History, Museums, Art, Gardens, and Music at Balboa Park in San Diego

Sep 09, 2009 by Lisa Newton

Balboa Park in the heart of downtown San Diego, is home to San Diego’s Historical Museum, the Model Railroad Museum, the Museum of Photographic Arts, the Natural History Museum of San Diego, the Rueben H. Fleet Science Center, and the San Diego Museum of Art, to name just a few of its many attractions.

San Diego Museum of Art

It’s one of the city’s and nation’s most beautiful and important parks, and a place for individuals, families, organizations, and friends to go and find an incredible and vast array of things to do and see; or to just relax at one of its hundreds of grassy parks, and variety of land uses.

Measuring approximately 1,200 acres, which equates to the size of about 909 football fields including the end zones, Balboa Park, which was “placed in reserve in 1835, is one of the oldest sites in the United States dedicated to public recreational usage.”

To get an idea of the size of Balboa Park in relation to the rest of the city, the Google Map below visually illustrates it:


View Balboa Park in a larger map

San Diego’s Balboa Park is fascinating, mesmerizing, and unbelievable in its beauty and scope. Walking down “El Prado,” the main street that traverses the Park–was and is a weekly and daily ritual for many of San Diego’s residents, and is considered a premier destination for world-wide visitors from across the state, nation, and world.

I literally walked past and into more museums in one day than I could in most cities in a week.

Casa del Prado

Pictured above is Casa del Prado, home for the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, the San Diego Junior Theatre, the San Diego Youth Symphony, the San Diego Botanical Foundation, and the San Diego Floral Association.

From its inception dating back to 1916–and several renovations later– the Casa del Prado stands as a testament to San Diego and its citizens working together to keep history vibrant, alive, and as the heart and soul of the city.

Botanical Building

The Botanical Building

With construction beginning in August of 1913—almost a century ago–the Botanical Building is today, what it was back in the day– a garden of tropical plants to astonish visitors; and that it does. In front of the Lath House– as it’s popularly called–is La Laguna, a 250,000 gallon pond.

During World War I La Laguna was converted into a swimming pool so sailors at a Naval Training Station, then located in Balboa Park, could learn to swim. A cement liner was placed on the bottom. Source: The Highs and Lows of the Botanical Building in Balboa Park

Museum of Man

The Museum of Man

With its Spanish colonial and mission style architecture, the Museum of Man, the only San Diego Museum dedicated to anthropology, the landmark building was originally constructed for the 1915–1916 Panama-California Exposition. Over the years, this building was also known as the California Building, and it has probably been mentioned more often than any other building in San Diego in studies of American architecture. Today, a key focus of the museum is “to create and display dynamic and educational anthropological exhibits about people and places throughout the Americas and around the world. Source: Balboa Park

Spreckels Organ Pavilion

The Organ Pavilion

Without the generous donation by John D. Spreckels, whose name the Organ and the Pavilion proudly bear, the Spreckels Organ Pavilion might never have been built. Dedicated on New Year’s Eve in 1914, every organ concert at the Pavilion is free, pursuant to John Spreckel’s bequeath.

The Organ was recessed behind the grand arch and into the pediments above. A twenty-foot plus attic between the organ chamber ceiling and the roof acted as an insulator against rapid temperature changes. Flexible cable connected the organ to a movable console. Besides acting as a giant sounding board for the organ, the central structure contained rooms for the organist, chorus and staff, including five bathrooms which soon became godsends for the many people who participated in events at the Pavilion. When the organ was not in use, attendants lowered a 20,000 pound plus corrugated steel curtain immediately behind the arch to conceal and protect the pipes. Source: The Spreckels Organ Pavilion at Balboa Park

Balboa Park

Because I was in San Diego on a Saturday, I couldn’t enjoy the Spreckels Organ Pavilion’s weekly Sunday afternoon concert, but as soon as possible, I’ll be heading back on a Sunday to hear the free concert.

Travelin’ Local is a colossal experience when you have the world in your backyard, and Balboa Park is a world within itself.

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Family, Hiking/Walking, Parks, Recreation, San Diego, SoCal

One Response to “History, Museums, Art, Gardens, and Music at Balboa Park in San Diego”

  1. The Botanical Building at Balboa Park in San Diego | Travelin' Local says:

    [...] recently wrote a story about Balboa Park, and talked about the magnificence of the Botanical Building at Balboa Park in San [...]

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