Content originally written for the Let’s Go: USA & Canada Guide by our researcher-writer, Graham Bishai.
Just adjacent to the center of downtown San Diego is an enormous public treasure trove: Balboa Park. Filled with almost every museum in the city, plus the notoriously cool zoo, there is no shortage of exploration for you here. Here’s a few things to definitely consider hitting when you go.
You could easily miss it if you weren’t looking, so keep your eyes peeled! The Spanish Art Village, a courtyard filled with artists’ studios and a coffee shop, is everything you need in your life. Its concrete pavers are painted all kinds of colors, and lights are strung up from trees, a finishing touch to this already-perfect place. Peek around in the village, see artists at work, and see the fruits of their work come to life.
Perhaps the most famous attraction of them all in this urban natural wonderland is the majestic San Diego Zoo, home to more species than you could name, and widely renowned as one of the best zoos in the world. Stroll through the zoo for the animals, the attractions, (but mostly for the pandas).
Many of San Diego’s best museums are baked into Balboa, too, featuring everything from art to aviation. Head to the Air and Space Museum, get up close with fighter jets, and learn about the world of flying. At the Museum of Man, learn what makes us human as you peruse anthropological exhibits that grapple with that very question. The same question is just as pertinent at the San Diego Museum of Art, as you explore its collection ranging between continents and centuries, or at the Museum of Photographic Arts, where you can see how cameras have captured the human race and told its stories. These are just a few of the several museums Balboa Park has to offer.
Once all that heavy museum thinking gets to you, take your thoughts outside to the Alcazar Garden. This Spanish-inspired outdoor garden has extensive landscaped flowers and plants, and gorgeous fountains ornamented by Moorish tiles. It is nothing short of magical, with palm trees and the California Tower in the background. Plant lovers should not stop here, though. The Botanical Building features over 2100 plants, and its captivating architecture sitting behind a lily pond is one of the most photographed spots in San Diego.
This is really just the beginning, Things like the largest outdoor pipe organ, one of the world’s largest collections of beads and beaded objects, and the only GPS satellite on display in the world make Balboa Park home to some pretty rad and eclectic things. So, start exploring!
Graham left behind the stressed-out chaos of Cambridge for the laid back life on the West Coast. A refreshing change of pace, he assumed, until the line for coffee on his first morning took 2 mins longer than he’s used to, and the Northeast nasty jumped out. Starting in Vancouver, Graham meandered south, toning his calves being a pedestrian on San Francisco’s hills and by navigating the monstrosity that is Los Angeles using just his feet and public transit (only resorting to Uber twice!) Graham’s love for the West Coast life only increased as he sat by the Puget Sound in Seattle, sipped kombucha in the crunchy cafes of Portland, climbed into a waterfall in Yosemite and stayed in an abandoned opera house in Death Valley. By the time he hit upper 80s sun of San Diego, buff calves and sun tanned, the words “West Coast, Best Coast,” almost slipped out of his mouth. Identity crisis looming, he figured it was time to go home.