I've lived in the area for 20+ years and love to share the Reuben Fleet IMAX, the Zoo, and the History, Aviation and Railroad Museums with friends and visitors.
But a recent visitor who wanted to do none of that challenged me to go online and view other options. Viola. For a mere pittance, we visited areas at our own pace and learned about facts and history that I was not aware of. You'll see and hear about everything on this tour:-)
A stop at the visitor center (west of the Reuben Fleet Museum where we parked) for the map and audio device provided additional tips, maps and postcards.
If you can, pack a picnic lunch & blanket to dine under a tree in the park.
If not, Prado is the most publicized restaurant, and you should at least look-into the dining and patio areas to see the architecture and peruse the menu (which is pricy). The calamari appetizer is a favorite, and I do it with friends at happy hour for discounted prices on other items, including the drinks.
My favorite place is the Japanese Garden restaurant with huge sandwiches, gr8 curry and yummy salads. Its very reasonable and you sit outside overlooking the Organ Pavilion and gardens, where a musician is often performing for you. (year-round due to our mild weather)
The area is amazing with buildings that look like churches, but one is a museum and the other a theater. Many building have ornate carvings and the history of several of them is fascinating. Also, trivia about the Old Globe theater and other areas made the visit interesting and enjoyable to both a local and a visitor.
The tour took us about 90 minutes, not counting the stop for a Zen lunch with a violinist. We also spent more time visiting the Natural History museum and seeing "Cosmic Collisions" in the giant, domed IMAX theater.
It was a marvelous day in "America's Finest City".
Note: You are no longer able to easily access the east side of the park from Hwy 101 on W Laural. I hope a GPS does better than I did going N. to University and then S on Park Blvd. Signage is terrible from the west side and I went in circles.
If you own or manage Balboa Park, register now for free tools to enhance your listing, attract new reviews, and respond to reviewers.