When I was younger, it always seemed like a trip to San Diego was not complete until we visited Balboa Park. As a child I was not the biggest fans of museums, but my mother loved them and loved to read every placard in the place. I recall just following along and occasionally something would catch my eye. One year (I was 11 at the time), there was a special exhibit on the human body in the Museum of Man.
I followed my mom aimlessly into a small theater that was showing a film. I sat down, grateful to be watching a movie instead of looking at exhibits. Then a scientific film about a woman’s reproductive system came on the screen. Apparently, this was my mother’s way of avoiding “the talk.” I sat there in horror aa I learned about the changes would befall my body in the years to come. To this day I grow a little suspicious when there is a movie accompanying a museum exhibit.
Regardless of that frightening childhood memory, I have a great fondness for Balboa Park. So when we were planning our recent trip to San Diego, I was sad because I thought that we would not have any time to visit the park because of an already jam-packed schedule.
But, as luck would have it, our engine light came on as we were getting ready to depart. We decided that it would be in everyone’s best interest to stop by a mechanic and get it checked out before we embarked on our journey home across the desert. The mechanic said that he would need the car for a few hours, so we asked how far Balboa Park was from his downtown shop. He pointed up the street and said that it was less than a mile. Yay!
When we arrived at the park we came upon the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. We had learned about the donation of the organ in 1914 for the Panama-California Exposition during our Coronado walking tour. There is a resident organist, who performs free weekly Sunday concerts. This day there was a lot of activity in the amphitheater because they were holding a local elementary school promotion ceremony there.
After a brief stop at the Visitor’s Center for a map, we continued to my favorite spot in the park — the Botanical Building. The giant wooden structure with the lily pond out front is a truly stunning site. As I walked to the enormous doors of the building I was thinking it was odd that they weren’t wide open, inviting all to enter. Then my heart sank…the doors were locked! I looked at my guide book and quickly realized the problem. It was Thursday — the only day the building is closed during the week!
Sensing my disappointment (and perhaps my childhood trauma of the museum) my family decided that we should stick to exploring some of the 17 various gardens (most with free admission) throughout the park. We started at the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden. With more than 2,500 roses in full bloom, it was a treat for both the eyes and the nose. There were roses of every color with unique names, including George Burns. It was a pretty rose with yellow, red, cream and pink stripe variations, and “he” smelled good too!
We strolled quickly along the Desert Garden (we have those plants at home), across the pedestrian bridge and then descended into the sunken Zoro Garden. This garden spirals around to the bottom lined with stone planter beds. There are also giant trees with their root structures exposed as if oxygen in their growing medium of choice. This garden was designed as a nudist colony during the 1935 California-Pacific Exposition, but now its secluded nature is best suited for butterflies instead of people.
We received a call from the mechanic that our car was ready (minor repair — thank goodness!). We were a little sad that we didn’t have more time to explore, but also anxious to be on the road and get back home. Before we left Balboa Park we dined on rice bowls at the Tea Pavilion in front of the Japanese Friendship Garden. We all agreed that the next time we visit San Diego we will set aside more time to explore this wonderful place and spend time in the museums. Maybe even the Museum of Man.