Balboa Park has a variety of walking opportunities. You can bite off as much as you’re inclined to, from a leisurely stroll to a fairly energetic ramble. We’ll suggest a starting place at the west side of the Laurel Street or Cabrillo Bridge at Balboa Drive, just east of 6th Ave. Its’s wise to get here before noon on Sundays as the parking gets tight fast after that.

For a beginning, walk south on the grassy lawns or on Balboa Drive all the way to the circle at Marston Point. Wonderful view of downtown, San Diego Bay and the SD-Coronado Bridge. Maybe wave at a plane not too many feet above you as it heads for a Lindbergh Field landing.

Walk back toward the Cabrillo Bridge. Near the restrooms, look for a trail heading off to the right/east and downhill, then swinging left. You can get to that same point (X) by starting just south of the bridge next to the popular leash-free dog park. Locate the marked wide pathway very near the bridge. Head downward toward highway 163 to where the other trail joins (at point X), turn left and walk under the bridge. You’ll get a close up view that most people only get from the top or while driving on the highway. The supports have had major construction due to a fire a couple years back, but are mostly completed now. Keep walking north, paralleling the highway (that’s the famed San Diego zoo over to the east), then you can either take a trail back up (to Balboa Drive area, just north of the lawn bowling grounds), or keep walking on the main trail.

Soon you’ll see a footbridge across the highway. Walk over into one of our local neighborhood canyons and return, or stay on the same side and at the end walk up the trail to near Upas Street.

Just north of Upas is the SD Historical Society’s 100-year old Marston House. Stroll over there and walk through the grounds and gardens, and down the stone-lined walkways through the trees to the bottom (by 163). If you have time, take one of the guided tours of the house or come back another day for a more leisurely visit (holiday season is especially fine).

Back at Balboa Drive, walk south on the grassy areas on either side of the street, past people playing frisbee, doing Tai Chi, or loafing. When you arrive at Laurel, check the small Founders’ Plaza and statues there and learn about some of the park pioneers. Now head over the bridge toward the striking California Tower, part of the Museum of Man.

alcazar gardensAcross the bridge, walk to the south side and into the Alcazar Garden, with its lovely flowers and fountains. Continue past the parking lot and look back toward the tower (a favorite photo op spot), then onto the wooden footbridge right next to some magnificent trees with spreading roots. Credit Kate Sessions, horticulturist a century ago, who transformed this whole park from semi-arid to the gem it now is. A beautiful park overlooking Mission Bay from Pacific Beach is named after her.

Just past those, take the stairs downward into Palm Canyon. This is a peaceful tree-filled area. As you walk you’ll have a couple choices of walkways up the other side of the canyon.
– The first comes out near the restrooms across from the Spreckels Organ Pavilion or a bit further. The second trail emerges along right in front of the House of Italy..
– Still in the canyon, another trail upward is further along and, shortly before the path ends (at a closed fence marking the start of the archery range; you don’t want to hike in there), see the trail angling up to the left. Walk up through the trees and it will emerge at the cactus garden behind the Balboa Park Club building. Here are several picnic tables, which few seem to know about or use. Very pleasant. Keep on the trail, with much recent work and steps put in by Eagle Scout Troop #20 (thanks, chaps), and you’ll come out behind the automobile museum. A leisurely visit over to the nearby House of Pacific Relations is always a joy..

Well, now what?
el prado walkway– A. You might head down the parking lot between the Aerospace Museum and Starlight Bowl, then walk up President’s Way to the light at Park Blvd. Cross over President’s Way and stroll along Park past the intriguing World Beat Center and Centro Cultural de la Raza to Pepper Grove Playground.
– B. Or walk past the SD Hall of Champions Bldg. (good café and restrooms there), then down President’s Way to the road that heads north just past the large parking lot behind the Organ Pavilion. It winds down to the stables where the park rangers keep their horses. Walk a short ways further and then head up the open grassy lawn past the restrooms to the Pepper Grove area. Thus both A and B end up at the same spot near Park Blvd.

Walk north along Park and then to the left and right behind the Reuben Fleet Science Center. This takes you by a huge oak and the legendary Zoro Garden, where the nudists pranced during the1935-36 International Exposition. Walk into the plaza over to the large fountain (if you’re ready for a break, there’s an outdoors café at the Science Center) and then onto the footbridge just east of the Natural History Museum. Walk over Park Blvd and arrive to the right at the Rose Garden, to the left the Cactus Garden, likely to be in good bloom for the next several months. Stroll through the cacti, wheelchair-friendly and with signs identifying many, northward to Zoo Place/Park Blvd. intersection (where the street enters the zoo parking lot.)

Big decision here: A–the longer Florida Canyon trek or B–the easier walk by the zoo.
– Here’s A1, a hike into Florida Canyon. Continue on Park to near Morley Field Drive and see a sign for the trailhead down into the canyon. Part way down you can take the trail to the right and hike south, paralleling Florida Canyon Drive. After about 3/4 mile, you can see the trail heading up to the red light at Zoo Place and Park Blvd. Or for a longer trek, stay on the trail until it meets Zoo Drive and then cross over to a marked concrete path winding up into the Cactus Garden, and on northward to this Zoo Place intersection.
– A2, more workout. For a longer exploration of Florida Canyon, stay on the path from the Morley Field Drive trailhead and then walk across Florida Canyon Drive at the 4-way stop sign, and up a short distance to a trail off to the right before the major Morley Field tennis complex. Right behind the courts is another leash-free dog park, and just past that is a kiosk marking the trail down into Florida Canyon. Head out there into the mainly chaparral-covered canyon. Walk along the trail paralleling Florida Canyon Dr., and (a) cross over the street to the A1 trail and up to Zoo Place; (b) stay on the trail to where it meets Zoo Place, cross the street and walk 300 feet up Zoo Place and cross over to the marked paved trail up to the Cactus Garden or (c) If you’re up for a longer workout keep on the trail 2 miles all the way down to Pershing, 26th, and Florida Canyon. Return back to Zoo Place and over to Cactus Garden.

With either A or B choices, you’re now at the entrance to the zoo parking lot. Walk past the carousel (or stop and let the child in you blossom as you try to catch that ring) toward the zoo entrance and turn left. Walk along this secluded, heavily shaded area to the Spanish Village on your left (if the kids are part of your walking team, pop them into the pint-size railroad along the way). Don’t miss a stroll through here, with its charming old-world architecture, open courtyard and art studios (and restrooms).

the morton fig treeBack at the Village entrance, walk past the magnificent spreading Moreton Bay Fig Tree behind the Natural History Museum. Continue past the museum to the busy el Prado, or less hectic, cross the street and into the arcade just to the left of the Casa del Prado theater, with likely a musical production underway. Walk west through the arcades, by the small fountain and over to the reflection pool/Lily Pond and Botanical Building, worth another side exploration.

Keep going over to the Plaza de Panama in front of the Art Gallery (wouldn’t that be nice without all those cars there?), and admire the landmark El Cid statue (portrayed memorably in film by Charleton Heston) across the plaza toward the Spreckels Organ. Perhaps stop into the Museum of Art café for some refreshments and visit to the Sculpture Garden in back.

Walk west in the new covered arcade toward the Museum of Man and, just behind the Sculpture Garden, turn right and up to one more treasure, the Globe Theatre complex. Take some time to fully absorb the magical view of the Tower and trees in the theater plaza, plus there’s another small café and theater shop there. Now walk back down to the street, pass the Museum of Man and continue west over the bridge and your starting place.

Now you’ll know how to more fully savor the joys of walking in Balboa Park. And it’s there for you to explore parts or all any time of the year. This is San Diego.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: