One of our favorite places in all of San Diego is The Prado in Balboa Park. It's such a gorgeous and fun area. Best of all it's free and open to the public so you don't have to sign up for a time to be there or budget for it, unless you sign up for some paid activities we mention below.
Balboa Park has become one of my unexpected favorite areas of San Diego, California. It's conveniently located in the downtown area not too far from the airport. Yet whether you're nearby or not it's worth the trip to spend an afternoon here. So what to do, what to do?
The first time we visited I was in awe of its beauty. What transpired was a goofy, romantic afternoon. Here how we enjoyed an afternoon at The Prado in Balboa Park, in San Diego California.
The Prado Architecture in Balboa Park
It's easy to love the Spanish-Renaissance style architecture that lines El Prado.
We parked near the Air & Space Museum and walked towards El Prado pedestrian walkway through the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. (I don't necessarily recommend parking there because the parking lot is not “picturesque.” Perhaps try parking closer to Alcazar Garden or Casa de Balboa.)
Enjoying The Prado at Balboa Park in San Diego Building by Building, Step by Step
Spreckels Organ Pavilion
It's an outdoor pavilion that contains the largest pipe organ in the world, dating back to its donation in 1914, just months before the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. You can spot the architecture just north of the area from the pavilion and I must admit it pulls you toward it!
The Stunning Balboa Park Visitors Center
We walked from the Organ Pavilion towards the Balboa Park Visitors Center (pictured below). There are really beautiful sculpture mosaics in this area too that are totally worthy of an IG or Snapchat story!
We enjoyed taking goofy photos near vibrant bougainvillea flowers as well, right in front of the outdoor colonnade of the Museum of Photographic Arts.
The Prado in Balboa Park, Botanical Building
We walked over to the Botanical Building. It took us about 15 to 20 minutes to walk around this tropical oasis, home to orchids, palm trees and more.
Truly, the building alone is impressive – it's one of the largest wooden lath structures in the world. We enjoyed snapping photos around the premises after, capturing things like surrounding fountains and its famous Lily Pond reflecting pool, one of the most photographed areas of the park.
Balboa Park Sculpture Garden on The Prado
We worked up quite an appetite after the Botanical Building visit so we headed over to the nearby Sculpture Garden for a quick peek (with a spectacular view of the California Tower) before indulging in a snack next door.
Snack Break at Panama 66
We decided to take a break at Panama 66 and ordered two adult beverages and a cheese plate. (We love a cheese plate no matter where we go, from Normandy, France to indulging in foods in Barcelona, Spain and even while enjoying traditional food in Slovenia.)
What was delivered to our al fresco table was one of the most attractive cheese plates we've ever seen!!! We thoroughly enjoyed sitting at our table, people watching and enjoying the beautiful San Diego weather; I felt like we were in Europe.
Traveling along The Prado in Balboa Park in Style
We spotted a couple who traveled to the restaurant via an old electric wicker cart. “What is that cute thing?!” I asked Dan. I immediately starting to Google it, clued in to this novelty from an informative advertisement on the side. Which led to our next stop…
We rented an electric wicker cart for 30 minutes. I was in stitches over this one! They move relatively slowly but there I was YouTubing “Indiana Jones” music to add a soundtrack to our Balboa Park crusade! It was a blast.
Alcazar Garden off The Prado
We headed over to the Alcazar Garden afterwards to enjoy the views from its paths and beautiful flowers. I couldn't get enough of the beautiful poppies!!!
Balboa Park Museum of Man of The Old Globe Theatre
We continued to walk towards the Museum of Man area, whose courtyard offers views of The Old Globe Theatre (a smaller version of Shakespeare's original in England) and the California Tower (truth be told it's such a landmark at nearly 200 feet tall – you can see it from several areas of the park).
Even though the park was slightly busy this area was pleasantly sparse and we practically had it to ourselves.
Walking over Cabrillo Bridge at Balboa Park
We continued west on El Prado, over Cabrillo Bridge, to take in the views “from above” Highway 163.
Continuing to the Gardens at Balboa Park
There are gorgeous gardens everywhere in Balboa Park, California. And since they have such a moderate climate in San Diego there's always something in bloom, looking green and beautiful, to enjoy.
Balboa Park Desert Garden and Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden
We navigated all the way east in the park to continue our afternoon in Balboa Park at the Desert Garden and Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden, which are next to one another and are both beautiful.
I was in love with the prickly plants and my curiosity piqued at every turn of the dirt path. The rose garden is truly beautiful as well, and has unique varieties of flowers.
Balboa Park's Spanish Village Art Center
To finish our incredibly enjoyable afternoon in Balboa Park, we headed to the Spanish Village Art Center. We were so lucky to be there in spring when the trees had stunning purple blossoms on them.
They coincidentally matched the colors of the village and I loved that the stone pathway was pained in various colors. This charming little artist center was built in the mid 1930's in the style of…you guessed it…an old Spanish village.
The park is 1,200 acres so you may find you barely touched the surface on your first visit – but it's all the more reason to go back.
- Find a free printable color, including parking locations, map here.
- All parking at Balboa Park is free. I recommend parking near El Prado.
- The park is also accessible by public bus lines – Routes 120, 7 and Rapid 215.
- Free concerts are held at the Sprecks Organ Pavilion every Sunday at 2pm for one hour, rain or shine.
Looking for more to do in the San Diego area? Check out:
- My 12 Favorite Spots around San Diego California including the adjacent San Diego Zoo that was built in 1916
- First-Timer's Guide to San Diego, on the Department of Wandering
- Where and What is Baja California?