When it comes to dining while at Balboa Park, forget everything you know about “park food.” In fact, some of San Diego’s most exciting restaurants can be found inside this massive urban green space.
The courtyard in the heart of the park, for instance, is not only the center point for many of the park’s museums, but it also offers a romantic backdrop for Balboa’s very best food. Panama 66 pours a rotating tap of 20-plus San Diego brews along with locally sourced salads and sandwiches. The open dining room, tucked inside a sculpture garden, hosts live music every Wednesday–Saturday night. If you’re after high-end food and service, head to The Prado at Balboa Park where you can enjoy whimsical Spanish decor, inventive cocktails, and creative entrées—think pan-seared duck breast with quinoa fried rice and tangerine gastrique.
Balboa Park’s museums and gardens keep the food charmingly on-theme. Hungry animal watchers can climb the steps to Albert’s Restaurant at the San Diego Zoo for a treetop meal next to a private waterfall. Enjoy a tea service—the loose-leaf menu is massive—with your noodle soup at the bamboo Tea Pavilion inside the Japanese Friendship Garden. The Flight Path Grill, housed in the San Diego Air & Space Museum, keeps the meals simple—pizza and salads—but the real attraction is the buzz of engines swooping low on their way to San Diego International Airport, just a few short miles west.
As you plan your visit, keep an eye out for special food-themed events. Depending on the season, you might find a row of food trucks on the Plaza de Panama. Every Friday in the summer (and for a week during the holidays), more than a dozen trucks serving everything from wood-fired pizza to boba tea make for a pop-up food court. On Sunday afternoons between March and October, stroll the lawn among the little houses at the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages and you can nosh on a variety of international tidbits from Austria to Peru, Turkey, and Korea.