When I spent several weeks in San Diego, I often found myself returning to Balboa Park, one of the few places in the city that brought together people of all ages and backgrounds, tourists and natives alike. Balboa Park began as a nature preserve in the form of a forested canyon-land set aside in the middle of the growing city of San Diego. In the early twentieth century, city officials redesigned the park for an exposition. They constructed a number of ornate, Spanish-style buildings designed by a famous California architect. Since the buildings were intended only for show, the public debated whether they should be torn down after the exposition. Instead, they became one of the city’s landmarks, providing remarkably walkable public gathering spaces.
Today, these buildings host many of San Diego’s most prominent cultural institutions. There are art, science, and history museums; several theaters and concert halls; and a botanical garden. The world-famous San Diego Zoo also lies within the park. I spent a long time exploring museums, admiring Jazz Age photography exhibitions and learning about the history of space travel. There are enough museums that I could have spent my entire vacation inside, but the park is an attraction in itself.
The historic buildings are clustered around the main street, El Prado. Near the western end of El Prado, the iconic arched Cabrillo Bridge connects to wide, grassy lawns perfect for picnics as well as lawn bowling courts frequently visited by elderly gentlemen dressed in white. In contrast, the eastern end provides a play area with a fountain in the center where children can often be seen playing around. The boulevard itself is wide and lined with cafe tables decorated with strings of globe lights overhead. Off El Prado, dirt paths wind through gardens and forested land. The park feels old-fashioned and European but somehow essentially Californian which, combined with its lively crowds, attracted me several times during my visit.
For more information about the park, please visit http://www.balboapark.org/
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Post by Liz Holden