San Diego’s Balboa Park: A Must Visit Free Thing to do

Probably one of the most well known attractions in San Diego is Balboa Park. This is definitely a must see on your list of things to do in the city and it’s only a couple of minutes from downtown. An urban cultural oasis that sits on 1,200 acres is popular with locals and tourists.

It’s home to the famous San Diego Zoo, Spanish-Renaissance style buildings, more than 16 museums, multiple performing arts venues, gardens, trails and so much more! The park is free to visit and family friendly too. You really could spend multiple days exploring this beautiful park. As it turns out we had just one day on this trip, but all the more reason for us to come back!

While in San Diego on our Pet Sitting Adventure we enjoyed lovely views and tasted lovely wine. In this article we finally get to do some exploring of San Diego’s Balboa Park.

Parking and How To Get Around Balboa Park

While doing our research we were pleasantly surprised that parking is free. We went on a Monday which wasn’t as busy and found parking right away in the Pan American Plaza. There is a lot of parking in and around Balboa Park but keep in mind it gets busy weekends and during special events. 

One of the best ways to get around the park is to hop on a bright green tram. These are also free and stop at 3 major parking lots. The trams make a loop around the park and will get you to within a 10 minute walk to most of the attractions inside Balboa Park. 

If you’re a little bit more adventurous you can rent an electric scooter and see the sights that way. 

Museum of Us © Joel Hartz

What to See and Do in Balboa Park

With more than 16 museums there really is something for everyone in Balboa Park. Add in the multiple art venues, gardens and outdoor attractions you have a full day of sightseeing. Here are just a couple of highlights you can see and do at Balboa Park.

Botanical Building and Lily Pond © Joel Hartz
Spreckels Organ Pavilion © Joel Hartz
  • Spreckels Organ Pavilion: Donated in 1914 by John D. and Adolph Spreckels. Free concerts are held every Sunday at 2pm for one hour rain or shine. It really is as grand as it looks!
  • The Old Globe: Modeled after Shakespeare’s Old Globe in London and built in 1935. Annually produces 15 mainstage productions. 
  • San Diego Natural History Museum (the NAT): Nature enthusiasts will be impressed with 5 floors and spanning 75 million years from dinosaurs to present day. Open Monday-Sunday 10AM-4PM. Closed Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Alcazar gardens © Joel Hartz
  • Alcazar Garden: The design is patterned after the gardens of Alcazar Castle in Seville, Spain and is vibrant and beautiful all year. 
  • Cabrillo Bridge: Built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, 1,500 feet long and nearly 125 feet high. 

TIP: The Comic-Con Museum: Coming soon! Currently under renovation converting the 1935 Federal building into a museum that will promote the appreciation of comics and popular arts. 

Where Can I Eat or Drink in Balboa Park?

  • The Prado at Balboa Park: Located in the House of Hospitality serving lunch and dinner. Closed on Mondays. Reservations are recommended.
  • Daniel’s Coffee: Located at the Spanish Village Art Center. Coffee, teas & pastries. Closed on Mondays. 

Most of the museums range from $13-$22. The Museum of Photographic Arts and The Institute of Contemporary Art  is a pay what you wish. The Timken Museum of Art is also free and will be opening back up in 2022.

We would highly recommend spending the day at Balboa Park. Michelle has been multiple times with her family and never gets tired of visiting! It is free to walk around and take in the sights and makes a great outing and won’t cost you a dime. Perfect if you’re on a budget.

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And a few San Diego Experiences you can Book

By Sea

  1. San Diego Premier Dinner Cruise
  2. San Diego Whale Watching Cruise
  3. Luxury Sunset Sail Experience on San Diego Bay – Small Group

By Land

  1. Brothels, Bites and Booze: A Culinary Tour of San Diego’s Questionable Past
  2. San Diego Scenic Tour
  3. San Diego Zoo Safari Park Tram Tour
  4. Luxury Private Wine Tasting Tour to Guadalupe Valley from San Diego

Save more: No cancellation fees on bookings.

In the meantime if you find yourself there drop a comment to let us know what is your favorite thing about Balboa park. 

Next up We Visit the San Diego Maritime Museum!

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Happy Wandering!

Joel and Michelle