Balboa Park Hidden Gems Tour

24 Ratings
  • Live Guide
  • Instant Confirmation
  • Group Tour
  • E-Ticket
  • 1.5 hr

90 minute walking tour suitable for everyone! The Balboa Park Hidden Gems Tour takes you on a 1.5 hour guided walking tour highlighting some of the most iconic locations in San Diego. We'll talk about the history of the area and I'll show you where several important events have taken place over the past 100+ years. Why Take A Tour of Balboa Park? A walking tour is a great to get the most out of your day in Balboa Park. 1.5 hours is just enough time to see all of the highlights, and hear some interesting stories about the park's history along the way. What To Expect The tour begins at the Plaza de Panama in the center of Balboa Park. You will learn about the history of Balboa Park and San Diego before we start our walk on mostly flat pavement. I will explain the history of Balboa Park's amazing architecture and beautiful gardens as we make our way through one of San Diego's most iconic locations.

Itinerary Details

Operated by: I Walk San Diego

This is a typical itinerary for this product

Stop At: Balboa Park

The Balboa Park Hidden Gems Tour is a 90 minute tour of Balboa Park. The time breakdown is as follows:

Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes

Stop At: Plaza de Panama Fountain

The tour will start at the fountain in Plaza de Panama. The Plaza was originally constructed for the 1915 Panama–California Exposition. From here we will make our way to the east side of the plaza to view the map located in front of the Timken Museum.

Duration: 2 minutes

Stop At:

We will look at the park map located in front of the Timken Museum as I explain the history of Balboa Park and the important events that have taken place here over the past 100+ years. I'll explain how the Timken Museum replaced the original Expo building in the 1960s, and why another building like this will never bee built in Balboa Park again! We will not enter this museum during the tour, but admission is free and we end the tour near here. I highly recommend you check it out after your tour.

Duration: 5 minutes

Stop At: San Diego Museum of Art

The San Diego Museum of Art building was designed by architects William Templeton Johnson and Robert W. Snyder in a plateresque style to harmonize with existing structures from the Panama–California Exposition of 1915. We'll take a close look at the building's façade and I'll point out several interesting details including five Spanish artists. Four of them are featured inside the museum! We will not enter the museum on this tour.

Duration: 5 minutes

Stop At:

A true hidden gem, the May S. Marcy Sculpture Garden features 19th- and 20th-century modern and contemporary sculptures, located adjacent to the San Diego Museum of Art's West Wing. The only access to this park is through Panama 66 Restaurant during their normal business hours, but it is free to the public. This garden and its amazing sculptures are clearly visible from the colonnade we will walk through on the way to the Old Globe Theater!

Duration: 2 minutes

Stop At: Old Globe Theatre

The Old Globe is a professional theatre company that produces about 15 plays and musicals per year. There are 3 three separate theatres including: 1. Old Globe Theatre (600-seat flagship theatre, fully enclosed) 2. Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre (250-seat theatre in the round) 3. Lowell Davies Festival Theatre (615-seat outdoor theatre) The Old Globe Theatre was built in 1935, designed by Richard Requa as part of the California Pacific International Exposition. I will explain how important theatre is to San Diego, and how an arsonist was responsible for the destruction of the original structure in 1978. We will not enter any of the theatres.

Duration: 5 minutes

Stop At: San Diego Museum of Man

Specializing in cultural anthropology, the Museum of Us explores the human experience from multicultural perspectives to spark dialogue, self-reflection, and human connections. The museum is housed in four original buildings from the 1915 Exposition. These include the California Quadrangle, which was designed for the Exposition by American architect Bertram G. Goodhue, and the California Tower, one of the key landmarks in San Diego. The Quadrangle and Tower are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[4] The exterior sculpture on the building was created by the Piccirilli Brothers. I will explain who the statues are on the front of the building, and point out some other interesting features in the area. We will not enter the Museum of Us on this tour.

Duration: 5 minutes

Stop At: Cabrillo Bridge

Built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, The Cabrillo Bridge was the first cantilevered, multiple-arched bridge to be built in Southern California. It is nearly 1,500 feet long and nearly 125 feet high. This scenic bridge is one most beautiful ways into Balboa Park. We will see the Cabrillo Bridge from the east side.

Duration: 2 minutes

Stop At: Alcazar Garden

The Alcazar Garden was designed after the gardens of Alcazar Castle in Seville, Spain. It's located next to the Institute of Contemporary Art and Mingei Museum. You'll see its ornate fountains, exquisite turquoise blue, yellow, and green Moorish tiles and shady pergola. The garden, bordered by boxwood hedges, contains 7,000 annuals for a vibrant display of color throughout the year. The garden has been reconstructed to replicate the 1935 design by San Diego architect Richard Requa. We will walk through this garden before passing the Mingei Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Duration: 5 minutes

Stop At:

Now called the The Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego, this exciting museum presents experimental art and learning with a mission to question everything! We'll pass by the ICA and Mingei on our way to Palm Canyon. We will not enter the ICA museum on this tour.

Duration: 2 minutes

Stop At:

Dedicated to "art of the people" (mingei) from all eras and cultures of the world, Mingei International Museum shares arts of daily life through dynamic, changing exhibitions of historical and contemporary folk art, craft and design. We will view the West side of the Mingei you'll learn what this building was used for during the 1935 Expo!

Duration: 2 minutes

Stop At:

Palm Canyon has more than 450 palms (58 species) within its 2 acres. This true "Balboa Park Hidden Gem" features winding paths that take the visitor into a shady, lush canyon. The original group of Mexican fan palms date back to 1912. A wooden footbridge leads from the Alcazar Gardens parking lot and ends up across the street from the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

Duration: 5 minutes

Stop At: Spreckels Organ Pavilion

John D. and Adolph Spreckels donated the Spreckels Organ, to the City of San Diego in 1914 for the Panama-California Exposition. This unique organ contains more than 5,000 pipes ranging in length from the size of a pencil to 32 feet and is the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world. Since 1917, San Diego has had a civic organist, who performs free weekly Sunday concerts!

Duration: 5 minutes

Stop At: Japanese Friendship Garden

The Japanese Friendship Garden is an expression of friendship between San Diego and its sister city, Yokohama. It illustrates two cultures and creates an immersive experience into Japanese culture. JFG's design is based on centuries-old Japanese techniques adapted to San Diego's climate and florae and seeks to foster a relationship between humans and nature, providing a respite attuned to Japanese simplicity, serenity, and aestheticism. JFG sits on a 12-acre plot. It offers a variety of educational programs, exhibits, and festivals as well as accredited horticultural classes to enhance and deepen visitor appreciation for Japanese culture. It is well known for its unique setting, stone arrangements, koi ponds, water features, sukiya-style buildings and landscape. We will pass by the JFG and I will show you where you can see a good overlook of the park for free!

Duration: 5 minutes

Stop At:

The House of Hospitality was originally built for the Panama–California Exposition in 1915 as the Foreign Arts Building. It was Intended to be temporary, but was redesigned to become the House of Hospitality for the California Pacific International Exposition in 1935. The building was demolished in the 1990s for structural reasons and later reconstructed using the original building as a model. It is currently home to Prado Restaurant, Balboa Park Visitor's Center and the offices of the Forever Balboa Park. We'll Pass the House of Hospitality and the Visitor's Center as we make our way towards El Prado.

Duration: 2 minutes

Stop At:

We will pass by the Balboa Park Visitor's Center located in the House of Hospitality. This is a great place to get snacks, drinks, gifts, maps or other information about Balboa Park.

Duration: 5 minutes

Stop At:

Casa de Balboa was originally known as the Commerce and Industries Building, and later called the Canadian Building, the Palace of Better Housing, and the Electric Building. It is currently home to the Museum of Photographic Arts, the San Diego History Center, and the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. We'll pass by and I'll tell you about some interesting exhibits that have existed here in the past!

Duration: 5 minutes

Stop At:

The Casa del Prado includes reconstructed buildings that were initially built for the Panama–California Exposition. Current tenants include the San Diego Botanical Garden Foundation, Civic Dance Arts, the San Diego Floral Association, the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, the San Diego Junior Theatre, and the San Diego Youth Symphony. We'll also walk inside and see another "Hidden Gem" in Balboa Park, the Statue Court!

Duration: 5 minutes

Stop At:

The Bea Evenson Fountain is named after Beatrice Barker Evenson. She was born in Oregon, moved to San Diego in 1924 with her husband Frank and became active as a civic volunteer. In 1967 she formed The Committee of 100' who's mission is to preserve the Spanish Colonial Architecture in Balboa Park.

Duration: 5 minutes

Stop At: Fleet Science Center

The Fleet Science Center is a science museum and planetarium that was established in 1973. It was the first science museum to combine interactive science exhibits with a planetarium and an IMAX Dome (OMNIMAX) theater, setting the standard that most major science museums follow today. We'll pass by this museum before we see the Bea Evenson Fountain. We will not enter this museum on this tour.

Duration: 2 minutes

Stop At: Desert Garden

The Desert Garden was established at the Park Blvd. location in 1976 and contains more than 1,300 plants, including succulents and drought-resistant plants from around the world, within its 2.5 acres. The peak blooming period is January through March; however, these plants are interesting at any time of year because of their unusual shapes. We will view the Desert Garden from the top of the footbridge that crosses Park Blvd.

Duration: 2 minutes

Stop At: Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden

The Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden displays approximately 1,600 roses of more than 130 varieties on a three-acre site. The garden is in bloom from March through December, with the roses usually at their peak in April and May. This garden is recognized as outstanding by several renowned organizations: Named an Outstanding Rose Garden in the U.S.A. by All-America Rose Selections in 1978; Received an Award of Excellence in 2003 from the World Federation of Rose Societies; and in 2014 was named to the Great Rosarians of the World Hall of Fame. We will view this garden from the top of the footbridge that crosses Park Blvd.

Duration: 2 minutes

Stop At: San Diego Natural History Museum

The San Diego Natural History Museum was founded in 1874 as the San Diego Society of Natural History. It is the second oldest scientific institution west of the Mississippi and the oldest in Southern California. The present location of the museum was dedicated on January 14, 1933. A major addition to the museum was dedicated in April 2001, doubling exhibit space. We'll pass by on our way to the famous giant Moreton Bay Fig Tree!

Duration: 1 minutes

Stop At:

This landmark Moreton Bay Fig tree is the largest of the Ficus macrophylla represented in the park. It was planted as a small tree in a garden of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and, with more than a century of growth, has become a magnificent giant. The tree was officially measured in 1996 at 78 feet (24 meters) high, with a crown width of 123 feet (37 meters) and a trunk girth of 486 inches (12.3 meters). It is one of the three largest Moreton Bay Fig trees in the state of California!

Duration: 5 minutes

Stop At: Spanish Village Art Center

Established in 1936, Spanish Village Art Center, in Balboa Park, is San Diego’s premiere artist collective. This is a community of working local artists creating art…year round…right before your eyes! We won't enter Spanish Village on this tour, but I will point out where it is so you can visit after the tour if you wish!

Duration: 1 minutes

Stop At: Botanical Building and Lily Pond

We'll save the best for last! The view of the Botanical Building with the Lily Pond and Lagoon in the foreground is one of the most photographed scenes in Balboa Park and a “must-see” destination in San Diego. Built for the 1915-16 Exposition, along with the adjacent Lily Pond and Lagoon, the historic building is one of the largest lath structures in the world. The Botanical Building plantings include more than 2,100 permanent plants, featuring fascinating collections of cycads, ferns, orchids, other tropical plants, and palms. The Botanical Building also presents some of the Park’s vibrant seasonal flower displays. The Botanical Building is currently closed for an 18-24 month renovation so we will not be able to enter at this time, but we can get a great view from the outside.

Duration: 5 minutes
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