Perched high up on my father’s shoulders back when I was four years old, I remember the excitement of walking around Balboa Park. With so much to see from performing artists to the lily pond in front of the Botanical Building, even picnicking on the grass was a delight all of its own. Now that I am a mom of five, I continue to treasure the beautiful scenery, the iconic Cabrillo Bridge east/west entrance, gardens and so much more. And that’s before ever stepping foot inside one of the many museums and attractions! Over the past few decades (yes, I’m aging myself), I’ve also narrowed down some favorite spots that are frosting on the cake of family adventure.

Here are five must-do family activities in Balboa Park:

1. Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater

Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre on Balboa Park

Escape into the world of fairy tales and adventure with marionettes at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre

Truth be told, I didn’t find out about this delightful show for the whole family that features marionettes, hand, rod, and shadow puppets, until one of my kids was invited to a birthday party there a few years back! With two shows daily Wednesday-Friday and three on weekends, be sure to pop in for some entertainment for all ages!

> Find out more about Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater

2. Balboa Park Miniature Railroad

Balboa Park Miniature Railroad

All aboard the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad’s G16 – now a rare antique with as few as fifty currently remaining

Located just outside of the zoo, I used to always beg my mom to let us ride on this train! Now, I beg my kids to let me go on…kidding…kind of! The 3-minute ride around the tracks is a must and don’t miss a ride on the classic 1910 carousel, too!

> Find out more about the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad

3. San Diego Model Railroad Museum

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

It’s the model of miniature railroad museums

And speaking of locomotives, this is another gem I learned about when invited to a birthday party here: the train museum! Watch as the mini-trains travel through large layouts, with four set-ups choo-chooing along at once in a 28,000 square foot space!

> Find out more about the San Diego Model Railroad Museum

4. Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

Gravity Well - Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

Hands on fun for all ages can be found at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

It’s hard to narrow down the must-see museums, but if you are short on time and could only choose one, this would be it! A definite field trip favorite when I was in elementary school, it’s a treat to see my kids enjoy the hands on exhibits all the while learning. And if you have the time, be sure to catch the IMAX theater located in a giant dome that makes you feel like you are in the movie! An absolutely incredible experience, it’s also great for a date night for parents if you can squeeze one in.

> Find out more about the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

5. Spreckels Organ Pavilion

Spreckels Organ Pavillion

Sunshine, plenty of seating and good music make the Spreckels Organ Pavilion perfect for a family afternoon

One of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs (no, really!), this is a must-see (or is that hear?). Be sure to check the schedule but shows are generally on Sundays and a great place to rest after enjoying all the above attractions.

> Find out more about the Spreckels Organ Pavilion

Truly, there is so much to do and see in Balboa Park it was hard to narrow down my top picks. With activities the family can enjoy together, be sure to park (ahem) your family here!

11 Responses to 5 Must-do Family Adventures in Balboa Park

  1. Love all of these great SD ideas!!

  2. That’s great, Kareen! And I love that it reminds you of South Africa – I’ve always wanted to visit there!

  3. Oh my gosh, this is so fun. My kids would love this as I am always looking for some great places to see and san diego is so beautiful, it gives me the feel of south africa where i am from. thanks for the tips!

  4. Pingback: San Diego Fun: 5 Must-do Family Adventures in Balboa Park |

  5. It’s so cute, Brigeeski! And right by the merry-go-round, too!

  6. How fun! How have I never seen the miniature railroad?!

  7. Thank you, Carole! I’m excited to head down there again, too – especially in this amazing weather we’ve been having this “winter”. :)

  8. Oh, Mary! You will LOVE it!!! And the girls, too -lol! It’s an all time SD favorite of mine!

  9. I don’t think I’ve ever been on that miniature railroad in all my years of living here. I’ll have to take the girls. And I LOVE the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center!

  10. Love this post! I live in San Diego County and, except for the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, haven’t been to the others in a while. Time to dust off the walking shoes and make another trip to Balboa Park, the most beautiful park, ever!

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