Public information 619-239-0512 www.balboapark.org
Balboa Park is a San Diego must-see, just minutes from downtown, and ranked as one of the Best Parks in the World. The Park is home to 15 major museums, several performing arts venues, lovely gardens and many other cultural and recreational attractions, including the San Diego Zoo. With a variety of cultural institutions laid out among its 1,200 beautiful and lushly planted acres, Balboa Park is the nation’s largest urban cultural park.
Kate Sessions was the early designer of the Park’s beautiful landscaping. She is known locally as “the mother of Balboa Park” and was a vital force for the Park’s horticulture with her many plantings and her popularization of several species, notably the bird of paradise, queen palm and poinsettia.
Many of the cultural institutions and the stunning architecture and landscaping in the Park are the legacy of two Expositions. The 1915-16Panama-California Exposition commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal and provided a major impetus for the creation of the Park as it appears today. Most of the arts organizations along Balboa Park’s famous El Prado pedestrian walkway are housed in Spanish-Renaissance style buildings constructed for the 1915 Exposition. It was one of the first times that this highly ornamented, flamboyant architectural style had ever been used in the United States. Also, the extensive landscaping that the 1915 Exposition brought to the Park has earned it the moniker, the “Garden Fair.”
The 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition, held to boost the local economy during the depression, added other cultural organizations, structures and landscaping. Many of the buildings around the Pan American Plaza at the southern end of the Park were created for the 1935 Exposition and present a fascinating architectural history of the Southwest, from earlier Aztec influences through Mexican pueblo style to art deco and arte moderne.
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MAJOR CULTURAL ATTRACTIONS The following institutions are independently managed cultural organizations in Balboa Park. The non-profit Balboa Park Cultural Partnership (BPCP), a coalition of the executive directors of Park museums, performing arts organizations and other cultural attractions, serves as the organized voice for the cultural institutions within Balboa Park. BPCP organizations collectively serve over 6 million visitors annually and are supported by 7,000 volunteers, 2,500 staff members and 500 San Diego leaders serving as trustees.
Centro Cultural de la Raza
The Centro is dedicated to creating, promoting, preserving and educating about Mexican, Indigenous, Chicano, and Latino art and culture and features rotating exhibits and performances with theater, dance, music, and film/video. The Centro offers educational tours and workshops by appointment; the resident company, Ballet Folklorico en Aztlan, features Sunday Zapateado presented by Target every 2nd Sunday; and Centro Mercado showcases visual artists selling their unique creations on the 3rd Sunday.
Hours: Tues.–Sun., noon–4:00 p.m.
Public information: (619) 235-6135, www.centroraza.com
Balboa Park’s House of Hospitality
The non-profit Balboa Park Central promotes Balboa Park through its programs, Balboa Park Visitors Center, Balboa Park Marketing, Passport to Balboa Park and the web site, www.balboapark.org. The Association is also responsible for the National Historic Landmark House of Hospitality building. The Balboa Park Visitors Center, a police storefront, offices of cultural and educational organizations, and a public restaurant—The Prado at Balboa Park—are housed in the House of Hospitality.
Hours: BP Visitors Center Daily 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Public information: (619) 239-0512, www.balboapark.org/house.html
House of Pacific Relations International Cottages
Housed in historic 1935 Exposition cottages, 31 groups promote multicultural goodwill and understanding through educational and cultural programs. Open Houses: noon–4:00 p.m. every Sunday, showcasing the national traditions from many lands. Lawn programs: 2:00 p.m. on Sundays from March through October, featuring music, dance, traditional costumes, arts, crafts, and ethnic foods. Annual special events: the annual Ethnic Food Fair, and the International Christmas Festival at Balboa Park December Nights.
Public information: (619) 234-0739, www.sdhpr.org
Japanese Friendship Garden
The Garden originated as a teahouse during the 1915–16 Panama-California Exposition and now lies on two acres near the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Along the Garden’s winding paths are a Zen garden for meditation, an exhibit house, koi pond, bonsai exhibit, ceremonial gate, and a Fujidana (wisteria arbor). Weekend classes are offered in sushi making, bonsai, calligraphy, and conversational Japanese.
Public information: (619) 232-2721, www.niwa.org
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Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater
Founded in the late 1940s, the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater is a longtime San Diego tradition for children. Puppet performances are presented throughout the year by a variety of troupes. The theater also provides a venue for its resident puppeteers, who work with marionettes, hand, rod, and shadow puppets. Special programs and workshops are offered. The theater is sponsored in part by the City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department.
Hours: Performances, Wed., Thurs. and Fri. at 10:00 and 11:30 a.m. and Sat. and Sun. at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 and 2:30 p.m. with extended hours during summer months.
Public information: (619) 544-9203, www.balboaparkpuppets.com
Mingei International Museum
Dedicated to the understanding and appreciation of art of people (mingei) from all cultures of the world, Mingei International Museum presents dynamic, changing exhibitions of traditional and contemporary folk art, craft, and design in modern, state-of-the-art gallery spaces. Whether drawn from its extensive holdings or featured as part of a major touring exhibition, the museum showcases the finest examples of creative expression from everyday artist craftsmen from a wide diversity of world cultural traditions.
Hours: Tues.–Sun. 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
Public information: (619) 239-0003, www.mingei.org
Museum of Photographic Arts
One of the few institutions in the country devoted to the photographic arts, the Museum of Photographic Arts houses more than 4,000 works, representing the entire history of photography, its aesthetic movements, and technological advancements. Illustrating the complex and varied history of the medium, the museum’s collection is particularly strong in modern and contemporary work, specifically social documentary photography and photojournalism. The museum is also home to a state-of-the-art movie theater.
Hours: Tues.–Sun. 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. (until 9:00 p.m. on Thurs. Memorial Day-Labor Day)
Public information: (619) 238-7559, www.mopa.org
San Diego History Center
The museum showcases the region’s unique, colorful history exhibiting artifacts, costumes, textiles, art, furniture, photographs and periodic traveling exhibitions detailing life and development of the local area. The Research Library contains extensive local historical resources and houses documents, maps, architectural drawings, books, oral history, as well as one of the largest photograph collections in the western U.S. with over 2.5 million images documenting local history.
Hours: Museum, Tues.–Sun. 10:00am–5:00pm
Public information: (619) 232-6203; www.sandiegohistory.org
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The Old Globe
The internationally acclaimed, Tony Award® –winning Old Globe is one of the most esteemed regional theaters in the country. The Globe boasts three unique venues: the historic Old Globe Theatre; the intimate Cassius Carter Centre Stage; and the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. Founded in 1935, the Globe produces 15 plays and musicals annuallyfrom the renowned Summer Shakespeare Festival to world-premiere productions that have gone on to Broadway.
Hours: Performances: Sun. Tue. Wed. 7:00 p.m.Thu. Fri. Sat. 8:00 p.m.
Sat. and Sun. 2:00 p.m. (except Shakespeare Festival productions in the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, which are Tue.-Sun. at 8:00 p.m.)
Box Office: Open Tues-Sun. at noon. Closes at last curtain Closed some holidays
Public information: (619) 23-GLOBE, www.TheOldGlobe.org
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
The Fleet is home to Southern California’s only IMAX® Dome Theater and 100+ hands-on science exhibits for all ages. Watch immersive giant-screen films and amazing planetarium shows on the IMAX Dome and experience seven galleries of fun, interactive exhibits. A 23-passenger motion simulator ride thrills visitors with journeys into exciting realms. Enjoy sandwiches, salads and healthful treats in Galileo’s Café.
Hours: Daily 9:30 a.m., closing times vary by season.
Public information: (619) 238-1233, www.rhfleet.org
San Diego Air and Space Museum
The Air and Space Museum covers five centuries of aviation history, demonstrating the remarkable progress of manned flight with more than 60 aircraft and space vehicles on display. The exclusive exhibit, Apollo 9 Has Landed, features the only Apollo Command Module flown in space west of the Rockies. The San Diego Air and Space Museum is housed in the Ford Motor Building built in 1935 for the California Pacific Exposition.
Hours: Daily 10:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Public information: (619) 234-8291 www.airandspaceemuseum.org
San Diego Art Institute (SDAI): Museum of the Living Artist
A new exhibition of works by San Diego artists opens every four to six weeks in this 10,000-square-foot gallery, dedicated to the advancement of the visual arts through outreach, education, and exhibition. Solo artist exhibitions are also featured. The David Fleet Young Artists Gallery showcases youth art from San Diego schools. The gallery store offers jewelry and gift items made by local artists.
Public information: (619) 236-0011, www.sandiego-art.org
San Diego Automotive Museum
The museum offers a nostalgic look at the icon of the 20th century—the automobile. The permanent collection contains more than 80 historic autos and motorcycles, including a 1948 Tucker and the world-famous Louie Mattar’s Fabulous $75,000 Car (a vehicle equipped for non-stop distance driving back in the 1950’s). Special exhibitions every two or three months feature other fine vehicles. The museum store offers a large selection of automotive-themed gifts. A research library is also available.
Hours: Daily 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Public information: (619) 231-2886, www.sdautomuseum.org
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San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum
The nation’s largest multi-sport museum boasts memorabilia reflecting San Diego’s sporting legacy. Visitors can call play-by-play for Tony Gwynn and Ted Williams in the state-of-the-art media center, follow the evolution of the surfboard, or soar with skateboard legend Tony Hawk. More than an archive of San Diego sports, this 70,000-square-foot facility on three levels is a center that encourages visitors to be participants as well as observers.
Hours: Daily 10:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Public information: (619) 234-2544, www.sdhoc.com
San Diego Junior Theatre
Established in 1948, San Diego Junior Theatre is the oldest youth theatre program in the United States. It boasts high-quality productions throughout the year and offers numerous educational and community programs, including classes in drama, voice, dance, and theatre production for children age three to eighteen. With shows ranging from Our Town to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Junior Theatre offers a memorable theatrical experience for audiences of all ages.
Public information: (619) 239-1311, www.juniortheatre.com
San Diego Model Railroad Museum
At 28,000 square feet, the museum is the world’s largest operating model railroad museum. This unique museum contains four enormous scale and model layouts, built by separate clubs, which depict railroads of the Southwest in O, HO, and N scales. In addition, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum features a Toy Train Gallery with an interactive Lionel layout for children and state-of-the-art theater lighting.
Public information: (619) 696-0199, www.sdmrm.org
The San Diego Museum of Art
As the region’s oldest and largest art museum, the San Diego Museum of Art’s renowned holdings include a fine selection of European old masters, 19th–20th –century American art, an encyclopedic Asian collection, and growing collections of contemporary and Latin American art. In addition, the museum presents major art exhibitions from around the world, as well as an extensive schedule of supporting cultural and educational programs.
Hours: Tue.–Sun. 10:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m. (until 9:00 p.m. on Thursdays during summer)
Public information: (619) 232-7931, www.sdmart.org
San Diego Museum of Man
Located beneath the ornate 200-foot California Tower, the San Diego Museum of Man is the city’s only museum devoted to anthropology. With its Spanish colonial and mission style architecture, the landmark building was originally constructed for the 1915–16 Panama-California Exposition. Today, a key focus of the museum is to create and display dynamic and educational anthropological exhibits about people and places throughout the Americas and around the world.
Hours: Daily 10:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Public information: (619) 239-2001, www.museumofman.org
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San Diego Natural History Museum
Founded by a handful of citizen-naturalists in 1874, the museum is an active research institution and is the oldest scientific institution in Southern California. The museum is dedicated to interpreting the natural world through research and education, offering local and international exhibitions and promoting understanding of the evolution and diversity of the Southern California-Baja California region. The museum also features giant-screen films and offers a wide selection of public programs for people of all ages.
Hours: Daily 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Public information: (619) 232-3821, www.sdnhm.org
San Diego Zoo
Home to more than 4,000 rare and endangered animals representing more than 800 species and subspecies, the San Diego Zoo is a world famous conservation organization where visitors view exotic animals in habitat environments. Guests may view rare giant pandas, cuddly looking koalas, reptiles of various shapes and sizes and many more interesting species.
Hours: Daily 9:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. with extended summer hours
Public information: (619) 231-1515, www.sandiegozoo.org
Spanish Village Art Center
Daily art demonstrations featuring contemporary fine arts and crafts directly from San Diego County's largest community of artists. Thirty-seven working artist studios/galleries host over two hundred independently juried local painters, sculptors, metalsmiths, jewelry designers, clay artists, gourd artists, photographers, printmakers, fiber artists, basket weavers, mixed-media artists, glass artists, and more. Enjoy the colorful flagstone patio filled with seasonal blooms, and unique shops housed under the historic Spanish-tile roofed buildings.
Hours: Mon.–Sun. 10:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Public information: (619) 233-9050, www.spanishvillageart.com
Spreckels Organ Pavilion
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.
Hours: Concerts, Sun. 2:00–3:00 p.m.; mid-June–Aug. International Summer Organ Festival Mon. 7:30 p.m.
Public information: (619) 702-8138, www.serve.com/sosorgan
Starlight Theatre and Starlight Bowl
Constructed for the 1935–1936 California-Pacific Exposition, Starlight Bowl is the home of the Starlight Theatre (San Diego Civic Light Opera Association), which performs during the months of July, August, and September. One of the oldest continuously producing musical theater companies in the United States, Starlight presented its first season in 1946 and has featured more than 1,000 productions of 120 musicals.
Public information: (619) 544-7800; www.starlighttheatre.org
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Timken Museum of Art
Considered one of the great small museums in the world, the Timken houses the world-class Putnam Foundation Collection of European old master paintings, American paintings, and Russian icons. Artists represented include Rembrandt, Rubens, Fragonard, Bierstadt, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, John Singleton Copley, and Eastman Johnson. The Timken’s modern, white marble building was designed by San Diego architect Frank Hope, Jr. The museum hosts special exhibitions and admission is always free.
Public information: (619) 239-5548 www.timkenmuseum.org
United Nations Building
The United Nations Building houses the United Nations Association of San Diego (UNA-SD), the Eleanor Roosevelt Global Classroom, and the International Gift Shop. In 1956, Eleanor Roosevelt requested that the San Diego City Council grant the newly formed UNA-SD the permanent use of the Park’s U.N. Building for educational and administrative purposes. The International Gift Shop provides financial support through the sale of unique world handicrafts including jewelry, books, toys, world music, as well as UNICEF cards and gifts.
Hours: Daily 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Public information: (619) 233-5044, www.unasd.org
Veterans Museum & Memorial Center
Located in the historic Old Navy Chapel, the museum preserves and honors the memory of men and women of the Armed Forces, Coast Guard, and Wartime Merchant Marine. The collection contains artifacts, documents, photographs, memorabilia, and artwork from the Civil War to the present. Changing exhibitions highlight San Diego veterans’ experiences and contributions throughout history.
Hours: Tue.–Sat. 9:30 a.m.–3:00 p.m.
Public information: (619) 239-2300, www.veteranmuseum.org
Housed in a colorfully painted former water tower, WorldBeat Center opened in Balboa Park in 1996. The Center is dedicated to promoting and preserving African, African-American, and other indigenous cultures of the world through art, music, dance, education, and technology. Classes in international dance and drumming are offered year round, along with concerts and lectures.
Public information: (619) 230-1190, www.worldbeatcenter.org
Gardens and Horticulture One of the most lushly planted urban parks in the world; Balboa Park is a horticultural paradise offering a magnificent backdrop for its many cultural attractions. The relaxing atmosphere created by the stately rows of palms, forested lawns, and ever-changing floral displays greatly enhances a visit to the Park. The City of San Diego’s Park and Recreation Department manages and maintains the grounds of this spectacular public resource.
There are currently about 15,000 trees in Balboa Park, of some 350 different species. The tallest trees are the eucalyptus and pines growing along Sixth Avenue, which range in height from 100-
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125 feet. The Park's signature tree is the Moreton Bay fig growing north of the Natural History
Museum. This tree, planted before 1915, is over 60 feet tall with a spread of 120 feet. The tree shares the state "champion" title with a fig in Santa Barbara—the two trees are the largest of the species in California.
Three centerpiece gardens—the award-winning Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden, the historic Botanical Building and the colorful Alcazar Garden—are counted among Balboa Park’s most cherished assets. Continually evolving, these horticultural landmarks provide colorful, fragrant, and serene natural environments for the more than twelve million visitors that flock to Balboa Park each year.
Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden
One of the most frequently visited gardens and a popular location for wedding ceremonies in the Park, the stunning Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden displays approximately 2,500 roses of nearly 200 varieties on a three-acre site full of fragrance, color, and beauty. Today’s garden, a designated All America Rose Selection (AARS) Display Garden, is in bloom from March through December, with the roses usually at their peak in April and May. Located across from the San Diego Natural History Museum, it is accessible by the Park Boulevard pedestrian bridge. It is open 365 days a year and free to the public.
The Balboa Park Botanical Building
The view of the Botanical Building with the Lily Pond in the foreground is one of the most photographed scenes in Balboa Park and a “must-see” destination in San Diego. Built for the 1915–16 Exposition, along with the adjacent Lily Pond, the historic building is one of the largest lath structures in the world. The Botanical Building plantings include over 2,100 permanent plants, featuring fascinating collections of cycads, ferns, orchids, other tropical plants, and palms. The Botanical Building also hosts some of the Park’s vibrant seasonal flower displays. It is open Friday through Wednesday, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (closed Thursdays and holidays).
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. This formal garden, bordered by boxwood hedges, is planted with 7,000 annuals for a vibrant display of color throughout the year. The garden has been reconstructed to replicate the 1935 design by San Diego architect Richard Requa. It is open free to the public 365 days a year.
BALBOA PARK AFTER DARK Balboa Park After Dark celebrates all that happens in the Park after 5:00 p.m. Most every evening, there is something exciting going on—from theater at The Old Globe to jazz programs at the San Diego Museum of Art to IMAX films at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. There are also lectures and unique classes like African drumming, cooking, drawing, and basket weaving—all in the nighttime beauty of Balboa Park. Look up Balboa Park After Dark information on www.balboapark.org.
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Balboa Park Visitors Center
Located in the historic House of Hospitality on El Prado walkway, the Balboa Park Visitors Center assists more than 500,000 Balboa Park visitors each year. Knowledgeable and friendly Visitors Center volunteers provide comprehensive information about Balboa Park and offer maps and a Balboa ParkGuide to What’s New brochure with timely information about exhibits, performances and tours.
Hours: Daily 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Public information: (619) 239-0512, www.balboapark.org
Balboa Park Tram
Balboa Park’s trams provide free access to museums and attractions in the Park. Visitors may park in the Inspiration Point parking lot located just off Park Boulevard and board at the Tram Central Arbor.
Hours: Daily from 8:30 am – 6:00 pm with extended summer hours.
DISCOUNTS TO PARK CULTURAL ATTRACTIONS
Passport to Balboa Park, San Diego's best cultural value, offers visitors the chance to experience 13 museums in the Park, with savings of more than 50% and the convenience of a one-time purchase. The regular Passport is valid for seven consecutive days, and includes one admission to each of the 13 attractions. The Zoo/Passport Combo includes the Passport to Balboa Park plus one-day deluxe admission at the San Diego Zoo, all for one low price.
Stay-for-the-Day pass - 5 for $35!
Choose any 5 of the 14 museums on the same day, for only $35!
FREE TOURS Free tours are offered throughout the week in Balboa Park. All tours meet and begin from the Balboa Park Visitors Center located in the historic House of Hospitality on El Prado walkway.
Architectural Heritage Tours(1st Wednesday each month)
Led by the Committee of 100, these tours are offered on the first Wednesday of each month at 9:30 a.m.
Offshoot Tours (Every Saturday)
Offered every Saturday by trained volunteers, the tours start at 10:00 a.m. for an easy-paced one-hour walk with rotating themes, including Park history and horticulture.
Ranger-led Tours (Every Tuesday and Sunday)
Balboa Park Rangers discuss the historical and botanical treasures of Balboa Park at 1:00 p.m. every Tuesday and Sunday.
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Balboa Park Marketing can provide additional information (phone 619-231-9193 and fax 619-231-9495). Internet visitors can access Balboa Park information by entering www.balboapark.org.