The history of Balboa Park stretches all the way back to 1835, so it’s little wonder that some nutty stuff has gone down within its 1,200 acres. Did you know, for instance, that Zoro Garden was once the site of a nudist colony, or that in the 1980s, orangutans escaped from the San Diego Zoo a total of nine times? A number of tours offered within the park highlight the park’s fun tidbits while also giving visitors a closer connection to San Diego’s fascinating park.
For an excellent overview, start at the Balboa Park Visitors Center (find it on this map). Ninety-minute, self-guided audio tours are available for purchase (both adult and children’s versions), while free ranger-lead walking tours embark from the center every Sunday. The park also hosts specialized tours focusing on specific areas of interests. There’s an Architectural Heritage Tour, held on the first Friday of each month, which highlights the way the park introduced the Spanish Colonial Revival style to Southern California. Garden fans, meanwhile, can enjoy a 45-minute Botanical Tour every third Friday. Or go on a free docent-led Japanese Friendship Garden Tour of the park’s lower 4.5-acre canyon expansion area. Check the tour schedule to time your visit. Tours of the California Tower, or bell tower, will not be offered for much of 2019 while the tower is receives a seismic retrofit. Work is expected to be completed by January of 2020.
If you want to get a workout along the way, try the 3.2-mile trail run offered by City Running Tours (which includes an after-dark option on Saturday). If you prefer a sweat-free experience, We Love Tourists offers a Segway tour, as well as ebike tours and even tours with a focus on food. Or take a seat and enjoy the view with San Diego Trolley Tours, which stops at various museums along the loop.