Cool Things To See & Do In Balboa Park, San Diego

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Helen Silverstein

No vacation to San Diego would be complete without a visit to historic Balboa Park. With interesting museums and beautiful gardens, there are so many fun things to see and do. Read on to discover the best way to spend the day in Balboa Park.

Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center is a science museum with many interactive displays. Visitors can touch and play with many of the exhibits to create their own scientific experience. Young children visiting the museum can play in Kid City, a fun and brightly colored area filled with interactive games they can use to learn about science. The Fleet is home to the world’s first IMAX movie dome. The spherical screen surrounds the audience, absorbing them in the sights and sounds of the film or scenes.

Botanical Gardens

The Botanical Gardens of Balboa Park is home to over 2,100 plants. The backdrop of many photographs, the Botanical Building that houses the gardens was built for the 1915-16 Exposition and sits along the Lily Pond. The wide variety of exotic plants leads to a brilliant display of colors and textures that can’t be found anywhere else. The scents of the herbs and lush greenery of the ferns transport visitors into the world purely consisting of nature. The garden houses many unique flowers and orchids, providing visitors the opportunity to look at the alien flora.

Museum of Man

This historic anthropology museum explores who human beings are and who we will become. Climb up the California Tower for a panoramic view of San Diego. Visit the Instruments of Torture exhibit for a grim, gripping look into our past, go to a beer tasting at the BEERology exhibit while learning about ancient craft brewing, or visit the Ancient Egypt exhibit and see real mummies as well as ancient artifacts. Children will especially enjoy “Monsters,” an interactive family fun exhibit where visitors can make their own monster while learning about monster myths.

Rose Garden

The award-winning Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden is home to over 180 varieties of roses, displayed in more than 2,400 blooming bushes. Many new varieties of roses are displayed in this garden, and it is, therefore, ideal for anyone picking out roses for their own private garden at home. The expanse of flowers provides a stunning backdrop for many proposals and weddings in Balboa Park. The gardens are the ideal setting for a relaxing daytime stroll or a romantic picnic date.

Old Globe

The Tony Award®-winning Old Globe theater was built to resemble the Globe Theatre in London, England, where the plays of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare were originally performed. This historical element adds to the atmosphere of accuracy during its annual, world-renowned Shakespeare festival. The Globe hosts 15 plays and musicals annually and is a favorite of theater buffs around the world. Stop by to watch a show in one of its unique three stages and enjoy the theater and the brilliant actors that it hosts.

Japanese Friendship Garden

The Japanese Friendship Garden is a unique and fun place to see in Balboa Park. The garden’s flora and fauna are meant to resemble the natural gardens in Japan. Some key features of the garden include a bonsai exhibit, a Zen meditation area, and a koi pond. Every koi in the koi pond was hand-selected for the garden, each fish is unique and has its own name. Visitors can drink imported teas or get a bite to eat in the garden’s tea pavilion.

Natural History Museum

The San Diego Natural History Museum hosts a rotation of multiple exhibits each year, so each visit feels like an almost-new museum. One of its most famous exhibits is ‘Fossil Mysteries,’ a display of ancient fossils featuring archaeological interpretations and explanations of dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurus Rex. The ‘Nat,’ as it’s fondly called by San Diego residents, also occasionally hosts a popular chocolate exhibit, which educates visitors about the history of the popular candy. The Nat is also home to a giant 3D movie screen, which shows historical and environmental films to an audience of up to 300.

Dancing Classes

One of the hidden gems of Balboa Park are the dancing classes available to the public. The International Dance Association of San Diego County holds classes in 15 different types of dances including waltz, cha-cha, and swing. With a range of levels from beginner to experience, dance classes at Balboa Park are the perfect way to brush up on some dance moves or learn a few new ones. Not much of a dancer? Many of the dance groups perform at the park throughout the year.

House of Pacific Relations International Cottages

This set of cottages from 1935 houses organizations representing 34 countries. The cottages are intended to promote multiculturalism and goodwill amongst people of all countries and cultures. Each house hosts its own events to help people get a glimpse into life in their country. On Sundays from March to November, houses host their annual ‘Lawn Programs,’ which are festivals featuring cultural fun such as dancing, music, food, arts, and crafts. Popular special events are the annual Ethnic Food Fair in May and the annual International Christmas Festival in early December.

The Prado Restaurant

Located in the meticulously sculpted House of Hospitality in Balboa Park, The Prado is an award-winning restaurant open for both lunch and dinner. The restaurant aims to serve a blend of the past and present, modern food with the charm of the historic. Diners can choose to sit inside the House of Hospitality or outside on the terrace as they eat the finest food from a diverse menu. Those looking for lighter fare can get drinks or smaller bite in the lounge.

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