A national historic landmark and Southern California treasure covering some 1,200 acres, San Diego’s sprawling Balboa Park has been serving up good fun for more than 150 years, to residents and tourists alike. 


Balboa Park


Should you visit Balboa Park?

A resounding yes. Any trip to San Diego should include a day spent exploring as much of Balboa Park as humanly possible—though there are so many things to see and do you might not know where to start.

Consider this your cheat sheet to planning the perfect day. Here’s our guide to the best things to do in Balboa Park, no matter your taste, schedule, or budget.



Sign up for a Segway tour to see the highlights

This San Diego: Balboa Park and Downtown Segway Tour will introduce you to some of the city’s top sightseeing spots in less than three hours. 

Along the way, you’ll have the chance to take in San Diego’s skyscrapers and historic architecture, as well as the many green spaces and parks across the city. Finally, you’ll head to Balboa Park, where you’ll have the chance to explore such historic sites as Founder’s Plaza, the Spreckles Organ Pavilion, the San Diego Museum of Natural History, Spanish Village Arts Center, the Inez Parker Memorial Rose Garden, and Little Italy.


Museum-hop your way around Balboa Park

Showcasing the works of old European masters and contemporary and modern artists alike, Balboa Park’s museums are one of its major attractions. Head to the San Diego Museum of Art to view some stellar South Asian paintings, or to the Institute of Contemporary Art for envelope-pushing exhibitions. (Don’t miss the sculpture garden near SDMA’s west wing.) 

For a special treat, pay a visit to the Timken Museum of Art, where you can view the only painting by Rembrandt on public display in San Diego. Other interesting museums in the park include the contemporary-photography Museum of Photographic Arts and the stellar Centro Cultural de la Raza, which showcases Mexican, Chicano, Latino, and Indigenous art and culture. 

You’ll also find a wealth of cultural institutions exploring natural history, science, and the history of transportation and aviation, via interactive exhibits at the San Diego Natural History Museum, the Fleet Science Center, the San Diego Automotive Museum, and the San Diego Air & Space Museum, respectively. On the quirkier side, check out the small-scale trains at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. 

The entry fees here can add up fast, so if you’re planning on hitting multiple Balboa Park museums, consider springing for the Balboa Park Explorer Pass. (More on that later.)


BalboaVisit Balboa Park’s green spaces to take a breather

Within Balboa Park, you can discover gorgeous gardens with exotic plants and interesting exhibitions on horticulture at spots such as Alcazar Garden, the Botanical Building, and the Parker Memorial Rose Garden. Don’t miss the Japanese Friendship Garden with its fabulous tea pavilion.

Then, of course, there are the fantastic recreational areas. Balboa Park offers more than 56 miles of gorgeous hiking trails, some with fantastic views and wildlife, as well as sports fields, picnic areas, and a golf course. (And to see even more wildlife, there’s always the stellar San Diego Zoo.)


Break a sweat in Balboa Park

The park’s activity center has spaces for games like lawn bowling, table tennis, badminton, volleyball, and other indoor sports. You’ll also find a tennis club with 25 hard courts, alongside an impressive stadium-style tennis court for matches.

The Morley Field Sports Complex houses the golf course and tennis club, and it also has a senior center, archery range, swimming pool, ball field, disc-golf course, and bocce and pétanque courts. The municipal gym is another great spot for sports like volleyball and basketball, and fitness classes too.



Soak up San Diego’s performing-arts scene in Balboa Park

Balboa Park has fantastic performance spaces dedicated to everything from puppet theater to ballet to Shakespearean festivals held in a space modeled after London’s Globe Theatre, plus uncountable other creative spectacles.

(Fun fact: The largest outdoor pipe organ in the world can be found at the spectacular Spreckels Organ Pavilion.)


Take advantage of the free attractions at Balboa Park

There are many places in Balboa Park that don’t charge an admission fee, including the Timken Museum and the California Native Plant Garden. The park also offers free admission for many public events, such as the Sunday organ concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion and a host of other festivals and events.

Entry to the park itself is free, and parking is provided free of charge; you can also take advantage of the massive park’s free tram system to get from A to Z. The park also offers complimentary Wi-Fi, making it easy to access digital maps and other handy information to navigate your visit.




How much does it cost to visit the Balboa Park museums?

If you want to get the most bang for your buck, opt for the Balboa Park Explorer Pass, which provides access to 16 museums. One- and seven-day options range from US$56 to $67 per adult.

If you plan on returning to the park many times over a longer stay, or if you’re a San Diego resident, you might consider the Balboa Park Explorer Annual Pass, which costs $229 for a family, $129 for individual adults, and $99 for full-time students and seniors ages 65 and up.

Those who would rather just buy individual entry tickets to museums and other attractions can purchase them directly from the institutions, either online or onsite.

Neighborhoods Around Balboa Park

Exploring the vibrant neighborhoods around Balboa Park in San Diego is akin to uncovering a treasure trove of cultural, culinary, and recreational gems. Each area boasts its unique charm and a plethora of activities that promise an unforgettable experience.

Bankers Hill
Bankers Hill is a delightful blend of urban sophistication and serene natural beauty, offering breathtaking views and a touch of adventure. Embark on a leisurely stroll along the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge, or indulge in the culinary delights found in chic eateries serving everything from gourmet dishes to comforting classics. This neighborhood is the perfect spot for those seeking a sophisticated yet cozy atmosphere.

Hillcrest stands as the vibrant heart of San Diego’s LGBTQ+ community, radiating an inclusive and lively atmosphere. Adorned with rainbow flags, its streets bustle with boutique shops, eclectic restaurants, and lively nightspots. Don’t miss the weekly farmers market, a sensory feast of fresh produce, artisanal foods, and unique crafts. Hillcrest’s spirited energy and warm welcome make it a must-visit for a dynamic and friendly neighborhood experience.

North Park
North Park is a haven for arts and culture aficionados, celebrated for its thriving arts scene, historical charm, and modern edge. Explore galleries, murals, and craft markets showcasing local artists, or unwind in hip coffee shops and craft breweries. The Observatory North Park, a historic theater, offers a diverse lineup of live music and entertainment. For those looking to immerse themselves in a vibrant cultural scene, North Park is the place to be.

South Park
South Park is a quaint and eclectic neighborhood known for its community-oriented atmosphere, historic homes, and an impressive array of independent businesses. As you wander through South Park, you’ll encounter unique boutiques, artisan markets, and local cafes that exude a warm, neighborhood charm. The area is also a haven for foodies, offering a variety of dining options that range from casual eateries to upscale restaurants, all showcasing the creativity and diversity of San Diego’s culinary scene. South Park’s tranquil, tree-lined streets and friendly vibe make it an ideal spot for those looking to experience the city’s local life.

Nearby Attractions (Gaslamp & Little Italy)
While exploring these neighborhoods, don’t forget that Little Italy and Downtown San Diego are just a stone’s throw away, each offering their unique attractions and vibes. Little Italy is a bustling, lively area known for its excellent Italian restaurants, beautiful piazzas, and frequent cultural festivals. Downtown San Diego is the city’s dynamic heart, home to waterfront attractions, high-rise buildings, and a vibrant nightlife.

A few miles away, Liberty Station offers a rich blend of history, arts, and dining experiences. This revitalized naval training center is now a thriving cultural hub, with art studios, shops, and an array of restaurants set against a backdrop of beautifully preserved historical architecture.

Exploring the neighborhoods around Balboa Park and their nearby attractions offers a comprehensive experience of San Diego’s diverse charm. From the arts and culture of North Park to the historic elegance of South Park, and the culinary delights of Little Italy, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant city.

FAQs – San Diego Balboa Park Things to Do

What are must-see attractions in Balboa Park?
Balboa Park is home to a variety of attractions, including renowned museums, beautiful gardens, and historic architecture. Key highlights include the San Diego Zoo, the Botanical Building, and the San Diego Museum of Art.

Can you participate in any outdoor activities in Balboa Park?
Yes, the park offers numerous outdoor activities, such as hiking along its many trails, enjoying picnics in designated areas, and participating in recreational sports in open spaces.

Are there guided tours available in Balboa Park in 2024?
Visitors can take advantage of several guided tour options, exploring the park’s rich history, architecture, and natural beauty.

What cultural experiences does Balboa Park offer?
The park is a cultural hub, featuring performances at the Old Globe Theatre, art exhibitions, and cultural festivals throughout the year.

What makes Balboa Park unique compared to other city parks?
Balboa Park stands out for its vast array of cultural institutions, including over 17 museums, beautiful gardens like the Japanese Friendship Garden, and the historic Botanical Building, making it a cultural, recreational, and architectural treasure.

Can families find activities suitable for children in Balboa Park?
Absolutely, with attractions like the San Diego Zoo, interactive museums, and family-friendly gardens, the park offers numerous educational and entertaining options for children of all ages.

How can visitors explore Balboa Park’s architectural heritage?
The park is known for its stunning Spanish Revival architecture, visible in landmarks such as the California Tower and the Casa de Balboa. Guided architectural tours are available to delve into the history and design of these structures.

Are there sports facilities available in Balboa Park?
Yes, the Morley Field Sports Complex offers facilities for tennis, archery, disc golf, and more, catering to sports enthusiasts looking for active recreation.