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Explore San Diego's

Parks & Gardens

Where green fields and colorful blooms delight year round

Discover the world of San Diego's Flora and Fauna

San Diego boasts more biodiversity than any other county in the nation and a great place to experience this remarkable display is by visiting local parks and gardens. From the manicured gardens of Balboa Park to the wild and rugged Anza-Borrego desert to beautiful protected lands along the coast, you'll find amazing outdoor experiences.  

Japanese Friendship Garden San Diego CA

A Place to Smell the Roses

Recently rated in the top 10 parks in the United States in the Trip Advisor Travelers Choice Awards, Balboa Park features 16 unique gardens including the Japanese Friendship Garden, the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden featuring over 2,400 rose bushes, and the Botanical Building with adjacent Koi and Lily Pond. The Botanical Building houses more than 2,100 plants including a fascinating collection of cycads, ferns, orchids and palms. Join the weekly 45-minute docent-led Botanic Building Garden Tour to learn about the origins, design and horticulture housed in the building. Balboa Park is also home to 15 museums and theaters as well as the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

And speaking of the Zoo, both the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, boast wonderful botanical collections. Both parks employ a team of horticulturists, arborists and gardeners who care for more than a million plants on a combined 1,900 acres. One of only six zoos recognized for their plant collections by the American Association of Museums (AAM), the Zoo holds distinctions in acacias, aloes, bamboos, coral trees, cycads, figs, gingers, orchids, and palms. Treat yourself to a self-guided walking tour, or join a monthly Botanical Bus Tour or look for special days with access to Orchid Odyssey. The Safari Park's accredited collections are the Baja Garden, Old World Succulent Garden, Conifer Forest, figs, palms, and the Native Scapes Garden.

A don't miss for plant lovers, the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas encompasses four miles of garden trails, including a wide collection of native and endangered plants, a whimsical children's garden, and the nation's largest collection of bamboo species. The garden offers a full line up of engaging events including workshops, plant sales and bird-watching tours.

 

Orange flowers blooming in the Anza Borrego Desert

A Walk on the Wild Side

Located on the eastern edge of San Diego County, an easy day trip from Downtown San Diego, is Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in California extending over 900 square miles. The park features 12 wilderness areas and hundreds of miles of dirt roads, offering visitors an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the California desert. Wildlife in the park includes hundreds of species of birds, bighorn sheep, coyote, bobcat, kit fox and numerous reptiles and rodents. Each spring, the park explodes in color with an impressive display of desert wild flowers. The best way to plan a trip to the park is to start at the Park Visitor Center for maps and information.  And be sure not to miss the over 130 metal sculptures created by artist Richardo Breceda. Located on private land in Galleta Meadows outside of Borrego Spring, this remarkable collection is free to the public and not to be missed if you're in the area. 

Mission Trails Regional Park, located just east of the city, consists of 6,150 acres of open space. The highest point is 1,592-foot-high (485 m) Cowles Mountain, which is also the highest point in the city of San Diego. The park has over forty miles of hiking, mountain bike and equestrian trails, a rock climbing area, a campground adjacent to a small lake and the modern 14,000-square-foot Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor and Interpretive Center. The most popular hike in the park, Cowles Mountain trail, takes hundreds of people per day on a semi-strenuous hike to the summit for a 360-degree panorama of San Diego County.

 

Picturesque La Jolla Torrey Pines in San Diego CA

Along the Water

One of the wildest stretches of land on the Southern California coast, the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Park is dedicated to preserving its namesake, the Torrey Pine tree and other indigenous wildlife in their native environment. A coastal wilderness of pine forests and sandstone canyons, the park offers hiking trails that wind their way along the cliffsand breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Look for seasonal sightings of migrating whales as they travel along the coast.

Just south of Torrey Pines, the Cabrillo National Monument Historic Park commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay in 1542, the first European explorer to set foot on the West Coast of the United States. Apart from the historic significance, the park offers amazing views of San Diego's harbor and skyline, as well as Coronado and Naval Air Station North Island. Just below the monument, the stretch of coast has some of the best tide pools on the West Coast.

If water sports are your passion then don't miss a visit to Mission Bay Aquatic Park, the largest aquatic park in the United States. Encompassing 4,600 acres, the park offers water activities for all ages including kayaking, paddle boarding, wave runners and sailing. The park also has 27 miles of meandering shorelines with bike paths, play and picnic areas, fire pits and dozens of well-maintained restroom facilities. Mission Bay is also home to SeaWorld San Diego and excellent sport fishing with six public launch ramps, two fuel docks and a number of sport fishing boats at Mission Bay Sport Fishing, Seaforth Landing, Dana Landing and Sportsman's Doc.

San Diego's Wetlands are another wonderful place along the water to explore the region's diverse flora and fauna, as well as view a wide array of permanent and migratory bird species. Some of the more popular wetlands to investigate include the Tijuana Estuary, in Imperial Beach, the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge on San Diego’s Bay, and the Famousa Slough in Point Loma. 

San Diego CA Waterfront View

Just for Play

Located on the South side of Balboa Park, you'll find the Pepper Grove Children's Playground, named for the California Pepper Trees which provide shade to the expansive picnic area. The large playground is divided into two main areas, one for little tots and the other for older children—both feature large play structures.

The Waterfront Park, located adjacent to San Diego Bay is also a great place to play.  The 12 acres of park space includes fountains, wading pools, playgrounds, and grassy picnic areas with views of the bay and downtown skyline.

> Find out more about San Diego playgrounds

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Activate Fam Mode with Kids Free San Diego this October

100+ deals at popular attractions, hotels and restaurants

Activate unlimited recess vibes and unbelievable family savings with Kids Free San Diego—where kids eat, stay and play for free all October long. With more than 100 deals at popular attractions, hotels and restaurants, and special savings on awesome activities, it’s the perfect time to take a sunny getaway to San Diego and activate smile mode for the whole family.

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Balboa Park, The Cultural Heart of San Diego

Just minutes from downtown, explore the history, legacy, and future of this ever changing, always amazing cultural park.

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Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the California Desert.

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Cabrillo National Monument - A Voyage of Discovery

A visit to San Diego's "only" National Park offers tremendous views of the San Diego region and excellent opportunities to explore the natural, historical and cultural history of the area.

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Visiting Old Town in San Diego

Old Town San Diego marks the site of the first Spanish settlement on the U.S. West Coast and features 12 acres of Mexican heritage and historical sites.

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Fee Free Day at Cabrillo National Monument

Aug 25, 2019

On this date, the entrance fee is waived at Cabrillo National Monument. There are only a few days a year this occurs. In 2019, the fee free days include 1/21/2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 4/20/2019 First Day of National Park Week, 8/25/2019 Founders Day and National Park Service Anniversary, 9/28/2019 Public Lands Day, and 11/11/2019 Veterans Day. The fee waiver includes entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.

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Trout Opening Weekend

Nov 2 - Nov 3, 2019

2,500 pounds of Rainbow Trout with large fish up to 12 pounds will be stocked for this upcoming event! There will be prizes for the top 5 largest fish caught over the two-day Trout Opening Event. Greg Even, coordinator for this event, said “This event is great for everyone, including families that want to spend some quality time together. It’s also perfect for sport fishermen because there will be some trophy fish included in the stock”.

You can win a 2-night Cabin Vacation if you catch a trout 5 pounds or larger and you will be entered into a drawing.  If you catch a tagged Trout you will win a prize!  Prizes include: fishing poles, tackle boxes, bicycles, camping gear and free fishing passes to Santee Lakes.

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Food Truck Fridays

May 31 - ongoing

Kick off your summer weekends in style every Friday evening at Balboa Park’s hottest after-hours event. Visitors of all ages can enjoy free live entertainment while eating gourmet dishes from a rotating selection of more than a dozen food trucks. Each evening features fantastic local performers, vibrant music, and family-friendly activities. Foodies can also explore the many park museums hosting evening hours and special programs. For the entertainment schedule and food truck rosters, be sure to visit the Conservancy's website.

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Fall Plant Sale

Oct 19 - Oct 20, 2019

Plant donations from over 100 local growers, wholesalers, retail nurseries, and individuals make this one of the most interesting and diverse plant sales in San Diego County.

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What's Hot

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Balboa Park, The Cultural Heart of San Diego

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Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

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Cabrillo National Monument - A Voyage of Discovery

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Visiting Old Town in San Diego

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What's On

Fee Free Day at Cabrillo National Monument

Aug 25, 2019
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Trout Opening Weekend

Nov 2 - Nov 3, 2019
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Food Truck Fridays

May 31 - ongoing
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Fall Plant Sale

Oct 19 - Oct 20, 2019
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Deals just for you

Activities

Kids Go Free at Children's Nature Retreat

Children's Nature Retreat
Valid: Oct 1 - Oct 31, 2019

With its 20-acres of terrain, the Retreat is home to over 130 animals, representing 22 species and 58 breeds and welcomes visitors of all ages, allowing everyone to explore the beautiful and tranquil...

Parks & Gardens

Kids Go Free to the Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center

Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center
Valid: Oct 1 - Oct 31, 2019

The Tijuana Estuary is one of the few salt marshes remaining in Southern California, where over 90% of wetland habitat has been lost to development. The site is an essential breeding, feeding and...

Parks & Gardens

Kids Go Free at the Japanese Friendship Garden

Japanese Friendship Garden of San Diego
Valid: Oct 1 - Oct 31, 2019

The Japanese Friendship Garden (JFG) is located in Balboa Park and represents the friendship between San Diego and its sister city in Yokohama, Japan. It binds the two cultures to create a unique...

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