The SAN DIEGAN self-guided tour
can start anywhere in the park, but a
fascinating beginning is the San Diego
Natural History Museum (16) (619-
232-3821) [sdnhm.org]. It's an essential
Balboa Park experience with its spectacular
exhibits. Each year, the museum features
several blockbuster traveling exhibitions
in addition to its permanent
Popular 2013 exhibits include On the Trail of Ansel Adams, Chocolate and Dr. Entomo's Palace of Exotic Wonders.
The museum's permanent exhibition
is Fossil Mysteries, which takes you
on a journey through 75 million years
into Southern California's rich history.
View and touch fossils of dinosaurs,
sharks, mastodons, and more at this
interactive exhibition. The exhibit is presented
against a backdrop of 12 massive
murals depicting color ful prehistoric
worlds by award-winning paleontological
artist William Stout.
One of Balboa Park's best-kept secrets
is the museum's giant 3-D theater. All
films are included in the price of admission
and play several times daily.
The museum is open daily 10 a.m.-5
p.m. except Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Admission is ($17) adults, ($15)
seniors, ($12) military and students with
ID, ($11) for children 3-12, children 2
and under are admitted free.
With the only rooftop deck in Balboa
Park, the San Diego Natural History
Museum is a top pick for special
events, parties and weddings (619-232-3821 ext. 182).
In addition to educational and entertaining
exhibitions and films, the museum
of fers more than 300 nature-related
experiences. If your trip to the museum
piqued your interest in the world around
you, try one of their free hikes around
the county or sign up for a whale watching
trip. Credit cards: AE, MC, VISA.
Across from the Balboa Park fountain is the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center (11) (619-238-1233). This large 93,505-sq. ft. science center showcases more than 100 interactive attractions. Plus, they offer planetarium shows and several films on Southern California's only Giant Dome Theater that surrounds visitors, creating a “you-are-there” experience. Their current 2013 exhibits include Explor-O-Rama: Get Your Hands On Science, Great Balls of Fire: Comets, Meteors, Asteroids and Origins of Life. Admission ($11.75) for adults; seniors and children 3-12 years are ($9.75). IMAX films are extra. They open daily at 10 a.m. and close Mon.-Thurs. at 5 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 7 p.m., Sun. 6 p.m. with extended summer hours.
North of the Natural History Museum
is the Moreton Bay fig tree (4),
which was planted prior to the 1915
Panama-California Exposition. This tree
stands over 78 feet tall and is more than
120 feet wide.
Just past the Moreton Bay fig tree is
one of Balboa Park's most beloved treasures.
It's the Spanish Village Art Center (3) (619-233-9050). Admission is free to the 37 studios
and five guild galleries that showcase
the best local artists in San Diego. This
historic village is comprised of charming
cottages centered around a colorful courtyard,
which was built to resemble a quaint
Spanish village in 1935 for the California
Pacific International Exposition.
Wander from gallery to gallery and
marvel at the work of more than 200
artists. You may even see some of them
at work. This is a perfect place to purchase
high quality ar t at reasonable
prices for your home or office. And be
sure to admire their handcrafted pottery,
sculpture, blown glassware, paintings
and much more! Each gallery in the village
offers something different.
A great place to find original artwork
at reasonable prices is at Gallery 23,
which houses the Southwestern Artists'
Association (3) (619-232-3522). The
association maintains an ever-evolving
exhibit of original paintings every month
from their juried membership of more
than 50 local artists! Their selection of
San Diego landscape paintings is so captivating
that the of fice of the SAN
DIEGAN is decorated with many pieces
from Gallery 23.
The village is open daily 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
(closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and
New Year's). If you have ever wanted to sit
behind a potter's wheel, learn to blow
glass or how to hold a paint brush, the
Spanish Village offers art classes for
adults and children. Also, demonstrations
and events take place throughout the year
including big patio art shows in the fall.
Visit the annual calendar of events at [san
diegan.com] for exact dates and times.
One of the most endearing Balboa
Park traditions, which has fascinated
children of all ages for decades, is the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad (1).
Children and adults just love it! Admission
is ($3) and it's open school holidays
and Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m., and in
the summer till 6:30 p.m.
Next door is the historic Balboa
Park Carousel (2) circa 1910. It's one
of the few carousels in the United States
that offers a free ride if you catch the
brass ring. Admission is ($2) and it is
open Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Your next destination should be El
Prado. Here you will find the
lion's share of museums and galleries. A
must-see attraction is at the Casa de
Balboa Building (13). It is home to the
largest permanent operating model railroad
exhibit in North America with 28,000
sq. ft. of exhibit space. San Diego
Model Railroad Museum (14) (619-696-
0199) [sdmrm.org] features interactive
toy trains, Lionel-style electric trains and a
20-scale mile long rail crossing of the
Southern Sierra Nevada mountain range.
It is the only accredited railroad museum
in the entire United States.
Always expanding and always under
construction are new exhibits that are
created by local railroad clubs. Also fascinating
is the Toy Train Gallery, which
is home to an impressive exhibit of an
imaginary town with multiple train lines.
The town changes with the seasons;
look for autumn colors in the fall and
Christmas lights in the winter. Kids can
even operate some of the trains with the
push of a button!
Make sure not to miss a visit to the
gift shop, which is filled with a fabulous
array of railroad memorabilia for the
railroad lover in your life. Their selection
of vintage railroad posters is
especially noteworthy. And if you are a
history buff, their Erwin Welsch Railroad
Research Library is a must.
Big attractions here are their
themed birthday parties and special
events for kids of all ages. Contact Ana
Penagos (619-696 -0199).
The museum and gift shop are open
Tues.-Fri., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sat.-Sun.
till 5 p.m. Admission is ($8) for adults,
($6) for seniors 65 and older, ($3) for
students with ID, ($4) for active military
with ID, and free for children under 14
years and under. Admission includes
access to their railroad history library.
Credit cards: AE, DISC, MC, VISA.
Also in the Casa de Balboa building is
without a doubt one of the most interesting
museums in San Diego. It's the San
Diego History Center (14) (619-
232-6203) [sandiegohistory.org]. The
Society is celebrating its 83rd year of
preserving San Diego's rich history. In
addition to exhibits, the museum offers
lectures, workshops and educational programs.
It's open Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5
p.m. and closed Thanksgiving, Christmas
and New Year's Day. Admission is
($6) for adults, ($4) for seniors, students
and military, and ($3) for children ages
6-17. And on the second Tues. of every
month, admission is free to San Diego
residents with proof of residency.
Your next discovery should be the Museum of Photographic Arts (14) (619-238-7559) [mopa.org] on the west
end of the Casa de Balboa building. The
exhibits change three times a year and
present captivating photographic works
of art by well-known and up-and-coming
photographers worldwide. It's open
Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and closed
Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission
is ($8) for adults and ($6) for seniors,
retired military and ($5) for students
with I.D. Admission is free to active military.
Next door to the west is the House
of Hospitality (13), which is home to
the Visitor's Center (13) and the
award-winning The Prado Restaurant
at Balboa Park (13) (619-557-9441). The Prado also includes
a popular cocktail lounge. Their unique
menu and charming setting make it a
great place to dine.
Camera buffs never tire of taking photographs
of the Lily Pond (9), which is
one of the most photographed sites in
the park. It was built in 1915.
Just behind the Lily Pond is the Botanical Building (17), (619-239-
0512) [balboapark.org] which contains
more than 2,100 permanent tropical
plants including an outstanding fern and
orchid collection. The fine old wood lath
structure is one of the largest of its
kind in the world. It's open Fri.-Wed. 10
a.m.-4 p.m. Closed city holidays and
Thursdays. Admission is free.
Equally impressive is the San Diego
Botanic Garden located just 30 minutes
north of Balboa Park in Encinitas at
230 Quail Gardens Dr. (760-436-3036). This hidden treasure
was once a private estate garden and is
now open to the public as a plant conser
vator y and tranquil retreat. Use
their discount coupon
for $2 off adult admission and $1
off a child admission up to 4 persons.
The Timken Museum of Art (12) (619-239-5548) [timkenmuseum.org] is
considered the most critically acclaimed
collection of European Masters, 19th
century American paintings and Russian
icons. Their helpful audio tour guides
you through an extraordinary collection
of French, Italian and Flemish paintings,
including works by Rembrandt and
Rubens. Admission is free, and the
audio tour is ($3). Hours are Tues.-Sat.
10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and Sun. 1:30 p.m.-4:30
p.m. The museum is closed Mondays
and major holidays.
The historic San Diego Museum of
Art(10) (619-232-7931) [sdmart.org] is
the first, largest and most impressive art
institution in the county. Its world
renowned collections consist of 14,000
art pieces dating as far back as 1500B.C.
In addition, the museum has garnered
international recognition for organizing
and hosting major exhibitions featuring
ar t from throughout the world. The
museum is open Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5
p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. Adults ($12),
seniors and military with ID ($9), students
($8), children 6-17 ($4.50).
While browsing through the park, you
will undoubtedly hear the majestic
sounds of the bells from the 198-foot California Tower (7) ringing every 15
The California Tower, which is
in the San
Diego Museum of Man (7), (619-239-2001),
is considered to be one of the finest
examples of Spanish-style architecture in
the United States. The museum features
fascinating exhibits on human evolution,
Egyptian ar tifacts, Kumeyaay culture
and Mayan monuments.
Their popular 2013 exhibits include access/ABILITY: Explore the Ability in Disability, From the Vault: Rare Artifacts with Fascinating Stories, Instruments of Torture and Children's Discovery Center. The museum is open daily 10 a.m.-
4:30 p.m. except Thanksgiving and
Christmas. Admission is ($12.50) for
adults, ($10) for seniors, active military
with I.D. ($10), students and youth ages
13-17 ($8), and for children ages 3-12
Tucked behind the Museum of Man is
one of the country's leading regional
theater complexes and one of California's
oldest professional theater organizations.
It's the world renowned, Tony Awardwinning The Old Globe (6) (619-234-
5623), which features
15 plays and more than 500 performances
each year. The complex comprises three
theaters—The Old Globe Theatre, The
Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre and the
Lowell Davies Festival Theatre.
Every summer, theatergoers flock to
their Summer Shakespeare Festival. The
festival runs June-Sept. and showcases
two of the master playwright's works
performed under the stars.
Southeast of The Old Globe in the
historic House of Charm is Mingei
International Museum (8) (619-239-
0003), which has been a big hit in San
Diego for over 30 years. Here you'll find
Southern California's largest and richest
collection of mingei, which is art from
all eras and cultures of the world. Their
permanent collection consists of more
than 20,000 objects from 141 countries.
The museum features dynamic changing
exhibits of historic and contemporary
folk art, craft and design. The museum
is open Tues.- Sun., 10 a.m.- 4 p.m.
Admission is ($8) adults, ($5) seniors,
($5) youth ages 6 -17, students and
active military with ID.
To appreciate the works of more of
San Diego's artists, visit the Museum
of the Living Artist at the San Diego Art
Institute (8) at 1439 El Prado (619-
236 -0011) [sandiego-ar t.org], in the
House of Charm. Ever y four to six
weeks a new exhibition is presented
showcasing the contemporary works of
local and regional artists.
Admission is ($3) for adults, ($2) for
seniors, students and military with ID,
and children 12 and under are free.
Open Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun.
noon-4 p.m. and closed Mondays.
In the heart of Balboa Park, next door
to the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, is one
of the most beautiful attractions in the
park. It's the Japanese Friendship Garden (28) (619-232-2721). It is an
idyllic retreat, radiating serenity, simplicity
and beauty. View a Zen Rock Garden
from a meditation room in the Exhibit
House, which also features Japanese
arts and crafts. Relax on the terrace
next to a restful koi pond and its soothing
water fall. The garden is truly a
treasure you'll want to experience. In
fact, it has become a popular setting for
weddings and other special events. The
Fujidana (wisteria arbor) is a nice outdoor
reception area that can
accommodate up to 200 people.
Another attractive feature of the
garden is its educational programs. They
offer classes and demonstrations where
you'll learn the secrets of bonsai or
origami. It also hosts a traditional Japanese
Tea Ceremony, every Tuesday of
each month and at 12:30 p.m. the first
Saturday of each month starting in September
The garden is undergoing expansion,
which will extend it to its full 11 acres.
The expansion includes a cherry tree
grove, amphitheater, cascading waterfall,
tea houses, and a tea and herb garden.
They will also offer additional educational
The garden is open Labor Day through
Memorial Day, Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.-4
p.m. Admission is ($4) for adults; ($3)
for seniors, students and military with
I.D.B alboa Park is also home to the
second largest outdoor pipe organ in the
world, the Spreckels Organ Pavilion
(18) (619-702-8138) [sosorgan.org]. It
was first played here in Balboa Park in
1915 and its music resonates throughout
the park. Best of all, organ concerts are
free. Per formances are held every
Sunday at 2 p.m., rain or shine. Don't
miss the annual organ festival on Mondays
at 7:30 p.m. from June 25 to August
One of the most popular museums in Balboa Park is the San Diego Automotive Museum. Since the museum is at the far south end of the park, it's a good idea to ride the free park tram that constantly circles from El Prado to the Air and Space Museum. There is also ample parking here. Adjacent to the Air and Space Museum, the Automotive Museum features rotating theme shows that display significant rare and exotic cars and motorcycles, and vehichles reflecting the history of the automobile. Enjoy the classics of bygone eras as you stroll through the roys of cars that are all restored to flittering splendor. Don't forget to browse through their museum gift shop. Their latest exhibits include the Barn Finds, Harley-Davidson, Lowrider Legends and Show Stoppers.
Don't miss Balboa Park's fascinating
aeronautical museum. It's the San Diego
Air and Space Museum (25) (619-
which is located in the historic Ford
Building (25). The building is directly
under the flight path of aircraft bound
for nearby Lindbergh Field. You can
hear these massive jetliners overhead as
you browse this astounding collection of
This huge museum displays famous
aircrafts, engines, spacecraft and aviation
ar tifacts from the dawn of aviation
through the space age. Also here is the
International Aerospace Hall of
Fame (25), which honors heroes of aviation
and aerospace history.
The Air and Space Museum’s newest exhibits are the
highly acclaimed must-see Atlas Rocket Exhibit, the Museum is proud to showcase an exciting new exhibit that tells the story of the Atlas rocket series from the late 1950s to the present using both graphics and videos. Other exhibits include the Centennial of Naval Aviation Exhibit and the Kid's Aviation Action Hangar.
There are several new editions to
making a visit to the San Diego Air and
Space Museum even more fun. Open
select days from 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. is the Flight Path Grill ($.50-$8) [flightpath
grill.com] offers hungry museum visitors
great cheeseburgers and sandwiches,
pizzas and a tasty Caesar salad with beverages.
They even have specials and if
you go online you can download a
coupon for a free cookie with a combo
purchase. Also, check online for their
schedule of days open. Visiting this
museum just got a lot more fun.
Here too is the new Kids Aviation
Action Hangar. This “kids only” area has
an abundance of attractions for kids of
all ages from preschoolers with coloring
books and magnetic toys to a flight simulator
experience for older kids in a real
wind tunnel. A visit to the Kids Aviation
Action Hangar is included in the price of
Also action packed is the newest fun
packed simulators including the sleek
squadron of indoor full-motion multi-role
aircraft rides. They do sky loops and
screaming dives as well as aerial combat
turns. This is the ride every dare devil
will want to ride. But you must be a
least 44 inches in height to climb aboard.
If you're not, you know you'll be back
when you are the minimum height.
The museum is open 10 a.m.-4:30
p.m. daily, with the last admission at 4
p.m. Extended summer hours till 5:30
p.m. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas
Admission to the museum and
the special exhibit is ($24) for adults
12 and over; ($21) for seniors, students
and retired military with ID; ($12) youth
ages 3-11; children 2 and under are
admitted free. Active duty military
($6.50); adult members of the SDASM
($6); and SDASM youth members ($4).
Admission to the museum only is
($17.50) adults 12 and over; ($14.50)
seniors, students and retired military
with ID; ($7) youth ages 3-11; children
2 and under are admitted free. Active
military with ID are admitted free. Be
sure to use their $4 off adult admission
coupons in this book.
Banquets and special occasions including
reunions, weddings and conventions
are unforgettable under their canopy of
historical aircraft. Contact Cassandra
Saxton and Melissa Paris (619-234-8291).
Aviation enthusiasts should also visit The Flying Leatherneck Aviation
Museum on Miramar Road (858-693-1723). Admission is free.
A tour of Balboa Park would not be
complete without visiting the Veterans
Museum & Memorial Center (31)
located in the former chapel of the
Naval Hospital. This museum houses
military artifacts and memorabilia from
the Civil War to the present. Impressive
murals of Pearl Harbor and significant
historical military events adorn the
A touching tribute to members of the
armed forces is their beautiful Veterans
Memorial Garden. Divided into three
sections, it honors those who served “in
the air, on land and at sea” with a walkway
of flags, an amphitheater, fountain
and a B-24 replica.
The museum is open Tues.-Sun. 10
a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is ($5) for adults,
($4) veterans and seniors, ($2) for students
wth ID, and is free to children 12
and under and military and their dependents
with ID. Use their online coupon for a 2 for 1 discount on