California is on our yearly travel route, meet the children, and every year California lives up to its reputation as the sunshine state. An added bonus, especially for someone coming from the verticality of Hong Kong, are the rolling golden hills and open spaces. As my husband commented ‘You can stretch your arms and not hit someone’.
This year we did a 7 day fast track drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, San Diego, La Jolla, San Simeon, Cambria, and along the scenic Pacific Coast to break journeys in pre-booked hotels and inns. Days were spent roaming the streets of quaintly romantic sea side towns, getting lost in the historical richness of San Diego and the Hollywood glitch of Los Angeles or feeling envious of the sea lions basking in the afternoon sun.
The one blip in otherwise quintessential California scenery was Balboa Park. The Spanish Revival architecture somehow does not gel with Californian sensibilities except maybe private foibles such as the Hearst Castle with its tacky art décor and fantabulous interiors.
Balboa Park is massive, 1200 acres and is named after Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa. One can go into the history of the place but on face value it is a family/tourist delight with endless museums showcasing Natural History, Arts, Science and Man and an equal number of Gardens catering to different tastes and sensibilities. The list is endless and to name a few, the Alcazar Gardens, the Botanical buildings, Cactus and the Rose Garden, the Casa del Rey Moro Garden, the Japanese Friendship Garden, Palm Canyon and the Zoro Garden. We spent time in the Botanical garden admiring the different varieties of plants. A theater person will flip with choice between replicated William Shakespeare Globe Theater, an outdoor theater, a round theater, the outdoors Starlight Bowl amphitheater and the Casa Del Prado the oldest children’s theater program.
Forget walking it out, unless on an exercise spree, and take shuttle to cover the 1200 acres or even a fraction.We made use of the shuttle service to have a ride around but mostly remained glued to the main street, the El Prado flanked by famous buildings such as the California Tower with statues of famous Californians, the Museum of Man and anthropological museum documenting Mexican and Southwestern cultures, the Simon Edison Center for Performing Arts, the House of Charm, the Visitor Center and various Art Museums. Balboa Park was host to expositions and fairs and most of the cottages of 1935 Expo showcase national traditions of different countries and Ethnic food fair (House of Pacific Relations International Cottages). Tired of all the walking and sightseeing relax in the Japanese Friendship Garden with koi pond and tea room in the Pan American Plaza. If lucky the lilting strains of the 4445 pipe of Spreckels Organ from the nearby Spreckels Organ Pavilion will add to the soothing oriental touch.
Balboa Park is a place to relive Cinderella dreams, one can get married here, or do soul-searching away from the crowds. Someone wrote on their blog that it is a place to drop visiting in-laws and to this one can add 'even unwanted out of town guests'.
Directions: Balboa Park is located close to downtown San Diego and can be assessed from major freeways.