, horticulture and architecture found throughout the park.”
Some of the most popular destinations at the park include the San Diego Natural History Museum; the Chicano, Mexican, Indigenous and Latino art and cultural exhibits at Centro Cultural de la Raza; the historical and contemporary folk art, craft and design exhibits at the Mingei International Museum; and the Women’s Museum of California, which inspires present and future generations about the contributions by many diverse and prominent women in history.
Groups from around the world travel to Balboa Park to view its array of pristine and lush gardens. Colorful roses, old-growth trees and an abundance of green space filled with prickly cactus, seasonal blooms, lotus blossoms, orchids and water lilies decorate the landscape throughout the park. Groups can book a variety of docent-led tours within the more than a dozen gardens, simply set up a picnic or enjoy a self-guided walking tour.
General admission to Balboa Park and the Botanical Building is free. Admission prices for the cultural attractions and museums vary, and, in most cases, are managed by nonprofit organizations supporting the attractions.
“In partnership with the nonprofit group Forever Balboa Park, the city of San Diego, cultural organizations and the park itself work in collaboration to educate the public and provide maintenance and care for the park,” White said. “Our goal is to help community members understand that Balboa Park is more than just buildings — it’s a representation of our community’s longstanding relationship with the park and its importance as a resource we hope continues to thrive for as long as possible.”
To learn more about pricing, programming and sched- uling tours in advance, group tour planners should contact the Balboa Park Visitors Center.
Discounts are available for groups of 15 or more.
For more information on Balboa Park, call 619-239-0512 or visit balboapark.org.
Main image: Sculpture Garden, Balboa Park; Credit: San Diego Tourism Authority
Article by Erica Zazo