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Any visit to San Diego would certainly not be complete without exploring Balboa Park. At 1,200 acres, this vast, lush oasis is the middle of San Diego is the largest urban cultural park in the United States, home to the world famous San Diego Zoo, beautiful botanical gardens and a number of impressive museums. Many of the museums are found in Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings that line the park's impressive El Prado walkway. The following are some highlights to see when visiting Balboa Park:

San Diego Botanical BuildingBotanical Building

The view of the Botanical Building with the Lily Pond is one of the most photographed scenes in San Diego. Built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, along with the adjacent Lily Pond, the historic building is one of the largest lath structures in the world. The Botanical Building plantings include more than 2,100 permanent plants, featuring fascinating collections of cycads, ferns, orchids, other tropical plants, and palms. The Botanical Building also presents some of the Park's vibrant seasonal flower displays. Free to the public Friday through Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Closed on Thursdays and Holidays).

San Diego Zoo

Balboa Park’s star attraction is one of the best zoos on the planet! The San Diego Zoo is constantly evolving and adding to its impressive exhibits. The zoo is home to over 4,000 animals, including the largest population of giant pandas in the United States. Popular exhibits include the Tiger River, Elephant Odyssey and the Bear Plunge. Visitors can also take a guided bus tour, ride the sky tram or buy a backstage pass, which allows you to feed the giraffes, brush a rhino’s rough hide and howl at the moon with Kenai the Arctic wolf.

If that’s not enough animal interaction for you, you can head to San Diego Zoo's Safari Park where more than 3,000 wild animals roam free over a 2,200-acre nature reserve, including gorillas, lions, elephants, tigers and white rhinos.

San Diego Timken Museum of ArtTimken Museum of Art

Considered one of the greatest small museums in the world, the Timken Museum of Art houses the world-class Putnam Foundation Collection of European old master paintings, American paintings, and Russian icons. Artists represented include Rembrandt, Rubens, Fragonard, Bierstadt, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, John Singleton Copley, and Eastman Johnson. The Timken's modern, white marble building was designed by San Diego architect Frank Hope, Jr. Admission is always free!

San Diego Museum of Man

Located beneath the ornate 200-foot California Tower, the San Diego Museum of Man is the city’s only museum devoted to anthropology. With its Spanish colonial and mission style architecture, the landmark building was originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. The current limited engagement exhibition at the Museum of Man is Instruments of Torture. This is a fascinating presentation featuring torturous artifacts, which explore a deeper significance in today’s modern world, asking the question, “Are people the real instruments of torture?”

San Diego Spanish Village Art CenterSpanish Village Art Center

Stroll through the art studios at the Spanish Village Art Center and meet local artists and see demonstrations of art being created in a unique Spanish atmosphere. Admission is free to the 37 working artist studios and galleries hosting over two hundred independently juried local painters, sculptors, metalsmiths, jewelry designers, clay artists, gourd artists, photographers, printmakers, fiber artists, basket makers, mixed-media artists, glass artists and enamel artists. Open every day 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

San Diego Air and Space Museum

Science, space and aviation history all unfold at the San Diego Air & Space Museum, which is California’s Official Air and Space Museum.  An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum houses a collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft from all over the world, including a working flying replica of Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, the actual Apollo 9 Command Module spacecraft and the only real GPS satellite on display in the world. View artifacts from the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and other aviation and space pioneers.

World Beat Center

Housed in a colorfully painted former water tower, the World Beat Center opened in Balboa Park in 1996. The Center is dedicated to promoting and preserving African, African-American, and other indigenous cultures of the world through art, music, dance, education, and technology.  Classes in international dance and drumming are offered year round, along with concerts and lectures.


Bradley MoonBradley Moon is the Local Arrangements Team (LAT) communications chair for NAFSA’s 2014 Annual Conference & Expo. Bradley was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, and spent a number of years living, studying, and working abroad. He earned his master’s degree from Hawai`i Pacific University in Honolulu and began his higher education career in in 2005 after touring with Cirque du Soleil throughout Europe and North America. Moon is currently the assistant director of international recruitment and communication at San Diego State University, having worked for Hawai`i Pacific University and the University of Hawai`i – Leeward Community College.