Balboa Park, sprawling over 1,200 acres of canyons and hilltops just east of Downtown, is the largest urban cultural park in the country with more than a dozen museums, two live theaters and the award-winning San Diego Zoo. Many of the best things to do in San Diego are clustered in this vibrant area. We're forever indebted to naturalist Kate Sessions, known now as "the Mother of Balboa Park," who planted pine, palm and eucalyptus groves in the park's rugged canyons and filled hilltops with flowering jacarandas, birds of paradise and tropical gardens. Her landscapes endured through two 20th-century expositions, one devoted to international culture and the other to raunchier attractions including a nudist colony and Sally Rand's fan dancers, and the gardens remain among the park's finest free attractions. We treasure the Alacazar Garden with its pretty tiled benches and fountains, and the wood-lath Botanical Building filled with towering tree ferns and delicate orchids. The Lily Pond outside the building was used as a pool for injured vets when the U.S. Navy took over the park during World War II. The pond, restored and filled with colorful lilies and koi, is surrounded by lawns perfect for al fresco lunches (BYO to avoid pricey park restaurants). Ornate Spanish-Colonial palaces constructed for the expositions line the El Prado pedestrian promenade; the San Diego Museum of Art and San Diego Museum of Man are especially worth visiting. Located on lawns behind the museums, The Old Globe Theater has sent several new plays to Broadway, including “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “The Full Monty,” and it’s a joy to watch “King Lear,” “A Midsummer Night's Dream” and other classics during the theater's outdoor summer Shakespeare festival. Don't miss the free Sunday afternoon concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, where the resident organist performs on one of the world's largest outdoor pipe organs.
Attractions & Landmarks, Animal Life, Parks, Gardens & Cemeteries, Sports and the Outdoors