Explore Balboa Park, San Diego’s artistic hub

By Courtney Freeman

Take a trip to Balboa Park and the lovely botanical gardens.

Take a trip to Balboa Park and the lovely botanical gardens.

Balboa Park is one of the oldest and most frequented urban cultural parks in the nation. It spans over 1,200 acres and its location encompasses the older neighborhoods of the city including North Park, Banker’s Hill, Golden Hill and Downtown.

The sprawling park offers gorgeous landscaping and cultural significance that focuses on the various ethnic backgrounds of the San Diego community. Many visitors frequent the vast urban oasis for the extensive amount of museums and lush gardens that offer them a chance to experience the city’s most engaging historical landmarks. The architecture is rich in Spanish heritage and closely mimics the unique styles of the Colonial Revival. Visitors can walk along “El Prado,” the main promenade, and explore all the different activities and entertainment the park offers.

One of the most popular attractions is the San Diego Natural History Museum. The museum boasts countless exhibits, focusing on the biological and environmental aspects of the past and present. Current exhibitions include, “The Natural World: Photographs by Thomas D. Mangelsen,” “Skulls,” “Water: A California Story” and “Fossil Mysteries.” These exhibits are continuous, with the exception of “The Natural World,” which ends on Oct 12. The history museum offers enjoyment for both families and students alike, highlighting natural occurrences that relate regionally and globally. USD students, who are enrolled in anthropology courses, often visit the museum for their class activity requirements. It offers them a chance to explore the biological and cultural aspects of anthropology within the San Diego community.

Another frequented destination in Balboa Park is the Old Globe Theatre. The internationally acclaimed theatre is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the nation. Each year, they produce 15 plays and musicals that run across three stages that are located between the San Diego Museum of Art and the Museum of Man right off “El Prado.” The theatre is often patronized by USD students, who must fulfill certain fine art requirements for both English and Theatre courses. The Shakespeare play, “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” is currently playing at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre until September 14. The remainder of the season includes “Bright Star,” “Rich Girl,” “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and various other performances. Information about ticketing and the current season can be found by accessing the theatre online resources.

The park also boasts a variety of unique restaurants that exude local flavor and delightful appeal. One of the most notable is The Prado at Balboa Park. Their menu features a wide array of healthy American style options for both vegetarians and carnivores. Two favorites among diners, according to Yelp, are the spicy calamari fries and the Thai-style shrimp and noodles. The Prado is open for both lunch and dinner and is a great dining option when visiting the park due to its charming décor and flavorful cuisine. Other casual eateries in the vicinity that are popular among USD students include Casa 915, Albert’s Restaurant and Lady Caroline’s Pub.

Balboa Park also offers various festivals throughout the year, including the popular “December Nights,” which is San Diego’s largest community holiday celebration. USD Torero Program Board coordinates shuttles every year to ensure students are able to enjoy the wonders of the festival.

“It is the best and most exciting [festival] in the city, an event you won’t want to miss!” Maia Garcia-Munro, a San Diego native and freshman at USD, said. The festival is Dec. 5-6 and is no charge for the general public. The free shuttles offered by the university allow students to take a break from finals and enjoy the merriment of the holiday season with their fellow classmates.

Admittance into Balboa Park is free, but most museums and attractions require a small fee. Annual passes that include admission into all the attractions are available for purchase year round and are only $99 for full time students. The park is open 24/7 and is located at 1549 El Prado, San Diego, California 92101. From campus it’s less than a 20-minute drive and for those without vehicles, public transportation can be used and is encouraged. To learn more about Balboa Park and San Diego’s distinct multicultural community, head to the park’s website and explore all the various events and activities it has to offer.