Visiting Balboa Park

Tour San Diego Zoo, Museums, and Gardens

Visiting Balboa Park is one of the best things to do in San Diego, California, as the park is home to San Diego Zoo, several museums, and beautiful gardens.

The Botanical Building in Balboa Park, San Diego, CaliforniaThe Botanical Building in Balboa Park
All Photos (c) Donna Dailey

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.

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, CaliforniaAn 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 Museum of Art in Balboa Park, San Diego, CaliforniaThe 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, CaliforniaThe 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, CaliforniaIn 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, CaliforniaIn 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, CaliforniaInside 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; www.balboapark.org).

A tiled seat in Balboa Park, San Diego, California

Don't miss our Balboa Park in Facts and Figures page!

Where to Stay in San Diego



Other San Diego pages

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel's website recommendations on Where to Stay in San Diego include reviews of budget and luxury hotels in downtown San Diego.

    Where to Stay in San Diego

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's website recommendations on Where to Stay in San Diego include reviews of budget and luxury hotels in downtown San Diego.

  • San Diego whale watching tours like this from Hornblower Cruises let visitors get up close to see gray whales, dolphins, sea lions and other wildlife.

    San Diego Whale Watching

    San Diego whale watching tours like this from Hornblower Cruises let visitors get up close to see gray whales, dolphins, sea lions and other wildlife.

  • The San Diego Museum of Art is in Balboa Park, San Diego, and is the oldest and biggest art museum in the city with a fine collection of Spanish art.

    San Diego Museum of Art

    The San Diego Museum of Art is in Balboa Park, San Diego, and is the oldest and biggest art museum in the city with a fine collection of Spanish art.

  • Things to do in San Diego include visiting the world famous San Diego Zoo, touring the city's outstanding Wild Animal Park, whale-watching and visiting museums.

    San Diego Things to Do

    Things to do in San Diego include visiting the world famous San Diego Zoo, touring the city's outstanding Wild Animal Park, whale-watching and visiting museums.

  • Here are facts and figures about Balboa Park in San Diego, which is bigger than New York's Central Park and contains 19 gardens, 17 museums and 14 restaurants.

    Balboa Park in Facts and Figures

    Here are facts and figures about Balboa Park in San Diego, which is bigger than New York's Central Park and contains 19 gardens, 17 museums and 14 restaurants.

  • Cheap flights to San Diego with Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, WestJet and other airlines from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.

    Cheap Flights to San Diego

    Cheap flights to San Diego with Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, WestJet and other airlines from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.

  • SeaWorld in San Diego is the original marine theme park, featuring killer whales, dolphins, shark encounters, manatee rescue, and Journey to Atlantis.

    SeaWorld San Diego

    SeaWorld in San Diego is the original marine theme park, featuring killer whales, dolphins, shark encounters, manatee rescue, and Journey to Atlantis.

  • San Diego in Southern California is a major travel destination and this page from Pacific Coast Highway Travel has visitor information and best things to do.

    San Diego

    San Diego in Southern California is a major travel destination and this page from Pacific Coast Highway Travel has visitor information and best things to do.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel recommends good cheap motels in San Diego including Super-8, Motel 6, Travelodge and Days Inn.

    Good Cheap Motels in San Diego

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel recommends good cheap motels in San Diego including Super-8, Motel 6, Travelodge and Days Inn.

  • Whale watching trips and tours in San Diego are one of the California city's best activities but you can watch the whales from the San Diego shoreline too.

    Whale Watching from the San Diego Shoreline

    Whale watching trips and tours in San Diego are one of the California city's best activities but you can watch the whales from the San Diego shoreline too.



Recent Articles

  1. 10 Motorcycle Routes That Belong on Every Rider's Bucket List

    Oct 06, 22 03:19 AM

    The open road is a motorcyclist's dream, a pursuit of ideals, and a motivation to manifest destiny. The debate for the perfect ride has gone on for decades, bringing riders to new locations to test th…

    Read More

  2. The 40 Top Restaurants Along The Pacific Coast Highway Read More: https://www.tastingtable.com/1039726/the-top-restaurants-along-the-pacific-coast-highway/?utm_campaign=clip

    Oct 06, 22 03:19 AM

    No road trip would be complete (or half as fun) without stopping along the way for tasty snacks and decadent feasts. Luckily, scores of hungry travelers have paved the way and created a market for res…

    Read More

  3. Only a 5-hour drive from Camarillo, Big Sur is in must-see category

    Oct 01, 22 05:46 AM

    Big Sur. So, Is it a Big Deal?

    Read More