Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, and Museums
This tour includes some of the city's leading museums and attractions, as well as sites related to the history of San Diego's 1915 Panama-California Exposition.
Balboa Park is an expansive 1,200 acre park in the heart of San Diego, California. It is named after Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a Spanish explorer who was the first European to see the Pacific Ocean while exploring what is now the country of Panama. The park boasts numerous museums, performing arts organizations, gardens, and opportunities for recreation. Museums include the San Diego Natural History Museum, the San Diego Zoo, and the Museum of Photographic Arts. Several buildings are national and/or state historical landmarks. The park itself was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and is a U.S. National Historic Landmark District and San Diego Historic Landmark.
The San Diego Zoo, located in Balboa Park, features over 3,700 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies. The zoo has grown extensively since its establishment in 1916 and has garnered worldwide recognition as one of the leading zoos in the world. Highlights include a guided tram tour that covers most of the park, an elevated gondola lift that allows people to view the park from above, and a giant panda exhibit. The zoo is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and several other organizations, and is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.
This art center is located within buildings designed for the California Pacific International Exposition. Constructed in 1935 to resemble a village in Spain, these buildings were later used by artists in the Great Depression and were used to house soldiers during World War II. The village is now home to local artists and craftspeople who display and sell their work to visitors. The village also hosts art classes and special events. The artisan studios are open daily.
The San Diego Natural History Museum is located in Balboa Park and is one of several attractions in the park. Founded in 1874 as the San Diego Society of Natural History--a group of scientists and science enthusiasts intent on organizing and creating an intellectual space for exploring scientific topics--the society continued to evolve and formally opened its first exhibit in 1912. This early organizing led the the San Diego Natural History Museum securing its place as the oldest scientific museum in Southern California. Its primary focus is the natural history of the San Diego region.
Located within Balboa Park of San Diego, Zoro Gardens became the site of a controversial nudist colony during the California Pacific International Exposition, which was held between 1935 and 1936. The park dates back to the 1830s, when Spanish colonial officials set apart land for public use. The park was also the site of the 1915–16 Panama–California Exposition.
The San Diego History Center is one of several museums and attractions situated in Balboa Park. Established in 1928, the History Center is the only institution dedicated to preserving and promoting the history of San Diego and the surrounding region. It operates two facilities in the park, the History Center building and the Research Archives, and the Junípero Serra Museum (the original location of the History Center) located in Presidio Park. The size and scope of the collection of the History Center is impressive: it contains 45 million documents (manuscripts, business records, diaries, etc.), 2.5 million historic photographs; 1,700 oral histories, 1,500 films; 15,000 historic objects; 7,000 pieces of historic clothing; and a collection of San Diego artwork. Many of these items can be accessed in the Research Archives. The History Center offers exhibitions exploring various themes and past events and a variety of educational programming for people of all ages. The Junípero Serra Museum is used as an auxiliary museum and educational center.
Housed in the Casa de Balboa Building in San Diego's Balboa Park, The Museum of Photographic Arts is one of the country's largest photography museums and one of the first to focus solely on the medium (the museum has now expanded to curate film in addition to photography). Its collections span the history of photography from the 1800s to today. The museum receives over 120,000 visitors per year and offers a wide variety of educational programming, exhibitions, lectures, workshops, and film showings.
Founded in 1915, The San Diego Museum of Art is a world renowned art museum located in Balboa Park. It is the largest and most visited museum in the region, receiving over 250,000 visitors each year. Highlights of its extensive art collection include paintings by Spanish and Italian masters, South Asian artwork, and 19th and 20th century American paintings and sculptures. The museum hosts traveling exhibits, offers numerous cultural and education programs, and also houses a research library.
The original Old Globe Theatre was built in 1935. It was meant to resemble Shakespeare’s Old Globe in London. It was first built to serve the California Pacific International Exposition. When that concluded in 1937, the non-profit San Diego Community Theatre took over operations, and that continues today. Despite adversities, the theatre company has continued to revamp and grow.
The California Building is the central feature in Balboa Park, and a landmark structure in the state, made famous by its remarkable architecture and use in a number of well-known movies, including Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004). Built in 1915, the the building currently houses the San Diego Museum of Man. It has been included in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park is dedicated to preserving and exhibiting folk art, crafts and design from all over the world. The Museum contains more than 26,000 objects from 141 countries and receives over 100,000 visitors per year. Since its opening in 1978, the museum has held 183 exhibits. From 2019 to a date to be determined in 2020, the museum is closed during a major renovation. During this time, the museum will offer pop-up exhibits and visitors should call or see the museum website linked below for the latest information. The word "mingei," meaning "The art of the people," was coined by Japanese philosopher Sōetsu Yanagi. The museum's mission is to acknowledge and celebrate the objects used in everyday life. The central belief governing the collection of such "everyday" artifacts is that they are inherently beautiful and a testament to human creativity, and are therefore worthy of preservation.
The San Diego Hall of Champions is the nation's largest multi-sport museum. It boasts three levels of memorabilia and a whopping 68,000 square feet. Located in San Diego's Balboa Park, the Hall of Champions was derived from the concept of the Breitbard Athletic Foundation. The San Diego Hall of Champions recognizes San Diego’s most outstanding athletic accomplishments. Well-known athletes such as Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn, Bill Walton, and many more are honored in the Breitbard Hall of Fame.
The San Diego Automotive Museum is located in Balboa Park, a well known 1,200-acre park in the heart of San Diego that features museums, performing arts organizations, gardens, and recreational opportunities. The Automotive Museum was added to the park as a historical museum in 1979, displaying the historical progression of cars, roads, and motorcycles. Displays are showcased to entertain and inform audiences of all ages. Special exhibitions are featured every two or three months, displaying historical vehicles and famous autos.
Located in San Diego's Balboa Park, the San Diego Aerospace Museum is one of the country's premier museums dedicated to aviation history. The museum receives hundreds of thousands of visitors per year and houses many rare aircraft including the Spitfire Mk. XVI, a Navy F6F Hellcat, and an A-4 Skyhawk jet. It offers various educational programming which includes lectures, workshops, and school days. The museum also houses a library that contains thousands of books, manuals, personal papers, and two million images and videos. It is the first air and space museum in the country to be accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and it is also affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. In 1986, the California legislature declared the museum to be "California's Official Air and Space Museum and Education Center."
The Veterans Museum and Memorial Center, founded in 1989 and located in the former San Diego Naval Hospital Chapel in Balboa Park, is dedicated to the men and women who served in the Armed Forces, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine. The building, itself, was built in 1944. The museum houses a collection comprised of artifacts, documents, photographs, memorabilia, artwork, and a library that contains thousands of books. The items in the collection span from the Revolutionary War to Operation Desert Storm. The museum also offers a program called Eagle's Wings, which is a support group for widowed veterans and spouses.
Located in San Diego's Balboa Park, Centro Cultural de la Raza is a museum which highlights Mexican, Latino, Chicano, and Native American art and culture. In addition to its art gallery, the museum offers a number of community enrichment programs.