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Summer in Balboa Park

The cultural heart of San Diego

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.

Balboa Park Logo

As writer Charles Bowden once said: “Summertime is the best of what might be.”

And now more than ever we need this summer season to provide some warmth and respite. Luckily, San Diego is blessed with Balboa Park, one of the largest urban cultural parks in North America. With its expansive grounds and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, the park is uniquely designed to allow you to savor the sights and sounds of summer amid a pretty splendid backdrop.

Activities All Summer Long

Take a Hike

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 back 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 at 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.

Gander at Gardens

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 163 Highway, it contains some of the largest cactus and succulent specimens in the park.

Pick a Picnic

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 that offers plenty of space to spread out and roam free along with 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 is not in glass.

Awesome Summer Events

Axis Events

When: June 12 – August 31, 2021
Making theatre matter to more people, AXIS offers free cultural programs on the The Old Globe's Copley Plaza, led by local artists and craftspeople. The Globe's unique physical location are participatory art venues where they make opportunities for connectivity and creative placemaking. AXIS is an effort to broaden our concept of audience by encompassing diverse, multigenerational constituencies from communities across San Diego County.

Creation Station

When: June 26 – August 29, 2021
This summer the Timken Museum of Art will bring its popular Creation Station outdoors into the Museum's front plaza. This engaging, interactive, summer-long series features two different activities for Balboa Park visitors to enjoy each weekend: Sidewalk Chalk Art and Family Mural Design. Chalk artist Erick Toussaint known as San Diego's "Sidewalk Chalk Dad" (@sidewalk_chalk_dad), will create intricate sidewalk art renderings of some of the most admired paintings within the Timken's collection. If you're not caught up watching Toussaint draw, you&'ll be able to create your own chalk masterpieces on a large chalkboard installed in the plaza. On weekends when Toussaint is not at the Timken with his sidewalk chalk art, another talented local artist will be onsite leading the ever-popular Family Mural Design activity. Two eight-foot-long canvases will be installed each day and open for all to fill with paint and artistic expression. These activities are free and the Timken will provide all the needed art supplies.

An Evening With…

When: June 19 – July 11, 2021
The Old Globe presents their summer 2021 outdoor concert series AN EVENING WITH… in the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. The series will feature the return of Solea Pfeiffer (the Globe's Almost Famous, national tour of Hamilton), Tony Award nominee Carmen Cusack (Bright Star at the Globe and on Broadway, Broadway’s upcoming Flying Over Sunset), and Eden Espinosa (the Globe's Rain, Broadway's Wicked and Rent) to the Globe. These critically acclaimed artists will perform the best of Broadway show tunes and delight audiences with classic and contemporary songs for an extraordinary San Diego experience under the stars.

For Love of Countries

When: Starts July 3, 2021
Missed the opportunity to explore the world over the last year? Well, now you can once again travel the globe without ever leaving Balboa Park. Starting on July 3, the International Cottages—which were built for the 1935 Exposition—are back open from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Saturdays and Sundays providing visitors a chance to check out the 34 cultures and countries that are all housed in the quaintest of quaint structures. On most Sundays, there are performances at 2:00 PM from the different cottages that feature music, dance, traditional costumes, arts, crafts and ethnic foods of the host country. Need another reason to check out this multicultural charm? The area is one of the best places to picnic in the park and alcohol—but no glass of any kind—is permitted between the hours of noon and 8:00 PM.

Tanabata Festival

When: July 7 & 11, 2021
If you feel like star-crossed lovers get short shrift when it comes to celebrations, then the Japanese Friendship Garden has just the festival for you. Originating from Chinese folklore, the Tanbata Festival was adopted in Japan to celebrate the meeting of Orihime and Hikoboshi, two deities who due to the fates can only meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. But while the back story might seem like a bummer, the festivities are anything but. Revelers can enjoy the summer sun by indulging in festival foods, carnival games, cultural performances and crafts.

Thinking Shakespeare LOVE!

When: July 16-18, 2021
Thinking Shakespeare LOVE!, hosted by the The Old Globe's Artistic Director Barry Edelstein and featuring the bard's poems, plays and songs about the intoxicating spirit of love. Tickets are $20.

Obon Festival

When: August 7, 2021
A celebration of life and family will be making its way back to Balboa Park's Japanese Friendship Garden. The Bon Odori Festival is a tradition dedicated to celebrating loved ones that have passed by gathering together to honor their memories. As is custom, attendees will enjoy cultural performances, Japanese festival foods, tea and dessert and more.

Amazing Summer Exhibitions

Everything You See Could Be a Lie: Photorealistic Drawings by Ana de Alvear

When: Through September 27, 2021
Is seeing really believing? This selection of works by contemporary Spanish artist Ana de Alvear begs that question. What may first appear as photographs or even traditional still life paintings show that on closer inspection not everything is what it seems to be. "Everything You See Could Be a Lie" at the San Diego Museum of Art features more than 20 works of art executed in colored pencil, including two extraordinary, large-scale murals. See the hyper-realistic drawings by Ana de Alvear that will have you question what you see.

San Diego Black History and Heritage

Celebrate San Diego: Black History & Heritage is a new project of the San Diego History Center. More than an exhibition with a limited life span, this initiative is multi-layered and has life in the physical, the digital, as well as the SDHC permanent collection to be shared and studied for generations to come. In addition, the History Center also has the interactive exhibit Nathan Harris: Born Enslaved, Died a San Diego Legend, which lets visitors experience the bumpy journey up Palomar Mountain to visit Nathan Harrison in his cabin, view artifacts to help solve historical mysteries concerning Harrison's private life, see archaeologists at work on the mountain, and participate in a mock excavation.

Bloom with a View

The San Diego Natural History Museum's California Blooming exhibit features more than 35 stunning photographs of wildflowers from diverse habitats throughout the state of California. You'll see sweeping landscapes carpeted with California poppies and goldfields, stunning close-ups of ghost flowers and desert lilies, and behind-the-scenes photos of the photographers' process. While the photographs celebrate the beauty of wildflowers, they also help tell the story of climate change impacts to the flora and fauna in our region. The visual richness connects visitors to the biodiversity of our state and the actions that must be taken to protect it.

Exploring Balboa Park

Whether you're an art fan, nature lover, model train aficionado or science geek, Balboa Park has something for everyone. 

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