As a Southern California native, I frequently spend the weekends in San Diego and discover new sights with each visit. This time, I went to the Balboa Park area in search of the best free things to do, panoramic views, and craft beers. Balboa Park is a National Historic Landmark that dates back to 1915 and is renowned for its stunning Churrigueresque and Spanish style architecture. If you plan to visit multiple museums during your trip, be sure to check out the Balboa Park Explorer Pass to save on admissions fees.
All photos by @nastasiaspassport
Here, we explore the best panoramic views of San Diego and enjoy many free gardens and museums:
San Diego Botanical Garden
Built in 1915, this iconic landmark is Instagram-worthy for its unique domed architecture and reflective lily pond. The interior is filled with exotic ferns, palms, and orchids. Best of all, the gardens are free to enter from 10am – 4pm.
Timken Museum of Art
This building stands out in the park for its Modern style architecture, with sleek lines and symmetry. The museum contains a small gallery that includes Italian, Russian, and American art and admission is free.
Balboa Park draws many street performers, dancer, and musical performers. Stroll through the park and catch the talent along the way.
Open Air Sculpture Garden
Balboa Park contains many eye-catching sculptures along the plaza, known as “Art of the Open Air”. The sculpture garden is free to enjoy.
San Diego Museum of Art
The San Diego Museum contains a small gallery of everything from Contemporary art to South East Asian art. There are free docent tours with admission. For those of you on a budget, the museum stays open late on Fridays and is free for students and only $5 for non-members.
The international cottages offer a sampling of the heritage from many of the countries that have a presence in San Diego, including Germany, Spain, Israel, and many more. On weekends, there are cultural performances, open houses with food, and heritage celebrations. We sampled tea from England, waffles from Denmark , saw a Panamanian performance, and got our names written in Mandarin from the China house. The international cottages are great way to share in the traditions of other cultures that make up the diverse city of San Diego.
San Diego Museum of Man
The museum is one of the most iconic buildings in San Diego. Enjoy the thought-provoking exhibits including ‘Inter+Race” which explores race and identity, and “Living With Animals” which tells the story of the relationship between man and animals.
Climb the tower for the best panoramic views of the San Diego harbor, downtown, Balboa Park. The tower dates back to 1915, and was closed to the public since 1935. It recently reopened for Balboa Park’s Centennial in 2015. There are timed tours of the tower that come with entry to the museum for $22 each.
A visit to San Diego is not complete without a craft beer. San Diego is synonymous with craft brews and one of the kings of the movement is Ballast Point. We checked out the tasting room, which had tours and a large selection of craft beers.
San Diego is famous for its surf culture. There are many areas to view the panoramic ocean views. Our favorite for the best surf is Swami’s beach.