If you want to see the history and development of the park yourself but you’re not sure where to begin, never fear. This is your guide to Balboa Park that will help you experience it to its fullest.
The San Diego Natural History Museum, often shortened to The Nat, is a four-story museum that contains over 9 million different specimens. The Nat contains dozens of exhibits covering every aspect of natural history, from extinct animal fossils to modern local San Diego fauna to many unique gemstones. It also contains a large 3D movie theater that’s used for screening educational documentaries.
This San Diego Museum was one of the first, tracing its founding all the way back to the beginnings of the San Diego Society of Natural History in 1874. This predates the influential Panama-California Exposition by over 40 years. It has significantly expanded its collection and reach since its early days, and it now welcomes over 400,000 visitors each year.
The Nat doesn’t just educate visitors on natural history. It also educates them on the history of San Diego itself.
As a San Diego museum so closely tied into the town’s past, many of The Nat’s exhibits showcase findings only available in San Diego, California. These include native California wildflowers, specimens in the Living Lab, and fossils recovered from Southern California.
The San Diego Museum of Art, abbreviated to SDMA, brings the very best of art history to Balboa Park.
The museum includes a wide variety of art pieces, but its main focus is on Spanish art from early San Diego settlers. At SDMA, visitors can explore some of the works of art that defined the early days of San Diego and that had a significant impact on modern artistic styles.
In addition to the extensive San Diego portion of the gallery, the San Diego Museum of Art includes traditional paintings, sculptures, and other works of art from all over the world. There are exhibits showcasing works from India, Germany, Europe, Iran, South Asia, and East Asia. Each piece helps to tell a complete story about the diversity of influences in San Diego and the diversity of the San Diegan population themselves.
The Timken Museum of Art is another Balboa Park art gallery that is well worth checking out. Originally established in 1965, the museum hosts many fine art pieces that have been added to their collection in the more than 50 years the museum has been open.
Exhibitions at the Timken Museum of Art seek to form connections between the present and past of San Diego. By examining historic art with cultural significance, visitors can develop a more meaningful and personal connection to art. The works become more than just paintings; they become representations of different snapshots throughout history.
On top of the collection inside the museum, the building itself is a work of art. It was designed in the style of mid-century modernism in Southern California by local architect John Mock in the early 1950s. The building remains an important example of post-World War II modern architecture.
Casa de Balboa
Once known as the Commerce and Industries Building, the Casa de Balboa has been a part of Balboa park since 1915. The architecture of the building mimics the Venetian Renaissance style. It frequently hosts family-friendly events, and it is also the home base for many important services and historical collections in Balboa Park.
Casa de Balboa houses the Balboa Art Conservation Center (BACC), which is an organization committed to collecting and restoring historic works of art. The BACC provides its services to museum galleries, private collectors, and the public alike.
It works closely with the San Diego Museum of Art and the Timken Museum of Art to ensure no works run the risk of being irreparably damaged; assisting in fixing any damage that does occur.
The building also includes the Museum of Photographic Arts, which is one of only three US museums with a collection composed entirely of photographs. The gallery is extensive, with photos of everything from globally important events to mundane activities of past and present San Diego residents.
On the lower floors of the Casa de Balboa is the San Diego History Center. This museum was founded in 1928, and it was originally located in the Junipero Serra Museum. It contains many artifacts and exhibits about the founding of San Diego and the lives of early residents.
Finally, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum also calls Casa de Balboa its home. This museum has covered the extensive train and railway history of San Diego since it opened its doors in 1982. Miniature replicas are used to represent real historic events.