Balboa Park is a true San Diego gem, and with dozens of museums, gardens, cultural activities, and outdoor adventures, there are many ways to spend your day here. But after all that exploring, you’re bound to need some sustenance! Several new cafes have popped up in the park in recent years, and there is certainly no shortage of delicious restaurants to enjoy a great meal after a day of adventuring. Here’s your insider’s guide to Balboa Park dining, from casual to elevated cuisine.
This tucked-away spot in the San Diego Museum of Art’s outdoor sculpture garden pours a rotating tap of 20-plus San Diego brews along with locally sourced salads and sandwiches. Their wine list is curated by someone who wants customers to have access to great California wines made with integrity at affordable prices, and the cocktail list is sure to please. The open dining room, tucked inside a sculpture garden, hosts live jazz music every Wednesday nights well as a popular weekend brunch.
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Panama 66 has brought some much-needed night life to the park center and is a major supporter of San Diego’s jazz music scene. Because most of the venue is outside, the hours of operation vary due to season and weather. It’s best to check their Instagram @panama66sdma. Address: 1450 El Prado, San Diego.
The park’s only fine dining spot is located in the historic House of Hospitality and is another offshoot run by the Cohn Restaurant Group. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner seven days a week, except Mondays when it’s closed for dinner. The historic building only adds to its quaint, unique charm, and it’s a great spot to enjoy a date night in San Diego or an evening with friends.
Prime dinner reservations are hard to come by on weekend nights, but if you put your name in at the hostess stand 10 minutes before dinner service begins at 5, you might get lucky with a scenic patio table. Another best-kept secret here is their Happy Hour menu, with $4-$5 wines and $5-$8 appetizers; it runs from 4pm-6pm/8pm-10 on Tuesdays-Fridays and 8pm-11pm Fridays and Saturdays. Address: 1549 El Prado, San Diego.
Specials at The Prado
- MOPA Thursday Night Dinner Package: The Museum of Photographic Art and The Prado have teamed up to bring you culture and cuisine in Balboa Park. Visit The Prado on Thursday Nights through September 2nd and enjoy their MOPA Thursday Night Dinner Package. The package includes a 3-course dinner with a bottle of wine, and two tickets to the Museum of Photographic Arts Exhibitions. The package is priced at $79.95 per couple.
- Wine Down Wednesdays: Enjoy 50% off all bottles of wine under $75 every Wednesday. You can also bring your own bottle of wine and enjoy no corkage fees.
Need a coffee break? This speedy café serves hot and iced espresso drinks made with coffee from local roaster West Bean, plus a selection of vibrant teas, gourmet hot chocolate, and other refreshing beverages. Fresh, daily pastry selections are provided by a variety of local bakeries including Cardamom and The Cravory (cookies). Located on the Plaza de Panama. Address: 2402 Pan American Rd E, San Diego.
The Tea Pavilion
If coffee isn’t your thing, just a few dozen yards away is the recently renovated outdoor cafe at the Japanese Friendship Garden, offering dozens of hot and iced green, white, oolong, herbal, and black teas, as well as sushi made fresh daily, Japanese noodles, rice, miso soup, salads, and tempura appetizers. Enjoy the magnificent views from inside the Tea Pavilion or from the outdoor courtyard and deck. There are also unique imported food, beverages, bulk teas, and gifts available for purchase. Address: 2215 Pan American Rd E, San Diego.
Lady Carolyn’s Pub
The Old Globe Theater’s outdoor food and beverage pavilion offers hearty soups in sourdough bread tureens, crisp salads, and assorted desserts and beverages (local favorites include their Italian sodas, cappuccinos, and steaming Irish Coffee). This is a great pit stop before or after you watch a show at the Theater. Address: 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego.
Home Plate Sports Café
Located in the Federal Building, (formerly the San Diego Hall of Champions), the Home Plate Sports Café offers a wide variety of choices; including deli sandwiches, freshly grilled burgers, grilled panini, salads, and wraps. Beer, wine, and specialty coffee drinks are available to sip while you watch the latest game on one of their big screen TVs. Be sure to finish off your meal with a bowl of their gelato, a local favorite! Address: 2131 Pan American Plaza, San Diego.
Craveology is the perfect location to grab a quick lunch. It’s casual and family-friendly, and offers a great selection of items; including salads, sandwiches, wraps, flatbread pizzas and panini. For those hot days, they also offer smoothies, frappes, or specialty iced coffees. There is outdoor patio seating, located right in front of the iconic Balboa Park Bea Evenson Fountain.
Admission to the Fleet Museum is not required for a visit to Craveology, so stop by, feed your craving and enjoy the view! Address: 1875 El Prado, San Diego.Explore More of Balboa Park!
Cafe in the Park
A wide variety of options make Cafe in the Park a perfect place to grab a bite. From salads to sandwiches, soup, paninis, baked goods, specialty coffees, and even breakfast options, this cute little cafe has something for everyone. Café in the Park is located in the Casa del Balboa building, between the San Diego History Center, and the Museum of Photographic Art.
Flight Path Grill
This is a fun, casual outdoor restaurant featuring hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, salad and more outside the San Diego Air & Space Museum (admission is required). The grill is only open on Saturdays and Sundays, from 11am to 4pm. However, during the summer, they are open for those hours daily. Enjoy your meal at a picnic table or covered cabana on the patio – there are great views here of the rest of the park. Address: 2001 Pan American Plaza, San Diego.
If you’re looking for something super-casual, try the local food truck located near Spanish Village Arts Center. The food trucks will vary by week, but one will be there every day; hours are 11:00am – 3:00pm Monday through Friday, and 11:00am – 4:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Special Dining Events
Food Truck Fridays
Every Friday evening in the summer, more than a dozen food trucks make for a pop-up food court on the Plaza de Panama and El Prado walkway. The trucks serve up everything from wood-fired pizza to boba tea and street tacos. Every Friday, there will also be different musical performers or DJs spinning live music; the Plaza’s “living room” setup will be rolled out, including a big artificial lawn for children to play on and giant family game sets.
Various Balboa Park museums will also have booths set up with hands-on activities and crafts for kids. Bonus: Admission to the San Diego Museum of Art is only $5 after 5:00pm on Friday nights! This is a great way to really experience everything Balboa Park has to offer; feel free to bring lawn chairs or a blanket to sit in the lawn area in front of the Botanical Building, or enjoy craft beers, wine, and cocktails inside nearby Panama 66 and the Prado.
Lawn Programs at the International Cottages
On Sunday afternoons, stroll the lawn and gardens among the little houses at the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages during their weekly lawn programs. From 2pm-3pm, you’ll be treated to live music, traditional dance and costumes, arts, crafts, and a wide variety of ethnic foods.
If you feel like having your own picnic, the Park is a great place to do so. There are large grassy areas and shady locations under the trees to lay down a blanket, eat a picnic lunch, and take in the sights and sounds of one of San Diego’s most iconic landmarks.
Whether you’re with the family and in the mood for something casual or out with friends, there’s definitely a dining option for everyone at Balboa Park! Take time to explore the park’s multitude of gardens, major San Diego museums, and cultural activities once you’ve enjoyed lunch or dinner; from the beloved San Diego Museum of Man to the Botanical Garden and the San Diego Natural History Museum, there are many ways to spend the day at this one-of-a-kind park.