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Off the Beaten Path in San Diego's Balboa Park

Parts of Balboa Park that most San Diego natives don't know. Brought to you by a guide who grew up exploring the park.
Rating: 5 out of 5 by EveryTrail members
Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 1.215 miles
Duration: Half day
Family Friendly

Overview:  Welcome to Balboa Park! You are about to embark on a hidden journey to parts of the park that few people ever see.

Thousands of... more »

Tips:  Do this in the daylight. While the park is pretty at night and prettier at sunset, I'm going to bring you to places that have little ... more »

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Points of Interest

Park on Park Boulevard and walk to this beautiful landmark. There is a parking lot right here but good luck finding a spot...

The Balboa Park Carousel is one of two restored 19th-century carousels with original equipment and animals in San Diego. You can ride the horses that gallop up and down, take a smooth cruise on a dragon or a goat, or... More

It's just a few steps to another hidden treasure in the park. OK lots of people do this but many people come to the park over and over again and never see this...

If you saw Steve Martin run a mini railroad locomotive in the movie, "The Jerk," you know what I'm talking about. This mini railroad is something every kid and every adult who loves... More

3. Moreton Bay Fig Tree

A nice walk along Zoo Drive to Village pace will bring you to one of two giant trees on this tour. We pass this tree on the way to a few hidden gardens but if you're looking for shade, this is it!

This Moreton Bay Fig tree (one of two gigantic fig trees on this tour) has a fence around it now, probably because the roots are so tall -- and all... More

4. Casa del Prado Theatre

If you have ever seen the movie "Citizen Cane," you've seen this building. It played Cane's home Xanadu in the film.

The Casa del Prado Theatre is the performance venue for several Balboa Park arts programs including San Diego Junior Theatre, San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, San Diego Youth Symphony and various other booked-in events. So, yes,... More

5. Bridge to Desert and Rose Gardens

After looking at the gigantic Fig and Xanadu, you'll have to cross The Balboa Park Pedestrian Bridge to see two more hidden gems in Balboa Park. You can get a few nice views from this bridge, including Park Boulevard, which runs North and South; the Zoo parking lot (North), Florida Canyon (East) and the Prado, to which we will return after seeing... More

Anyone venturing across the bridge will probably turn right and run for the roses but if you take your time, you'll see what few visitors to Balboa park ever see: more than two acres of drought-resistant plants in odd shapes and sizes. If you're in blooming season (January-March) you will be amazed by the variety of colors and shapes of the... More

7. Rose Garden

The rose garden is passed by millions of people every year and few, literally, stop and smell the roses. More's the pity because there are more than 2,400 rose bushes in 180 varieties. They're nestled on walkways, under arbors and near fountains and they all smell better than they look.

The garden is officially called the Inez Grant Parker... More

8. Fountain

It's OK to play in this fountain in you want--especially if it's a hot day and you didn't play in the fountain in the Rose Garden. There is also food here.

This fountain was designed by a family friend, Alphonse Macy and it is more than just a fountain. The water from the fountain runs in rivulets down both sides of the stairs on the way to The... More

Follow the flow of the water from the fountain onto the Prado. A walk on this Prado (especially on weekends) is a tour of the best street performers in San Diego. These performers have auditioned, received permission, and paid a permit fee, to do what they do and much of it is really good. They pass the hat, which is also legal, so feel free to ... More

10. Zoro Garden

Zoro Garden is on the way to a lot of things so most people don't bother to stop and look. You should stop and look. Especially if you like great stone work dating from 1915, or it's butterfly season or you've managed to travel back to the 1930s.

In the 30s there was much more to see as Zoro Gardens was where nudists met. See the photo below... More

11. Lily Pond and Botanical Garden

Look for turtles in the pond that people have liberated from their homes; and there's a really cool plant in the Botanical garden that moves when you touch it.


12. Marilyn Monroe

Thousands of park visitors pass right by this spot and never take advantage of the blast of warm air that comes out of the San Diego Museum of Art's air conditioning system.

The museum has one of the finest collections of Asian Art, some fine American and European Masters and even a Rembrandt. But outside, you can get a blast of air that will... More

The flowers in Alcazar Garden change monthly and they're always beautiful. Stroll the lanes and look for Old Globe Theatre actors looking for a hidden rehearsal hall entrance and wedding photographers waiting for you to get out of the frame.
Admission: Free

Sunrise to sunset is best

1363 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101

14. Archery Range

This spot isn't even on the Balboa Park website but it's probably the coolest place in the park -- even if you don't have a bow and arrows. I actually hope you don't have a bow and arrows...

It's hard to find but once you catch the trail head, the course is laid out in a natural circle. Look for all the oddly-appointed targets, broken arrows... More

15. Wooden Bridge, Giant Tree and Canyon Walk

Though you can't see it in the map, there is a wooden bridge here. It leads past a giant Morton Bay Fig tree, which you can't miss, down into a very pretty canyon. The trail leads through the center of Balboa Park and it's even possible to see where the San Diego Mounted Park Police keep their horses.

The trail loops around to the Archery Range... More