Balboa Park: Historic Highlights and Secret Spots
Learn, Explore & Enjoy Balboa Park!
Explore one of the country’s best urban cultural parks. Balboa Park has a bit of everything, including grand architecture, diverse museums, cultural institutions, and captivating gardens. You visit spots that even locals don’t know about. Add discounted museum admission with tour purchase!
San Diego Balboa Park Tour Highlights
- Discover the inspiring, quirky, and fascinating history of one of the nation’s largest urban cultural parks
- Uncover historical and architectural treasures hiding in plain sight
- Explore a botanical garden’s vibrant collection of more than 2,100 plants
- Learn about the early 20th century expositions that shaped Balboa Park
- Find the best spots to photograph Balboa Park’s beautiful Spanish colonial revival architecture
Purchase Option: Buy Adult tour only, or buy Adult tour plus One-Day Explorer Pass which gives you access to 4 museums for only $40 more. Additional details in Full Itinerary below.
Inclusions: Local English-speaking guide, one beverage at a park coffee cart
Exclusions: Food and drinks beyond what is included, souvenirs and personal shopping, tips/gratuities for your guide.
- Duration: 2 hours
- 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.
- Starting time: 10.00 AM
- Ending point: Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park.
- Full Itinerary
Balboa Park is home to gorgeous gardens, lovely walking paths, and plenty of cultural gems, from theaters to museums featuring the arts, the sciences, and more. You get a full overview of the park and its rich history on this San Diego walking tour that explores how the park has become a symbol of the city.
We kick things off at the Founder’s Statue on the west side of the park. We think you’ll agree San Diegans were visionaries, when they set aside 1,800 acres of land for the park all the way back in 1867. Then, we stop at the California Tower, built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, which has since become a city landmark. The face of the tower depicts the early history of the city.
Next up, we head to Alcazar Gardens, which was inspired by the same-named gardens in Spain. Used for both the 1915 and 1935 expositions, the garden offered fair-goers a respite from the hustle and bustle of the exposition, and now provides a picturesque foreground to photos of the California Tower. Snag the perfect Instagram shot while you’re here (remember, #localsknow).
Following that, we head to the Old Globe Theater which is a Tony Award-winning, world-renowned professional theater group modeled after The Globe Theatre London.
From there, we walk through the heart of the Prado, where you get to spy unique building façades and roof supports that most visitors don’t notice. We also check out Zoro Gardens, a sunken garden that was once a nudist colony (seriously) during the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Today, it’s a butterfly garden that contains everything butterflies need for their full life cycle.
We then continue past the Bea Evenson fountain, the Natural History Museum, and we pop into the Spanish Village Art Center to observe artists at work in their studios. By now, you should have worked up a thirst so we grab a drink at a local coffee cart before continuing on past one of the largest Morton Bay fig trees in California and the San Diego Junior Theater.
But we’re not done yet! We then head to the Botanical Building (currently closed on Thursdays), home to more than 2,100 plants. 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 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 ends at the Plaza de Panama, but before we say goodbye, your guide gives 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.
Purchase Option: Buy tour only, or buy tour plus One-Day Explorer Pass. Includes admission to 4 of 16 participating Balboa Park museums. Valid for one day only, on day of first use. If you purchase tour + One-Day pass your guide will provide it to you at the start of the tour.
Participating Balboa Park museums include: Centro Cultural de la Raza, Japanese Friendship Garden, Mingei International Museum (currently closed), Museum of Photographic Arts, Fleet Science Center, San Diego Air and Space Museum, San Diego Art Institute, San Diego Automotive Museum, San Diego History Center, San Diego Model Railroad Museum, The San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Man, theNAT (San Diego Natural History Museum), Timken Museum of Art, Veterans Museum and Memorial Center, WorldBeat Center
Inclusions: Local English-speaking guide.
Exclusions: Food and drinks, souvenirs and personal shopping, and tips/gratuities for your guide.
Dress standard: Please wear casual dress and comfortable shoes. Take current weather conditions into consideration.
Your Trip: For your Urban Adventure you will be in a small group of a maximum of 12 people.
Additional Information: Although our tour doesn’t include access to any museum, your guide is more than happy to provide specific info on entry fees and attractions at each site for you to consider and visit during your time after our tour has ended.
Very occasionally museums, gardens, and roadways are closed due to special events or routine maintenance. If this occurs, we will find a similar alternative for you to visit during your tour. If you have any concerns, feel free to email us at [email protected]
Child Policy: This is a child-friendly tour. Children aged six and older are permitted on this tour at the rate listed above. Please select ‘child’ above when booking. Children under the age of six are permitted to join this tour free of charge. Please inform us at the time of booking if you’ll be bringing a child under the age of six. You can do so in the special request box on the checkout page.