A 1,200-acre treasure trove packed with family-friendly attractions, Balboa Park is conveniently located adjacent to downtown San Diego. With a variety of green spaces, cultural attractions, museums, and other points of interest, this park outshines the offerings in many other cities around the U.S. It’s even the home of the world-famous San Diego Zoo.
If you have a day or two to explore Balboa Park — more is better — start with these top spots to discover with your family.
San Diego Zoo
Occupying 100 acres in Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo is home to more than 3,700 rare and endangered animals from around the world. Start your visit with a 35-minute guided bus tour to get a quick overview of the zoo’s offerings. From cheetahs to capybaras, the zoo has just about every animal you can imagine. If you don’t want to spend a full day exploring, you need to strategically plan your visit to catch the highlights. Don’t miss a ride on Skyfari, an aerial tram that gives you a bird’s-eye view of the zoo. For little ones, a ride on the Balboa Park Miniature Train is a must.
San Diego Natural History Museum
The San Diego Natural History Museum was founded in 1874 as part of the San Diego Society of Natural History. Today, the museum’s five floors of interactive exhibits span 75 million years of natural history and include fossils, dinosaurs, rattlesnakes, and much more. Admission to animal-themed films at the onsite 3-D theater is included with your museum ticket.
Fleet Science Center
With a different focus on science, Fleet Science Center features a planetarium and IMAX theater along with eight galleries. The exhibits are interactive and focus on energy, water, invention, and design. For children 5 and under, the museum’s Kid City exhibit provides a learning-focused play area with giant gears, chutes, and building blocks, and the Tinkering Studio gives the entire family a chance to get creative by using a variety of materials and equipment to invent new gadgets.
Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater
Like a number of buildings in Balboa Park, the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater was built for the California Pacific International Exposition in 1935. In 1947, the first puppet show at the 234-seat theater, presented by Marie Hitchcock and her sister, started a long tradition of puppetry at the site. Today, the theater hosts performances based on classic children’s stories, such as “The Three Little Pigs” and “The Town Musicians of Bremen.” Shows take place Wednesday through Saturday year-round.
San Diego Model Railroad Museum
If your kids love trains, don’t miss the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. With 28,000 square feet to explore, it’s the largest operating museum of its kind in the world. Get lost in the wonder of railroad history as trains chug through realistic model worlds, including the Centennial Railway Garden, a scale model of Balboa Park itself.
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