Exploring Balboa Park: Museums, Gardens, & Dining

Balboa Park

This historic San Diego park is a must see, no doubt about it. Built in 1986 and majorly re-vamped in 1915, Balboa Park holds over 100 years of Southern California life and culture. It’s home to seventeen award-winning museums, more than fifteen green promoting gardens, the famous San Diego Zoo and (if you can believe it) much more! Here’s the basic layout of what you’ll find, events to look out for and information to help you plan the ultimate trip.

Museums

Whether you’re a lover of science or art, trains or sports…there’s a museum for everyone, even the typical non-museum goers. Some of the most applauded favorites include:

San Diego Natural History Museum
San Diego Museum of Art
San Diego Air & Space Museum
San Diego Museum of Man
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
San Diego Model Railroad Museum
Mingei International Museum
Museum of Photographic Arts
Timken Museum of Art
San Diego Automotive Museum
San Diego History Center

As for prices and packages, there are multiple options. If you’re a resident, did you know you can go for free? On each Tuesday of each month, Balboa Park hosts “Residents Free Days,” where different museums offer free admission to San Diego residents (you’ll need ID confirming your residency) each week.  Find out which museums are free on which Tuesdays here.

If you’re not a resident or you’re interested in going on a day other than a Tuesday, you can :

• Pay for admission at each museum individually (prices vary)

• Purchase a Go San Diego Card for discounted admission to more than 40 San Diego attractions – including Balboa Park!

• Purchase an Annual Balboa Park Explorer Pass: This pass gives you entry into all 17 museums for an entire year. And this isn’t Disneyland; there are no blackout days.

**It’s important to note that with any of these options, special exhibits aren’t included, such as the Natural History Museum’s King Tut or Museum of Man’s Torture Exhibit.**

Balboa Park Gardens

If you enjoy botany or simply looking at beautiful flowers, there’s plenty to see here. Walk through the Botanical Building to transport yourself across the world. Not only is the inside captivating, but the outer design is very striking and in many classic Balboa Park photographs.

Just outside its main doors are plants known for housing caterpillars. They blend in well, but look carefully amongst the green leaves and you’ll find them; you may be surprised at just how darling a yellow caterpillar can be! One of the best parts about this spot though? It’s free.

As far as larger gardens go, the other two main ones are the Rose Garden across the road from the Natural History Museum and the Japanese Friendship Garden. The Friendship Garden is lovely, especially the coy fish it features in its shaded pond. It’s good to note that it’s the only garden that charges a fee.

The other smaller gardens you’ll find sprinkled amongst the park; we recommend walking and exploring to let yourself surprisingly stumble upon them. Go far enough? You’ll find trails around the park’s edges, the most intricate and steep going along Florida Street to Morley Field.

All of the gardens at Balboa Park:

    • Old Cactus Garden
    • Alcazar Garden
    • Botanical Building & Lily Pond
    • Native Plant Garden
    • Casa del Rey Moro Garden
    • Desert Garden
    • Children’s Peace Garden
    • Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve
    • Memorial Rose Garden
    • Japanese Friendship Garden
    • Marston House Garden
  • Palm Canyon
  • Trees for Health Garden
  • Veterans Memorial Garden
  • Zoro Garden

San Diego Zoo

The world famous San Diego Zoo is famous for many reasons, some of the top being the pandas and Australian koalas, of course. There’s so many wonderful things here that we gave it its own page. Learn more about this zoo and what it has to offer at our San Diego Zoo page.

The Old Globe Theatre

You were transported to Asia in the Japanese Friendship Garden. You experienced Australia taking in the zoo’s koalas. Now, let’s take you over to Europe by putting you in the recreation of England’s Old Globe Theatre. We think Shakespeare would be proud the Old Globe created right here in San Diego, still performing his plays to this day.

You’ll find more than just Shakespeare, though. Famous Broadway and locally written plays are performed here, as well. Watching a play here is a brilliant way to experience theatre the way it was back in Shakespeare’s time, a great way to transcend time.

Events

There’s a constantly updated calendar for Balboa Park. Between all the museums, the theatre and zoo, there’s always something going on. We want to highlight two particular noteworthy events, one that’s weekly and one yearly.

International Cottages Sunday:

Every Sunday from noon to 4 pm, head to the international cottages located on the lovely stretch between the Organ Pavillion and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. Each of the cottages represents a different country and is filled with cultural decor, educational information and folks (usually from and) very knowledgeable about the country.

On these Sunday afternoons, they have samples of treats from that nation. For example, head to House of England for tea and samples of tea cakes, House of Spain for Spanish cookies and House of Iran for a savory treat so magical….you just have to eat it to believe it.

There’s also a lawn program included. Every Sunday, one of the nations’ cottages puts on an afternoon of cultural performances and entertainment. It rotates throughout the year, so you’ll enjoy Filipino dancing one week and witness Ukrainian performances the next!

December Nights:

Each year at Christmas time, usually the first weekend of the month, Balboa Park features December Nights. To say this event wows is an understatement. Attendance is at over 350,000 folks a year, and that’s just across 2 days.

These high numbers are drawn by the museums offering free admissions (certain ones at certain times), endless food booths (not free), cultural cuisine hosted by the International Cottages (also not free), no-cost performances in the Organ Pavillion, stages hosting performances around the entire park and so much more.

We find that it’s good to go in with some knowledge, but, when it comes down to it…you’re going to discover things you had never heard about simply arriving in-person. Show up and let the event sweep you off your feet.

In Conclusion

Balboa Park truly does have something for everyone. As with anywhere, the earlier you come for parking the better and the weekdays are less busy than weekends. However, because it is such a vast space and there are so many lots as well as street parking along the sides, even if there’s some hunting, you’ll be able to find a spot! Learn more about San Diego and it’s nearby downtown at our Downtown San Diego & Gaslamp Page.

Uncovering the Roots of the Chumash People of Southern California

Long before there was the Hotel del Coronado, Hollywood, or Disneyland, Southern California was home to an indigenous population of people known as the Chumash. Researchers have uncovered many clues about the lifestyle of the people that lived along the southern coast. One thing scientists have not fully uncovered, however, is where those indigenous people came from. The original assumption was that thousands of years ago, they migrated from Asia via the glacier ice cap before it melted.

An obvious approach to unveiling the history of a state is to look at what the settlers named the state. When Spanish explorers first came to the coast, they named the place after a Black Amazon woman named Queen Calafia. She was the queen of an island called California, in a fictional novel that was popular in those days. This fact gives some insight as to how the natives looked. Finding clues as to where they came from, however, is a much more complicated assignment.

One might wonder how it is possible to link a modern group of people to a tribe from hundreds or thousands of years ago. This has been a challenging task for researchers for some time now. Fortunately, new technological advances have enabled scientists to gain more insight into the migration of native Californians. The most powerful advance in science is DNA testing. Testing the DNA on a fossil is difficult, but not impossible. Once the DNA of a fossil is abstracted, it can be compared to the DNA of a living person. Once a match is found, then the living person has an idea of where their ancestors came from.

One group of native Californians is the Chumash tribe. Although there are no longer any full-blood Chumash people left, modern DNA testing – much of which is being done with home kits like those reviewed at YourDNA – links the remaining descendants to earlier natives in the Americas. Recent studies have shocked the Chumash culture by showing that the migration of these people came from the Alaska area instead of Asia. The DNA tests showed strong matches between a fossilized jaw bone found near Alaska and Chumash people living today in California.

The remaining people of the Chumash tribe were surprised to learn that their roots are now being traced back to somewhere that is thousands of miles away from where they have been for multiple generations. These groundbreaking studies challenge everything scientists have thought about the origin of Native Americans who once lived in Southern California. Not to mention, the Chumash tribe, through DNA tests, have now learned that their ancestors and current relatives could very well be all along the coast of this continent. This discovery would not have been possible without DNA tests.

Learning this new information about where the Chumash culture started gives researchers a new area to look into in regards to human migration worldwide. While this newfound evidence does go against the theory of an eastward migration, it does support the theory of mankind having a common ancestor. None of this evidence is 100 percent proof of anything, but it does point scientists in the right direction. Also, it gives us a better understanding of cultural origins and why they have so many similarities. As more of these tests are done we can expect to have more light on who came from where.

legoland california

10 Reasons to Visit LEGOLAND California This Year

LEGOLAND California is one of San Diego’s most popular theme parks, and provides families the unique opportunity to experience all things LEGO – in one place! Located in Carlsbad, California the entire park is themed around the colorful LEGO bricks. Each section of the park (there are 9 different areas) comes with its own theme – from Ninjago World to MiniLand USA, which features LEGO-sized reproductions of certain areas of the US, in addition to a waterpark, aquarium, and its very own LEGOLAND Hotel. Here are ten reasons to visit LEGOLAND California this year!

1. It’s more than your typical amusement park.

LEGOLAND California has more to explore than its rides – including a Waterpark, the Sea Life Aquarium, and the official LEGOLAND Hotel.

The Waterpark: The LEGOLAND Waterpark is impressive, especially with the recent addition of the Chima section which includes more slides and the Lion Temple Wave Pool. Head to the park to experience Riptide Racers, the Wipeout Lagoon, Build-a-Raft River, Duplo Splash Safari, Joker Soaker, Pirate Reef, Orange Rush, Soak n Sail, and the Splash Zoo; each one offers a different set of rides, splash zones, and epic water adventures for you and the little ones!

You can upgrade your LEGOLAND ticket to include the Waterpark for $30.

Sea Life Aquarium: The aquarium at LEGOLAND is an interactive guide to the life of the sea, combining active hands-on learning with fascinating educational talks and up-close encounters with sea creatures, including sharks, octopi and rays. The newest exhibit, Sea at Night, allows you to stroll in a gentle surf under a starry sky – during the day! Walk, jump and splash in a simulated bioluminescent tide with the little ones. Any LEGOLAND ticket can be upgraded to include SEA LIFE Aquarium admission for $25.

2. You can get discounted tickets any time of year.

The Go San Diego Card, is a multi-attraction pass that gets you big discounts at the top attractions in San Diego. With the all-inclusive pass, you’ll have access to more than 40 spots in San Diego – and that includes LEGOLAND – at discounted prices! 1-Day admission tickets to LEGOLAND California start at $89.99.

3. The LEGOLAND Hotel (and Castle) is truly magical.

The LEGOLAND Hotel recently expanded to include a brand-new LEGOLAND Castle, which offers a totally different (and awesome) overnight experience. The original hotel boasts themed rooms, each one completely unique – choose from Pirate, Kingdom, Adventure, LEGO Ninjago, or LEGO Friends. There is nightly children’s entertainment, and a free breakfast buffet every morning of your stay. The Hotel is located right at the entrance to LEGOLAND, so when you wake up the park is quite literally at your front door.

The LEGOLAND Castle Hotel is a new castle-themed wonderland. The hotel features 250 LEGO Castle themed rooms with your choice of Knights & Dragons, Royal Princess, or Magic Wizard, plus a new themed restaurant called Dragon’s Den for all your dining needs. There is a special kid’s area that features LEGO building tables and scavenger hunts daily. There is also a pool area, entertainment courtyard, and playful surprises around every corner; every part of the hotel is interactive, and your little ones will get a kick out of exploring every nook and cranny!

4. Kids go for free all year long in 2019.

You heard that right! This year, LEGOLAND California turns 20 years old, and in honor of such an epic occasion, kids 12 and under can enter the park completely for free. If you have little ones, we can’t possibly think of a better reason to check the park out this year!

5. Kids can bring minifigures to trade at the park.

Have your kids bring their old LEGO minifigures to the park (including all the parts and accessories), and they can trade them for new ones right at the Park! Every LEGOLAND employee – they’re called Model Citizens – has a name badge with minifigures fixed onto it. If your little one wants one of the Model Citizen’s minifigures, he or she will gladly trade with them. You’ll also find trading posts throughout the park that offer tons of of mini-men to trade for, and if your child doesn’t have a minifigure for trading, there are plenty of shops throughout the Park where you can pick one up.

6. The park is fun for all ages – even younger kids.

Unlike many theme parks in California, there are a ton of rides and attractions with no height or age restrictions. Fairy Tale Brook and Coast Cruise are great for babies to enjoy, and there are baby-friendly splash pad areas in Pirate Shores and Heartlake City. Toddlers will love the Coastersaurus, Duplo Play Town, and Mia’s Riding Camp, which is a cute carousel.

Preschoolers will get a kick out of the Royal Joust, which takes little ones on a LEGO horse ride through the “countryside.” Junior Driving School is a can’t-miss attraction for kids 3-5, too. Bonus: there are plenty of areas in line for your younger ones to stay entertained and play with LEGO blocks while you stand in line – just scoop up the kiddos before you get on the ride!

7. The whole family will love MiniLand USA.

You’ve likely seen photos of it online, but MiniLand USA is one of LEGOLAND’s most fun attractions. Built with a whopping 32,496,352 LEGO bricks, the area features real-life attractions and famous spots throughout the U.S. See the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the capital building in Washington D.C., Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Grand Central Station in New York, and the strip in Las Vegas all in one day!

8. LEGO fanatics will really get a kick out of the LEGO factory tour.

If you’ve ever wondered how a LEGO brick is made, this self-guided tour will show you from start to finish. The tour features different displays of machines that are used to make LEGO bricks, and you even have an option to get a special item engraved by someone at the end. This is a fun stop that offers a bit of a break in between the other rides and attractions.

9. The park makes it easy to skip long wait lines.

LEGOLAND offers a Reserve-n-Ride system, which allows you to hold a spot in line for their most popular rides without physically having to be in the actual line. To set up a Reserve-n-Ride, visit their website or head to the kiosk just inside the gates. When you purchase the pass, you’ll get to choose between reducing wait times by 25%, 50%, or 95% for $35, $55, and $100 per person, respectively. When you pick up your pass you’ll receive a device that allows you to make a reservation for one ride at a time, from anywhere in the park. When it’s your time ride the device beeps to let you know, and you’re on your way!

10. The LEGOLAND app is a great way to streamline your experience.

Download the LEGOLAND app before you arrive for access to an interactive map, up-to-date ride wait times, height restrictions for rides, directions, and even a car finder to help you keep track of where you’ve parked. It’s a great way to important information right at your fingertips, which can come in handy for a long day of exploring.

Quintessential Festival 2019: Celebrate All Things San Diego!

The La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club presents the 6th annual Quintessential Festival this April 27th, from 1pm – 5pm. Celebrate the true ‘quintessence’ of San Diego with craft beers from local breweries, wineries, and distilleries, along with fantastic food, music, and – most importantly – the amazing people that make San Diego America’s Finest City!

The inspiration for this community event stems from the Rotary Club’s desire to build a collaborative event that brings people together from throughout San Diego and raise awareness and funds for the great projects Rotary is doing locally and globally. Last year’s event drew approximately 750 attendees, and this year they intend to drive attendance in excess of 1,000!

Food, Beer, & Fun

This year’s festival will be held at the Nobel Park and Recreation Fields (8810 Judicial Dr, San Diego 92122). Proceeds from this event benefit over 45 local charities and non-profit groups supported annually by the La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club.

Attendees will get exclusive access and unlimited samples from more than 30 of San Diego’s finest craft brewers, distilleries, and wine and spirit companies. There will also be plenty of live music, complimentary bites from local vendors, and a few dog-friendly events for your four-legged friends.

A Few of This Year’s Participating Breweries

  • Abnormal Beer Co.
  • Alesmith Brewing Company
  • Alpine Beer Company
  • Ballast Point
  • Coronado Brewing Company
  • Green Flash Brewing Co
  • Karl Strauss Brewing Company
  • Mikkeller Brewing
  • Modern Tims Beer
  • Pizza Port Brewing Company
  • Saint Archer Brewing Company

Food Vendors

  • Aloha Poke Company
  • Bread & Cheese Catering
  • Doggos Gus
  • Nibble Chocolate
  • Simply Cheddar

For a complete list of participating craft breweries, visit their website! Tickets are $30 and can be purchased ahead of time online.

About the La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club

Chartered in 1986 during the formative years of the La Jolla Golden Triangle region (San Diego County), the Rotary Club associated with the growth and dynamics of this renowned area has become one of Rotary International’s most highly accomplished clubs.

The La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club is an organization of approximately 100 enthusiastic men and woman united in fellowship providing a broad range of humanitarian service and building lasting goodwill locally and globally.

Unabashedly self-proclaimed as the “most dynamic Rotary Club in the world” La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary is consistently one of the top-performing clubs not only in the San Diego/Imperial Counties District, but indeed in the world. The club consistently develops projects to improve health, well-being and self-sufficiency in our surrounding communities and beyond.

go san diego card

The Go San Diego Card: Everything You Need to Know

The Go San Diego Card is a great way to save money on more than 45 different attractions throughout San Diego County. It’s perfect for both tourists and San Diego residents, and you could potentially save up to 55% off regular admission prices at these attractions!  Whether you want to sail out for a whale-watching cruise, take the whole family to SeaWorld or LEGOLAND, or visit the the San Diego Zoo, this convenient card lets you plan your own itinerary and pack in as many attractions as you can each day.

What Is the Go San Diego Card?

The Go San Diego Card is a type of Go City Card, which is a multi-attraction pass available in major cities around the globe – including nearby spots like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

There are four different options when purchasing your Go San Diego Card:

  • 1) All-Inclusive
    • A multi-attraction pass that gets you into 40 San Diego attractions plus one premium attraction for one low price.
    • Available in 1 day, 2 day, 3 day, 5 day, or 7 day options.
    • Needs to be used on consecutive calendar days.
  • 2) Build Your Own 
    • Choose from 42 attractions and build your own pass to San Diego.
    • If you choose 2 or more, you’ll save 20%. The pass is valid for 30 days.
    • Good choice for San Diego residents.
  • Package Deals
    • 3) San Diego 4 Choice Flex Pass: choose 4 San Diego attractions and activities from 8 great options. Save up to 39% compared to paying at the gate!
    • 4) Top 3 Attractions Pass: Discounted access to three attractions: LEGOLAND® California, San Diego Zoo, and SeaWorld San Diego.

How to Use the Go San Diego Card

Your Go San Diego Card grants you admission to as many included attractions as you want to visit for the number of days you bought the card for. Once you purchase the card, you can either 1) use your pass directly from your phone with the free Go City Card app or 2) print out your pass and guidebook at home. You don’t need to buy other tickets – the city card acts as your ticket to all attractions.

After it’s used the first time, the card is good for the number of days you chose, but those must be consecutive days – for instance, if you use the card first on a Monday morning, that counts as your first day. Even if you visit your first attraction late in the day, it still counts; so we recommend starting as early as possible!

If you skip one day because you’re tired, you don’t get a refund or an extension. Except for the rare multi-day pass, you can visit each attraction only once.

Where to Purchase the Go San Diego Card

You can purchase one directly through us!

What to Know Before You Buy the Go San Diego Card

• Be realistic about how much you can do! The big attractions will each take a full day, and some are far apart. For other attractions that take less time, there may be significant travel time to get from one to another. Plan to visit 1-3 attractions per day, and choose ones that are closer together.

• You get to skip the line. If you use the Go City Card app, you can skip the line at select attractions and go directly to the entrance turnstiles, where they will scan a QR code on your phone. If you print out the pass at home, you may have to wait in line to collect your paper pass.

• The app is free, and keeps everything in one place. Once you download the app, guidebooks to each attraction, your actual Go San Diego Card, and directions are all right on your phone. It’s a great (and easy) way to make sure you don’t miss anything!

• Only longer-duration cards include Sea World: if you purchase a 3, 5 or 7-Day card, you can visit SeaWorld on as many days as your card is valid. SeaWorld is not included on 1 and 2 day cards. You can skip the ticket line when you choose digital delivery.

• Child cards are for children ages 3-12. Most attractions do not charge for children under 3 years old. However, there are some exceptions (especially children’s museums and attractions geared toward very young travelers). If you have a child under 3 years old, please check with the attraction directly in advance.

• You have one year to use your Go San Diego Card once you purchase it. After one year, it will expire.

• Refund policy: their Risk Free Guarantee gives you 30 days from your purchase date to return any non-activated passes for a full refund.

Included Attractions in the Go San Diego Card

There are more than 40 attractions to choose from!

  • SeaWorld San Diego
  • 2-Day Hop-on Hop-off Old Town Trolley Tour Ticket
  • Speed Boat Adventures
  • San Diego Zoo
  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park
  • USS Midway Museum
  • Knott’s Berry Farm
  • LEGOLAND
  • Whale & Dolphin Watching by Hornblower Cruises
  • 1-hour San Diego Harbor Tour by Flagship Cruises
  • Belmont Park All-Access Combo Pass
  • San Diego Air and Space Museum
  • San Diego Natural History Museum
  • Birch Aquarium
  • Reuben H. Fleet Science Center with IMAX movie
  • San Diego Museum of Man
  • San Diego Automotive Museum
  • Model Railroad Museum
  • Tandem kayak and stand-up paddle board rentals at Bike & Kayak Tours Coronado
  • Bike, snorkel, kayak, and stand-up paddle board rentals at Bike & Kayak Tours La Jolla
  • Whale Watch by Flagship Cruises & Events
  • Miramar Speed Circuit
  • Japanese Friendship Garden
  • San Diego Museum of Art
  • 30-minute GoCar San Diego Tour
  • The New Children’s Museum
  • San Diego History Center
  • Museum of Photographic Arts
  • Whaley House

Ready to start exploring San Diego? Purchase your multi-day pass or a Build Your Own Pass right here!

Exploring the New Children’s Museum in San Diego

Address/Location: 200 W. Island Ave., San Diego 92101
Phone: (619) 233-8792
Hours: M, W, Th, Fr, S: 9:30am-4pm. Sunday 11am-4pm. Closed Tuesdays.
Admission: $14 for adults & children 1+

The New Children’s Museum is part of the attractions included with the Go San Diego Card! This is a great option if you’re interested in discounted tickets and seeing other attractions in and around San Diego County.

The New Children’s Museum in San Diego is a fun, interactive museum that’s all about helping kids think, play, and create through hands-on exhibitions, engaging art-making activities, artistic performances, and educational programs.

The New Children’s Museum is filled with exciting finds, intriguing and interactive exhibits, and meaningful activities for all ages. Each year, leading artists create specifically designed and commissioned pieces of contemporary art with tactile features that appeal to kids, rather than recreate existing art to suit a younger generation. Throughout the museum, hands-on art and exhibits hold the attention of children of all ages, ranging from toddlers and teens.

About the Museum

This San Diego museum was founded on the principle “think, play, create” and serves as a place for children to come and learn creativity, confidence, problem-solving, interpersonal skills, critical thinking, collaboration, and optimism.

The original Museum opened in 1983 in La Jolla as the Children’s Museum, and moved to its current location at a downtown San Diego warehouse in 1993. In 2008, the Museum reopened as The New Children’s Museum – with the word “new” signifying their focus on commissioning contemporary artists to create full scale art installations for children to engage with and explore. The Museum is housed in a dynamic space designed by visionary and award-winning architect Rob Wellington Quigley and is one of the first green museums in California. In 2018, the Museum celebrated 35 years in San Diego, and 10 years as The New Children’s Museum.

Immersive Art Installations

The art installations at the New Children’s Museum are by far the most popular exhibits. Kids and adults alike will love the eclectic mix of interactive art and fun installations!

Smile: Strokes of color draw visitors across the Museum bridge in artist Panca’s 48-foot-long mural SMILE. Playful eyes and hearts are scattered through these lines of color, creating the impression of deconstructed, curious faces.

The Wonder Sound: Drawing influence from tree houses, empowered neighborhoods, canyons at night, sacred plants, silhouetted mountain ranges in the distance, animals that have never been seen, original stories, forgotten histories, whispered languages, ancient footpaths, imaginary places and the human condition, The Wonder Sound is an entirely new and complex culture that blends fact and fiction, the tangible and the ephemeral. It’s a work of art that you physically enter into and discover; the installation will take you to strange yet recognizable places as you explore its many rooms and passageways, going from the real to the unreal and venturing from the wild to the familiar.

No Rules…Except: One of the most talked about installations over the past 10 years, “No Rules…Except” was created by artist Brian Dick. The installation is an ode to childhood, and celebrates the simple childish joy of jumping on the bed. The immersive, interactive room is filled with 40+ mattresses and over 160 “pillow” tires for children (and grown ups!) to play, crawl, jump, and bounce around in.

Sketch Aquarium: Sketch Aquarium uses 21st century technology to create a beautiful, engaging art and science experience for all ages. Design a fanciful sea creature, and then watch it come to life and swim with all the other sea creatures in a wall-sized, moving aquarium projection. Children can observe the power of their creative imagination through Sketch Aquarium. Paper and art making materials offer opportunities to design and color a sea creature. Once completed, the piece of paper is scanned, and the image is projected onto a giant virtual aquarium. Children may also touch the fish to see them swim away, or touch the virtual food bag to feed the fish.

Wobbleland: Wobbleland is a fun, interactive area that resembles a giant kitchen sink and is filled with oversized soft food sculptures. Infants and toddlers 4 and under have exclusive reign in Wobbleland, where they can make creative discoveries: explore an avocado teeter totter, play with slices of a giant tomato, crawl through a cheese wedge, and more. Each sculpture presents challenges such as stacking, spinning, sorting and rocking and invites its young audience to explore.

Desert Derby: At first glance, the twisting tracks in Desert Derby look like freeways. Take a closer look, and you’ll see a series of interconnecting waterways and reservoirs. Desert Derby traces not only California’s roads, but also one of the most important other factors to shape our region: the feat of engineering that is the California aqueduct. We know where and how California’s system of freeways connects, but what if Californians were just as aware of our water system? Would it change our relationship with water?

Art Studios & Activities

The Community Gallery: The Community Gallery is a space where you can see and learn more about art made by local artists, schools, and participants from programs offered at the Museum. You’ll find their artistic contributions throughout the space – displayed on the floor, walls, and sometimes even the ceiling. Visitors are encouraged to take part in the collaborative art experience – the art that you help create will grow over time and become a part of the work on view and the wider Museum world.

Innovators LAB: The Innovators LAB is the Museum’s collaborative makerspace, where locals can come together for drop-in art workshops hosted by local experts, artists, architects, and others. These resident professionals develop design challenges alongside the Creative Team to provide open-ended, skill-building projects that explore real world issues. The Innovators LAB targets families with children ages 6-13 and provides opportunities to experiment with a variety of ideas, materials, and hands-on techniques.

Other Activities

Along with art exhibits and interactive installations, the New Children’s Museum offers various family classes and programs (including Friday Toddler Time and the Little Learners Club), Day Camps and Summer Camps, and several events throughout the year.

Do note that the art exhibits and installations change, and they are always bringing in new artists for visitors to enjoy! Be sure to stay up-to-date with the Museum’s schedule and installations when you are thinking of visiting. Want to see more? Check out our other top San Diego museums!

San Diego Attractions for Kids: Explore Balboa Park

Balboa Park is one of the best places for families to visit in San Diego. There is a plethora of beautiful gardens, museums, cultural spots, theaters, playgrounds, and walking trails within the 1200-acre park. What really sets Balboa Park is all of the activities that are free and family-friendly – the park is a great place to spend the day, the afternoon, or even a couple of days exploring if you have the time! Here’s our list of some of the best family-friendly activities in Balboa Park for a fun family outing.

Free Activities in Balboa Park

If you’re looking for free things to do in San Diego, Balboa Park has enough activities and events to keep you and your family busy for several days! All of the gardens, playgrounds, and walking trails are open to visitors every day, and some attractions are also free.

On each Tuesday of the month, museums and attractions rotate to offer free admission to San Diego residents for “Residents Free Tuesdays.” The deal includes:

  • The Museum of Man
  • Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
  • Japanese Friendship Garden
  • Model Railroad Museum

Some of the museums also offer free admission to active duty military and their family or local college students (with ID). The Veterans Museum and Memorial offers free admission every day for active duty military. Each October during the Kids Free in San Diego event, the world-famous San Diego Zoo, Reuben H. Fleet and other Park museums offer free admission to children as well.

Balboa Park Playgrounds

There are five different playgrounds within Balboa Park, which are a fun and free way for families to relax and get some exercise. Some of the playgrounds are better suited for kids under age 5, while others are intended for ages 5-12. Here are some of the most popular Balboa Park playgrounds:

Pepper Grove Playground: suitable for kids of all ages. It is separated into two main areas. The side designed for children younger than five has a giant sandbox, cushioned floors, slides and swings. The other side, designed for kids five and older, offers a large jungle gym, faux zip line and fun things to spin on.

Sixth Avenue Playground: this is a large play area that kids of all ages can enjoy. It is separated into two main areas. The side designed for kids aged 5 and up is fun and futuristic with loads of obstacles and things to climb on. The other side, recommended for children under 5, has a fire engine-themed jungle gym with ropes, slides and climbing bars.

Morley Field Playground: this medium-sized playground is perfect for kids aged 5-12, families with dogs and those who love playing sports. There are slides, monkey bars, swings and a rock-climbing wall to enjoy. It is surrounded by fun places like the a swimming pool, dog park and tennis courts.

balboa park

Fun Activities for Kids at Balboa Park

Balboa Park Carousel: The historic carousel is closer the entrance of the San Diego Zoo, and is truly an awesome place to visit for families. The carousel dates back to 1910 and is a fun menagerie of animals, and all but two pairs are original with hand-carved European craftsmanship. The carousel is one of the few in the world still offering the brass ring game for everyone taking the 5-minute ride!

A little history of the carousel: the Herschell-Spillman menagerie carousel was made in New York, and shipped to Los Angeles, California. In 1915, it was displayed at the summer resort called Tent City, in Coronado, and then moved up Balboa Park around 1922. It originally was placed at the east of Balboa Park, near the San Diego Natural History Museum, but moved to its current location in 1968 to make way for the Fleet Science Center.

In 2017, the Friends of Balboa Park purchased the historic carousel. As its new owner and operator, they will ensure that it remains an historic park landmark for many more years to come.

Miniature Railroad: The miniature railroad is next to the carousel, and families with young children will likely enjoy both rides. The train pulls out of the station for 3-minute rides around a portion of Balboa Park.

The Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater is always a hit with the little ones. Founded in 1948, the Puppet Theater is the longest continuous running puppet theater in the United States! Puppet performances are presented throughout the year by a variety of troupes; the theater presents approximately 45 shows a year, with different shows each week (12 shows a week during the winter and 15 shows a week during the summer). The theater boasts 6 rotating resident puppeteers and 2 associate puppeteers, plus occasional guest artists from around the United States. The theater seats 200, and many of productions are “full-stage” using life-size puppets.

The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is the world’s largest operating model railroad museum. This unique museum contains four enormous scale and model layouts, built by separate clubs, whose exhibits depict railroads all over the Southwest. The Museum also features a Toy Train Gallery, complete with an interactive Lionel layout for children and state-of-the-art theater lighting. Your little train-lovers will absolutely love this railroad museum!

Balboa Park Gardens

The dozens of gardens located throughout Balboa Park are lovely places for a picnic or simply to just relax and enjoy the sunshine. Kids can play on the grass, and most of them offer plenty of shade and picnic tables. The Botanical Building is one of the most photographed buildings in Balboa Park and nestled among several of the most popular natural history museums.

The EthnoBotany Children’s Peace Garden is a unique organic herb, fruit, and vegetable garden that honors the memory of George Washington Carver. The space is dedicated to teaching young people about the role of plants in society. Gardening classes are available to schools, youth programs, individuals and families by appointment or on Sundays at 11:30am, and the garden also serves the nearly 6,000 students in the 5th Grade Balboa Park Integration Program.

The Rose Garden, Japanese Friendship Garden, and Zoro Garden are also good options for families. Some gardens are free and some cost money to get in, so be sure to double check on admission before you go.

Where to Eat at Balboa Park

After a long day of fun, the little ones in the group will definitely have worked up an appetite! There are several great places for families to dine at Balboa Park, including casual spots for outdoor activities and quick-and-easy snack carts.

Nosh down on hot dogs, hamburgers, and soft serve ice cream at the Village Grill behind the Natural History Museum. Over by the Fleet Science Center, you can sit outside and enjoy the fountain when you eat at Craveology. They have salads and panini sandwiches, and it’s a fun little spot that’s slightly off the beaten path for a quieter experience. The Alaska Airlines Flight Path Grill is a good go-to spot over by the Air & Space Museum: from chili cheese dogs to grilled cheese sandwiches, there’s yummy comfort food for all palates! You can sit out on the observation deck and watch the colorful planes land at the airport, too. There are also several coffee, snack, and water spots sprinkled throughout the park that you can walk to for a quick pick-me-up.

For more Balboa Park tips and how-tos, visit our explore Balboa Park page!

QUIZ: Which San Diego Neighborhood Are You?

Anyone who’s spent some time in San Diego knows how eclectic, fun, and downright awesome America’s Finest City is! From enjoying our near-perfect year-round weather to indulging in some of the best craft beer in the country, there is no shortage of great ways to spend your time in our coastal city. But where to begin?! With dozens of different (and completely unique) neighborhoods and communities, it’s a tad overwhelming for visitors (or brand-new locals) to figure out which one is which – and more importantly, where they want to live! 

Are you a fun-loving extrovert who loves the hustle and bustle of urban downtown, or are you happier with a glass of wine and Netflix in a quiet suburb? Do you live for the beach, or are you the type to hit the trails every morning? Take our fun quiz to find out which San Diego neighborhood suits your personality! 

  • North Park
  • La Jolla
  • Ocean Beach
  • Little Italy
  • Gaslamp Quarter
  • Pacific Beach
  • Mission Beach

GIVEAWAY!

That’s not all! One lucky winner will be chosen to receive a $50 gift card to Whisknladle La Jolla! All you have to do is complete the quiz to be eligible to win. 

The Best Views in San Diego

If you’re born and raised in San Diego, you already know that it’s truly one of most beautiful places on the planet  – people come here from all over the world to lay on our beaches and enjoy the perfect weather all year round. Whether your thing is hiking to waterfalls or sitting on the beach watching the sunset, San Diego is paradise. Here are some of the best views in San Diego, from coastal viewpoints to seaside meditation gardens! Plus, visit our San Diego guides section to explore more fun things to do in each neighborhood.

Torrey Pines Gliderport

Where else can you sit back and watch people fly over the ocean? The Torrey Pines Gliderport sits above Black’s Beach (a clothing optional La Jolla beach) and next to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, a coastal state park and community known for its world-class golf course (it hosted the 2008 U.S. Open) and picturesque San Diego hiking trails. While both the golf course and trails have views well worth writing home about, just a little south is the Torrey Pines Gliderport, a city-owned aviation site where paragliders and hang-gliders can launch off the cliffs to the beaches below. It’s a magical spot to take in the scenery and watch San Diego’s finest soar through the sky.

There’s a massive parking lot in front of the glider port that’s free all day, so parking is almost always easy to find.

Mt. Soledad

Mount Soledad is one of La Jolla’s secret spots. It’s a small mountain with a veterans memorial and giant cross at its peak; the memorial itself offers an expansive, panoramic view of San Diego and the coast below, and it’s easily accessible by car. It’s an iconic San Diego spot, partially due to the massive controversy over the constitutionality of the cross — it went to the Supreme Court twice! Parking is easy, although the road from Pacific Beach to Mount Soledad is a popular cycling path if that’s your thing.

Sunset Cliffs

With sheer cliffs bordering the ocean, several decent surf spots, and coastal trails along the bluffs, Sunset Cliffs is one of San Diego’s most picturesque – and iconically Southern California –  areas. As the name suggests, it’s a popular spot if you’re wondering where to catch the sunset, although the beaches below are also a great place to hang out if you’re looking for something a little more secluded than some of our busier beaches.

Local tip: The cliffs are mostly unfenced, so watch your step as you explore the area. There are also a few spots where locals and visitors alike jump off the cliffs into the ocean, but be careful if you join: it’s technically illegal and there are lots of sharp rocks hiding in the water.

Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens

Incredible views and inner peace await within one of San Diego’s most picturesque gardens. Perched atop the cliffs in Encinitas, a coastal city in North County, the Meditation Gardens are part of the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple grounds. It’s the perfect spot for a thoughtful stroll through lush greenery, and has plenty of benches facing the ocean view. This is an amazing place to take in the sunset, or simply spend a few hours admiring the garden and the views during the day.

If you’re there around lunchtime, head across the street to Swami’s Cafe! It’s a local gem that is well known for its breakfast and acai bowls, making it a perfect place to stop by before or after your garden stroll.

Stonewall Peak

Stonewall Peak is a favorite among San Diego hikers, and for great reason! Julian is a small city in the outermost part of San Diego County, known for its small-town country feel and freshly baked pies. But just a few miles from the sleepy town is the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, home to several hiking trails with some awesome vistas. We recommend Stonewall Peak, which has a trail that leads up a small mountain via a series of moderate switchbacks. After a 30 minute hike, you’ll arrive at a staircase leading you to the very top, where a breathtaking coastline view awaits.

Go as early as you can manage to see this great view — the view during sunrise is spectacular, plus you’ll avoid the midday heat and the crowds. Parking is at the campground just next to the trailhead and costs $10.

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It was a great weekend for the beach! This is Del Mar City beach 🏖 First time here and it was such a great day to get out and enjoy it. Each of California’s beaches are so unique. They all have a personality. This one included green lawns, and a Amtrak that zipped by every once in a while. The sand was like powdered sugar, and felt so cool on my bare feet. Del Mar is where the Torrey Pines golf course is, which is where they hold the US Open. It’s definitely worth a visit if you are just north of San Diego. I absolutely love discovering new places like this pretty seaside town. Happy Thursday everybody!#nofilterneeded #beach #beaches #beachday #delmarbeach #delmar #citybeach #greenlawns #amtrak #whitesand #feelsgood #unique #personality #beachlove #travel #travels #travelinsta #travelgram #travelinstagram #travelphotography #socal #california #californiaadventure #palmtree #pacificocean

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Powerhouse Park

One of our favorite places to relax in North County is Powerhouse Park, located in the quaint beach town of Del Mar. Both Powerhouse Park and adjacent Seagrove Park comprise Del Mar’s crown jewel, and after you take in the view there, you’ll see why!

The sprawling grassy knolls overlook the beach, making it a popular place to sunbathe or dine al fresco at one of the many picnic tables. To see the full scope of this area, begin at the outer rim of Seagrove Park and work your way down to Powerhouse Park, stopping along the routes to gaze at the sea and surfers below. If you walk past the “Tot Lot” play area at Powerhouse Park, you’ll find a small gateway that leads to a dirt path. Follow that trail to a cluster of benches where you can sit and bask in the sun. Seagrove Park is located off Coast Blvd. in Del Mar.

Coronado Ferry Landing

If you’ve ever searched Google Images for “downtown San Diego”, then you’ve seen the view of the San Diego cityscape lit up, standing tall and bright in front of the water. Those photos were taken from Coronado, a small city on a peninsula in the San Diego Bay, just west of downtown. The peninsula’s ferry landing leads into a waterfront park with restaurants, shops, a beach, and the same incredible view of the city that photographers love, making it an ideal place to spend the day. The view is especially impressive in the evening, when the city turns on its colorful lights and they dance off the water.

The best way to get to the ferry landing is the ferry! The ride is about 15 minutes, and it costs $4.75 each way. It operates regularly from downtown to Coronado from early morning until just before 10:00 pm.

La Jolla Cove

We wouldn’t be able to mention views without mentioning La Jolla Cove! Beautiful La Jolla Cove is a small beach area surrounded by cliffs which boast a beautiful view of the neighboring cliffs and hosts a colony of California sea lions – they make for a fun spectacle to watch as you wait for the sunset. 

La Jolla gets pretty busy in the summertime, especially on the weekends. Our recommendation is to explore the area in the evening on a weekday, or stop by during winter or fall (typically regarded as “offseason” here).

Top Fitness Studios in San Diego

It’s no secret that America’s Finest City is a pretty healthy community; from yoga, barre, and Pilates to boot camp classes and aerobics, there is no shortage of fun ways to work out or hike in San Diego! We’ve rounded up some of the best fitness studios in the County – and what classes they’re known for – so you don’t have to. Here are the best fitness studios in San Diego!

Spark Cycle (Cycling)

Take a seat on a stationary bike, diligently listen to directional advice from your upbeat instructor, and pedal as fast as you can for this indoor cycling, or “spin” class. After taking a class at SparkCycle in La Jolla, it is estimated that riders lose up to 600-900 calories even though the class is only 45 minutes long. SparkCycle offers top-of-the-line Schwinn bikes, QSC audio system, LED lighting, stadium risers for a perfect view, showers for after your workout, free validated garage parking, and passionate instructors. If you don’t want to commit to the all included membership, you can try your first class out for $10.

Core Power (Yoga)

At Core Power, members believe that this workout class not only transforms your body, but also transforms your everyday life mindset. Inside the studio, yogis are pushed outside of their comfort zone and consequently, leave the yoga studio more secure in themselves than when they walked in.

Core Power offers a free week at the multiple locations scattered around San Diego if you’re interested in testing out the waters before buying a membership. Note, there are many types of classes – Core Power 1, Core Power 2, and Sculpt are a few – that differ in levels. If you haven’t tried out yoga before, it is recommended you try C1 before a C2 or Sculpt class. Core Power 1 is a class for beginner yogis and Core Power 2 is a more advanced challenge. Sculpt, on the other hand, is a high-intensity weight training workout where muscle meets yoga and metabolism boosts.

Trilogy Sanctuary (Yoga)

Trilogy Sanctuary holds up to its name — it’s a triple-threat of aerial yoga, an infrared-heated indoor studio space, and an organic, vegan cafe. The stunning La Jolla location boasts a rooftop space with daily aerial yoga classes overlooking the ocean as well as plenty of comfy nooks to enjoy your raw, organic, vegan snacks (that’s a mouthful, literally). And on the rare rainy San Diego day, you can take your indoors, where the temp is cranked up to almost 100 degrees!

Studio Barre (Barre)

Located in Bird Rock, Carmel Valley, Mission Hills, and Encinitas, Studio Barre is all over San Diego and gains popularity each day due to its killer workout and positive effects. Barre is an experience focused on building core strength, improving posture and developing long and lean muscles. Former professional dancer, barre enthusiast, and fitness expert Shannon Higgins founded Studio Barre in 2012. At Studio Barre, there is a new client special which includes one month of unlimited classes for $99.00.

Club Pilates (Pilates)

Club Pilates‘ mantra commends pilates is the path to a fuller, richer, healthier and more satisfying life. Focusing on the functionality of flexibility and strength, Club Pilates classes prepare members to transcend motivation in class out into everyday life. Classes entail “Cardio Sculpt,” “Barre/Reformer Fusion,” “Bootcamp,” and “Stretch.” Moreover, there is a class called, “CP Teen,” which is specifically directed at athletic teenagers seeking to enhance their skills in their competitive sport. Schedule your first free intro class today at one of the many locations, such as Mission Valley, and feel your body transformation first hand.

Orangetheory Fitness (Cardio)

Orangetheory Fitness (OTF) is not a traditional workout center. The vibrantly colored gym offers class-based workouts with varying class sizes – anywhere from 10 to 20 people – and each class incorporates cardio, indoor rowers, weight training blocks, and floor exercises designed to give you fast results. What makes OTF unique is the motivating technology they use to optimize your workout. Each participant wears a heart rate monitor that glows a different color depending on his or her heart rate. Cardiac output is measured with green, orange, and red. Green is the “easy zone”, with orange being ideal, and red nearing danger.

“Work for 1 hour. Burn for 36” is the Orange Theory Fitness slogan. They believe measured success is important. It explains their heart-based interval training workout. They claim that their heart rate training stimulates metabolism and increases energy. According to OTF, their members burn an average of 500 to 1000 calories per 1-hour workout!

F45 Training (Circuit Training)

Every day at F45 is different. From Athletica to Hollywood, the team here has developed 27 different high-intensity circuit workouts that’ll keep you moving and sweating. With two to three trainers per class and exercise demos on TV screens around the studio, it’s easy to follow along. With eight locations in San Diego and La Jolla – and more to come – there are plenty of opportunities to fit in a 45-minute class. What should you expect at your first group fitness workout? A big hug and a “hello mate” from your newest Aussie friends (the company is based in Australia!).

Bodyrok (Pilates)

Bodyrok isn’t your traditional Pilates class, but trust us, you won’t mind! Inspired by the Reformer, the Bodyrok’s signature machine is a remodeled and redesigned version of the original Pilates equipment, so you can get the most out of your workout in the least amount of time. And get ready to pour sweat — Bodyrok’s 40-minute strength-training classes in Del Mar and Encinitas are challenging and will work your whole body as you squeeze, pike, and jump your way to the end.

Barry’s Bootcamp (Bootcamp)

Dubbed “the best workout in the world,” Barry’s Bootcamp classes are a one-hour sweat-fest complete with strength training and cardio intervals. With hill climbs, sprints, and dynamic mode (self-propelled treadmill), running on a treadmill has never been so tough. The floor work focuses on a different muscle group each day, allowing you to develop a well-rounded physique — or at least, avoid leg day (Tuesday). This is a fun one to try if you’re looking for a more regular, intensive workout than yoga or pilates; rest assured, the alternating cardio and bursts of intense anaerobic exercise will keep your heart rate elevated and the sweat coming!

For more San Diego guides, tips, and workout ideas, visit our other blogs or our San Diego guides section!