Balboa Park – San Diego’s Crown Jewel

Balboa Park’s inception was in 1868 when land was set aside for a city park.  A master plan was created in the early 1900s when taxes were levied leading to water systems and roads being built. To further promote San Diego’s commercial possibilities as the first US port of call for ships transiting the Panama Canal, city leaders organized the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.  It was then that City Park was renamed Balboa Park after the explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa.  Almost four million people attended the Expo and it was such a hit that it was held over through 1916. During the two world wars, it was utilized for military purposes, e.g., training, hospitals and barracks, but later reverted to public use.  

Today, Balboa Park is considered by many to be the “Crown Jewel” of San Diego.  Its 1,200 acres are home to 15 museums, the Tony Award winning Old Globe Theater, other art venues, the world famous San Diego Zoo, dozens of gardens, recreation and play areas, shops, and restaurants.

Here are a few suggestions and comments for two full days in Balboa Park.  

Day One:

1. Museums are free Tuesdays for San Diego city and county residents.  Check out two websites for up to date information, discounts, specials and daily activities: and 

The SD Museum Council is the umbrella organization for over 45 regional attractions. For more information, go to

2.  Start your day with a free ranger-led exploration of the park on Tuesdays and Sundays. Other tours can be found at

3. Don’t miss the Fleet Science Center and IMAX movie theater. Check out show times, etc., at

4. Stroll over to the Spanish Village Art Center, Its colorful tiles lead you to over 30 local artists’ studios and galleries, featuring an amazing array of fine arts and crafts for sale.

5. Finish up at the San Diego Museum of Art,  It is the oldest and largest art museum in the area. 

One last word of advice…download the Balboa Park free app at the iTunes store or Google Play.

Day Two:

The San Diego Zoo grew out of exotic animal exhibitions left behind after the 1915 Panama California Exposition in Balboa Park.  In 1921, 100 acres were permanently designated for the zoo.  Since that time it has become home to more than 3,500 animals featuring more than 650 species and sub-species.  The zoo is a pioneer in open air, cage-less habitats.  With over 4 million visitors yearly, it is the most visited zoo in the United States and a worldwide destination. 

Plan ahead for your visit by checking out; also download their app.  Make sure to take the guided bus tour and Skyfari Aerial Tram for an overview and then start walking and wandering. 

Let’s go!

Howard Hian

Thanks to various organizations and online sites for information, photos, logos, etc.


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