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Tours through Balboa Park

Led by knowledgeable volunteers and park rangers.

Experience Balboa Park like never before. Knowledgeable volunteers and rangers will entertain and educate as they guide you through trails, flora and architecture of this historic and beautiful park.

Six Ways to Explore the "Smithsonian of the West"

More than 100 years after the 1915 Pan-California Exposition and the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition, many of the Spanish Colonial-revival style structures built for the Expos are still in use. Here are some of the wonderful tour experiences that can help you discover the history, beauty and culture of this Park.

Balboa Park Tours from the Visitors Center

A fascinating 1 1/2 hour audio tour of the Park can be purchased at the Balboa Park Visitors Center . Both the adult and child version of the tour cover Park history, architecture, horticulture and cultural attractions—all created by experts in the field.

There are also free tours offered throughout the week that meet at the Balboa Park Visitors Center located in the historic House of Hospitality on El Prado walkway. The Balboa Park Visitors Center is open daily from 9:30 AM - 4:30 PM.

Architectural Heritage Tours

First Friday each month Led by "The Committee of 100," a group dedicated to preserving the historic architecture, gardens and public spaces in the Park, these tours are offered on the first Friday of each month at 9:30 AM.

Offshoot Tours

Every Saturday Offered every Saturday by trained volunteers, these easy-paced one-hour walks have rotating themes and start at 10:00 AM. Tour themes include Balboa Park history (first Saturday of the month), palm trees (second Saturday), other trees in the Park (third Saturday), desert vegetation (fourth Saturday) and tour del dia (fifth Saturday). There are no tours from Thanksgiving through the 2nd Saturday in January. Reservations are not required.

Ranger-led Tours

Every Sunday Balboa Park rangers discuss the historical and botanical treasures of Balboa Park, beginning at 11:00 AM every Tuesday and Sunday.

Botanical Garden Tours

Every Third Friday Join a 45-minute docent-led tour that showcases the origins, design and horticulture of Balboa Park’s historic Botanical Building. Leaves from the south end of the Lily Pond at 11:00 AM every third Friday.

Self-guided Photo Tour

Balboa Park provides a wealth of elegant photographic scenes so grab your camera and take a self-guided tour of the park with these photos in mind .

Private Tours

What better way to explore Balboa Park’s paradise than with a two-hour private tour with Urban Adventures . Schedule your own personal tour or join fellow visitors on a guided excursion through Balboa Park’s gorgeous gardens, iconic architecture all while learning about the unique history of the largest urban cultural park in North America. Or, if you are not the walking type and want to get a tour of the entire park from the comfort of a car, check out Tour Balboa Park . This intimate tour offers the real history of the entire park including the sometimes overlooked East and West Mesas. Limited to five people, this two-hour tour will help you uncover San Diego's Cultural Heart.  

Find more information on museums, gardens and parking at Balboa Park San Diego .

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balboa park architecture tour

Balboa Park Architectural Heritage Guided Walking Tours

Learn about the many wonderful balboa park buildings.

balboa park architecture tour

• Tours begin at the House of Hospitality Visitor’s Center • Tours start at 10:00 AM on the FIRST FRIDAY of each month • Reservations are not needed • Tours are held rain or shine (cancelled only for downpours) • Group tours are available for other dates • All tours are free, courtesy of The Committee of One Hundred • For more information, call 619-795-9362

The Geographical Cure

Guide To San Diego’s Balboa Park: 20+ Attractions & Tips

Balboa Park  is a 1,200 acre urban museum and garden complex in San Diego. It’s a cultural, horticultural, and architectural oasis dressed up in fetching Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.

It’s dubbed the “Smithsonian of the West.” This is a bit of an overstatement. Yet, the complex has a remarkable collection of museums, cultural institutions, and other attractions.

Here’s my complete guide to visiting Balboa Park. It tells you everything to see in Balboa Park and gives you must know tips for an efficient visit.

fountain in Balboa Park

Tickets & Tours For Balboa Park

Here are some tickets and tours you might consider booking to visit Balbo Park:

  • 2 hour highlights tour
  • 2 hour Segway tour
  • 1.5 hour hidden gems tour
  • 3 hour private walking tour
  • 2 hour e-bike tour
  • San Diego Zoo ticket
  • Natural History Museum ticket
  • San Diego Explorer Pass

If you are targeting just one or two attractions, you can also purchase tickets onsite.

California Tower, which is one of the top attractions in Balboa Park

Guide To Balboa Park: What To See

Here are some of the top attractions and must see highlights of Balboa Park.

1. Overview & Orientation

Balboa Park features a square-shaped layout with two canyons slicing through it from north to south. The park is divided into three primary zones: East Mesa (recreational facilities); Central Mesa (historic and cultural attractions and the zoo); and West Mesa (serene walking paths).

While exploring, you’ll likely find yourself spending considerable time in Central Mesa. The central hub is El Prado, the main promenade.

For a smooth start, consider visiting the Hospitality House initially. Apart from its aesthetic charm, this is where you can grab a park map, facilitating your navigation and exploration.

Casa del Prado

2. Casa del Prado

Casa del Prado is a simply gorgeous building housing several cultural organizations and serving as a hub for various artistic activities. It houses a theater, youth symphony and ballet conservatories, and the San Diego Floral Association.

At first glance, the facade sort of resembles a Spanish Colonial church. The entrance is elaborately ornamented with saints and cherubs. Angel faces frame the rose window.

There’s a covered walkway that runs the length of the building in front of El Prado.

Casa del Prado

3. Casa de Balboa

The Casa de Balboa embodies the distinctive characteristics of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. It was originally built in 1915. It burned down in 1978 and was rebuilt with public and private support.

The exterior of Casa de Balboa boasts stuccoed walls, red-tiled roofs, and ornate detailing. Arched doorways, decorative wrought ironwork, and intricate tile work contribute to the building’s picturesque appearance.

You can even spy unique corbels — buxom ladies that appear to hold up the building.

Inside the Casa de Balboa, the architecture continues to evoke the charm of Spanish Colonial Revival style. Visitors are greeted with elements like exposed wooden beams, terracotta flooring, and intricate tile patterns.

Most of the building is used for exhibition space.

House of Charm

4. House of Charm

This pretty structure was designed as a temporary exhibition for the Panama-California Exposition held in 1915-16. The architecture combines the Spanish “Mission” style and ornately sculptured elements.

The public fell in love with the building and rallied to preserve it. In 1993, replaced the temporary structure with a historic reconstruction.

The building houses the San Diego Art Institute and the Mingei International Museum.

New exhibits open every 4-6 weeks in the institute, which is a pay what you wish museum. The Mingei museum focuses on folk art, craft, and design from all cultures of the world (more on that below).

San Diego Museum of Art

5. Museums In Balboa Park

There are a whopping 18 museums in Balboa Park. Here’s an overview of the best ones.

San Diego Museum of Art

As an art enthusiast, this spot holds a special place in my heart in Balboa Park. It proudly stands as the city’s largest museum, drawing in hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.

The museum’s facade is a true marvel. It’s an intricate design that pays homage to the plateresque style of the 16th-century Renaissance.

This facade serves as a captivating prelude to the treasures within. Delve deeper, and you’ll encounter sculptures nestled within niches. They depict revered painters such as Ribera, Velázquez, Murillo, Zurbarán, and El Greco.

Murillo painting

The museum spans two floors and has 20 galleries. There is an extensive exhibition space primarily on the first floor. There’s also an exhibition shop and a more extensive museum store, both brimming with literature and art-centric gifts.

The collections span the globe, featuring European, American, Asian, and Latin American art. I found myself particularly captivated by the Asian art collection, the rich Spanish old master paintings (the likes of El Greco, Zurbarán, and Murillo), as well as few super rare gems: Giorgione and Luca Signorelli paintings.

A dynamic aspect is the museum’s hosting of temporary exhibitions, providing a fresh perspective. During my visit, there was an excellent exhibition on Georgia O’Keeffe and Henry Moore.

For a more information, you can check out my guide to the San Diego Museum of Art , which offers further insights, information, and tips for visiting.

Natural History Museum

San Diego Natural History Museum

Also known as “The Nat,” the San Diego Natural History Museum explores the natural world through exhibits, interactive displays, and educational programs. The building was created by the same architect who designed the Museum of Art.

When you walk up the steps, you can admire the elaborate ornamentation around the arched front door. There are little animals hidden in the decoration, reflecting the type of museum inside.

The museum features animals, plants, and minerals from the San Diego and Baja California regions.

In 2001, the museum received a major remodel. It now has a spectacular entry atrium, three levels of exhibits, a 300 seat giant screen theater, and a nature themed gift shop.

>>> Click there to book a ticket

Museum of Us

Museum of Us

Formerly known as the Museum of Man, the Museum of Us is a popular attraction that delves into anthropology, cultural history, and human exploration. Its aim is to tell the diverse story of mankind and explore what defines us as citizens of the world.

There are unique exhibits on privilege, race, secrets, and culture. It also tries to explain how to make the world a better place for all.

The museum also boasts one of the best gift shops in the park complex.

Across the street in the Casa de Balboa, you can also see a rather gory exhibition on cannibalism with the admission ticket. You’ll hear real stories of cannabalism throughout history.

balboa park architecture tour

It’s more common than you might think. It might be an act of survival, revenge, or healing.

The best part of the museum visit is climbing 152 steps up the California Towe r , which offers up splendid 360 views from the eight floor. You can only climb the tower on a 40 minute guided tour.

The tower is 200 feet high and one of the most photographed things in the park. The dome has a bold majolica design of Spanish Moorish ceramic work. The 100 bell carillon in the tower tolls every quarter hour.

You’ll need to plan ahead to take this $10 tour. Check the website for exact times. Only 6 guests can go on a tour at any given time.

San Diego History Center

San Diego History Center

The San Diego History Center is an institution dedicated to preserving and showcasing the history of San Diego and the surrounding region. It houses photographs, artifacts, documents, and artworks.

It serves as a hub for exhibitions, educational programs, and research related to the cultural, social, and historical heritage of San Diego County. There are exhibits, a research library, special events, and educational programs.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

With a focus on the history of aviation and space exploration, the Air & Space Museum showcases aircrafts, space artifacts, and interactive exhibits.

The museum boasts an impressive collection of aircraft, spacecraft, and artifacts spanning various eras of aviation and space exploration. Visitors can explore the evolution of flight, from the Wright brothers’ pioneering aircraft to modern jets and spacecraft.

There is a diverse array of historic aircraft — military planes, vintage biplanes, experimental aircraft, and even replicas of notable aircraft from aviation history.

Fleet Science Center

Fleet Science Center

The Fleet is an interactive science center that’s great for all ages. It features more than 100 hands-on exhibits and educational programs. It’s also the site of the world’s first tilted dome IMAX theater, which opened in 1973.

The “So Watt” exhibition delves into San Diego’s electricity generation methods. “Kid City” is a playful haven for kids under 5, offering textures, movement, and shapes to explore, complete with a ball wall and fire station.

There’s even a dedicated area for infants. Temporary displays have ranged from “Grossology” to “Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition.”

There’s a science oriented gift shop and Galileo’s Cafe. The outdoor seating overlooks the fountain in Plaza de Balboa.

Frans Hals painting

Timken Museum of Art

The Timken Museum of Art is the only modern building, mid-century modern in style, in the Balboa Park. It’s a newly renovated jewel box that’s an absolute must see for art lovers.

It was built by architect Frank Hope to house a small collection of Old Masters owned by the Putnam Foundation.

The Timken houses an impressive collection of European and American artwork, including masterpieces from the Dutch Golden Age. You’ll find pieces by Rembrandt, Murillo, Van Dyke, Frans Hals, Rubens, Paolo Veronese, and Zubaran.

Mingei Museum

Mingei International Museum

The Mingei International Museum is a treasure trove of global folk art, crafts, and design.

One of the most captivating displays is the pinata exhibition. This display marries whimsy and contemplation. It showcases a life-size lowrider car, delicate butterfly formations, and enchanting mythical creatures, all ingeniously crafted as piñatas.

While there, don’t miss the delightful cafe and an impressive store brimming with textiles, jewelry, and baskets sourced from around the world.

Model Railroad Museum

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

This is the world’s largest accredited model train museum . It contains enormous miniature representations of California railroads.

The displays showcase scenes from different parts of the world and different time periods. And they’re so intricate. You’ll see miniaturized worlds of perfectly crafted miniature landscapes, buildings, vehicles, and people.

Museum of Photographic Arts

Another fun Balboa Park attraction, the Museum of Photographic Arts highlights the work of the world’s most noteworthy photographers and cinematographers. There are photography exhibits, modern film screenings, and even workshops that allow all ages to enjoy a visual learning experience.

Budget-conscious college students are often drawn to this museum, as it replaces conventional admission fees with a pay-what-you-wish approach.

Globe Theater

6. Old Globe Theatre

The Globe Theater in London is a unique theatrical space associated with the bard, William Shakespeare. It’s a half-timbered and thatched roof reconstruction of the old theater where Shakespeare acted and directed. Most of Shakespeare’s tragedies were specifically written for the Globe.

San Diego’s version of the Old Globe is a replica that was built in 1935. Like its London counterpart, it’s an Elizabethan style theater in the round, hence the term “globe.”

The Old Globe comprises several performance spaces. The Old Globe Theatre, the main theater, hosts classic and contemporary plays, musicals, and special events throughout the year. It’s an indoor venue with a proscenium stage.

The Lowell Davies Festival Theatre is an outdoor theater that’s the setting for the annual Shakespeare Festival. The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre is a flexible space used for a range of productions, from dramas to comedies.

You can stop by the box office and see what’s playing.

Spreckels Organ Pavilion

7. Spreckles Organ Pavilion

The Spreckles Organ Pavilion boasts the largest outdoor organ in the world. It was built by the Austin organ Company.

The organ is capable of playing the full range of Organ masterworks. The organ and pavilion were installed for the 1915 exposition. They were the gift of the Spreckels family, heirs to a sugar fortune.

Los Angeles architect Harrison Albright designed the pavilion in an Italian Renaissance style. Like everything else in the park, it’s undergone many renovations and expansions.

In the summer, you can attend the International Organ Festival and listen to some of the world’s most accomplished organists. The pavilion also hosts numerous other music performances.

Spanish Village Art Center

8. Spanish Village Art Center

From a sidewalk near the Natural History Museum, you can access the Spanish Village . It was designed to resemble a typical Spanish village and is primarily used as an artist colony.

The complex has colorful pavements and buildings and terracotta roofs. In the working studios of over 200 artisans, you’ll find everything from sculpture to painting to handmade jewelry. And most of the items are for sale!

You can watch daily demonstrations in studios and on the colorful courtyard. There’s also an onsite glass blowing facility.

balboa park architecture tour

9. Gardens In Balboa Park

There are quite a few gardens in Balboa Park. Here are some of the highlights:

Lily Pond & Botanical Building

This is one of the loveliest spots in Balboa Park. On the lily pond, you may see a family or ducks and (sometimes) a great blue heron. There are floating lotus, water lilies, and other aquatic plants.

Behind it is the Botanical Building , a popular photo spot. It houses a diverse collection of more than 2,100 permanent plants — tropical plants, orchids, ferns, cycads, and palms.

Throughout the year, there are seasonal flower displays. The building is free to enter, if you’re interested in horticulture.

umbrellas in the Japanese Garden

Japanese Friendship Garden

This exquisite Japanese Friendship Garden stands as my personal favorite garden in Balboa Park.

It’s a harmonious blend of traditional Japanese horticulture and cultural elements. The shady garden unfolds across its three distinct scenes: water, pastoral, and mountain.

Named after its Yokohama counterpart in Japan, it’s a haven for diverse flora that varies with the seasons — from winter magnolias and black pines to pomegranates, pears, myrtles, hydrangeas, cherry blossoms, and azaleas. Yet, the prevailing hue is a soothing green.

Japanese Garden

A cornerstone of Japanese design, meticulously chosen stones imported from Japan grace the garden, infusing it with authenticity.

As you meander along gracefully curved pathways, a delightful “hide and reveal” concept beckons, adding an element of intrigue to your journey.

The upper garden features a koi pond mirroring a mother turtle’s form, a serene sight to behold. The lower gardens cradle a 280-year-old, 12-foot bronze statue of Kannon Bosatsu, evoking an aura of reverence.

These grounds offer a plethora of enriching programs — from yoga and ikebana, mediation, and breath fitness.

balboa park architecture tour

Alcazar Garden

If you want to channel Seville Spain, take a wander through the Alcazar Gardens . During the 1915 exposition, the flower beds were planted with red and yellow flowers, the colors of the Spanish flag.

The space was redesigned in 1945 to recreate a formal Moorish formal garden from the Royal Alcazar in Seville .

There are more than 7,000 flowering species, a beautiful tiled fountain, and a pergola at the west end.

fountain in the Alcazar Garden

Inez Grant Memorial Rose Garden

The rose garden covers nearly three acres on the canyon rim. There are over 1,700 roses of 200 varieties. It’s been voted on of the top 12 rose gardens in the world.

You’ll see roses year round because of San Diego’s mile climate. But they are cut back in December to encourage regrowth, so that is not the ideal time to see them.

Desert Garden

If you like desert plants, plan to visit the Desert Garden in January through March. This is when the blooms of over 1,300 plants peak. There are cactus, aloes, and agaves from around the world.

entrance to San Diego Zoo

10. San Diego Zoo

If you exit the Spanish Village, a sidewalk lined with trees leads about two blocks north to the San Diego Zoo .

The zoo is a timeless favorite for visitors of all ages. Spanning 100 acres, this wildlife sanctuary provides refuge to over 12,000 animals from around the world.

Originating from the visionary mind of Dr. Harry M. Wedgeforth, the zoo stands as a testament to his pioneering spirit in crafting “cageless” exhibits.

flamingos at the zoo

These exhibits authentically replicate natural habitats and showcase the groundbreaking efforts made with animals like California condors, rhinos, flamingos, and pandas.

For an optimal experience, consider an early morning visit to catch the animals in their active hours before their midday rest. Some creatures also come alive in the afternoon, allowing you to observe their energy and behaviors.

Once you enter, you can pick up a map to find your favorite exhibits. (You an find one online as well.) You should pre-book an  admission ticket and/or a  ticket to the safari park .

balboa park architecture tour

Practical Guide & Tips For Visiting Balboa Park

1. how to get to balboa park.

If you’re driving, you can easily reach Balboa Park via major highways and streets. The park has multiple entrances, and parking is available in various lots throughout the park. Keep in mind that parking may be limited during busy times.

San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) offers bus routes that connect to Balboa Park. You can use MTS buses to reach the park from different areas of the city.

In addition, the San Diego Trolley’s Orange Line has a stop near Balboa Park at the “City College” station, which is within walking distance of the park’s western entrance.

lily pond and Botanical Building

Once at the park, you can walk everywhere. There’s also a free tram that runs daily and stops at the three major parking lots (Inspiration Point, Organ Pavilion, and Federal).

Admittance to the park grounds is free.

I recommend that friends and family coming to San Diego use the  Go San Diego Pass to make seeing the city’s attractions easier and less expensive.

However, if your itinerary emphasizes Balboa Park attractions, take a look at the  Balboa Park Explorer  pass. You can also buy single tickets for each attraction.

If you want to visit X attraction in Balboa Park, check the website to see what days it’s open. They vary quite a bit.

Cafe Mingei

3. Where To Eat In Balboa Park

If hunger calls, here are some options for eating in Balboa Park.

The Prado Restaurant: Known for its elegant Spanish ambiance and delicious California cuisine, The Prado offers a dining experience in a historic building. It features indoor and outdoor seating and is a popular choice for both lunch and dinner.

The Tea Pavilion: Located within the Japanese Friendship Garden, The Tea Pavilion offers a serene setting for enjoying Japanese tea and light snacks. It’s a tranquil spot to relax after exploring the garden.

The Sculpture Court Cafe: Situated within the San Diego Museum of Art, this cafe offers a casual dining experience with a variety of salads, sandwiches, and beverages.

Artifact at Mingei: Located inside the Mingei International Museum, this cafe serves light refreshments, sandwiches, salads, and coffee. It’s a cozy spot to recharge after your museum visit.

Tea Pavilion in the Japanese Garden

Albert’s Restaurant: Nestled within the San Diego Zoo, Albert’s Restaurant offers a dining experience surrounded by lush gardens and wildlife. It’s a unique opportunity to dine in a zoo setting.

Panama 66: This restaurant is adjacent to the San Diego Museum of Art and offers an open-air dining experience with craft beers, cocktails, and a menu of sandwiches, salads, and more.

Cafe in the Park : This is a casual spot where you can grab açaí bowls, burgers, sandwiches, and paninis. It’s in the Casa de Balboa building.

If you’d like to eat at El Prado, you should reserve in advance or try to get a reservation when you first arrive.

Depending on when you visit, you may also see food trucks on the Plaza de Panama. You can also grab a coffee or quick bite at Daniel’s Coffee (Spanish Village Art Center) or Prado Perk (House of Hospitality).

balboa park architecture tour

4. How Much Time Do You Need At Balboa Park

If you’re just looking for a quick overview of Balboa Park, you can spend a couple of hours strolling through the main areas, enjoying the architecture, and visiting one or two key attractions.

To get a more comprehensive experience, plan for a half day (about 4-5 hours). This will give you time to explore a few museums, wander through the gardens, and enjoy a meal or snack at one of the cafes.

If you’re an art or culture enthusiast, you could easily spend multiple days exploring the park. If you have time, it’s most pleasant to visit different museums or attractions on different days to fully appreciate the diversity of offerings.

If you plan on doing the park and zoo together, you could spend a half a day at each venue. But multiple days would be better. The zoo is massive.

Casa del Prado Theater

5. When To Visit Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a year-round destination. Summer draws the most crowds. Still, it’s never overly hot.

If you are coming to see the gardens, spring is the best time to visit. If you’re visiting in the fall months, this is when many of the festivals happen.

6. Where To Stay Near Balboa Park

If you’d like to stay near the park, maybe to facilitate multiple visits, there are quite a few hotels nearby:

The US Grant is an elegant 5 star luxury hotel. It was built in 1910 by Ulysses S. Grant Jr., the son of the 18th President of the United States. Since then, the hotel has been a symbol of luxury and elegance for over a century.

The Westgate Hotel is a luxury hotel, with classic architecture, exquisite furnishings, and a rooftop pool. It has several dining options and is renowned for its Afternoon Tea service.

Andaz San Diego is a 4 star hotel concept hotel by Hyatt. It blends historic architecture with modern design.

Persian Water Rug Fountain

7. Other Information

Address :1549 El Prado San Diego 92101

Ma p: You can download a map here .

Phone : +1 619-239-0512

WEB :  Visit website

I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to Balboa Park. You may find these other California travel guides useful:

  • 2 days in San Diego itinerary
  • 2 day itinerary for Santa Barbara
  • 10 days in southern California itinerary
  • One day in Ojai itinerary
  • One day in Santa Monica itinerary
  • One day in La Jolla itinerary
  • Best art towns in California
  • Guide to the Getty Center
  • Guide to the Getty Villa
  • Guide to the San Diego Museum of Art
  • Guide to the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art

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Last Updated on November 19, 2023 by Leslie Livingston

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Secrets and Highlights of Balboa Park Tour

Gardens, Architecture & Art

A Symbol of San Diego

Educational & Fun

Explore One of the Country’s Finest Urban Cultural Parks

Balboa Park is home to gorgeous gardens, lovely walking paths, and numerous cultural gems . Uncover historical and architectural treasures from the Founder’s Statues, Alcazar and Zoro Gardens, to the Spanish Village Art Center and much more . Keep your camera ready as there are incredible sights around every corner. You’ll get a full overview of Balboa Park and its rich history on this walking tour, uncovering how Balboa Park has become a symbol of San Diego.

Tour Highlights

From peacetime to wartime, learn about the world events that changed Balboa Park

Sip a beverage and shop for one-of-a-kind artwork

Hear about the famous and infamous characters who shaped the story of the park

Capture the experience with a photo at one of the park’s picturesque landscapes

Click the tabs to find out more

Trip details, walk this way.

  • $49 Adult (16+)
  • $39 Children (6-15)
  • $25-75 per person for private tours (prices vary by group size)

Departure times

Meeting point.

Next to Founder’s Plaza Statues , between 6th Ave and Balboa Drive on Laurel Street at the west entrance of Balboa Park. They are located in Sefton Plaza and are directly across the street from the Lawn Bowling Club. 698 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92103

Ending point

Plaza de Panama, 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101


Tuesday – Saturday, year-round

Maximum of 15 people

Participation requirements

  • Minimum age of 6 years
  • This tour is wheelchair accessible
  • Let us know in advance if you would like an audio system
  • Professional and fun tour guide
  • One beverage at a local coffee cart

Not included

  • Additional food and beverages
  • Additional purchases such as souvenirs and items of a personal nature
  • Tips/gratuities for your guide

What to bring

  • Walking shoes
  • Sunscreen and/or a hat
  • Light jacket or layers, depending on the weather
  • Water in a reusable container
  • Cash for payment and gratuities is welcome, but if you’d prefer to provide your guide with a “thank you” that isn’t in cash form, they will give you their PayPal or Venmo information

About your guide

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balboa park architecture tour

But we’re not done yet! We’ll then head to the Botanical Building , the largest wooden lath roofed building when completed in 1915 (closed for restoration until 2023). It’s the perfect stop for photographers and flower-lovers alike, and the adjacent lily pond full of koi makes more than just a pretty picture — you’ll learn how the pond was an important part of the war effort during WWI and how it helped injured sailors and soldiers during WWII. Our tour will end at the Plaza de Panama , but before we say goodbye, your guide will give you directions to the nearby Visitor Center (for snacks, maps, souvenirs, and museum passes), suggestions for places to eat, and tips on what else to see and do within the park.

Hear From Our Customers!


Jennifer was an excellent tour guide & the secret coffee drink was fabulous! I even got to do a bit of shopping along the way:)

We had an excellent time touring Balboa Park. Jennifer was informative, smart, witty, and FUN! Highly recommend this tour. Jennifer is the best!

Francesca Surraco

Jennifer gave us an excellent tour of beautiful Balboa Park! A wealth of knowledge and recommendations, she led an informative tour that was a great start to our San Diego adventure. Would highly recommend going on her tour versus wandering the park on your own. There is so much to learn and so many things you’d miss without a guide in the park. Thanks, Jennifer!

We had a wonderful tour of Balboa Park with Jennifer. She was so knowledgeable and fun. I’ve been to the park many times but had no idea about its history, architecture and its founders. Jennifer told us wonderful stories about the park from the last 150 years. We had a fantastic visit and can’t wait to try one her other tours.

Fun way to learn about the history of Balboa Park. Our guide Jen was very knowledgeable, friendly, and fun. We enjoyed talking with the other people on our tour, too.

Jen was totally prepared for sketchy weather and Covid precautions, carrying extra umbrellas and masks.

A nice addition to the walk was our complimentary beverage at a coffee cart. Hot chocolate and fancy coffees were available.

Explore Our Other Walking Tours

Old town tales, tacos, and tequila, coronado history and highlights, liberty station: from barracks to brews.

How to Visit Balboa Park: Directions, Tours, and Free Attractions

When in doubt what to see and do in San Diego, visit Balboa Park, including its free attractions and tours. The biggest landmark in the city fills your day with eccentric museums, lush gardens, and exotic animals. With such a historic and cultural abundance, you’re truly spoilt for choice. Visit Balboa Park once and will always long for more trips to this remarkable oasis in the heart of San Diego.

Last updated: January 28, 2023

How to Visit Balboa Park. Directions, Tours, and Free Attractions - Roads and Destinations

Can you imagine San Diego without Seaport Village? Probably, yes. What about the famous USS Midway Museum or the world’s oldest active sailing ship, Star of India? Mmm… it’s hard to picture the city without them, but maybe if you really try, you can still do it.

But can you, at least for a second, envision San Diego without its grandiose Balboa Park? The answer is a definite no! A visit to Balboa Park is an absolute must whether you spend a day or a month in the area.

Why Visit Balboa Park?

A visit to Balboa Park is not an option. It’s a mandatory pursuit for every curious traveler and art and history enthusiast. 1,200-acre Balboa Park is the heart of the city where art, culture, history, and nature get together to create a majestic space for people of all ages and interests.

Home to 17 major museums, 19 lavish gardens, more than 10 performing arenas, and incredible attractions such as the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park Carousel, Balboa Park Miniature Train, Cabrillo Bridge, and California Tower, Balboa Park is ranked as one of the nation’s largest urban cultural park and one of the best parks in the world.

On top of that, the guests of Balboa Park are welcome to visit seasonal events, concerts, and festivals . Some of the most popular festivals include December Nights and EarthFair , the world’s largest free annual environmental fair.

Visit Balboa Park in summer to attend The Pride Festival , one of San Diego’s biggest events. October brings Halloween Family Day . During this time, the visitors are encouraged to participate in free craft projects, costume contests, and carnival games.

Moreover, go to Balboa Park to dance and meet other dancers . Every Friday and Sunday, the historic Balboa Park Club offers its guests an excellent opportunity to take dance lessons. Here, you can hit the ballroom floor and show your skills in Waltz, Tango, Rumba, Quickstep, and Foxtrot.

The visitors wishing to learn more about the museums and gardens are welcome to use pre-recorded audio or guided tours . Last but not least, after a day full of exploration, ample gift shops and eateries look especially irresistible, making a visit to Balboa Park even more enjoyable.

How to Visit Balboa Park. Directions, Tours, and Free Attractions - Roads and Destinations

History in a Nutshell: From City Park to Balboa Park

A visit to Balboa Park goes beyond the impeccable architecture and lavish greenery. It’s hard to imagine today that the popular landmark once used all available resources to fight for its existence.

Balboa Park is rightfully considered one of the oldest places dedicated to public recreational use. Following Spanish tradition to set aside big areas of land for public use, in 1868 government officials dedicated 1,400 acres of land, known as City Park , to its residents for recreational purposes. No further significant activities in the development of the park had been done for the next more than 20 years.

The first attempt to advance the park was attributed solely to Kate Sessions , “ The Mother of Balboa Park” . In 1892, Sessions proposed to expand flora of the park by planting 100 trees a year in exchange for 32 acres of land that she used for her nursery. Her hard work changed the area tremendously, making it more appealing to the visitors of Balboa Park.

In the early 1900s, a master plan of the development of the area was officially introduced. Finally, a whole new process began to improve and beautify the park. Shortly after that, gorgeous museums, astounding attractions, and lush gardens festooned Balboa Park.

In 1910 in anticipation of the upcoming 1915 Panama-California Exposition, park commissioners renamed it from non-prestigious City Park to Balboa Park in honor of Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa . The Spaniard had happened to be the first European to catch sight of the eastern shore of the Pacific Ocean during his explorations in Panama.

How to Visit Balboa Park. Directions, Tours, and Free Attractions - Roads and Destinations

The crown jewel of San Diego, Balboa Park boasts a central location. Nestled in the heart of the city, just north of the downtown area, the place allures locals and visitors alike. The central area of Balboa Park is located at 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101 . You can visit Balboa Park 24 hours a day and admire its towering architectural masterpieces hidden in the lush greenery.

How to Get to Balboa Park

While the locals often use public transport, the city’s visitors adhere to personal or rental vehicles or shared rides to get to the place. Some of the most popular ways to visit the park include the following:

By Public Transport

Balboa Park is part of a few popular routes . Stopping near the place several times a day, the public busses ensure that the guests have no problem in getting here. For those who choose to visit Balboa Park by public transportation, board one of the following busses:

  • 120 (Fashion Valley)
  • 7 (City College)

Old Town Trolley also offers a convenient ride to the park. You can hop on it from several locations around San Diego and visit Balboa Park hassle-free. 

The guests of San Diego usually visit Balboa Park by driving or using Uber, Lyft, or taxi. The conveniently located landmark can be found in minutes. Here are a couple of directions to get to Balboa Park in a timely manner.

From the Nort h:  

When driving from the north along I-5, exit on B Street/Pershing Street. Then turn left onto A Street and continue driving for approximately 400 feet before turning left onto Park Boulevard. From here, follow street signs to get to one of the parking lots of Balboa Park.

From the South:

Similarly, you can visit Balboa Park when driving from the south. Again, follow I-5 until an exit onto B Street/Pershing Street. Turn left onto Florida Drive. One more left turn onto Zoo Place follows shortly after that. Finally turn left onto Park Boulevard and follow street signs. 

How to Visit Balboa Park. Directions, Tours, and Free Attractions - Roads and Destinations

Visit Balboa Park: Parking

The Inspiration Point parking lot is the biggest in Balboa Park. Several smaller lots are scattered around the park as well. Yet due to their sizes and never-ceasing demand, these parking sections get full quickly. Alternately, the guests can use metered street parking and visit Balboa Park on foot afterword. 

A free tram connects different parts of the park. It picks the visitors from the parking lots and takes them to the popular museums and other attractions. The tram operates daily from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm. In summer, it extends its working hours from 9:00 am until 8:00 pm.

Running every 8-10 minutes, this public transport is in demand especially by elderly visitors and families with small children. At peak times, the guests might need to wait anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to visit different sections of Balboa Park. 

How to Visit Balboa Park. Directions, Tours, and Free Attractions - Roads and Destinations

How to Visit Balboa Park

Similarly to the ways of getting to this area of San Diego, options on how to visit Balboa Park and get the most of it vary. The popular landmark accommodates single visitors, families, and groups. Furthermore, it satisfies both nature enthusiasts looking for exotic plants as well as city dwellers longing for a quick escape from hustle and bustle of San Diego. Here are some of the popular ways to visit Balboa Park and explore its ample attractions through and through.

1. Visit Balboa Park on Your Own

Exploring different attractions on your own is by far the most popular way to visit Balboa Park. Many visitors often stop at the Visitor Center to grab a map and are eager to see the area unaccompanied. Whether they aim at hiking along numerous scenic trails or admiring extraordinary architecture, Balboa Park respect their wishes and unfolds its treasures one by one. 

An independent visit to Balboa Park suits mostly local families with children. They normally explore the park one section at a time. Once the youngsters lose interest, the families leave Balboa Park and resume their visit in a few days.

2. Free Walking Tours  

Ceaselessly working on bringing nature and its rich historical and cultural heritage to all of its visitors, Balboa Park organizes free weekly tours. Normally, the guided sessions involve enthusiastic, knowledgable staff and trained volunteers. Each tour lasts approximately one hour. 

Ranger-led Tours

Every Sunday from 11:00am until 12:00am, the rangers of Balboa Park answer any questions about the history of the park, museums, and gardens. 

Architectural Heritage Tours

Visit Balboa Park and learn everything about its great architecture built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. The tours are free to join every Friday of the month at 10:00 am. Visit the Balboa Park Visitor Center to find out the exact location where to meet your guide. 

Residents Free Days

The residents of the City and County of San Diego are welcome to join the so-called Residents Free Days. Dates and operating hours vary and can change any time. Thus, be sure to check the official website or visit the Balboa Park Visitor Center for updated information.

Japanese Friendship Garden Docent-led Tours

Some guided tours, such as the Japanese Friendship Garden Docent-led tours, cover only a particular section of Balboa Park. No reservation is required to join these guided lessons. The tours are free with paid admission. Their times and locations, however, may vary. For more details, please refer to the Japanese Friendship Garden’s website or the Visitor Center. 

How to Visit Balboa Park. Directions, Tours, and Free Attractions - Roads and Destinations

3. Custom Private Tours 

Familiar with struggles of the out-of-town guests, Balboa Park started running its custom private tours. The guided visit to Balboa Park requires pre-arranged booking and costs $150. The tours can be organized for any day from 9:30 am until 4:30 pm. Up to 15 people can attend one private tour.

Usually, the park’s staff or highly-trained volunteers meet the attendees at the Visitor Center. For the next hour, they entertain their guests with the spectacular architecture, popular and rare plants, and rich historical heritage of the park. 

4. Viator Guided Tours

If you visit Balboa Park for a limited time that doesn’t align with the above-mentioned tours, consider booking a guided tour through a third party. It’s a good option to find out more about the park, see its highlights as well as some hidden gems, including San Diego Balboa Park Scavenger Hunt Adventure . All in all, the guided tours help you make the most of your short visit to Balboa Park.

Here are some of the tours you might want to find out more about.

How to Visit Balboa Park. Directions, Tours, and Free Attractions - Roads and Destinations

Free Things to Do and Attractions to Visit in Balboa Park 

Surprisingly, Balboa Park allows to visit many of its attractions free of charge. While the free guided tours don’t spoil the guests every day, some areas of the park never close their doors. Moreover, they welcome everybody to enjoy their natural and cultural opulence without insisting on paying beforehand. With that said, here are some of the best things to do and free attractions to visit in Balboa Park.  

1. Walk through Balboa Park

You can visit Balboa Park anytime of the day, 365 days a year free of charge. There is no admission fee to walk through the area and admire its remarkable museum-buildings and lavish gardens from outside. On top of that, Balboa Park stays open 24 hours a day. 

This alone entices a large number of visitors fond of soft golden and pink colors that adorn the sky above the park at sunrise and sunset. Shutterbugs and professional photographers frequently use the free access for their advantage and visit Balboa Park to capture these gorgeous hues before maddening crowds arrive. 

2. Visit Free Gardens in Balboa Park

The majority of the gardens in Balboa Park also unveil their cultural and natural treasures free of charge. Similar to the area itself, they stay open all day long, enabling the guests to visit them at any hour. The most popular free gardens in Balboa Park include the following:

  • Veterans Memorial Garden
  • Old Cactus Garden
  • Australian Garden
  • Alcazar Garden
  • Palm Canyon 
  • Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden
  • Zoro Garden

Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden - Roads and Destinations

3. Enjoy Free Hiking Trails

On top of admiring the lavish greenery and exotic plants, you can explore the impeccable gardens of Balboa Park through a net of interconnected trails. The best part, the hiking also doesn’t cost a penny. Check out these trails while visiting Balboa Park next time.

  • Golden Hill Trails
  • Marston Point Trails
  • Park Boulevard Trails
  • Morley Field Trails 
  • Sixth and Upas Trails

4. Visit Free Children’s Playgrounds in Balboa Park

The visitors with kids take advantage of the free playgrounds that keep the youngsters entertained more than any other epic landmarks of the park. Among the favorite areas for the little visitors are the following: 

  • Bird Park at Cedar 
  • Morley Field Playground
  • Bird Park at Upas
  • Sixth Avenue Playground
  • Pepper Grove Playground

5. Free Museums and Landmarks to Visit in Balboa Park

While the majority of the institutions charge fees, several buildings offer their services free of charge. From museums to outdoor pavilions and cultural centers, Balboa Park further entices its guests with the must-visit landmarks without asking a dime in exchange. You should add the following free attractions to your next visit to Balboa Park. 

  • Timken Museum of Art
  • Botanical Building and Lily Pond
  • Spanish Village Art Center
  • Spreckels Organ Pavilion

Botanical Building and Lily Pond - Roads and Destinations

How Much Time do You Need for a Visit to Balboa Park? 

A visit to Balboa Park can last from an hour to a full day . The place boasts some of the best landmarks in San Diego, including seasonal attractions that you can’t miss.

Ideally, you should plan to spend at least half a day to explore the exquisite museums and gardens of the park. If time is an issue, be sure to at least walk through the park and admire its oozing opulence. In this case, the famous museums of Balboa Park should wait until your next trip. 

Admission and Fees

Balboa Park, including many of its impeccable gardens, playgrounds, and trails are free to visit. The museums that are run independently, however, require a ticket and paid admission. Find more about the prices and special events on particular organization’s websites or at the Visitor Center.

The best way to take the most of your trip to Balboa Park is by purchasing Balboa Park Explorer Pass , though. The passes are available for one or seven days, allowing you to enjoy the participating museums while saving time and money. The locals save even more by getting an annual pass. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is balboa park free to visit.

Walking through Balboa Park is free. There is no admission fee whatsoever. You can stop by at any time and explore the park and some of its gardens on your own. To visit the famous museums of Balboa Park, you must purchase tickets.

What can you do in Balboa Park for free?

The majority of the gardens in Balboa Park are free. On top of that, you can explore some buildings and art collections such as the Timken Museum of Art and the Botanical Building and the Lily Pond completely free of charge. The employees and trained volunteers of Balboa Park also organize free guided tours. Scroll up and find more about free things to do in the area. 

  • Top 17 Things to Do in Balboa Park: Bucket List and Photography
  • Off the Beaten Path: Top 13 Hidden Gems in and Near San Diego, California
  • 18 Irresistible Day Trips from San Diego: Beaches, Deserts, Mountains, and More
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  • First Time in San Diego: What to Know and Do, Tips, and Map

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How to Visit Balboa Park. Directions, Tours, and Free Attractions - Roads and Destinations

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San Diego's Balboa Park Contains Architectural Wonders to Discover

Landmarks provide context to park's 100th year.

Lydia Kremer August 13, 2015 Arts & Entertainment

balboa park architecture tour

As the park marks its 100th anniversary this year, sometimes lost in that vast space are the architectural gems that provide context to the park’s history.

Balboa Park offers docent-led walking tours beginning with the California Building, home to the San Diego Museum of Man (pictured at right/Photo by Lydia Kremer) , which was designed by noted architect Bertram Goodhue as a design hybrid, blending Plateresque, Baroque, Churrigueresque, and Rococo details to present a unique Spanish-Colonial façade.

The California Building, with its three-story tower and colorful tiled dome, is the most iconic architectural landmark in San Diego. The California Tower was opened to public tours just in time for the centennial after being shuttered for 80 years. Climb the 160 stairs to the top and you’ll be rewarded with a 360-degree bird’s eye view.

When compared with any other San Diego structure, the California Building earns more mentions in studies of American architecture, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the California Quadrangle. The Historic Buildings Survey in the Library of Congress includes the California Building's tower.

balboa park architecture tour

photo by lydia kremer

Balboa Park's Botanical Bldg (1915-16) is one of the largest lath structures in the world.

Two-Hour Drive

Balboa Park’s distinctive architecture, diverse museums and sprawling gardens, just minutes from San Diego’s picturesque coastline, make this a perfect summer getaway for desert dwellers to participate in the centennial celebration in a 2-hour drive.

The park was originally constructed to host the 1915 Panama-California Exposition commemorating the opening of the Panama Canal (apropos as San Diego was the first U.S. port of call on the Pacific).

The park’s 17 museums rivals the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. (it also includes the world-famous San Diego Zoo).

balboa park architecture tour

photo courtesy of the lafayette hotel

The Lafayette Hotel was built in 1946 and hosted some of Hollywood's elite.

Designer Digs

For cool digs, the historic Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club & Bungalows is the perfect place to decamp; it’s located in the North Park neighborhood, the newest trendy San Diego enclave five minutes from Balboa Park.

The Colonial architecture of the Lafayette Hotel, built in 1946, is a surprise and was a frequent getaway for Hollywood A-listers like Bob Hope and Ava Gardner. The hotel’s restaurant and bar pays homage to Mr. Hope with its name — Hope 46.

balboa park architecture tour


The lobby of the Lafayette boasts a retro chic design.

Once you settle in to this retro chic outpost, no reason to venture far for entertainment – they host monthly jazz concerts and show classic films al fresco. Also you can enjoy Normandie Wilson, a featured singer/pianist who performs in the lobby and looks like she was caught in a 1960s time warp. Around the corner to the hotel is the San Diego Improv Comedy Club, an intimate setting featuring local comedic talent.

For a retro cocktail or dining adventure, the property’s piece de resistance is the classic Red Fox Room right next door. The piano bar and restaurant with its low lighting and red leather booths look like Don Draper might drop in any minute.

balboa park architecture tour

Johnny Weissmuller, star of Tarzan moves of the 1930s and '40s, designed this Olympic pool at the Lafayette.

Another of The Lafayette’s notable claim to fame is its Olympic-size pool that was designed by Johnny Weissmuller, six-time swimming Olympian and starred in the early Tarzan films of the 1930s and 40s. Today the pool is still a lively scene with weekend concerts. You can luxuriate in your own private cabana and enjoy the fun with poolside food and cocktail service.

Plan Your San Diego Getaway:

• General tourism info: www.sandiego.org

• Balboa Park Visitors Center (in Prado Hospitality)

• San Diego History Center (located in Balboa Park) www.sandiegohistory.org/calendar 

• Free Architectural Heritage Tours of Balboa Park: www.balboapark.org/in-the-park/ committee-100  or call 619-239-0512.

Lydia Kremer has worked in the architecture and design communities of Palm Springs for more than 10 years. As a publicist, she promoted Palm Springs Modernism Week for seven years since its inception, she served on the Architectural Design Council board for five years, and was a board trustee for the California Preservation Foundation for five years.

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Balboa Park

balboa park architecture tour

Architectural Heritage Tours

The Committee of 100 offers one-hour tours on the first Wednesday of each month at 9:30 a.m. Tours meet in front of the Visitor Information Center in the Park's Plaza de Panama. The Committee of 100 is a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to preserving Spanish Colonial architecture in the Park. The Committee raises funds for the preservation and restoration of the Park's historic buildings. For more information, call 619-239-0512.

Balboa Birders

The Balboa Birders are volunteers who lead monthly birding tours in parks, marshes, and canyons in and around Balboa Park and neighboring communities. Birders meet the first Thursday of every month from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Locations vary. For more information, call 619-232-3821, Ext. 7.

Canyoneers Guided Nature Walks

The Natural History Museum's Canyoneers -volunteer naturalists trained in local flora, fauna, and geology-lead weekend nature walks from September through July in San Diego County's mountain, canyon, lagoon and desert habitats. Walks range from one and one-half hours to six hours and are generally of moderate distance (1 to 6 miles) and difficulty. For more information, call 619-232-3821, Ext. 7.

House of Pacific Relations Lawn Programs

Offshoot Tours

Offered every Saturday by volunteer horticulturists, the tours meet in front of the Park's Visitor Information Center at 10 a.m. for a one-hour walk. Tour themes include Balboa Park history (first Saturdays of the month), palm trees (second Saturdays), other trees in the Park (third Saturdays), desert vegetation (fourth Saturdays), and every fifth Saturdays offers the "tour del dia" (exploring the Park Palisades area). Inclement weather or attendance of fewer than four people cancels tour. Offshoot Tours run from the second Saturday in January through the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Sponsored by the Balboa Park Rangers. For more information, call 619-235-1122.

Ranger-led Tours

Approximately one hour long, these tours meet at 11 a.m. every Tuesday and Sunday at the Visitor Information Center in the Park's House of Hospitality. Park Rangers discuss the historical and botanical treasures of Balboa Park. The Park Rangers are committed to helping visitors have a wholesome, safe, and rewarding outdoor experience. In addition to tours, rangers assist with public safety, raise awareness of conservation needs and methods, and carry out a proactive series of educational activities within the Park and throughout the community. For large tour groups or special arrangements, call the Park Rangers' office at 619-235-1122.

Spreckels Organ Pavilion Concerts

The Spreckels Organ Pavilion , housing the world's largest outdoor pipe organ, was donated to the City of San Diego by brothers John D. and Adolph Spreckels in 1914 for the Panama-California Exposition. The pavilion area provides comfortable seating for 2,400 and with wheelchair access. Free year-round organ concerts, featuring San Diego Civic Organist Dr. Carol Williams, are held on Sundays from 2 to 3 p.m. Guest performers are scheduled at least once a month. Each year a free summer International Organ Festival is presented from mid-June through August on Monday evenings at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 619-702-8138.

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  • The Alhambra Palace

balboa park architecture tour

  • Royal Alcazares
  • The Seville Cathedral

balboa park architecture tour

  • Lázaro Galdiano Museum
  • Archaeological Museum of Madrid

balboa park architecture tour

  • Montjuïc Cable Car
  • Mirador torre Glòries

balboa park architecture tour

  • The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba

balboa park architecture tour

  • The Mallorca Cathedral

balboa park architecture tour

  • The Hagia Sophia

balboa park architecture tour

  • Ephesus Ancient City Tour

balboa park architecture tour

  • Times Square
  • Central Park
  • Ellis Island & National Immigration Museum
  • Niagara Falls

balboa park architecture tour

  • Balboa Park

balboa park architecture tour

  • Star Ferry Pier
  • Victoria Peak

balboa park architecture tour

  • Ruins of St. Paul

balboa park architecture tour

  • Louvre Museum

balboa park architecture tour

  • Orange Roman Theatre & Museum

balboa park architecture tour

  • St. George Castle
  • Belem Tower
  • Jerónimos Monastery

balboa park architecture tour

  • Cathedral of Oporto

balboa park architecture tour

  • Quinta da Regaleira
  • The Pena Palace
  • Moorish Castle

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  • Museu Nacional Frei Manuel do Cenáculo

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  • The Citadel of Qaitbay

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  • The Hanging Church

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  • Vajdahunyad Castle

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Explore Balboa Park

Balboa Park, a cultural gem nestled in the heart of San Diego, California, is a captivating oasis that exudes beauty, art, and history. From the striking Spanish Colonial architecture of the California Tower to the world-class collections at the San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park offers a rich tapestry of attractions and artistic treasures. Stroll through lush gardens, like the Botanical Building’s iconic lily pond, or the Japanese Balboa Park’s delightful blend of museums, theaters, and recreational spaces creates a captivating experience for visitors of all ages. Whether relishing the enchanting gardens or basking in the park’s vibrant atmosphere, Balboa Park promises an unforgettable journey into art, culture, and the natural world.

Discover the magic of Balboa Park with Clio Muse Tours.

balboa park architecture tour

Featured tours

San Diego’s Balboa Park: A Park for the People

San Diego’s Balboa Park: A Park for the People



About Spanish Village Art Center

Established in 1936, Spanish Village Art Center, in Balboa Park, is San Diego’s premiere artist collective. Located in historic Spanish Village, between the NAT and the Zoo, we are a community of working local artists creating art…year round…right before your eyes!

While our location and architecture are distinctly old-world, our art is not. Most noteworthy is that Spanish Village Art Center boasts over 200 living, contemporary artists from diverse backgrounds, experiences and art forms with patrons worldwide.  Independently juried and award-winning painters, sculptors, metalsmiths, jewelry designers, clay, gourd, fiber, mixed media, glass, enamel, leather and digital artists along with photographers, printmakers and many more will be creating art in the Village on any given day!

Our Mission...

Above all, our mission is to share our passion for art along with our personal creative journeys. Therefore we welcome you into our studios to observe artists at work and invite you to ask questions. Some artists will even encourage you to handle and enjoy their work. Art pieces large and small are available for purchase every day.

Our studios are open to the general public, free of charge, 7 days a week from 11am to 4pm.  Any artist who is a San Diego County resident has the opportunity to become a member of this celebrated artist collective. Find more information about this on our membership page .

History of the Spanish Village Art Center

Built in 1935 for the second California Exposition, Spanish Village depicted a quaint town complete with restaurants, shops, cantinas, and an open courtyard. Many structures built for this Exposition were to be temporary. Consequently in 1936, after the event drew to a close, some exhibits were slated for demolition. At that time, a group of visionary local artists approached the city with a proposal to convert the buildings in Spanish Village into working art studios. In exchange, the artists agreed to provide community outreach both to other local artists and the general public. As a result, local artists have an affordable place to work, show and sell in a creative environment. In addition, the artists of Spanish Village Art Center open their studio doors to the public…offering them the rare opportunity to watch the artists at work.

The Village...

The Village has remained open to the public for nearly 80 years, closing only for a short time during World War II when the military occupied much of Balboa Park. Over the years thousands of dedicated artists have been members of this artist collective. While cosmetic changes have been made to the Village…adding beautiful trees and flowers, brightly colored doorways and the signature painted patio tiles…Spanish Village Art Center’s mission remains the same. We invite you, the public, into our studios to watch artists at work and we continue to welcome new artists to join us. So come visit us and share our passion for art! We are open 7 days a week, 11am to 4pm, free of charge.

Did You Know?

San Diego Artists continue to preserve and enhance its beauty as a historical landmark by adding to its charm by making each of the studios unique entryways individual, as is all of the artwork, and allowing the main patios to be rented for most special events. It is a favorite location for both professional and amateur photographers.

Board of Directors 2023-24

Executive Board

  • Jon Evans – President
  • Linda Lepeirs – Vice President
  • Stephanie Henry – Recording
  • Sheryl Sabin– Treasurer
  • Natasha Papousek – Corresponding Secretary
  • Sergey Gornuskin – Sculpture Guild Rep
  • Renee Menard– Enamel Guild Rep
  • Robert Stewart – Wood Guild Rep
  • Roberta Klein – Potters’ Guild Rep
  • Susan Binford – Southwestern Artists Rep
  • Marcy Stinton – Glass Guild

General Board Members

  • Dot Renshaw – Director
  • Tammy Cammarot – Director
  • Carol Foster
  • Jackie Murphy – Director
  • Chris Stell – Director
  • Elizabeth Woolrych
  • Michael Maddy

Parks & Rec.

  • Victor Johnson – Parks and Recreation Manager

Get in touch

Drop us a line.

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Your Message


*If you are a San Diego County artist and are interested in becoming a member of the Village, please refer to the Membership page of this Site.

Stay current with our artists and their amazing work!

Email (required) *

Visit Our Sites

Visit our other websites to find out all the things we are up to at the Spanish Village Art Center. Click on the linked images below.

balboa park architecture tour

Spanish Village Art Center

1770 Village Place

Balboa Park

San Diego, CA 92101

Open everyday from 11:00am - 4:00pm.

7 days a week.

Closed:Thanksgiving, Christmas, & New Year's Day

Office is located in Studio 18

619 233-9050

Email: [email protected]

Spanish Village Historian

Jeffrey Iles

Jeffrey Iles is the historical tour guide and historian at Spanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park. His tours of the architecture and history of Spanish Village are free, fun, and various lengths on an ongoing basis. Jeff gives tours to groups or individuals. Feel free to ask Jeff questions when you see him on our colorful patio in his vintage 1940’s period costume.  Email  Jeffrey for more information.

balboa park architecture tour

Gift Certificates!

Want to share our art with your friends and family? We have Spanish Village Art Center Gift Certificates available. For more details, email Susan B. by clicking here .

Thanks for stopping by.

balboa park architecture tour


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Tsaritsino Park Tour

We invite you to join our Tsaritsyno park tour to find out why Catherine II once fell in love with this place and called it a real paradise.   

balboa park architecture tour

Who would have imagined that Catherine the Great would like the picturesque, but not well-maintained Moscow backwater named Black Mud, that she would turn it into a luxurious royal residence ?! Here, she spent the summer of 1775 in the existing estate, finally, she bought the place for 25,000 rubles and named it Tsaritsyno Selo (Tsarina's Village).

Tsaritsyno is our Moscow Versailles, built in the style of the so-called Russian Gothic, unique in its style and the largest pseudo-Gothic building of the 18th century. We owe this masterpiece to Vasili Bazhenov and Matvey Kazakov, two of the best Moscow architectural school masters of that time. 

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Today, Tsaritsyno is not only a historical place, but also a beautiful park for walking, where you can admire the wonderful palaces, bridges, fountains, alleys, listen to classical music and feed local squirrels. Let's take a walk in the park together with exciting stories about this place! Tour duration:  about 2 hours Tour cost:  1300 RUB per person Meeting time:  11 am Meeting point:  TBA

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The Assumption Belfry and Ivan the Great Bell Tower

The Assumption Belfry and Ivan the Great Bell Tower

View from a corner of Assumption Cathedral on the architectural ensemble of the Assumption Belfry (at the left) and Ivan the Great Bell Tower (at the right) built in the Moscow Kremlin in 16th century. The tower’s name implies that it had once housed St. John’s Church, and that it used to be the tallest building in Moscow (height with cross is about 80 m). For many decades the bell tower was also the main watchtower in the Kremlin, and later also a fire tower. Petrok Maliy, the Italian architect who built the Kitai-Gorod wall in Moscow, started the construction of the church of the Resurrection, later renamed Church of the Nativity, next to the Ivan the Great Tower in 1532. Decades later was converted to a four-tier belfry for large bells, known today as the Assumption Belfry after its main 64-ton bell placed in the middle of the fourth tier. The Assumption bell tolled only on great holidays and to announce events of exceptional significance.

Photo #043 taken on June 29, 2016 during a tour of Moscow Kremlin with my dear client from Lebanon, Jacques Saade.

About Me in Short

Guide, Driver and Photographer Arthur Lookyanov

My name's Arthur Lookyanov, I'm a private tour guide, personal driver and photographer in Moscow, Russia. I work in my business and run my website Moscow-Driver.com from 2002. Read more about me and my services , check out testimonials of my former business and travel clients from all over the World, hit me up on Twitter or other social websites. I hope that you will like my photos as well.

See you in Moscow!

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At the Fountain in Front of Massandra Palace

The working fountain in a beautiful park in front of Massandra Palace on a nice sunny morning.

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Take one of these exciting tours:

  • Moscow Highlights
  • Discovering the Golden Ring of Russia
  • Arts & Culture Tours
  • Moscow by Night tour

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  • Hit the Red Square;
  • Explore the nooks and crannies of Alexander Garden;
  • Get a taste of the ancient Kitay Gorod;
  • Learn about the tragic destiny of the Christ the Savior Cathedral;
  • Roam through the heart of Moscow.

Walking Tour Itinerary:

Here are our TOP 7 things to help you start your Russian adventure or tick off before you say goodbye to Moscow.

Wander around the vast cobblestone square with rich past, gorgeous architecture, incredible GUM , bright colors of the Kremlin and swirling Saint Basil’s Cathedral .

Kitay Gorod

Walk across the Red Square to see the embankment of old Moscow river and plunge into the atmosphere of ancient Russian village where nobles preferred to settle in XV century.

Varvarka street

Walk up Varvarka street to find the landmark of Kitay Gorod - Palace of the Romanov Boyars, which was built in the XVI century and where lived the first Tsar from the Romanov dynasty.

Old English Court

Look at the Old English Court , which used to be the English Embassy in Moscow and where Ivan the Terrible confined the envoy from England, because Queen Elizabeth I refused to marry him.

Alexander Garden

Watch the solemn ceremony of the Changing of the guards , pay respect to the eternal flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier , and the stone Grotto , The huge fountain in the centre adds a sophisticated feel to the almost 200 year old garden.

Christ the Savior Cathedral

Walk to the cathedral which is of a great cultural value to Russians. Its marvelous exterior, enormous golden domes, colossal bronze doors and pristine white walls will touch your feelings.

Patriarch’s Bridge

Pause on the bridge and marvel at the Kremlin, river cruises, monument after Peter the Great and Red October Chocolate Factory , which is now a nightlife hub for youngsters.

About Moscow:

We picked up a list of article that might be useful and helpful to you during your stay in Moscow. These are things to do in Moscow, tips about Moscow, best cafes in Moscow and simply fun facts about Moscow. Enjoy reading!

Before coming to Moscow:

  • Our fun guides sharing their observations about their tours and best practices:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/moscow-private-guides-on-tours-in-moscow
  • What you should know about Moscow:  
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/5-things-to-know-before-you-go-to-moscow

Off the beaten path of Moscow:

  • Kitay Gorod:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/moscow-must-see-fun-facts-about-kitay-gorod
  • Zamoskvorechye:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/moscow-must-see-fun-facts-about-zamoskvorechye
  • White City:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/moscow-off-the-beaten-path-white-city  

The best parks in Moscow:

  • Muzeon Statues Park:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/moscow-off-the-beaten-path-muzeon-park
  • Gorky Park: 
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/moscow-gorky-park
  • Tsaritsino Park: 
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/moscow-must-see-37-reasons-to-visit-tsaritsyno
  • Kolomenskoe Park:
  •   https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/things-to-do-in-moscow-kolomenskoe-museum-reserve

The most historical and beautiful streets of Moscow:

  • Arbat  srreet: 
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/things-to-do-in-moscow-arbat-street
  • Tverskaya street: 
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/moscow-things-to-do-tverskaya-street
  • Downtown of Moscow: 
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/things-to-do-moscow-streets

What to do in Moscow:

  • How to have a Real Russian Experience:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/real-russian-experience
  • Things to do in Moscow:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/21-things-to-do-in-moscow
  • Architectural masterpieces, hidden gems of Moscow:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/things-to-do-in-moscow-off-the-beaten-path
  • Top Moscow attractions:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/top-10-moscow-attractions

Budget travel:

  • How to have fun in Moscow for less than $4:
  • How to save money in Moscow:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/7-ways-to-save-money-while-travelling-to-moscow

Cafes & restaurants in Moscow:

  • Moscow cafes with Russian breakfast:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/moscow-cafes-with-russian-breakfast
  • Best Moscow restaurants:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/best-moscow-restaurants
  • Best coffee shops in Moscow:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/moscow-best-coffee-shops

Moscow Metro:

  • Facts about Moscow Metro:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/fun-facts-about-moscow-metro
  • Myths about Moscow Metro:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/7-myths-about-moscow-metro
  • Facts about Moscow:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/fun-facts-50-facts-about-moscow
  • Fun Facts about Kremlin:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/33-fun-facts-from-our-kremlin-tours
  • The best flea markets in Moscow:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/moscow-best-flea-markets
  • Top 5 Russian souvenirs:
  • https://friendlylocalguides.com/blog/top-5-russian-souvenirs

What you get:

  • + A friend in Moscow.
  • + Private & customized Moscow tour.
  • + An exciting pastime, not just boring history lessons.
  • + An authentic experience of local life.
  • + Flexibility during the walking tour: changes can be made at any time to suit individual preferences.
  • + Amazing deals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the very best cafes & restaurants. Discounts on weekdays (Mon-Fri).
  • + A photo session amongst spectacular Moscow scenery that can be treasured for a lifetime.
  • + Good value for souvenirs, taxis, and hotels.
  • + Expert advice on what to do, where to go, and how to make the most of your time in Moscow.

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  1. Balboa Park in San Diego, California, is a “must-do” destination

    balboa park architecture tour

  2. Balboa Park, San Diego

    balboa park architecture tour

  3. Free Stock photo of Architectural Structure at Balboa Park San Diego

    balboa park architecture tour

  4. The Amazing History Behind Balboa Park, San Diego’s Ode to the Spanish

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  5. Spend a day at Balboa Park: San Diego's center for art, culture and

    balboa park architecture tour

  6. Balboa Park Architecture-10

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  1. 7 Tours through San Diego's Balboa Park

    Offshoot Tours. Offered every Saturday by trained volunteers, these easy-paced one-hour walks have rotating themes and start at 10:00 AM. Tour themes include Balboa Park history (first Saturday of the month), palm trees (second Saturday), other trees in the Park (third Saturday), desert vegetation (fourth Saturday) and tour del dia (fifth ...

  2. Tours Archives

    Tours. Learn about the intricate architecture, the landscaping and greenery, or stories of the Park from an expert. You can take a tour through the park with a floral professional or a horticulturist. ... An affordable and convenient way to explore some of the best museums in Balboa Park! Learn More. Hotels & Packages. Learn More. Balboa Park ...

  3. California Tower

    California Tower tours are 40 minutes long and are offered daily at the following times (10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., and 4:30 p.m.). ... this beautiful structure is an architectural hybrid of architectural different styles, including Baroque, Plateresque, Churrigueresque, and Rococo, with some Gothic details. ... Balboa Park is a public ...

  4. Balboa Park Architectural Heritage Guided Walking Tours

    Learn about the many wonderful Balboa Park buildings. • Tours begin at the House of Hospitality Visitor's Center. • Tours start at 10:00 AM on the FIRST FRIDAY of each month. • Reservations are not needed. • Tours are held rain or shine (cancelled only for downpours) • Group tours are available for other dates. • All tours are ...

  5. San Diego Walking Tour: Balboa Park With a Local Guide

    The San Diego Walking Tour of Balboa Park, led by a local guide, typically lasts for 2 hours with varying starting times throughout the day. This tour offers flexibility in its itinerary options, allowing visitors to explore the history of Balboa Park, discover its architectural treasures, enjoy a local coffee, explore the early expositions, and capture stunning architecture photos.

  6. Guide To San Diego's Balboa Park: 20+ Attractions & Tips

    The Casa de Balboa embodies the distinctive characteristics of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. It was originally built in 1915. It burned down in 1978 and was rebuilt with public and private support. The exterior of Casa de Balboa boasts stuccoed walls, red-tiled roofs, and ornate detailing.

  7. Secrets and Highlights of Balboa Park Tour

    Explore One of the Country's Finest Urban Cultural Parks. Balboa Park is home to gorgeous gardens, lovely walking paths, and numerous cultural gems. Uncover historical and architectural treasures from the Founder's Statues, Alcazar and Zoro Gardens, to the Spanish Village Art Center and much more. Keep your camera ready as there are ...

  8. How to Visit Balboa Park: Directions, Tours, and Free Attractions

    Visit Balboa Park and learn everything about its great architecture built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. The tours are free to join every Friday of the month at 10:00 am. Visit the Balboa Park Visitor Center to find out the exact location where to meet your guide. Residents Free Days.

  9. Home

    Welcome to Balboa Park. San Diego's ever-changing, always amazing, 1,200-acre backyard. ... or relax among lush landscapes, sweeping architecture, and natural wonders for as far as the eye can see. Explore It All. Events. There's always something new to experience at the Park! Check out the festivals, tours, concerts, and events scheduled ...

  10. Palm Springs

    San Diego's famed Balboa Park covers 1,200-acres to make it the largest urban park in the U.S. - even bigger than Central Park. As the park marks its 100th anniversary this year, sometimes lost in that vast space are the architectural gems that provide context to the park's history. Balboa Park offers docent-led walking tours beginning ...


    Balboa Park Visitors Center is located in the House of Hospitality building on El Prado walkway. • Information and Free Tours • Balboa Park Tickets and Explorer Passes • Snacks & Drinks, Lost & Found, ATM VISITORS CENTER & GIFT SHOP Information: 619.239.0512 foreverbalboapark.org VISITORS CENTER: 619.239.0512 or balboapark.org • Museums ...

  12. Balboa Park Highlights Tour with Coffee 2024

    Meeting point. 698 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92103, USA. Open in Google Maps. We meet at the Founders Statues near 698 El Prado between 6th Ave and Balboa Drive at the west entrance of Balboa Park. It's on the only corner with an incline. If using ride share services request SEFTON PLAZA as the drop off location.

  13. Tours, Concerts and Special Programs

    Tours, Concerts and Special Programs. Balboa Park. ... The Committee of 100 is a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to preserving Spanish Colonial architecture in the Park. The Committee raises funds for the preservation and restoration of the Park's historic buildings. For more information, call 619-239-0512.

  14. Balboa Park Self Guided Audio Tours

    Balboa Park, a cultural gem nestled in the heart of San Diego, California, is a captivating oasis that exudes beauty, art, and history. From the striking Spanish Colonial architecture of the California Tower to the world-class collections at the San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park offers a rich tapestry of attractions and artistic treasures.

  15. Visitors Center

    Make your visit to Balboa Park unforgettable with the help of information, maps, and resources from the Balboa Park Visitors Center. ... Free Public Tours of the Central Mesa are offered every Tuesday at 11 a.m. in front of the Visitors Center; an architectural tour is offered on the first and third Friday at 11 a.m.

  16. About Spanish Art Village Center

    Jeffrey Iles is the historical tour guide and historian at Spanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park. His tours of the architecture and history of Spanish Village are free, fun, and various lengths on an ongoing basis. Jeff gives tours to groups or individuals. Feel free to ask Jeff questions when you see him on our colorful patio in his ...

  17. Tsaritsino Park Tour

    Tsaritsino Park Tour join! 11.10.2020. ... We owe this masterpiece to Vasili Bazhenov and Matvey Kazakov, two of the best Moscow architectural school masters of that time. Today, Tsaritsyno is not only a historical place, but also a beautiful park for walking, where you can admire the wonderful palaces, bridges, fountains, alleys, listen to ...

  18. The Assumption Belfry and Ivan the Great Bell Tower

    View from a corner of Assumption Cathedral on the architectural ensemble of the Assumption Belfry (at the left) and Ivan the Great Bell Tower (at the right) built in the Moscow Kremlin in 16th century. ... Photo #043 taken on June 29, 2016 during a tour of Moscow Kremlin with my dear client from Lebanon, Jacques Saade. Next Previous 9 of 34

  19. Moscow Free Tour

    Extra costs (per person): Entrance fees (Kremlin - 350 rub, Armory - 700 rub) Lunch/Dinner (150-1500 rub, depending on your preferences) Activity Level:

  20. Plan Your Visit

    Tours; GO CITY PASSES; Parks Trails & Gardens; Parks; Trails; Gardens; Plan Your Visit; Balboa Park Explorer Pass; ... Groups & Camps; Residents Free Days; Events; Accessibility; About / Plan Your Visit. Balboa Park is a public park and is available for all to enjoy! Park grounds are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Venue and restaurant ...

  21. Architecture Tour of Moscow's Metro and Kolomensoye Estate

    Get to grips with Russian history on an insightful tour of the Moscow metro and royal Kolomenskoye Estate. After admiring the unique and elaborate city metro stations, you'll head to the park at Kolomenskoye where UNESCO-listed sights and museums dedicated to Tsar Peter the Great await. Learn all about the area and its history from a local guide, and then finish up back in central Moscow.

  22. Tickets

    Balboa Park is a public park and is available for all to enjoy! Explorer Pass. For the dozens of museums, performance venues, special events, classes, and tours, each institution is independently run and has their own admission and pricing. ... dog parks, fountains, trails, gardens, architecture, history, statues, and public artwork are all ...