The Marston House – A Step Back into San Diego History

Marston House circa 1905.
Marston House circa 1905.

The Marston House in 1905. Before Balboa Park was built.

San Diego’s Marston House Museum and Gardens tells a story that goes well beyond bricks and mortar. Today, this 16-room Arts and Crafts masterpiece on the edge of Balboa Park tells the story of one of San Diego’s prominent early 20th century families, George and Anna Marston and their five children.

George Marston, a philanthropist, civic leader and owner of the city’s premier department store, commissioned renowned architects William S. Hebbard and Irving Gill to build his family an English Tudor-style home. Mid-project, Gill visited his old friend Frank Lloyd Wright and was inspired to change the design. The result is San Diego’s preeminent Craftsman treasure.

The Marston House – A Craftsman Treasure

Living Room - Marston House

A classic craftsman living room.

Visit the Marston House and savor the design. Ponder that the place had solar water heating a century ago. Marvel at the flush butterfly joints that hold together the old-growth redwood paneling in the living room. Admire the Tiffany lamps and caress the Stickley rockers. But don’t stop there.

Table by the Fire - Marston House

Meals enjoyed by the fire at the Marston House.

As natural light filters golden through windows in late afternoon, remember that this was a living home. The place still feels like home. Serene. Comforting. Embrace what it might have been like to be part of the family – and let your mind play. Join George and Anna in easy conversation around their dining room table, with Teddy Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, Kate Sessions (the Mother of Balboa Park). Listen to the squeals of children scampering outdoors. Be transported. Become part of the Marston House story.

Kitchen with a classic stove in the Marston House.

The latest and greatest in kitchen technology…back in the early 20th century.

Marston House Tours and More

The Save Our Heritage Organisation docents bring the house alive during the daily 45 minute tours of the house. If visiting on a weekend, a calm and tranquil tour through the 5 acres Marston House Historical Gardens is a must. Historic Seventh Avenue Tours are also offered on the weekends.

Marston House Museum and Gardens Information:

Location: 3525 Seventh Avenue, San Diego, CA 92103 (map)
Hours: Friday-Monday (Winter) and Thursday-Monday (Summer): 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Cost: $4-$10, $15 for two tours, $20 for all three tours.

Robert Arends

3 For Free: Spring Flings in San Diego!

Julian Daffodils

Spring is in full swing in San Diego. With sun shiny days and pleasantly warm temperatures in the 70s, now is a perfect time to head outdoors and explore some great upcoming spring and garden festivals.

Following are three fun spring flings to check out this May:

Sage & Songbirds Festival - Butterflies

Butterfly releases at Sage & Songbirds Festival.

1. Sage & Songbirds Festival

This weekend, May 4-6, the popular annual Sage & Songbirds Festivalflutters into the Viejas Outlet Center in Alpine – celebrating Alpine’s recognition by the National Wildlife Federation as “America’s 1st Community Wildlife Habitat.”  There’s a live butterfly exhibit and daily butterfly releases (Way Cool!), plus a plant and art sale. Admission is free.

Julian Daffodils

Beautiful Julian wildflowers.

2. Julian Wild Flower Show

Head to the historic Gold Rush mountain town of Julian on May 10-13 for the spectacular annual Julian Wild Flower Show. The Julian Woman’s Club gathers colorful wildflowers from in and around Julian, beautifully displaying them in Town Hall from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm each day. Also on view: an exhibit of Native American uses for wildflowers. Admission is free.

Mission Trails Pony Rides

Pony rides at Mission Trails Day.

3. Mission Trails Day

Showcasing the natural wonders of Mission Trails Regional Park (one of the largest urban parks in the U.S.!), Mission Trails Day takes over the park on May 19. Enjoy guided nature walks, pony rides, a special program on coyotes by Ms. Fizzle & The Magic Schoolbus, a climbing wall, bird watching, raptor encounters and a Star Party at night. Admission is free.

Coronado House

Coronado Historic Home Tour.

Bonus.  Coronado Historic Home Tour

Another big annual event that springs 😉 to mind this month…If you’ve ever wanted to take a sneak peek at the gorgeous homes and gardens on charming Coronado Island, now you can at the Coronado Historic Home Tour on May 13. Tour several historic homes of different time periods and architecture, while learning stories of World War II’s effect on Coronado life. Tickets: $30 for Coronado Historical Association members and $35 for nonmembers.


Spring Garden Festivals in San Diego

San Diego Zoo's Discovery Days: Garden Festival

It’s the middle of spring, and what better way to celebrate than with these festivals celebrating San Diego’s blooms and buds.

1. Guests will have a full day of activities at the San Diego Zoo’s Discovery Days: Garden Festival, May 5-8. Visitors can learn about the rare plants growing at the Zoo, which is a certified museum based on its rich horticulture, and partake in self-guided walking tours and botanical bus tours while enjoying special performances, scavenger hunts and more.

2. Starting today through Sunday, the Sage & Songbirds Festival takes place at the Viejas Outlet Center in Alpine. This annual celebration of Alpine’s recognition by the National Wildlife Federation as “America’s 1st Community Wildlife Habitat” features a plant and art sale, live butterfly exhibit and daily butterfly releases.

3. This one has my name all over it! The San Diego Botanical Garden is hosting a Chocolate Festival. This annual festival for chocolate fans features dozens of tasting, demonstrations, gifts and more. All in the beautiful setting of the Botanical Gardens. If you’re bringing the little ones, be sure to check out the West Coast’s largest interactive children’s garden, the Hamilton Children’s Garden.


5 to Try: Larger Than Yours

San Diego may not be home to the largest tire, the largest artichoke or the largest floating loon, but San Diego is home to some really neat “off-the-beaten path” attractions that just so happen to be largest too! (Ha, I’m such a good rapper)

Spreckels Organ Pavilion

Spreckels Organ Pavilion: the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ
Located in Balboa Park, the organ graced the opening of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and became the first outdoor organ of its kind. Free organ concerts are offered every Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. and an International Summer Organ Festival is offered on select evenings throughout the summer at 7:30 p.m.

Mission Bay

Mission Bay: the largest aquatic park in the world
This 4,200-acre aquatic playground is the largest facility of its kind and offers designated areas for sailing, power boating, fishing, swimming and water skiing. Surrounding the bay is 27 miles of paths for running, walking, biking and skating.

Hamilton Children's Garden

San Diego Botanic Garden: the largest interactive children’s garden on the West Coast
The one-acre Hamilton Children’s Garden opened in June 2009 with 14 interactive areas for exploring, climbing, creating and educating children about nature. San Diego Botanic Garden is also home to the largest bamboo collection in the nation.

Chicano Park

Chicano Park: the largest collection of outdoor murals in the country
Beneath the base of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge in Barrio Logan is the colorful Chicano Park. The murals painted here commemorate the history of the Chicano people who fought against the city in the 60s and 70s to reclaim their heritage and keep the park a sacred place for families. Their strife, struggles and success are represented throughout the park’s 20 plus murals.

Anza Borrego

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: the largest state park in California
Spanning 600,000 acres in San Diego’s rustic East County, Anza Borrego offers camp sites, nature trails, horseback riding, hiking trails, 12 wilderness areas and so much more. Amid the acres of untouched wilderness, rare species of wildflowers blossom every spring and animals like roadrunners, golden eagles, kit foxes and mule deer can be spotted.


The World Oceans Day Fun Continues

The Cat in the Hat and The Surf Divas

Recap of the weekend:

Celebrating World Oceans Day was quite a treat,
Sea Life had an underwater reading, which surely was neat.
Polar bears judged snow sculptures at the Zoo,
And Hornblower Cruises offered free face-painting too.
But of course Cat in the Hat made quite a commotion,
When he paddled out with Surf Diva for a book reading in the ocean.
Missed out on all the fun you say? Well that’s ok,
Cuz World Oceans Day fun continues til Tuesday!

(Insert applause)

It’s official, I’ve got Seuss fever from all the World Oceans Day fun I had over the weekend.  But just in case you missed out, there’s still more fun to be had tomorrow, June 8, the official World Oceans Day.

Attractions and Museums

  • San Diego Botanic Garden will present a reading of “One Fish, Two Fish,” ocean-themed activities and arts & craft projects geared toward pre-school age children .
  • Birch Aquarium at Scripps will host Seuss-themed activities, including a scavenger hunt of “zany named” fish and a special World Oceans Day dive show in its two-story kelp forest tank .
  • The New Children’s Museum will celebrate World Oceans Day with a reading of “One Fish, Two Fish” at 10:30 a.m. and the creation of a massive ocean mural.
  • SeaWorld San Diego will have a World Oceans Day booth, which will include live animal visits and educational games to remind visitors how to keep the oceans safe.


  • Corvette Diner & Gamers Garage wil host a reading of “One Fish, Two Fish” at 3 p.m. with a local TV news personality and offer a “Wear Blue, Tell Two” promotion throughout the day.

Around Town

Katie S.

Floral Frenzy at the San Diego Fair

Sure the San Diego County Fair is about rides, rodeos and crazy food concoctions, but I’d like to highlight my 2nd favorite part of the fair: The garden exhibits. My favorite part of the fair is actually the petting zoo, but writing a whole post  called “My Love of Sheep” or “How I Wish I Could Hug All of the Cows and Goats in the World” might get old quickly.

The theme of this year’s fair is “Music Mania,” and the floral arrangements and gardens truly create a symphony of blossoms inspired by music. Before you say, “Flowers are boring – bring on the funnel cake,” take a glance at some of the unique floral masterpieces:

Floral Piano

Look mom, I grew a piano!

Piano Player Topiary

Play me away, topiary piano man

Drum Kit Planter

World's quietest drum set

Pique your interest? Then be sure to check out the garden exhibits when you visit the San Diego County Fair, right next to the hot tub exhibit. Not only is it an amazing way to experience floral art, but it’s also a great place to enjoy some shade and rest your aching belly after too many Zucchini-Weenies.

Guest Blogger

Tranquility Blooms At the Japanese Friendship Garden

I’ll admit it: I’ve never regarded the Japanese Friendship Garden as a “main event” at Balboa Park.  I have visited it once or twice in the 15 years I’ve been acquainted with Balboa Park, but since it has no historic flying machines, no eye-popping scientific experiments, no state-of-the-art dome theater, I have viewed the garden as a quaint landmark more than an actual attraction – kind of like the carousel at Disneyland.  But like Disney’s carousel, it has a profound charm and appeal which can be lost among the sensations that surround it.

The same can be said for ourselves, which is why the Japanese Friendship Garden is such a treasure.  It provides a place of peace and contemplation, a kind of oasis in our familiar environment.  Why would we need such an “oasis?”  As Tiki, a guide at the Freindship Garden, tried to explain, our thoughts are constantly being pulled and stretched this way and that by the manmade sensations and obligations of the world.  It isn’t too difficult to be pulled away from our centers and forget ourselves.

With its traditional Japanese art and koi pond, “strolling gardens” like this one serve as a venue for those who seek their own centers.  The path in the garden is meant to subtly guide visitors through while their conscious thought is allowed to turn inward.

Koi pond at the Japanese Friendship Garden

A turtle-shaped island sits in the Friendship Garden's koi pond. The turtle symbolizes long life.

There is a tremendous amount of thought behind creating and maintaining a venue of such simplicity.  It is a deceptively secluded area of Balboa Park, with very little outside noise allowed in.  In fact, it wasn’t until I left the garden that I was reminded of outside noises such as children and passing cars.  There was a real feeling of back-to-the-real-world.

After your stroll through the garden, you can enjoy some traditional Japanese tea, sushi, noodles and rice bowls, as well as more great views of the park, at the Tea Pavillion, just outside the garden.

The Japanese Friendship Garden is open daily.  Admission is $4 for adults and $2.50 for seniors (65+), students, and active military (with ID).  Children under 6 are free.

Docent-led tours are available, and I highly recommend one.  Sometimes, you need a little guidance to reach your center.