When most people think of urban parks their minds drift to the sanctuary of Central Park in New York. What most people don’t know is that Balboa Park in San Diego, California is the largest urban park in the United States. Also one of the oldest public recreation sites in the US, Balboa Park’s 1400 acres were set aside in 1868 as citizens declared they wanted a piece of this beautiful land preserved for future generations. Not particularly urban at the time (there were just over 900 homes in the city) the park was quite uncultivated and was overflowing with gorgeous natural flora, fauna, canyons, and hilltops. Throughout the years, conservators and entrepreneurs have poured lots of elbow grease and plenty of hard earned money into transforming Balboa Park into a park that is one of the top visitor destinations in San Diego.
One of the first things visitors notice are the lush, luxurious gardens that carpet the countryside. This transformation was begun in the 1890s and continues through today taming the desert landscape and creating an oasis of verdant green vistas and vibrant color. The gardens are tended by botanists and horticulturists who ensure the park’s many rare and endangered plants and trees thrive. Before you get to all the high energy visitor hot spots, you definitely need to take a walk through the botanical building. The architecture is just as stunning as the myriad plants growing inside.
Although the original intent was for Balboa to be a natural refuge, it has become a hub of culture and entertainment. The park is filled with numerous museums, performance arts pavilions, theatres, and even houses the world famous San Diego Zoo. This is anything but your neighborhood swing set park. Despite its age (or perhaps because of it), it has been touted as possessing the finest Spanish-Baroque Revival structures in America. There are also fantastic restaurants. A favorite is The Prado which offers a unique Spanish twist to continental fare and absolutely impeccable service.
Admission to Balboa Park is free; however several of the attractions contained on its grounds do charge so check ahead depending on how you want to spend your day. Or you can get a seven day “Passport to Balboa Park” that allows you entrance to all of the 14 different museums or the Zoo-Passport combo so you can take a gander at some of the majestic and fascinating animals living in San Diego Zoo. A visit to San Diego is simply incomplete without a stop over to this National Historic Landmark and piece of American history. Filled with fun, games, entertainment, and awe inspiring beauty, Balboa Park has it all.