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Tips for Visiting

Chapter 3 Where to Start
(excerpted from Discover Balboa Park,  2nd Edition, © Ridgway Park Publishing)

     First a quick geographical orientation: Balboa Park is situated on a large mesa intersected by two large canyons—Cabrillo Canyon on the west and Florida Canyon on the east. The cultural heart of the Park—which includes many of the City’s museums and theaters, its unique Spanish Colonial architecture, formal gardens, and the famous San Diego Zoo—is situated on the Central Mesa.

     To the west of Cabrillo Canyon are broad expanses of green lawn—perfect for picknicking—some of the rarest trees and other examples of mature landscaping, the iconic lawn bowling courts, miles of shady green walks, and hiking and bicycling trails. The west side is also the location of the Marston House Museum and Gardens. The West Mesa is bordered by the residential neighborhoods of Hillcrest and Banker’s Hill.

     To the east of Florida Canyon is an area best known for its outdoor recreational attributes. Here you’ll find the Balboa Park Golf Course (sister course to the famed Torrey Pines links), the Balboa Tennis Club, a velodrome, bocce and petanque courts, a municipal swimming pool and a Frisbee® Golf Course. But you’ll also find a native plant demonstration garden, and over four miles of hiking and biking trails in the scrub-filled natural canyon preserve of Florida Canyon itself. The East Mesa area is bordered by the North Park, South Park and Golden Hill residential neighborhoods.

     Most people concentrate their visit in the cultural core of the Park on the Central Mesa. This zone is roughly organized in a “T,” with major museums situated along El Prado at the top of the “T.” Many of these buildings feature Balboa Park’s signature Spanish Colonial architecture, which originated with the 1915 Panama-California Exposition…The lower part of the “T” extends south to the Palisades area (Pan American Plaza)—site of much of the activity of the second exposition in 1935-36, and home today of three significant museums, the puppet theater and Starlight Bowl. Both the area along El Prado, and that to the south, in the Palisades area, have been declared national historic landmark areas.

Balboa Park Visitors Center/House of Hospitality

     The Balboa Park Visitors Center is located in the first floor northwest corner of the House of Hospitality—right in the heart of the Park. This is an ideal place to begin your exploration. The center, which is staffed by knowledgeable volunteers, is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Visitors Center serves close to 500,000 visitors a year.

     If you only have three to four hours to spend in the Park, chat with a volunteer for a few minutes to plot out the most rewarding way to spend your time. Let them know if you’re more interested in science, art, history, the gardens or the architecture, and what your time and budget constraints might be. They will make suggestions and point you in the right direction.

     In addition to providing information for visitors, the historic House of Hospitality offers one of the best restaurants in the city, clean, accessible restrooms, a baby-changing room, an ATM machine, telephones, benches and a cappuccino cart in a sunny courtyard. So well used and loved is the building that it has been called “The Living Room of San Diego.”

     You’ll find an entrance to the Visitors Center under the covered walkway on the north side of the House of Hospitality at the southeast corner of the Plaza de Panama. There’s also an entrance off the lovely courtyard in the center of the House of Hospitality…

     In addition to free information and advice from the volunteers, be sure to pick up the current “Balboa Park Guide to What’s New”. This brochure is recommended because it contains current information on all of the exhibitions, musical offerings and theater programs in the Park. It is updated every two months by staff, and is a complete source of current information on Park events. Exhibits and programs are constantly changing so this tool will be invaluable for your visit. The Visitors Center guide also includes a simple map of the cultural zone of the Park. A small donation for the guide would be much appreciated since the Center is a non-profit operation.

     There are many other good maps and books about Balboa Park and San Diego available in the Visitors Center. This is also a good place to pick up brochures on other attractions in the region. Current bus schedules, free Tuesday info, special event brochures and fliers, Old Town Trolley Tickets, soft drinks, snacks, batteries, aspirin and film are also available.

     Discover Balboa Park: A Complete Guide to America’s Greatest Urban Park by Pam Crooks is the Official Guidebook of the Balboa Park Visitors Center.  Ms. Crooks has been a volunteer and/or an employee in Balboa Park for over 30 years, and a regular information desk volunteer at the Visitors Center!  Over 500,000 visitors a year have their questions answered by a very knowledgeable corps of volunteers. Many of the questions asked by visitors from around the world led to the creation of Discover Balboa Park, now in its second edition.  When it debuted in the year 2000, it was the first guidebook published on Balboa Park in over 60 years!  The second edition has been recently updated and enhanced and continues to be the only complete guide to all that Balboa Park has to offer—from the museums and performing arts venues to the many recreational facilities.

Tips for visiting
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