fun to do kids balboa park san diego california   Travel for Kids
  | California | San Diego

San Diego - Balboa Park

Balboa Park has a world-famous zoo, museums, lush gardens and flowering plants, playground – any day of the week, San Diego Balboa Park is always fun for kids.
It's hard to imagine, but in the early 19th century, Balboa Park was a dry mesa, covered with sagebrush. In 1868, over a thousand acres of land were set aside for a public park. The horticulturist Kate Sessions planted exotic trees and bushes from all over the world. In 1915, Spanish style buildings were built for the Panama-California Exposition, now used for different museums.
Balboa Park Photo Album
giant panda video San Diego Zoo
  San Diego ZooThe San Diego Zoo is a "must do" and you can easily spend the entire day here. There's over 100 acres, so a popular option is take a bus ride around the zoo. Be sure to see the giant pandas, the koala colony, guenon monkeys, Galapagos tortoises, hippos and sneaky crocodiles.
    Little kids will enjoy Children's Zoo – pet the animals and visit the animal nursery. Take in the sea lion or birds of prey shows. Audio tours are available in English, Spanish, French, Japanese and German.
 san diego zoo tickets

Buy tickets online to bypass long ticket lines and head right in to the San Diego Zoo (included in the Go San Diego Card):

San Diego Zoo tickets

Miniature Railroad – This pint-sized train, located to the south of the main Zoo entrance, is just a delight for the toddler set. The ride is short but the experience is sweet.

    Carousel – Kids of all ages will enjoy a ride on this old fashioned carousel, in operation since 1922, with fifty six different animals, including giraffe, camel, tiger etc.
  Rent bikes and surreys – At Village Place (next to the Village Grill), rent bikes, cruisers, kids' bikes, trailers, surreys (seat 4) and go for a ride around the park.
Museum of Natural History

The NAT - San Diego Museum of Natural HistoryStart with the excellent "Fossil Mysteries," to discover dinosaurs and sea creatures that lived in the San Diego region during past 75 million years. "Coast to Cactus in Southern California" re-creates different habitats - desert, chaparral, canyons and streams, mountains, wetland and seashore (Grizzly bears used to go to the beach), plus endangered animals, such as the California condor, San Bernadino flying squirrel, Sonoran pronghorn. Museum is fun for kids of all ages.

      In the giant screen theater, watch films, such as "Ocean Oasis," about the Baja California desert and Sea of Cortez, check the schedule.
      Tip: Free with Go San Diego Card
Ruben H. Fleet Science Center – The Science Center features a space theater with IMAX films (here's the schedule). The kids under 5 will enjoy the Kid City with soft blocks and things to push and pull. Bigger kids can head over to the interactive exhibits about water, energy, Tinkering Studio, and changing exhibitions.
      Tip: Free with Go San Diego Card
Pepper Grove Playground – South of the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center is a large kid's playground and picnic area.
model railroad museum
Model Railroad Museum – This model railroad museum has long been a favorite with kids in San Diego. The train layouts highlight the American Southwest. Watch the model trains as they puff through the mountains in the Tehachapi Pass, chug over the Goat Canyon trestle high above the Carrizo Gorge, or stop at the San Diego Santa Fe train depot at the turn the century.
      Tip: Free with Go San Diego Card
san diego museum of man
San Diego Museum of Man – Get a taste of other cultures around the world. As you come in, you can't miss the extraordinary 26 ft high Maya stele (replicas) from Quirigua in Guatemala. Upstairs, find out about the Kumeyaay, the native Americans that lived in San Diego county – what they ate, what kinds of dolls they played with, what kinds of games they played. Also at the museum, you can watch how tortillas are made, and weaving demonstrations.
      Tip: Free with Go San Diego Card
      Listen to the bells chiming in the California Tower, next to the Museum of Man. It will always remind you of Balboa Park.
Spreckels Organ Pavilion – Since 1914, outdoor performances of the big (over 4,000 pipes) Spreckels organ have entertained families with rousing marches and other popular tunes. Free organ concerts are held year round.
San Diego Automotive Museum
San Diego Automotive Museum – California is a center of car culture, and the Automotive Museum is a wonderful place to see the history of cars in their "natural habitat." Check out the horseless carriages, big cars of the Fifties, one-of-a-kind motorcycles, " muscle cars," and "art cars." Kids can see what family cars were like before seat belts – the VW bus, a 1952 Nash with foldout beds, a 1937 "woody" station wagon, the first economical family car, the 1914 Model T Ford.
      Tip: Free with Go San Diego Card

Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater – There's always puppet shows happening here, presented by a wide variety of puppeteers from around the world. You might see marionettes, shadow puppets or hand puppets. Here's the schedule.

San Diego Air and Space Museum – Follow the history of aviation, starting with hot air balloons and the Wright brothers, to W.W.I planes, 20's and 30's barnstorming planes, W.W.II Spitfires and Hellcats, to state-of-the-art jets – MIGs and Skyhawk jets, and the Blackbird spy plane, out into space with the Apollo space capsules and models of the Mars Rover. Toddlers will enjoy a section with planes to climb on, knobs to push and pull. Don't miss the full-size replica of the Spirit of St. Louis.
      Tip: Free with Go San Diego Card
International Cottages (House of Pacific Relations) – Each week, a different country from Europe, Middle East and South America hosts folk dancing, music and typical food. Homey and delightful. Houses are open on weekends.

Gardens – The temperate climate in San Diego is a bonanza for gardens (originally planted by Kate Sessions) – with a little water, almost anything will grow here. Spend some time just rambling through these very different gardens:

Alcazar Garden
    Alcazar Garden – You'll feel like you're at the Alcazar Castle in Seville, Spain. Any time of year, the garden is planted with bright colored plants, and you'll want to dip your fingers in the star-shaped blue tiled fountain in the center.
    Editor's note: When I was a kid, this was my favorite garden in Balboa Park.
      Desert Garden – If you can't visit Anza Borrego Desert east of San Diego, this is a good substitute. The desert garden is planted with succulents and plants that need little water from deserts all over the world.
      Japanese Friendship Garden – Explore the garden with koi pond, bridges over waterfalls and bubbling streams, zen rock garden, cherry blossom festival with children's activities in spring.
      Zoro Garden – This is a butterfly garden, planted with milkweed, sunflower and passion vines for butterfly larvae, and nectar plans for the adult butterflies. Look for monarch, sulfur and swallowtail butterflies.
      Botanical Building and Lotus Pond – In the arboretum, step into a lush tropical rainforest. In front of the Botanical Building, the Lily Pond is endlessly fascinating, peaceful reflections in the water and blooming water lilies.
Ride the Balboa Park Tram – Balboa Park is big place. Hop on the free tram to ride around the park. Park Tram goes in a loop from Inspiration Point where you can park, to the Air and Space Museum (Pan American Plaza), around to the main Plaza de Panama. Here's the park tram map.
kids books san diego zoo animals
The Tree Lady
H. Joseph Hopkins, Jill McElmurry

Kate Sessions was a remarkable lady who changed San Diego. In the late 19th century, the city was dry and desert-like. Kate Sessions planted millions of trees and created the magnificent gardens in Balboa Park. (Picture book)


Little Panda
Joanne Ryder

Adorable story of Hua Mei, the panda born at the San Diego Zoo. Irresistible photos of Hua Mei taking her first steps, playing in the water, munching on bamboo, rolling on the ground with her mama panda. (Picture book)


Little Panda - kids books San Diego zoo
A Pair of Polar Bears san diego zoo childrens books  
A Pair of Polar Bears
Joanne Ryder

True story of two little furry Alaskan polar bears who come to live at the San Diego Zoo – swimming and splashing in their own pool, rolling in the dirt (they change from white bears to brown bears), sliding in their own snowy playground. (Picture book)


(More children's books on other San Diego pages)
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