Visiting Balboa Park

Tour San Diego Zoo, Museums, and Gardens

Plan a visit to San Diego's Balboa Park with care as some museums are closed on Mondays, while others have free entry on some days and the zoo alone can take a whole day to see.

The Botanical Building in Balboa Park, San Diego, California

The Botanical Building in Balboa Park
All Photos (c) Donna Dailey

Balboa Park in San Diego covers almost 1200 acres so making the most of a visit here requires some careful planning. It includes some of the best things to do in San Diego, including the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Photographic Arts, the San Diego Natural History Museum, and the San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA). And that's only some of the museums – there are several more!

Here are some hints and tips when planning a visit:

How Long Will It Take?

It is impossible to see all these attractions in one day. The San Diego Zoo alone will easily occupy an entire day, and even longer for those visitors who like to see everything and be able to linger to watch the animals properly rather than just take a quick photo and move on.

An orchid in The Botanical Building in Balboa Park, San Diego, California

An orchid in the Botanical Building

Families in Balboa Park

Families will want to see the kid-friendly attractions which include the huge San Diego Zoo, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center with its Planetarium, and the San Diego Air and Space Museum. Allow at least two days to visit these three attractions alone. The good news is that the first two attractions are open every day, 365 days a year, while the Air and Space Museum only closes on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

The Natural History Museum in Balboa Park, San Diego, California

The Museum of Art

For Culture Vultures

To visit the Mingei International Museum, the Museum of Photographic Arts, and the San Diego Museum of Art will probably take most people a full day.

The Natural History Museum in Balboa Park, San Diego, California

The Natural History Museum

Days to Avoid

Not all Balboa Park attractions are open every day. If planning a long weekend then don't leave Balboa Park till Monday. Although weekends are busier, at least everything is open and there won't be any unexpected disappointments.

On Mondays the Mingei International Museum and the Museum of Photographic Arts are closed, and the San Diego Museum of Art is closed on Wednesdays.

A finch in the Cactus Garden in Balboa Park, San Diego, California

In the Cactus Garden

Free Admission

If visiting San Diego during the week, check the calendar. Some attractions offer free admission on one Tuesday each month, but the days rotate. Contact the Balboa Park Visitor Center (tel: 619-239-0512) for the current information.

A tiled fountain in Balboa Park, San Diego, California

Money-Saving Passes

At the Visitor Center you can buy Explorer tickets. There are several options. A One-Day Explorer gets you admission to up to five museums in one day (though not the zoo). For that you need a Multi-Day Explorer with One Day Zoo Admission, which will also get you into the zoo free for one day. There's also a Multi-Day Explorer, which gets you into 17 museums and is valid for seven consecutive days.

The Cactus Garden in Balboa Park, San Diego, California

In the Cactus Garden

Some of the Other Attractions

Apart from the major museums mentioned here, Balboa Park also contains other attractions including:

  • Japanese Friendship Garden
  • California Native Plant Garden
  • Desert Garden
  • San Diego Model Railroad Museum
  • San Diego Art Institute: Museum of the Living Artist
  • San Diego Automotive Museum
  • San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum
  • San Diego Museum of Man
  • Timken Museum of Art
  • Veterans Museum and Memorial Center

And there's more!

Inside the Botanical Building in Balboa Park, San Diego, California

Inside the Botanical Building

Further Information

The information above is only a small part of what there is to see and do in Balboa Park. The Balboa Park Visitor Center can provide full up-to-date information, and can be found in the House of Hospitality on the plaza in the very center of the park at 1549 El Prado (tel: 619-239-0512;

A tiled seat in Balboa Park, San Diego, California

Recent Articles

  1. Maps of the Pacific Coast Highway: Free Downloadable Driving Maps of the PCH

    Oct 19, 16 05:19 AM

    Road maps of the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH are essential for anyone planning to drive the trip, and detailed routes are available for free download via these links to the Mile by Mile website.

    Read More

  2. Olympic National Park

    Oct 19, 16 05:14 AM

    Olympic National Park, west of Seattle in the Pacific Northwest, is one of the largest and least developed parks in the United States. The Pacific Coast Highway (U.S. 101) runs right around it.

    Read More

  3. Cheap Flights to Los Angeles

    Oct 19, 16 05:10 AM

    Cheap flights to Los Angeles International Airport LAX with JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, Virgin America, WestJet from San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle.

    Read More

Our PCH Hotels Guide

PCH Travel's 2016 guide to Pacific Coast Highway hotels

To help you in choosing your Pacific Coast Highway hotel, guesthouse, inn, bed-and-breakfast, resort, motel or other accommodations, we've prepared our Pacific Coast Highway Hotels Guide. In it we do mini-reviews of accommodations along the Highway, from Seattle to San Diego, through Washington, Oregon, and California.

In all there are over 200 hotels listed, complete with 8 pages of color maps showing the towns where our recommended hotels can be found. There are both alphabetical and geographical indexes, helping you plan your journey.

We also include color photos of all the hotels that are our Personal Favorites. Here's the link to read more about our ebook guide to Pacific Coast Highway hotels.

The 2016 edition of our Hotels Guide is available with maps and color photos (if you have a color reader) in the US Kindle Store for only $4.99 and in the UK Kindle Store and other Kindle stores worldwide at prices based on the US price.

If you want a paperback edition of the 2016 guide  with only black and white photos and black-and-white maps, it costs $6.99 at the US Amazon Book Store and £4.99 in the UK Amazon Store.

We've also published our PCH Hotels Guide as an app in the Apple Store.
You can buy it here and
read about it here.

Featured in Alltop


Follow Me on Pinterest