There’s a lot to see and do in Balboa Park, so you’ll want to really maximize your time during your visit.
Here’s what you need to know before you visit the park.
Getting To Balboa Park
The first step in planning your day at Balboa Park is deciding how to get there.
If you have access to a car during your trip, you can drive to Balboa Park. There are some free parking lots in the park, including one by the San Diego Zoo. However, it’s important to note that parking is very limited, so you may need to park on the street in a nearby neighborhood and walk over.
If you are staying in Banker’s Hill or Hillcrest, you will be able to walk into the west side of the park, which is where the zoo and museums are located. If you are staying in the North or South Park neighborhoods, you will be able to walk into the east side of the park, which is where most of the hiking trails are found. If you are staying in one of these eastern neighborhoods and want to access the zoo and museums, keep in mind that the park is split in half by a large canyon and hiking to the other side may be challenging.
If you don’t want to deal with parking, rideshares like Uber or Lyft are a good option. These rideshares can drop you off at a desired point outside the park where you can walk in easily.
There are also city buses that stop near Balboa Park in Banker’s Hill. These can be a good option if you are trying to save money.
Don’t Forget Your Go City San Diego Pass
Many of the attractions in Balboa Park require you to purchase admission, which you can opt to do in advance or on-site. If you’re checking out multiple museums and attractions throughout the park, these admission fees can start to add up quickly.
The Go Citiy San Diego pass is an easy solution to this problem offering big savings on admission prices!
With the Go City San Diego pass, you can bundle admission to popular Balboa Park and other San Diego attractions as well as the cost of popular tours and equipment rentals. This saves you money and makes it easy to check out everything the area has to offer.
Be sure to use our discount code, GVSD5OFF to save even more!
Other Great Neighborhoods to Explore and Things to Do Near Balboa Park
Balboa Park is located just to the east of Downtown San Diego and a short drive from popular neighborhoods like Little Italy, the Gaslamp Quarter and the Embarcadero, which sits along the picturesque San Diego Bay. This area is known for great restaurants and shopping at Seaport Village. You can take in a game at PETCO Park, set out on a whale watching tour, or visit the USS Midway which calls the bay home.
If you are looking to explore Little Italy San Diego, make sure you check out our Best Things to Do in Little Italy guide.
If a day at the beach is on your mind, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and the many beaches of Mission Bay are all within 20 minutes.
La Jolla is another great option at less than 30 minutes away. Featuring beautiful beaches perfect for snorkeling, surfing and viewing local seals! The area has great shopping and cafes and is just south of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, a great place to go for a hike or catch a sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
Coronado Island is one more location we would recommend at about 15 minutes away where you can explore the Coronado Island Beaches, visit the iconic Hotel Del Coronado or just enjoy San Diego’s great weather.
Find Food Nearby
After a full day of walking around Balboa Park, it makes sense that you might start to feel a bit hungry. There are plenty of great restaurants near Balboa Park, but it helps to plan ahead and find something that fits your preferences.
There are two sit-down restaurants in Balboa Park - Albert’s, which is in the San Diego Zoo, and Prado, which is near most of the museums. Both are reliable options if you’re looking for something upscale.
If you’re looking for a broader selection of restaurants you can head over to nearby Banker’s Hill. Here you’ll find a wide range of cuisines, including Mexican, Italian, French, Japanese, and more. There are even places with vegan and vegetarian options.
For even more food options, you can head north to Hillcrest or North Park. Hillcrest is a vibrant LGBTQ enclave, while North Park is known for its ‘hipster’ vibe. Both neighborhoods are known for high-quality restaurants as well as lively nightlife.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
No matter what you’re doing on your trip to Balboa Park, you should plan to do a lot of walking!
Wear shoes that you feel comfortable walking in and provide plenty of support. You should also make sure that you are wearing clothes that won’t restrict your movement as you move through the park.
If you plan on going hiking, make sure to wear shoes with plenty of grip. Some of the trails are quite steep, and most are not paved.
Plan for the Weather
Many of the attractions in Balboa Park are at least partially outside, so you’ll want to make sure to take the weather into consideration when planning your trip.
San Diego has relatively warm weather and sun throughout the year, but it does rain occasionally, especially during the winter. Check the forecast to see what the weather will be like during your trip and plan accordingly.
If you are visiting during the summer and fall, you can likely expect warm weather, and you’ll want to wear clothing that won’t be too hot. You’ll also want to bring sunscreen and sunglasses.
If you are visiting during the winter or spring, your chances of rain or a chilly day are going to be higher, so you may want to bring a light jacket, just in case.