I suspected one of the places I had to see in San Diego was Balboa Park, but I also knew very little about it. Where to start? So I signed up for a 90 minute morning walking tour through Airbnb, Tour & Hidden Secrets of Balboa Park. The tour was a great intro to the park, going over its history, plants, architecture, and pointing out a few hidden spots most visitors probably miss.
The main area of the park includes a lot to see: a number of museums, a botanical garden, a Spanish Village-themed art gallery, the Shakespeare-inspired Old Globe Theater, a couple of restaurants, an outdoor auditorium for organist performances, various gardens, and probably many other things I missed.
Point is you could easily spend a day or two here if you wanted to see everything. And that’s only one small section of the park: there are also hiking trails, the San Diego Zoo (but not the Safari Zoo), and even a hospital.
Many of the buildings in the main stretch of the park today were built for two expositions, the first of which coincided with the opening of the Panama Canal. Those buildings have either been restored or replaced since exposition buildings are typically meant to be temporary.
The reflecting pool in the last photo in the above gallery sits in front of the botanical garden. For whatever reason so many people have abandoned unwanted exotic pets there the park had to put up a sign telling people not to abandon animals in the pool.
This immediately reminded me of a story I heard on the Gaslamp tour where a bar owner kept exotic animals including a bear. His animal collection was tolerated until the bear bit a police officer’s nose, and so the barkeeper was ordered to remove the animals from his bar. The barkeeper’s solution? He just abandoned them all outside of town. If this is how San Diegans have treated their animals over the years, it certainly puts SeaWorld in context.
My favorite part of the botanical garden was this tiny sign in a small garden devoted to carnivorous plants, although the touch-and-sniff herb garden was a close second.
Speaking of funny and unexpected signs…
As the tour ended a fleet of food trucks were setting up shop. Due to a scheduling problem — for once not my fault — I thought I only had a few hours to spare after the tour. So I grabbed a quick lunch at a food truck and ate it at a sunken garden that at one point in time was apparently a nudist colony.
On one hand it’s hard to imagine paying to watch naked people go about their day at a park, on the other hand they didn’t exactly have YouTube back then. And hey, you’re reading about my travels so who are you to judge how other spend their free time?
Before jumping on a bus out of Balboa Park for the day, there was one quick stop I knew I had to make.
The Timken Museum of Art is a tiny museum with free admission in Balboa Park. It’s a quirky little museum featuring mostly European paintings from the 16th through the 18th centuries, give or take.
Overall it’s a tasteful collection and it’s hard to argue with the price of entry. The museum guards kept having to shoo away toddlers and small children from the priceless paintings — a thankless job to be sure.
A few minutes before I left the above painting caught my eye. At first I thought I must have seen the painting before, then I realized no, it only looked familiar because I’ve been there. I forgot to write down the year or artist behind this painting but suffice it to say Saint Mark’s Square in Venice is well preserved.
How strange is it that a trip to San Diego made me reminisce about my trip to Italy?