Balboa Park Museums and Attractions


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

Open Daily: Park and Gardens are always open; Many Museums are Open Daily, including Holidays

Cost: Parking is Free; Most Museums offer Discounts for Seniors, Students, and Military.

Features: Home to the San Diego Zoo, 15 Museums, 7 Performing Arts Theatres, 4 Cultural Centers, IMAX Globe Theater, Antique Carousel, Miniature Railroad, and Countless Gardens.

flower-gardenBalboa Park Highlights: Balboa Park is an urban oasis full of gardens and walking paths surrounding museums and performing arts centers designed with Spanish Colonial architecture. Travelers can easily spend their whole week at Balboa Park visiting many of the more notable attractions in the country.

Unique Attractions in Balboa Park

The following are just a sampling of the attractions in Balboa Park that offer unique experiences. The brief descriptions note a few aspects of what makes them famous. To see the full list of Balboa Park attractions, select ‘Balboa Park’ in the Related Themes section at the bottom of this page. All of the Museums are within easy walking distance of one another.

San Diego Zoo – World Famous Zoo featured in Movies and TV Shows; 4,000 Animals on 100 Acres; 700,000 Exotic Plants; Pandas; Koalas


Reuben H. Fleet Science Center – 100 Hands-on Science Exhibits; Best IMAX Dome Theater in the Country

San Diego Museum of Man – Five Galleries of Hands-On Exhibits covering 4 Million Years of Human Evolution; Ancient Egyptian Exhibition; Pre-Columbian Artifacts

San Diego Natural History Museum – Third Oldest Scientific Museum West of the Mississippi River; One of the Best Collections of Prehistoric Artifacts including Dinosaurs and Mastodons; Excellent Visiting Exhibitions.

lilly-pondSan Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum – Nation’s Largest Sport Museum; Covers a Broad Range of Sports with Interactive Exhibits.

Timken Museum of Art – One of the Great Small Museums of the World displaying the Works of European Masters, which is adjacent to the San Diego Museum of Art, one the Southwest’s Best Art Museums.

San Diego Air & Space Museum – One of the Nation’s Top Aerospace Museums in a City that has the Richest Aviation History in the World.


San Diego Model Railroad Museum – Largest Model Railroad Museum in the Country.

Spreckels Organ Pavilion – One of the Wold’s Largest Outdoor Pipe Organs

Old Globe Theatre – Tony Award Winning Theatre is “Home to the Most Acclaimed National Artists, Designers, Directors and Playwrights in the Theatre Industry”. Broadway Shows, including Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Fully Monty, Damn Yankees, and A Catered Affair got their start out of the limelight in San Diego before heading to New York.

Balboa Park Historic Carousel – Award Winning Historic Carousel Built in 1910, which still includes nearly all Original Equipment and the Brass Ring Game.

Balboa Park Miniature Railroad – Miniature Replica of a Real Train that takes you on a 1/2 mile ride.

balboa-park-fountainFood Options at Balboa Park

The TourGuideTim Reveals San Diego web site includes information on food options for each of the attractions in Balboa Park. For an overview, here is what to expect. The San Diego Zoo offers a wide variety of food options on their premises from ice cream and hamburgers to a formal dining restaurant only open for dinner. Many of the museums offer small cafes with limited options. There are a few larger cafes that offer a wide variety of hot food options. These include the Tea Pavilion outside of the Japanese Friendship Garden, Waters Cafe outside of the San Diego Museum of Art, and the Time Out Cafe inside of the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum. If you are looking for something more than what is offered in a cafe, Balboa Park’s Prado Restaurant is more of an upscale full service restaurant. You can read more about the food options on the Balboa Park web site.

Smoking in Balboa Park – Smoking is not allowed anywhere in Balboa Park except in the area outside of the Old Globe Theatre.

Movies Filmed at Balboa Park – Nearly 20 movies have used Balboa Park as a setting, including Citizen Cane, Traffic, Almost Famous, and Anchorman.

Admission Prices: (Costs are Approximate)

The Best Places in San Diego web site includes information on admission prices and possible discounts for each of the attractions in Balboa Park. For an overview, here is what to expect.

  • Parking is Free
  • Zoo Prices Start at $28.50 for Adults and $17.50 for Kids
  • Adult Ticket Prices for Museums range from Free (Timken Museum of Art) to $15 (San Diego Air & Space Museum).
  • Kids Ticket Prices range from Free up to $7.50
  • Seniors, Students, and Military Members also receive discounts.
  • General Admission is Free on Tuesdays for select museums on a rotating basis. For a few museums, this free admission offer is limited to only San Diego County residents. The Best Places in San Diego web site notes this information in the profile for each museum. You can also view the list of Free Admission Tuesdays on the Balboa Park web site.

Passport to Balboa Park – Pay one low price for a Pass that will allow you one entry into each of thirteen participating Balboa Park Museums. You have seven days to use the Park Pass once you begin using it. Tickets cost $45 ($24 for kids ages 3-12). For an additional fee, you can add a discounted San Diego Zoo Best Value ticket.  Also note, the Passport to Balboa Park Pass allows you to watch an IMAX movie at the Science Center. Passport to Balboa Park tickets can be purchased online or at participating attractions, except at the Zoo.

129-2993_IMGDirections, Parking, Transit & Maps

The Best Places in San Diego web site includes information on directions and parking for each of the attractions in Balboa Park. Some of the museums have small parking lots immediately adjacent to their building while others do not. For an overview, here is what to expect.

Directions from Google Maps to 2215 Pan American Road in San Diego, CA 92101. This address will put you in a parking lot in the middle of the museums at Balboa Park. However, this parking lot and the ones near it often fill up quickly on weekends and during the summer.

Parking – The parking lot noted in the directions above 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.)

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 Free Balboa Park 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. The first stop drops you off next to the parking lot noted for the Google Directions above. This stop is near the museums at the southern end of the Park. The next stop (Prado Stop) is next to the museums that line the Pedestrian Promenade.

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 highway 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.)

balboa-park-trolleyTransit – 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 on Park Boulevard 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.

Information Center and Tours

Balboa Park Visitors Center – The visitor’s center is located near the center of Balboa Park, between the Spreckels Organ Pavilion and the San Diego Museum of Art. Here you can purchase books that have been written about Balboa Park, obtain maps, and ask questions to professionally trained staff.  In the Visitors Center, you will find two guides that offer walking tours of Balboa Park. One tour is for the north side of Balboa Park while the other book covers the south side of the Park. Both are worth purchasing since the entire Park is full of Gardens and Museums. You can also purchase, for approximately $5, an audio tour that will take you on about a 1.5 hour stroll through Balboa Park.

Balboa Park Tours – Park rangers and other volunteers offer tours that cover the Architecture, History, and Gardens of Balboa Park. The basic tours take place on Tuesdays and Sundays at 1PM. However, specialized tours are also available on a periodic basis.

Find More Attractions with Similar Themes or Location: *Top San Diego Attractions*, Architecture, As Seen In Movies, Balboa Park, Picnics - Great Places |

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