A LITTLE BACKGROUND ON BALBOA PARK
Balboa Park is set on 1,200 acres near the heart of San Diego. There are avenues to stroll, lots of museums, landscaping, gardens, fountains and performances.
Below is a list of attractions in Balboa Park from the web site www.balboapark.org. We have visited the The San Diego Zoo and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, which I describe below. Obviously, if you are a tourist, you can't see it all in one day. The web site has some good information about what each museum or attraction contains. Of course, the park itself, with its landscaping and architecture is quite an attraction by itself.
American Indian Culture Center and Museum
Centro Cultural de la Raza
House of Pacific Relations
Japanese Friendship Garden
Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre
Mingei International Museum
Museum of Photographic Arts
Museum of San Diego History
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
San Diego Aerospace Museum
San Diego Art Institute
San Diego Automotive Museum
San Diego Hall of Champions
San Diego Junior Theatre
San Diego Model Railroad Museum
San Diego Museum of Art
San Diego Museum of Man
San Diego Natural History Museum San Diego Zoo
Spanish Village Art Center
Spreckels Organ Pavilion
Starlight Theatre at Starlight Bowl
Timken Museum of Art
The Old Globe Theatre
United Nations Building
Veterans Museum and Memorial Center
Balboa Park is a great place to stroll around. We particularly liked the El Prado walkway. Along this pedestrian street are museums housed in buildings featuring Spanish Colonial architecture. These buildings were originally built for the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition.
The Spanish Colonial architecture is very detailed. You could spend a lot of time just studing the fascade of each building with all its sculpture and carving. I really liked the elaborate designs - very different from what we have in New England.
We also walked around the Botanical Building. The large wood lath structure in located on the El Prado walkway. The building itself is a striking contrast to the Spanish architecture that dominates the rest of this area. The building contains tropical plants. Even if you don't enter the building, you can enjoy the botanical gardens all around the outside. Don't miss the Lily Pond which is very beautiful. My mother, who lives in the area year-round, told us the pond is particularly nice in the summer when the water plants are blooming.
The portions of the park we saw were very, very clean. We didn't see litter anywhere.
There are street performers at random places in the Park. It sounds nice, but they were all pretty awful. One woman's gimmick was to blow bubbles and sell balloon animals. Another woman just stood there and sang (badly). I wish there was some screening process for the performers because I thought these acts detracted from the Park.
THE REUBEN H. FLEET CENTER SCIENCE MUSEUM
The Fleet Center Science Museum is located right near the El Prado walkway. It is housed in a modern building - not the Spanish Architecture buildings I admired just nearby. The Fleet Center has to be the most disappointing science museum I have ever been to. The cost without membership or discounts is just over $11 per adult and I would have been horrified if I had paid that amount. As it turned out, we visited with someone who had a membership so we paid nothing. If you don't have a connection, there are deals where you can buy a pass to all the museums at a discount. The pass was $30 per week when we visited - but of course, things change and you should check before you go.
The building itself is rather small and does not house many permanent exhibits. Most of the exhibits are free-standing small booths or displays. There is a sign explaining the scientific concept. For example, one small booth had silver Christmas ornaments. The viewer was invited to look how the different Christmas balls reflected images. That's it. Another display showed videos of how earthquakes collapsed bridges. That's it. Very little was interactive or engaging. If your child is still too young to read well or appreciate complex concepts, they won't get much out of the museum at all.
Many of the exhibits were at an adult's eye level. There was almost nothing to appeal to elementary school kids. There was a play area for 2-6 year olds that consisted of a couple of computer stations and a few toys in a separate area. There was no seating for parents in the tots area and no walls to contain it so it was not exactly a relaxing place for families to explore.
There was a traveling exhibit for 2-8 year olds that featured the characters from Richard Scarey books. My kids really enjoyed this exhibit although it was scheduled to leave a few weeks after we visited. If it wasn't for this exhibit, we probably wouldn't have had more than 10 minutes of stuff to do in the permanent exhibits.
The Fleet Center has an IMAX theater that appears to show a movie every hour. The IMAX is shown in a giant tilted dome-screen theater which is different than a lot of other IMAX theaters but didn't detract from the experience.
In addition to the IMAX there is a Motion Simulator Ride that takes visitors on a trip to the Deep Sea. It sounded pretty cool but my son was ruled out on height restrictions and I was ruled out because I am pregnant so the family decided not to ride.
In addition to the exhibits, the museum had a small, overpriced gift store and a small cafe with outside tables. The cafe did have reasonably priced healthy choices for lunch.
We parked for free in the Fleet Center Science Musuem parking lot. It was a weekday afternoon and there were many open spaces.
We ate dinner in a lovely restaurant called The Prado. This restaurant is housed in one of the old Spanish Architecture buildings and was wonderful.
I really liked Balboa Park and intend to return next time we are in San Diego. I like the mix of outdoor strolling and culture in the museums. I doubt I would return to the Science Center but there are still so many attractions to see.