There’s more to see and do at Balboa Park than can comfortably be accomplished in one day, even if the famous San Diego Zoo isn’t on your list. If you’re only going to make one pass through the treasured cultural center of San Diego, here’s how to prioritize your visit with kids and without.

The California Tower's belltower and dome in San Diego's Balboa Park.

The iconic California Tower in Balboa Park. Photo © f8grapher/123rf.

  • San Diego Museum of Art. It doesn’t have the most outstanding collection of paintings, but it’s always reliable for enchanting visual moments, and the visiting exhibitions tend to be quite good.
  • San Diego Museum of Man. It can be thought of as a museum of anthropology, and you may learn a lot about our biological and cultural origins.
  • Mingei International Museum. This museum doesn’t get enough credit for bringing in unusual exhibits involving artisanal handiwork. Some objects are baffling in the sense that you can’t believe it came out of someone’s imagination; others baffle for different reasons altogether.
  • Botanical Building. The flora inside is as lovely as the building, and while you may not remember their Latin names, some flowers may create a lasting image.
  • San Diego Air and Space Museum. A stealth bomber is on display in front; inside there is much more.

Balboa Park for Kids

Children will get pretty bored if you try to fill a whole day with museums. Bring them to these Balboa Park sights and they’ll have fun despite themselves.

  • Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. Blow everybody’s mind with hundreds of learning stations that trick you with optical illusions or turn common sense on its ear.
  • Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre. If there’s not a puppet theater in your town, expose your child to this sort of culture with the theater’s puppet shows, sometimes involving very large puppets.
  • San Diego Natural History Museum. Frankly, some parts of this museum on the natural history of San Diego are kind of ho hum, but there’s a mastodon skeleton, a 3-D theater, and some pretty engaging temporary exhibits.
  • San Diego Model Railroad Museum. Children love miniatures and trains, and this exhibit is huge and remarkably well detailed.
  • San Diego Air and Space Museum. On this point, kids and parents may agree: Everybody’s going to have fun here.
map of Balboa Park

Balboa Park


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon San Diego.