Summer is a time to relax, explore and enjoy—and there’s no better place to perfect the art of summer than in Balboa Park. At 1,200 acres, this cultural gem is an outdoor wonderland that offers a variety of ways to appreciate summer’s sunny days as well as its sultry nights.
As William Shakespeare knew, there's not much that measures up to the simple glories of summer. And there's definitely not much that compares to spending a summer's day in beautiful Balboa Park, one of the largest urban cultural oases in North America. With its expansive grounds and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, the park is a perfect place to savor summer's sights and sounds. From picnics to museum visits to (yes) Shakespeare, whose plays are showcased in the Old Globe's outdoor summer Shakespeare Festival, it's a season of sun and fun in San Diego's cultural hub.
Balboa Park has some 65 miles of trails that differ in length, difficulty and scenery, from leisurely strolls through the heart of the park to challenging hikes amid the park's more rugged terrain and vegetation. You won't want to miss Florida Canyon, which provides a glimpse into how the park — and San Diego, for that matter — looked some 150 years ago. The 19 different trails begin at one of five gateways that are located at Golden Hill, Marston Point, Morley Field, Park Boulevard, and Sixth and Upas. No matter when you start or where you end, you'll get a chance to commune with nature while staying close to downtown.
With more than 19 garden spots throughout the park, there is more than enough flora and fauna to find and fancy. Looking for a rosy point of view? Head to the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden. This award-winning three-acre garden off Park Boulevard is home to some 1,600 roses and more than 130 varieties. Right next door is the Desert Garden — one of two in the park — containing more than 1,300 succulents and drought-resistant plants from around the world, including a towering candelabra cactus. If you still haven't gotten your cactus fill, you should head over to the newly revitalized Old Cactus Garden, which Kate Sessions developed for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Overlooking the state Route 163, it contains some of the largest cactus and succulent specimens in the park.
There's nothing that says summer like a picnic, and Balboa Park has any number of grassy spots that serve as the perfect place to take a seat and soak it all in. There's the West Mesa's extensive lawn, which offers plenty of space to spread out and roam free, as well as trees for shade. If you a looking to have some libations as part of your picnic plan, you can't beat the East and West lawns in front of the Botanical Building, which was built in 1915. Not only is the backdrop stunning but you can also bring your own alcoholic beverage — just so long as it's not in glass.
When: Through Aug. 25, 2022
The Spreckels Organ Pavilion hosts an eclectic showcase of fun summer music every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening. Acts range from the Navy Rock Band to the International Youth Symphony to the Back Pocket Whiskey Fellas. Concerts typically run 6:30-7:30 p.m. (and are separate from the pavilion’s organ recitals on Monday evenings). Catch some tunes as dusk settles over a summer’s day at the park!
When: Through Sept. 2, 2022
It’s the Summer of the Wolf at The Nat, and the museum invites you to howl at the moon (or maybe just admire it quietly) on the institution’s beautiful rooftop patio. “Nat at Night” happens on Friday nights, when the patio opens at 4 p.m. and the museum stays open until 10 p.m. Enjoy a beer, a glass of wine or a signature cocktail (non-alcoholic and kids’ beverages are also available), and sample small plates from Wolf in the Woods, The Nat’s restaurant partner, as you take in the rooftop views or stroll through the museum.
When: Through Oct. 7, 2022
The first Friday of each month is the time to get together with friends and get creative at the Mingei, the park’s beautifully renovated museum of folk art. Each “Meet Me” event, running from 5 to 8 p.m., features crafts, cocktails and music to set that summer mood. The July event offers beaded accessory crafting inspired by Mingei's collection; Jess Wright, an Americana singer-songwriter, will provide the live tunes. In August, enjoy air-dry clay figure making and the soulful sounds of DJ dauché; and in September delve into the traditional Japanese craft of origami and groove to the tunes of DJ Laurie Piña.
When: July 17, 2022
Barry Edelstein, a nationally renowned Shakespeare authority and the Erna Finci Viterbi artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre, brings back his popular “Thinking Shakespeare” series. Each edition is a lively 90-minute exploration of the Bard’s language, and draws from Edelstein’s book “Thinking Shakespeare: A How-To Guide for Student Actors, Directors, and Anyone Else Who Wants to Feel More Comfortable with the Bard.” Professional actors also take the stage to help Edelstein explicate the wonders of the Bard’s art. The event is an ideal complement to the Globe's renowned Summer Shakespeare Festival, which runs through September 4 and features productions of "The Taming of the Shrew" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
When: July 16-17, 2022
Pride Weekend has a big presence in Balboa Park. Celebrate San Diego’s vibrant LGBTQ+ community at a festival that includes informational booths and four stages hosting more than 100 live entertainers. The San Diego Pride happening unfolds all weekend in the park’s Marston Point area.
When: Aug. 5-6, 2022
The park's beautiful Japanese Friendship Garden brings back this traditional festival, whose name translates as "floating lanterns." The event commemorates the circle of life, and at the Friendship Garden it will be marked by live performances, food vendors, a beer and sake garden, and opportunities each day for visitors to float LED lanterns down the lower garden stream to honor loved ones.
The Nat’s newly unveiled exhibition explores and celebrates the spectacular biodiversity of the Baja California Peninsula, and delves into stories of the researchers who work to protect it. Discover the Baja region’s unique habitats of sky and sea islands, palm oases and fog deserts, and learn about the living things that inhabit this fascinating area.
When: Through Oct. 2, 2022
The late French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle had deep connections to San Diego and the newly re-envisioned Mingei Museum, and the folk-art institution celebrates those ties with this exhibition of her fantastic furnishings. The show looks at Saint Phalle’s work in the context of Mingei’s mission, and how it relates to craft and design. Enjoy this journey through the artist’s spirited and often whimsical work, from a vase sporting colorful acrobatic legs to a wooden chair with gem-studded snakes.
When: July 1, 2022 to Jan. 1, 2023
San Diego Comic-Con International, which returns this summer for its first full edition in three years, is a signature San Diego event with a global footprint. So it’s fitting that the newly opened Comic-Con Museum — which amplifies and celebrates the Con’s pop-culture focus — mounts an exhibition of one of the most revered comic-book superheroes in time for Comic-Con 2022. This world-premiere show, presented in partnership with Marvel Entertainment and Semmel Exhibitions, incorporates interactive installations, cutting-edge tech and priceless artifacts to explore Spider-Man’s six-decade saga.
When: Through Aug. 22, 2022
The ever-evolving art and science of getting around is the focus of the Fleet Science Center’s latest exhibition, which explores how different modes of transportation have shaped society. This hands-on happening gives visitors a chance to rebuild a virtual engine, ride a hovercraft, race friends on a recumbent bicycle, learn to fly a drone and much more.
As part of its explorations of the San Diego region’s human history, the Museum of Us presents a participatory map installation created by the Undocumented Migration Project, a nonprofit research and arts-education collective. The installation, the museum says, “is intended to raise awareness about the realities of the U.S.–Mexico Border, focusing on the deaths that have been happening almost daily since 1994 as a direct result of the Border Patrol policy ‘Prevention Through Deterrence.’” The museum partnered with the originators to develop an exhibit that “illustrates the impacts of dehumanizing policies on human life.”
When: July 10 to Sept. 4, 2022
The Timken Museum of Art celebrated its long-awaited reopening in June 2022 after an extensive renovation. Now the museum brings back its popular summer artist-in-residence series, which spotlights San Diego-area artists. July brings Marianela de la Hoz’s “Destejidas (Unwoven),” a series of small-scaled works completed in the museum and loosely based on the narrative of Penelope, a key character in Homeric myth. De la Hoz is an accomplished painter whose work has been displayed in museums in Mexico and the United States.
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