This blog post was updated on September 18, 2018.

Family Travel: Exploring San Diego’s Balboa Park, IMG Cred: Katie Bodell

Take a ‘Crawl’ Through Balboa Park!


Simply put, Balboa Park is one of my favorite places in the world.  I live only a few hours away from San Diego and have made an almost yearly trek to Balboa Park to enjoy the cultural, architectural, and even botanical features of the park.  I have pictures of my kiddos ranging from newborn babies to running amuck school-aged-kids in the park’s grounds.  To me, the park is a great way to connect with art, culture, history, and architecture in a beautiful setting that gets you away from the hustle and bustle of California roads, downtowns and city life.  Take a stroll with me through Balboa Park; I know you will love it.

Balboa Park’s history began in 1868 when insightful city leaders set aside 1400 acres for the then called “City Park.”  The park’s true identity really took root in 1915 as it hosted the Panama-California Exposition, commemorating the opening of the Panama Canal.  The Spanish architecture that beautifully adorns the grounds of the park, many of the numerous museums, and most of the art organizations were all created for the exposition.  Interestingly, only a handful of these buildings and structures were designed for permanent use, so the majority of the buildings, made of wood and plaster, have had to be completely reconstructed to stand the test of time.  A second World’s Fair, the 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition, added more architecture including the Palisades area, the Old Globe Theater, and The House of Hospitality.

The park, the nation’s largest urban cultural park, is currently home to 15 major museums, numerous beautiful gardens, indoor and outdoor performing arts venues, and even the San Diego Zoo.  There are plenty of kid-friendly museum options within the grounds including the San Diego Air & Space Museum, a family-friendly favorite that houses a sprawling collection of aircraft,  The San Diego Museum of Art, for budding artists in tow, the Rueben H. Fleet Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum for those eager and ready to learn.

Don’t count out the gardens.  My girls love exploring the numerous gardens throughout the park.  A favorite spot is the Botanical Building and the beautiful Lily Pond out front.  We have spent hours here.  Really.  After we’ve stared at the frogs and turtles in the pond for a sufficient amount of time, we walk over to the Spreckels Organ Pavillion.  Catch the free organ concerts on Sundays or just hop on stage and make yourself the star of your own show.

If you do happen to visit on a Sunday, you are in for a real treat.  Head to the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, which “come alive” on Sundays from noon-4 p.m.  Stroll through the cottages as you explore the traditions, art, crafts, music, dance, and FOOD from 32 different cultures!  It is an amazing way to immerse yourself in a variety of cultures at once.

In case your little ones get antsy, you can take advantage of the numerous hiking trails, carousel, mini-railroad, puppet theater, and of course the San Diego Zoo.  You’ll typically find our family getting out some energy while climbing on top of the mosaic dragon sculpture outside the Mingei International Museum on the Plaza de Panama.

Be sure to stop by the visitor’s center for helpful tips and information; they have a kid-friendly park guide that features activities and scavenger hunts just perfect for visiting families.

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IMG Cred: Katie Bodell

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