Sixth Ave. on the west, 28th St. on the east, Upas St. on the north, Russ Blvd. on the south, (619) 239-0512.
Balboa Park Visitors Center 1549 El Prado, 619-239-0512. Get oriented here. An assortment of free guided walking tours www.balboapark.org/visit/tours address the park's architectural heritage, history, and botanical treasures.
You'll need to spend several days or more to see everything in this magnificent 1,200-acre recreational wonderland. Larger than New York's Central Park and older than San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, Balboa Park is the largest museum complex west of the Mississippi and San Diego’s crown jewel.
In addition to the famous zoo, this fabulous park is also home to a host of fascinating museums, most of which are found along the Prado--a sort of Museum Row with lovely Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture. Note that most are closed on Monday, and all have a free admission day each month. To avoid getting museumed out, punctuate your gallery-going with garden-strolling. One of the park’s great free pleasures is hearing the central bell tower peal out the hour. If you want to see more than a few museums, look into the Passport to Balboa Park, which includes admission to 14 participating museums and is valid for a week. Otherwise, visiting more than a few museums can get quite expensive.
●Balboa Park Carousel Daily 11-5; Sept-May, Sat-Sun. $2. You can ride hand-carved animals on this 1910 merry-go-round (the cats are my personal favorite), and you can also still grab for the proverbial brass ring . . . which in this case wins you a free ride.
●Balboa Park Miniature Railroad Daily 11-6:30, Sept-May Sat-Sun 11-4:30. $2. Children especially enjoy riding this vintage train.
Botanical Building F-W 10-4. Free. This grand old building, measuring 250 feet long by 75 feet wide by 60 feet tall, was the largest wood lath structure in the world when it was built in 1915. It houses more than 2,100 tropical plants along with a changing display of seasonal flowers. Out front, the gorgeous reflecting pond filled with lilies, koi of all colors, crawfish, and turtles attracts kids like a magnet, and they get mighty excited when they spot a few ducks doing a dive-bomb landing in front of them.
●House of Pacific Relations Sun 12-4.
Interesting informal exhibits depict the traditions and customs of an assortment of foreign countries within this cluster of cottages.
Japanese Friendship Garden Daily 10-4:30. $6, 65+ $5, under 7 free. Free garden tours, usually on Thur, Sat, & Sun. Free Tea Ceremony demonstration on 1st Sat & 2nd Tu; to try the tea, $3. No pets. Originally built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, this garden symbolizes the friendship between San Diego and its sister city Yokohama in Japan. You can see an overview from the outside sidewalk at the Tea Pavilion. The sights in the relatively small garden—it contains a peaceful Zen stone garden, a crystal-clear koi pond filled with priceless fish, a display of old bonsai—are connected by a pleasant strolling path. Construction is under way for a large expansion in the canyon.
Just outside the entrance, the inexpensive and informal Tea Pavilion serves traditional Japanese green tea as well as herbal and specialty teas, along with a menu of sushi, noodles, rice bowls, and salads. Unusual imported foods, beverages, and gift items are also available for purchase.
●Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater In summer, W-Sun at 11, 1, & 2:30. $5, seniors $4. Younger children especially enjoy the shows presented here; summer only.
●Moreton Bay fig tree This immense tree was planted in preparation for the 1915 exposition.
●Old Globe Theatre Year-round. Shakespearean and other classical works are presented in this three-theater complex.
Palm Canyon Daily. Free. Don’t miss the chance to see 450 different kinds of palms together in one spot. An original group of Mexican fan palms date back to the early 1900s.
●Spanish Village Art Center Daily 11-4. In this warren of interesting craft shops, artists work in residence and demonstrate their skills.
●Spreckles Organ Pavilion Free concerts are presented on the world's largest outdoor pipe organ, which has 4,518 pipes and weighs nearly 100,000 pounds.
●Starlight Bowl June-Sept. This outdoor amphitheater is the setting for musicals, concerts, and plays--think The Sound of Music and Hello, Dolly!. It is directly under the flight path of the international airport, so actors have learned to pause when a plane flies over.
●street performers They entertain in El Prado, the central plaza area. Sun at 2.
●United Nations Building Daily 10-4:30. The United Nations Building houses the United Nations Association of San Diego, the Eleanor Roosevelt Global Classroom, and the International Gift Shop, which helps fund the building through sales of unique world handicrafts that includes jewelry, books, toys, and world music.
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images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers