My San Diego Journey Into a Botany Paradise
San Diego is a city overflowing with rich history, culture, and nature. Thankfully, there’s one place that combines all three – Balboa Park.
A botanist’s utopia awaits at Balboa Park’s Botanical Building. Built for the 1915 Exposition, this glorified greenhouse features over 2,100 plants, including ferns, orchids, cycads, and other tropical plants and palms. There’s even a scratch-and-sniff garden and vibrant seasonal flower arrangements.
The Botanical Building is one of the few free attractions that Balboa Park offers, and according to Balboa Park Conservancy, it is visited by 500,000-750,000 people a year, making it one of the top cultural attractions in all of San Diego County. Located at the center of Balboa Park’s Central Mesa, it’s hard to miss. Walking through is like stepping into another world where you can disconnect from reality and connect with abundant natural harmony that radiates.
The magic begins before entering. The Lily Pond, which sits in the foreground of the Botanical Building as a reflecting pool, was also built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Lilies and lotuses are planted annually. The view of the Botanical Building and Lily Pond is a must-see in San Diego, and one of the most photographed places within the park. If you’re looking for the best Instagram photo ever, this is it.
If you’re not a gardener, there’s still something for you at the Botanical Building. History lovers can indulge on a 45-minute docent-led tour every third Friday of the month. Tour-takers will learn the intriguing tale of the English immigrant and world-renowned begonia expert, Alfred D. Robinson, whose use of lath houses for growing begonias inspired the construction of the Botanical Building. You’ll also gain knowledge on the origins, design and horticulture of the historic Botanical Building.
Art enthusiasts shouldn’t overlook the San Diego Art Institute, the only contemporary cultural institution in Balboa Park. When entering, a glowing neon sign is the only thing to look at when purchasing admission. But once you descend the staircase and enter the museum, you dive into a look at the rich artistic talent from Southern California.
The white walls of the SDAI are starkly contrasted by the art that decorates that ceiling, floors, and walls, creating a thought-provoking and inspiring experience for visitors. The institute, which began in 1941, delights in serving as a museum, premiere experience for tourists, and as a community for local artists.
SDAI delivers a steadfast showcase space for artists that inhabit Southern California and Northern Baja to collaborate, present, and prosper. SDAI emphasizes making art available and comprehensible to people regardless of their artistic background.
According to the Balboa Park website, SDAI is an 8,000-square-foot gallery space that rotates exhibitions every eight weeks, showcasing contemporary craft, social practice, site-specific instillation and experimental new media works. General admission is $5, but $3 for seniors, military, and students with a student ID. If you’re looking to skip the charge, the fourth Tuesday and Saturday of every month are free.
If those two attractions don’t thrill you, a hidden gem located across the street is sure to please. The Desert Garden, home to 1,300 plants, is a cactus-lover’s paradise. Succulents and drought-resistant plants from around the world are scattered throughout a 2.5-acre plot that visitors can roam and explore.
The peak blooming period is January through March, but the nature of these plants and their unusual shapes make them beautiful at any time of the year. It sits in a sunny position that makes visitors feel they’re in the middle of the desert without ever leaving San Diego.
In the Desert Garden, the plants might need water scarcely, but there isn’t a scarcity of beauty. There is truly eye-candy everywhere you look. Each plant has a completely different texture, appearance, and color.
Walking through the garden is like walking through a museum, each plant with a different story to tell from its far-away country and unique and fascinating look. There are cacti taller than a building and some that barely leave the ground. Allot ample time to venture through the twists and turns of this magnificent garden and delve into the atmosphere that the fusion of these plants creates.
The Desert Garden was established in 1976 and is free and open 365 days per year. It is located adjacent to the Rose Garden and across the pedestrian bridge from the San Diego Natural History museum.
While these attractions are notable and captivating, they are a tiny fraction of the opportunities that await at Balboa Park. The park has multiple art venues, gardens, trails, and museums, and even includes the San Diego Zoo. Whether you’re a child, adult or senior, there is something that will interest you within the park. With the variety and scale of this park, any day can be turned into an adventure.