A Guide to Balboa Park's Trails in San Diego (2023)


Balboa Park is considered San Diego's Crown Jewel, and is one of the most popular destinations in the city for tourists and locals alike. The park, which is famous for its museums, historic sites, and scenery, has 65 miles of marked trails, which travel some of the most and least visited areas of the park. In this video we look at the five gateways where all of the Balboa Park's trails originate from, what you can find in each area, tips for navigating the trail system, and our picks for the best trails.

More info on Balboa Park's Trails including maps and descriptions of each individual trail can be found here: www.balboapark.org/enjoy/trails

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In this video we visit balboa park, which, for over 150 years, has been considered san diego's crown jewel as one of the oldest sites in the united states.

That's dedicated to public recreational use.

Balboa park is a must visit destination when traveling to san diego.

The park is known for its architecture, its many museums, beautiful scenery and, of course, the world famous san, diego zoo, among other things, and in this video we're going to show you how to get the most out of your visit to balboa park through the use of the park's extensive trail system, where you'll be able to get a brand new perspective on some of the park's most famous sites, as well as visit some seldom seen areas of the park.

The balboa park trail system features 65 miles of trails that are open to hikers, joggers and bicyclists that originate from five trails gateways located throughout the park.

Those gateways are at 6th and upus morley field, golden hill park, boulevard and marston point and we'll take a look at each gateway individually in the far northwestern corner of the park is the sixth and yupus gateway, and this is what the signs should look like that are located at each gateway.

There is a map showing that gateway's trails, as well as a description of each trail that originates from that gateway and next to the gateway sign, you can find trail markers that can be used to guide your way.

In theory, at least the marker should tell you which trail you're, on which direction you need to go, how far you've gone and how far you have left to go.

The reason I said in theory in regards to the trail markers is while a lot of the trail markers are well posted and easy to find others have been vandalized partially hidden by nature placed in hard to find spots or simply even just knocked down and thrown off to the side.

Sixth and yupus is probably our favorite trail gateway, as it has some really interesting trails that give you a really good cross-section view of the park.

Also, while a lot of the trails overlap with one another.

Sixth and yupus has the only trail that goes by the famous marston house.

In all, five trails originate at sixth and upus, ranging from an easy 1.5 mile trail trail 1 to a 6.6 mile trail, that's rated difficult trail number five.

The trails originating from this gateway are great for exploring the lesser visited western side of balboa park, where you can find some fantastic views.

The western side of the park is also home to what I believe is the only sausage tree in balboa park.

One of the most famous structures in balboa park is the cabrillo bridge.

Thousands and thousands of people drive over or under the bridge every single day.

But if you want to walk under it, there are just three trails that go under the bridge all on the western side, one of which originates at 6th and yupus.

Even though I've driven under the bridge hundreds and hundreds of times, it was great to just be able to stroll, take my time and admire it versus driving under it at 65 miles per hour, we mentioned earlier, the sometimes problematic placement of trail, markers, occasionally you'll come to a fork in the road and there's not a trail marker to be found.

Luckily bubble park has made it pretty easy to navigate their trail system, and you have a couple different options to make sure that you don't get lost.

One easy option is that at the balboa park gift shop, they do sell this foldable trails map for about five dollars and forty cents.

As of the making of this video, the map is in full color and shows each of the park's trails and on the other side, there is a description of each trail, including the distance, the difficulty and features of that trail.

The map is put together by the friends of balboa park and all the money does go back into the park, though, if you don't want to spend any money on a map, there's absolutely no need to.

As all of the information is available, free, online and I'll put a link to that in the description, our next gateway is in the southwest corner of balboa park.

The marston point gateway most of the marston point.

Trails overlap with the trails that originate at 6th and yupus, though the marston point trails are the only ones that actually visit marston point, which is located right up these stairs.

The main attraction at marston point is this: flagpole, that's been up for nearly a hundred years.

You can also find some pretty good views of downtown san, diego from marston point and, if you're into airplanes, it's a great place to watch the jets fly into lindbergh field, as they are right overhead.

For the most part, however, we'd recommend starting your journey at one of the other four gateways, as the marston point gateway doesn't have a lot to offer that the other trails don't already offer in the middle of the park is the park boulevard gateway, which is the best trailhead for visiting some of the more popular areas of the park, such as the museums or the san diego zoo.

It is also right next to a large parking lot, making it a great starting off point, as we mentioned most of the trails that originate at the park.

Boulevard gateway travel by the more popular areas of the park, such as the museums and the monuments, which makes this a great set of trails.

If your time at balboa park is limited, but these trails also go off the beaten path to some much less visited areas of balboa park.

Right now, we're on trail 33, which, as you can see, goes behind a lot of the buildings on this service road, which leads to lesser known areas of the park such as this really cool cactus garden.

That I had no idea was there before, as a san, diego native I've been to bubba park hundreds of times in my life, but I never knew this cactus garden existed until we found it when we were making this video.

We also came across this old, fireplace, that's no longer in use that was built in 1944 and while the park, boulevard gateway trails will take you through some of the more crowded areas of the park.

It will also take you, through some pretty peaceful areas, just a few hundred feet away from the crowds.

It's worth, noting that the terrain you will encounter on the balboa park trail system is pretty varied here, for example, is three different sets of stairs that were all on the same trail since most of the park, boulevard gateway trails explore the interior of balboa park, they're a good starting point.

If you want to walk out on the cabrillo bridge, though you can get there through some of the sixth and yupus and marston point trails as well from the bridge, you can get a pretty nice view of downtown san diego to the south and the 163 freeway winding through the canyon to the north, on the route that used to belong to highway.


highway 80 also used to run through balboa park before hitting its western terminus in downtown san.

Diego next up is the southeasternmost trailhead, the golden hill gateway, which has three trails that originate from it, including the park's longest trail at 6.8 miles, while technically part of the balboa park trail system.

Golden hill park feels much more like a local park than a part of balboa park, and there isn't a whole lot to see there.

Two of the trails skirt around the balboa park golf course, though, you can occasionally find a good view such as this view of california tower way in the distance and the fifth and final gateway in the balboa park.

Trail system is the morley field gateway.

Morley field is home to most of balboa park's sports complexes, such as the bubble park, tennis club, the swimming pool, little league fields and a velodrome.

The morley field gateway is also a great starting point if you want to access the florida canyon area of the park, which gives a glimpse of the original landscape of balboa park.

So if you wanted an idea of what balboa park would have looked like 150 years or more ago, florida canyon is definitely a place that you want to visit.

The morley field area also has things such as a nature exploration area and exercise equipment along one of the trails.

In case you wanted to get an extra workout in though, if your time at balboa park is limited, and you just want to see the best of what the park has to offer- you're better off, taking one of the trails at 6th and yupus or at park boulevard and skipping the morley field trails.

Well, that's our look at the balboa park trail system.

If we had to pick one trail as a favorite, it would probably be trail number five which originates at 16 yupus, though that is a 6.6 mile trail, but it does give a grand tour of the park.

It goes both under and over.

The cabrillo bridge goes into the center of the park and goes all around the outside western edge of the park.

But you really can't go wrong with any trail that you pick at the park.

There is just so much to see we'll put a link in the description to where you can find maps and information on each trail individually.

Also, even though balboa park gets tons of visitors every single day, some of the trails do get a little secluded and we do recommend not taking those trails alone.

Unfortunately, bubble park does have a homeless population and though it's unlikely you're going to run into any troubles, it's always better to be safe than sorry.

Thank you so much for watching.

If you enjoyed the video, please give it a thumbs up.

Consider, subscribing and we'll see you next time.


What is the best walk through Balboa Park? ›

Where is the best trail for walking in Balboa Park? According to users from AllTrails.com, the best trail for walking in Balboa Park is Seven Bridge Walk, which has a 4.4 star rating from 3,643 reviews.

How do you navigate Balboa Park? ›

From the north:
  1. From I-5 take B Street/Pershing Street exit, heading toward Pershing Street. Turn left on Florida Drive. Turn left on Zoo Place. Turn left on Park Boulevard.
  2. From I-15 or I-805 take Hwy 163. Take Park Boulevard exit. Turn left on Park Boulevard. Follow the signs to Balboa Park.

How much time do you need in Balboa Park? ›

You could spend an entire week exploring all that it has to offer. Balboa Park is filled with beautiful Spanish architecture, 16 museums, cultural art centers, gardens, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

How long is Balboa Park Loop? ›

Get to know this 4.5-mile loop trail near San Diego, California. Generally considered an easy route, it takes an average of 1 h 39 min to complete. This is a very popular area for running and walking, so you'll likely encounter other people while exploring.

What is the best parking lot for Balboa Park? ›

Park in the Inspiration Point parking lot (on the east side of Park Blvd., between Presidents Way and the Balboa Park Activity Center) for easy access to the heart of Balboa Park via the free tram (please check the Tram Page for the current operation schedule).

Which is bigger Golden Gate Park or Balboa Park? ›

While the Phoenix park is certainly huge, even parks such as Washington, D.C.'s Rock Creek Park (1,754 acres) and San Deigo's Balboa Park (1,200 acres) are larger than Golden Gate Park.

How walkable is Balboa Park? ›

Balboa park is a 3.9 mile (9,000-step) route located near San Diego, California, USA. This route has an elevation gain of about 262.4 ft and is rated as easy. Find the best walking trails near you in Pacer App.

How often does the tram run at Balboa Park? ›

Every day and every 10 to 15 minutes, the tram will stop at Tram Central to pick up and drop of Park visitors. Summer hours of operation are from June 1 through Oct.

Can you walk around Balboa Park for free? ›

Yes! Admittance to the park grounds is free. Once inside the Park, explore the rich gardens and trails. The Botanical Building (currently closed) and Timken Museum of Art are always free.

Can I bring food to Balboa Park? ›

This location on the west side of Balboa Park has a grassy picnic area that is often used for large special events. It can be permitted for up to 200 people and food is allowed, but no alcohol. There is a restroom available a short walk away at the Pine Grove Picnic Area. Marston Point is open from 6 a.m. to dusk.

What days are free at Balboa Park? ›

Resident Free Days
  • First Tuesday. Fleet Science Center. ...
  • Second Tuesday. San Diego Air & Space Museum (Not valid for special exhibitions) ...
  • Third Tuesday. San Diego Museum of Art (Not valid for special exhibitions) ...
  • Fourth Tuesday. San Diego Automotive Museum – Except in December. ...
  • Fifth Tuesday.

What is free at Balboa Park today? ›

40+ Free Things to Do in Balboa Park, San Diego
  • Balboa Park Parking.
  • Hiking Trails.
  • Dog Parks.
  • Children's Playgrounds.
  • Interactive Sculptures.
  • WorldBeat Cultural Center.
  • House of Pacific Relations Cottages.
  • Spanish Village Art Center.
Nov 21, 2021

Does the trolley go to Balboa Park? ›

Old Town Trolley is a convenient way to explore Balboa Park while maximizing your vacation time.

Is Balboa Park smaller than Central Park? ›

Larger than New York's Central Park and Chicago's Millennium Park combined, San Diego's Balboa Park comprises 1,200 acres of urban green space with 16 museums, 65 miles of trails, and of course, the internationally renowned San Diego Zoo.

How deep is Balboa Park Lake? ›

Lake Balboa Size and Depth

Lake Balboa is in Los Angeles, CA. Lake Balboa is located within Anthony C. Beilenson Park and measures 944 acres in size with a maximum depth of 83 feet. It is a man-made lake that was filled with reclaimed water from the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant and opened to the public in 1990.

Where is the easiest place to park at Balboa Park? ›

For easy access to the center of Balboa Park, you may park in the Inspiration Point lot (on the east side of Park Blvd., between Presidents Way and the Balboa Park Activity Center) for ride the free tram into the center of the Park.

What is the most beautiful parking lot? ›

This photo of the Anenue D'lena in Paris, France, comes from a presentation by urban planner Victor Dover. He calls it “the most beautiful parking lot in the world,” because there are six lanes of parking in the photo, providing spaces for a large number of cars. That the street is beautiful is self-evident.

Where can I park for free at Balboa Park? ›

Top recommended spots near Balboa Park
  • Lot - Parking Balboa. On-site facility. 1 min walk. Free. for 2 hours.
  • Parking Facility - Estacionamento Balboa Park. On-site facility. 3 min walk. Free. for 2 hours.
  • Lot - Parking Balboa. On-site facility. 5 min walk. Free. for 2 hours.
  • Free of charge. Closest free of charge. 1 min walk.

Why is Balboa Park famous? ›

Unlike many other famous urban parks, it is renowned for its combination of nature and architecture. The 1,400 acre "City Park" was founded in 1868, and in 1909 the idea of a grandiose park was formulated in order for San Diego to host the Panama–California Exposition of 1915–1916.

What is the famous Balboa Park? ›

Balboa Park, San Diego, California

Balboa Park is a cultural oasis that includes 17 museums, gardens galore and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. At 1,200 acres, Balboa Park is one of North America's most iconic urban parks and a must see on any visit to San Diego.

What is the largest city park in California? ›

Bidwell Park

At an impressive 3,670 acres, Bidwell is one of the largest city parks in the United States.

Is Balboa Park hilly? ›

A range of paved and unpaved surfaces. Some sections quite hilly. Highlights are the the #2 trail (4.1 miles) which leads you through the park's exquisite museums and gardens, or the #33 trail loop (3.7 miles) that runs through Florida Canyon's Native Plant Preserve.

Do you have to pay for parking at Balboa Park? ›

Payment is required upon entry at any of the 11 pay stations located throughout the parking lot.

What is the closest trolley stop to Balboa Park? ›

The 5th Av & Laurel St stop is the nearest one to Balboa Park in San Diego.

How much is the train at Balboa Park? ›

Open daily, 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Tickets are $3 for ages 1 to 99.

How much does it cost to park at Balboa Park? ›

Currently all of the parking lots in Balboa Park are free.

What days are Balboa Park open? ›

Hour Park is open 24 hours, museum hours vary, visitors center open daily 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Can you drink alcohol in Balboa Park? ›

Smoking is not permitted in Balboa Park. Alcohol Permitted: Alcohol is permitted from noon until to 8:00 p.m. in the following locations: Botanical Building East Lawn and West Lawn; House of Pacific Relations Lawn; International Lawn; Mall Lawn; Moreton Bay Fig Lawn; Pan American Plaza Lawn; Recital Hall Lawn.

Is the Balboa Park trolley free? ›

The Balboa Peninsula Trolley is a free service to get you easily moving around the Peninsula without having to pay for parking or worry about finding a place to park.

Which museum is free at Balboa Park? ›

Admission to the Timken Museum of Art is always free, giving visitors amazing access to the Timken's prized collection, featuring works by Rembrandt and other masters. At the Mingei Museum, the Commons Area, which boasts an exhibition of objects from the folk-art museum's collection, also offers free admission.

Do you need a permit to take pictures at Balboa Park? ›

Small photo shoots, like those for engagements, weddings and family photos, DO NOT need a permit. However, a photographer may be asked to move from an area that has been reserved, or if they interfere with recreational activities.

What museum is free this Tuesday at Balboa Park? ›

The Timken Museum of Art and the Botanical Building are always free!

Does Balboa Park Pass include the zoo? ›

Is the San Diego Zoo included with the Balboa Park Explorer Pass? The San Diego Zoo is not included with Explorer Limited, Parkwide, or Annual Passes. Admission to the San Diego Zoo or San Diego Zoo Safari Park must be purchased separately.

Does Balboa Park have a zoo? ›

San Diego Zoo - Balboa Park.

How much is the science museum in Balboa Park? ›

Terms & Conditions for Hands-On Galleries Experience
Gate priceQty
Adult (ages 13-64)$24.950 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Senior (ages 65+)$19.950 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Child (ages 3-12)$22.950 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Is there WIFI in Balboa Park? ›

Wifi. Free public wireless is available in the Cultural District of Balboa Park.

Do people pay for the trolley in San Diego? ›

Riders can pay for their MTS fixed-route bus and Trolley trips using the PRONTO app, a PRONTO card or cash.

What time does the San Diego trolley run until? ›

The San Diego Trolley runs from approximately 4:30 AM until 12:30 AM. During most of the day, trolleys arrive every 15 to 20 minutes. Early in the morning and late at night, trolleys run every 30 minutes.

What is an interesting fact about Balboa Park? ›

Balboa Park began as 1400 acres of land set aside in 1868 by San Diego civic leaders. Known then as “City Park”, the scrub-filled mesa that overlooked present-day Downtown San Diego sat without formal landscaping or development for more than 20 years.

What is the largest Central Park in the world? ›

Central Park is New York's largest urban park and one of the biggest in the world, with 843 acres. This park is home to artificial lakes, waterfalls, meadows and wooded areas.

What Park is bigger than Central Park? ›

Forest Park, officially opened to the public on June 24, 1876, is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. At around 1,300 acres it is bigger than Central Park in New York. Today Forest Park attracts more than 12 million visitors a year.

Can you swim in Lake Balboa? ›

Swimming and other forms of water contact are prohibited. Lake Balboa is filled with water reclaimed from domestic use. The water is mechanically and chemically treated before release into the lake.

What is the deepest lake in San Diego? ›

About San Vicente Reservoir

San Vicente is a deep, steep-sided impounding reservoir on San Vicente Creek, approximately 25 miles northeast of San Diego. It currently has a depth of 306 feet when full. It is the largest of the City's reservoirs.

Can you swim in Balboa Bay? ›

Balboa is a typical Southern California beach where you can go for a bike ride, play volleyball, walk on an oceanside path or go swimming. There's a lifeguard on duty during daylight hours. Bodyboarding, skimboarding, and surfing are popular at Balboa Beach, but surfing is banned from 11 a.m to 6 p.m. in the summer.

Where can I walk around Balboa Park? ›

Marston Point Trail #44 is the best Balboa Park trail for first-time visitors. That's because this route features the most popular gardens, ornate buildings, and museums in a walk that can be completed in under an hour. Or you can spend all day and explore all the attractions you'll see along the way.

What is the coolest museum in Balboa Park? ›

Balboa Park Museums: San Diego Museum of Art

Known for housing some of the world's finest art, the museum features nationally renowned collections like 19th and 20th century American paintings and sculptures, South Asian paintings, and Spanish and Italian old masters.

How long is Lake Balboa walk? ›

Check out this 1.3-mile loop trail near Los Angeles, California. Generally considered an easy route, it takes an average of 23 min to complete.

What day is Balboa Park free? ›

Balboa Park free Tuesday doesn't mean every museum is free every Tuesday. Different Balboa Park museums are free on different Tuesdays of the month. Below is a list of the typical schedule, but it's highly recommended that you double check each individual Balboa Park institution as you plan your day.

What is Balboa Park famous for? ›

Balboa Park is a cultural oasis that includes 17 museums, gardens galore and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. At 1,200 acres, Balboa Park is one of North America's most iconic urban parks and a must see on any visit to San Diego.

What famous house is in Balboa Park? ›

The George W. Marston House is located in Balboa Park, San Diego, California. The home spans 8,500 square feet (790 m2) and is surrounded by five acres of lawns and gardens. Completed in 1905, the house is considered a prime example of architecture from the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Is the Balboa Park tram free? ›

Let us take you where you want to go by taking the free green tram. All trams are equipped with an ADA-accessible ramp for your convenience.

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