We’re celebrating Great Outdoors Month by highlighting some of the “best in the West” outdoor sites we’ve visited first-hand in Washington, Oregon, and California. Today’s we’re visiting my old hometown of San Diego! Yeah, baby! Ready? Set? Let’s go!
Some places are so beautiful and unique, they beggar description. Like San Diego, where I was born and raised and have lived long enough to brag about.
One of my biggest San Diego brags is Balboa Park. I’ve been to more parks in more states than you can shake a surfboard or a tube of Coppertone at. But San Diego’s Balboa Park is in a class by itself (not that I’m biased or anything, okay?).
We’re talkin’ 1,200 acres of Serious Awesome here! Especially if you’re up for a brisk outdoor walk on a glorious spring day when the sky pours out an infinite bowl of blue and the sunshine is unstoppable. (Which is pretty much every day in San Diego. But who’s counting?)
Overlooking downtown San Diego, Balboa Park is an “urban cultural park” named in honor of Spanish-born Vasco Nuñez de Balboa. He was the first European to spot the Pacific Ocean while on exploration in Panama. The park’s original acreage was set aside in 1868. It was the site of the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition.
Today, the park’s 1,200 acres are home to more than 16 museums, art galleries, multiple performing arts venues, lovely gardens, trails, and many other creative and recreational attractions, including the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Also stunning fountains and gardens, the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, multiple museums, restaurants, ethnic Houses of Hospitality, a Spanish village art center, the Starlight Theatre and Starlight Bowl, a carousel, and a towering bronze statute of… El Cid Campeador.
The park is also the site of the internationally acclaimed, Tony Award-winning Old Globe Theater, one of the most esteemed regional theaters in the country. (Yours truly attended many performances at this beautiful venue.)
Anyway, back in the day, Balboa Park was lit up like a proverbial Christmas tree for the Christmas season. Santa, his sleigh and eight plastic reindeer pranced along the grassy median just outside the park’s famous Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Double rows of lights blinked along the Cabrillo Bridge near the El Prado/museum complex. The Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke was depicted in booths with life-sized statues along the organ pavilion.
Lively and quick, my two brothers and kid sis and I never tired of taking in the whole enchanting display as the clock tower chimed Christmas carols at regular intervals. Even park fountains seemed ready to break into song.
So you may understand why “Balboa Park!” was my first choice when my kid sister asked me where I wanted to go when visiting from our now-home state of Washington a couple years back. If you’ve ever been to this fabulous park, you get it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, now would be good.
For more on San Diego and Balboa Park, see: Hard Night: Growing Up in the Land of Endless Summer. By Yours Truly.
Join us next time for our third installment of 30 West Coast Ways: Celebrating GREAT OUTDOORS MONTH in Washington, Oregon, and California.
 Most people think it’s Balboa. It’s not.
 The structure can be seen from the Cabrillo Freeway (State Route 163), which is located on the floor of the canyon, 120 feet below. Construction of the freeway through the canyon below the bridge was completed in February 1948. Traffic on the bridge is not visible from the freeway due to the unusual height of the bridge, which is dictated by the topography of the canyon. El Prado crosses the bridge at the same level as the ground on either end of the bridge, while SR 163 passes beneath it at approximately the level of the original canyon floor.