For thirty years, I’ve been coming down to San Diego and playing shows. Almost every single time, I’ve raced down I-5 to do my show, then raced home to Los Angeles. I’ve never spent any significant amount of free time in San Diego. This morning, with a few hours to kill, I decided I was going to check out Balboa Park. I had always heard about it, but I had only driven by it, never taken the time to walk around inside.
Wow, it is magnificent! I just saw a tiny fraction of the 1,200 acres in the middle of the city, but what a beautiful public space. Lots of historic buildings (some from the Panama-California exhibition of 1915, some from the California Pacific international exhibition in 1935), walking paths, museums, fountains, public spaces and gardens, amphitheaters… and, as I said, I only walked around a small portion of the park.
The land designated for Balboa Park was set aside in 1835 by the Mexican government of Alta California, which was ceded to the United States a few decades later. The 1835 date makes it one of the oldest public parks of its type in the United States. The fact that it has been preserved for so long means that the urban forest is mostly preserved, with giant old trees, tons of foliage, and interesting plant life.
There are a ton of interesting museums there, but they are all fairly pricey. Since I had limited time, I sprung for the model railroad museum, which was sufficiently geeky and great. I would love to come back and see the automotive museum, the air and space museum, and the cannibal museum!
Of course, the famed San Diego Aoo is also part of Balboa Park. Between the park and the zoo, Balboa Park beats anything that we have like this in Los Angeles—we have some pretty great ones, but they don’t seem as well maintained, and sadly, people of Los Angeles (like myself) seem too busy to truly enjoy public spaces, leaving them ripe for decay, homeless camps, and the like. San Diegans, however, remind me more of Europeans. They know when it’s time to relax and enjoy public spaces. There were parts of Balboa Park that reminded me of walking around the Tuileries gardens in central Paris.
I didn’t find the armless guitar player who plays with his feet, sadly, I learned he passed away two years ago. But I am really glad that I went to Balboa Park and just walked around. If you’re in San Diego, I urge you to do the same!