Balboa Park Flower Gardens


Location: Balboa Park (3 Miles Northeast of Downtown San Diego)

Open Daily: Most Gardens are Open Daily

Cost: All Gardens, except one, are Free

Features: Over a Dozen Gardens are Spread Throughout Balboa Park, Representing Plants from Around the World.

flower-gardenBalboa Park Flower Garden Highlights: San Diego hosted two World Fairs at Balboa Park (1915-1916 and 1935) . Part of the remaining legacy from those World Fairs are flower gardens representing gardens from other parts of the globe. The Flower Gardens in Balboa Park are not seen as a destination attraction like Longwood Gardens near Philadelphia or the Rose Gardens in Portland. Here, the gardens are spread out over 1,200 acres in between the multitude of museums and performing arts centers in Balboa Park.

Make Time for These Flower Gardens

Japanese Friendship Garden – Zen Garden, Koi Pond, and Small Visiting Exhibitions. Located between the Spreckels Amphitheatre and the Balboa Park Information Center, near the cultural center of the park. (Near the Prado Stop on the Free Balboa Park Tram.) Includes a nominal fee and limited hours. Read more.

Botanical Building and Lily Pond – 2,100 Permanent Plants are on display, including orchids, cycads, and palms. Seasonal plants are brought in for Special Occasions. It is located just off of the Pedestrian Rose Garden at Balboa ParkPromenade behind the Timken Museum. (The Prado Stop on the Free Balboa Park Tram is in front of the Timken Museum.) Open Daily from 10AM – 4PM, except it is closed on Thursdays. Entrance is Free. You can also enjoy the large Lily Pond in front of the Botanical Building.

Alcazar Garden – The bright colors of 7,000 annuals can be enjoyed along with small waterfalls in this quiet, beautifully designed garden. There are plenty of benches where you can sit back and relax. It is always open and free. You will find it behind the House of Charm, which is the home to the Mingei Museum and the San Diego Institute of Art. (You will see the sign for the Mingei if you use the Free Balboa Park Tram and get off at the The Prado Stop.)

Rose Garden and Desert Garden – Enjoy the color and scent of 2,500 roses and then contrast them to the Desert succulents and other drought resistant plants. Both gardens are across the Pedestrian Bridge from the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and the San Diego Museum of Natural History. Both of these museum are at the end of the Pedestrian Promenade and along Park Boulevard.

Lily pads in front of the Botanical BuildingFull List of Gardens – In addition to the flower gardens noted above, there are quite a few others that can be enjoyed on a visit to Balboa Park. Here are a few notes about the other gardens on this list:

  • Don’t spend too long looking for the Australian Garden. Its not on any of the maps and I have not found anyone who can point out its exact location.
  • The California Native Plant Garden, Florida Canyon Native Plant Reserve, and the Marston House Garden are on the outskirts of the park, away from most museums.
  • Don’t miss the Morton Bay Fig Tree, which is not on the list of gardens but may be of interest to a garden lover. It was planted in 1915 and is now over 60 feet tall with a spread of 120 feet. You will see it outside the north entrance of the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Balboa Park Map – This Balboa Park Map includes references for all of the Flower Gardens.

Balboa Park Tours – The Park Rangers offer Free Tours, some of which include tours of trees and other botanical treasures.

rose-gardenInformation on Visiting the Balboa Park Flower Gardens

Directions from Google Maps to 2215 Pan American Road in San Diego, CA 92101, which will put you right at the corner of Presidents Way and Pan American Road noted in the parking section below. This is the largest parking lot near the center of Balboa Park.

Parking – The closest large parking lot is at the corner of Presidents Way and Pan American Road. (Note: Do not make a right turn at the first street you see after turning onto Presidents Way from Park Boulevard. It does not access the parking lot even though it looks like it should.) Once you park, you can start walking up a slight hill. The Japanese Garden will be on your right and Palm Canyon will be on your left.

If you don’t want to deal with parking hassles, especially during the summer and on weekends, go to the large parking lots on the opposite side of Park Boulevard. They are on Presidents Way on the east side of Park Boulevard, away from the museums. The Tram starts at the end of the driveway and circulates every 10 minutes from 8:30AM – 6PM daily with extended hours during the summer and special occasions. Take it to the Prado Stop, which is just past the Japanese Friendship Garden and near the Botanical Building.

Traffic – Unless there is a major event at Balboa Park, which occurs a few times during the year, getting in and out of the Balboa Park is relatively easy using Park Boulevard. If you approach Balboa Park using southbound SR-163, traffic occasionally backs up a little over a mile before reaching the Park Boulevard Exit, which is the same exit for the I-5 northbound. However, the delay will only take a few extra minutes. Likewise, if you are planning to get on SR-163 northbound after leaving Balboa Park, plan on a short delay during the mid and late afternoon hours as a few entrance ramps merge together before reaching the highway. (Learn how to get the latest traffic updates.)

Transit – Buses serving Balboa Park drop passengers off on Park Boulevard. The stop is underneath a pedestrian bridge right in front of both the Rose and Desert Gardens. You can then take the Pedestrian Bridge to the Pedestrian Promenade, near the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and the San Diego Museum of Natural History. (See San Diego Transit Information for the downtown transit map, which includes Balboa Park, and information for the online Transit Planner.)

You can also get off the bus at Presidents Way to catch the Free Balboa Park Tram. The Tram starts at the end of the driveway, on the east side of Presidents Way and circulates every 10 minutes from here to the main circle at the Prado stop, near the Balboa Park Information Center. The Tram runs from 8:30AM – 6PM daily with extended hours during the summer and special occasions.

Balboa Park Map – The map shows a listing of all Balboa Park Museums, attractions, bus and tram stops, and places to eat. You should also print out the Balboa Park Tram Map from the City of San Diego. It is not as detailed but is helpful because it includes names on each of the buildings. With the other map, you need to use a map key to find the name of a building.

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