Touring & Walking the Park

(excerpted from Discover Balboa Park, 2nd Edition, © Ridgway Park Publishing)

Walking the Park

Balboa Park is the largest urban cultural park in the United States, maintaining its unique position as a place not only to exercise the body, but the mind and soul as well. Much like Europe, part of the magic happens just by getting out of your car and walking. There is a deep satisfaction that arises from slowing down and connecting with your surroundings in this way. This is what Balboa Park is all about.

With 1-2 hours to spend…your best bet to get a flavor of the Park is to stroll the Prado area—from Cabrillo Bridge to the Bea Evenson Fountain (the large fountain at the east end of El Prado)—or explore the Organ Pavilion and Pan American Plaza area. Visit one of the larger museums or two smaller ones, and one garden, or the Botanical Building.

Did you know that Balboa Park has 4 ½ miles of hiking and biking trails in Florida Canyon or that there are several hundred acres to be explored on paved walking and jogging paths on the West side? Do you know about Gold Gulch, Palm Canyon, the Old Bridle Trail, the Marston Addition or the five miles of paved paths inside the Zoo’s boundaries?

All this and more can be found in Discover Balboa Park, 2nd Edition and in two walking guides written by the same author. See “A Walk in Balboa Park” #1 & #2” for more info.

Free tours of the Park

Free guided tours by local experts are offered several days a week. Unless otherwise indicated these begin and end at the Visitors Center

Ranger / Visitor Center Docent tours

Tours are approximately one hour long. Tour leaders discuss the historical, architectural, and botanical treasures of Balboa Park. The Park Rangers are committed to helping visitors have a safe and rewarding outdoor experience. They assist with public safety, raise awareness of conservation needs and methods, and carry out a proactive series of educational activities within the Park and throughout the community. Tour times are subject to change, but are currently at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Sundays. Tours begin at the Visitors Center in the House of Hospitality.


Botanical Building Tours

The San Diego Floral Association offers monthly tours of the historic Botanical Building, featuring its history and horticulture. The Botanical Building was the inspiration of Alfred D. Robinson, first president and co-founder of the San Diego Floral Association. The other co-founder was San Diego’s Mother of Balboa Park, Kate Sessions. During 2016, these tours are only provided once a month on the third Friday at 11 a.m. The tours start at the south end of the Lily Pond and are free to the public.

Architectural tours

Once a month, members of the Committee of 100 lead tours of the Spanish Colonial architecture found in the heart of the Park. This group has been raising money since the 1960s to help preserve the beautiful architecture that originated with the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Tour begins at the Visitors Center on the first Friday of the month at 10 a.m., and lasts about one hour.

Natural History Museum Canyoneers

Volunteer naturalists trained in local flora, fauna, and geology, lead guided nature walks in various locations around San Diego County, including Florida Canyon. The walks are offered several times a year. For information call (619) 232-3821 ext. 7, or obtain info via the Web site at


Self-guided Tours

Of course you may not be able to get to the Park when a free guided tour is being offered. Two recent additions to the services and information available at the Visitors Center give you the means to tour on your own. One must be completed on the day it is started, while the other can be enjoyed either all at one time or in smaller segments over any number of days.

Balboa Park Audio Tours of the historical central core of the Park can be rented at the Visitors Center for around $5 for adults; $4 for juniors and seniors. These involve using a map with numbers which correlate to a keypad on the audio device. Once you access the area you wish to hear about, you simply dial a three-digit code to hear the info. The narrator presents the details in a fun, colorful way, interspersed with the voices of other knowledgeable people, including Architect David Marshall, Author Pam Crooks, Park Ranger Kim Duclo and former Museum Director Arthur Ollman, among others. Complete tour takes about forty-five minutes.

A Walk in Balboa Park # 1 and #2 are self-guided tour booklets which can be purchased for $3.95 each. These pocket-sized guides include detailed information on the history, architecture, and horticulture of the Central and West Mesas of the Park, as well as suggestions on what to see and do while on a visit to Balboa Park. Sprinkled with anecdotes and charming illustrations, these tours can be taken any time of the day, including early morning or evening when the Park is less crowded and most museums are closed. Each contains detailed walking directions and a map for the area described. Complete tour outlined in each booklet lasts about 1½ hours, but may be broken down into smaller segments and taken over several days.

Independently scheduled Balboa Park group tours are available for a fee, led by Balboa Park experts, including the author of Discover Balboa Park. These colorful walking tours include information on Balboa Park’s history, architecture and gardens and can be tailored to your group’s interest, age and ability levels and time constraints. For further information, please call 760-440-5101 or e-mail [email protected].