ARTS, CULTURE AND NATURE IN BALBOA PARK
Whether you’re into arts and culture or nature, Balboa Park, San Diego’s 1,200-acre urban park and most popular attraction, will provide a well-rounded experience with its variety of museums, theaters, gardens, and recreational activities.
Old Globe Theatre
San Diego rarely dips below jacket weather, so the city’s an excellent location to catch a play beneath the stars. The Old Globe Theatre (theoldglobe.org), modeled after Shakespeare’s version in London, was built in 1935 for the presentation of the bard’s plays. After being renovated in 1937, being rebuilt after a 1978 arson fire, and becoming a collection of three theaters, the show still goes on at The Old Globe, with performances during the Summer Shakespeare Festival.
Talented actors also perform Broadway productions – “More than 20 productions produced at The Old Globe have gone on to play on and off Broadway, garnering 13 Tony Awards and numerous nominations,” according to its website. In 1984, the theater itself won a Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre.
Spreckels Organ Pavilion
In 1914, John D. Spreckels, one of San Diego County’s richest residents, and his brother Adolph, celebrated the construction of the Panama Canal by donating $100,000 for the creation of an organ pavilion. They dedicated it to “the people of San Diego,” and “the people of all the world,” according to the San Diego History Center. Former president Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech there on July 27, 1915, and former president William Howard Taft spoke at the pavilion nearly two months later.
Today, the Spreckels Organ is the world’s largest pipe organ in an outdoor venue. Per the Spreckels’ request, concerts are free. They’re also picnic- and pet-friendly. Head to the heart of Balboa Park Sundays at 2 p.m. year-round and Mondays at 7:30 p.m. from late June until late August.
Visit spreckelsorgan.org for information about theme events, such as the Christmas Singalong.
San Diego Air & Space Museum
The San Diego Air & Space Museum opened in February 1963, and like the Old Globe Theatre, burned to the ground during an arson fire in 1978. The museum suffered $4 million in damages, including the loss of the world’s lightest aircraft, the Beecraft Wee Bee, and a Spirit of St. Louis reproduction. It reopened in 1980 and became one of 10 U.S. aerospace museums to be affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution in 2005. Galleries highlight the Golden Age of Flight, WWI, WWII, modern jets, and space. Exhibits feature artifacts such as the Apollo IX command module, reproductions such as the 1901 and 1902 Wright Gliders, and memorabilia fabric and travel posters advertising the Hindenburg and the Graf Zeppelin airships.
Check sandiegoairandspace.org for featured events, such as “To the Moon and Back,” where attendees can meet command module pilots, flight directors, and astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Charlie Duke, the youngest astronaut to walk on the moon.
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
San Diego’s science museum and planetarium, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center was named after Reuben H. Fleet, who arranged the first U.S. Air Mail service between New York and Washington D.C. while in the Army in 1918. He founded the San Diego Aerospace Museum in 1961.
The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center opened in 1973 and modified IMAX’s 65mm format to design the world’s first IMAX Dome Theater, the OMNIMAX. It also followed San Francisco’s footsteps by making all exhibits interactive. Currently, there are more than 100 exhibits, and the museum sometimes hosts adults-only events, such as “Suds & Science: An Evening of Thinking and Drinking,” and “Rum Tasting and the Science of Distilling.”
Learn more at rhfleet.org
San Diego Botanical Garden
San Diego’s Botanical Garden is best described as 37 acres of bliss. It has close to 3,000 varieties of tropical, subtropical, and California native plants, and more than 20,000 Facebook fans whose reviews describe it as “peaceful,” and “paradise.”
After exploring a tropical rainforest and waterfall, visitors can travel the world via Australian, African, Canary Islands, Central American, Mediterranean, Mexican, New Zealand, South African, and South American gardens. An undersea succulent garden contains a coral reef, and the bamboo garden is reportedly the largest in the country. As a bonus, photographers can find the names of plants they’ve snapped pictures of on the SDBG’s “What’s in Bloom?” page.
San Diego Zoo
You can’t mention Balboa Park without bringing to mind San Diego’s most renowned attraction, the San Diego Zoo. In 2015, the TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice awards named it the best zoo in the country and the world. The 100-acre zoo has more than 3,500 animals and 700,000 exotic plants. With so much to see, it’s wise to create an itinerary. Just visit zoo.sandiegozoo.org/animals, log in with your Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ account, and click the “add to day” button beneath animals you don’t want to miss. Once you arrive, log into your social media account to access your agenda.
The Exclusive VIP Experience enables patrons to interact with animals and visit off-exhibit areas with their own personal tour guide for five to eight hours. Visit zoo.sandiegozoo.org/tours/exclusive-vip-experience to learn more.
Hiking and Biking Trails
More than 65 miles of trails await hikers and bikers in Balboa Park. Color-coded and numbered signs announce difficulty, distance, and direction. Satellite images show topography and landmarks, including the above-listed attractions.
During the 1935 to 1936 California Pacific International Exposition, nudists traveled to San Diego from Chicago, which held the Century of Progress International Exposition from 1933 to 1934.
“On the night before the expo opened (in May 1935), there was what the press labeled an ‘undress rehearsal’ for District Attorney Thomas Whalen,” 10news.com reported.
Visitors paid a quarter to watch women in G-strings and men in loincloths play volleyball and perform a 20-minute skit. Other people peeked through a picket fence that surrounded the garden. Today, the site of the sideshow act is a family-friendly butterfly garden that’s free to the public, open from 10 a.m. to dusk, and a great way to wind down after a day of sightseeing, hiking, or biking.