Top 10 Offbeat Adventures in Balboa Park with Parking Tips for Nomads

Balboa Park is one of the best parks in all of San Diego and Southern California. The park is located in downtown San Diego and encompasses 1,200 acres. The park holds an impressive collection of museums, a world-class zoo, athletic facilities, a nature preserve, and many attractions to include a small train.

Instead of the main attractions of Balboa Park, I am going to focus on a few of the attractions that are not widely known. These attractions are often overlooked by the average tourist visiting the park.

You will find these attractions perfect for any van or RV nomad who wants to spend the day at the park and see something different.

The following are the best offbeat adventures in Balboa Park that I recommend.  

  • Balboa Park Trails
  • Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve
  • Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden
  • Morley Field Disc Golf Course
  • Bud Kearns Memorial Swimming Pool
  • Balboa Park Archery Range
  • Redwood Circle
  • Lawn Bowling
  • San Diego Chess / Horseshoe Club
  • San Diego Velodrome
  • Extra Credit: Bird Park

Criteria

There are two criteria for being an excellent offbeat adventure in Balboa Park.

  • The area must have suitable parking for van and RVs and nearby facilities. The offbeat adventures mentioned in this blog meet this requirement.
  • The offbeat adventure must be easily assessable. Anyone nomad in a van or RV can access these adventures and will not have to worry about getting stuck or putting their rig in danger.
  • Both criteria will ensure you have an enjoyable experience in Balboa Park.

Parking Tip Overview

Balboa Park has countless parking lots to park your van. Unfortunately, most of them are heard parking and do not make a great place to park, explore, and spend the day in a van or RV. 

I have compiled a few recommend places where you can park your van or RV and not be surrounded by 1000 other cars. The location of the recommended places are depicted approximately on the map above and are listed here:

  • Parking Tip A: Located Marston Point on 8th Ave in a little hidden canyon with perpendicular and parallel parking. It is close to Balboa Trails, Chess, and Horseshoe Clubs. Fewer crowds, not level, has some shade.
  • Parking Tip B: Located in the back of the San Diego Air & Space Museum. Fewer crowds and it has some shade.
  • Parking Tip C: Located on Paseo De Oro next to the Australian Garden in a little canyon. Fewer crowds and it has some shade.
  • Parking Tip D: Located on Balboa Drive. Not my favorite area but close to the start of a few Balboa Trails 6th and Upas and Redwood Circle. It can get crowded, restroom, playground, parallel parking, and shade.
  • Parking Tip E: Located in the Morley Sports Complex on Joe Schloss Way by the baseball fields, archery field, Bud Kearns swimming pool, Morley Disc Golf, and Velodrome. It can get crowded on a sporting event, restroom, parallel/perpendicular parking, and has some shade.
  • Parking Tip F: Located on the far North-East corner of the park next to the golf course. Not close to any attractions but a great place to spend the day. Fewer crowds, parallel parking, restroom, and has some shade.

The recommended parking areas close to the offbeat adventures I mention in this blog. They are also within walking distance of restrooms and other facilities.

A problem with Balboa Park is that is it’s very hilly so finding a flat parking spot is a challenge. The parking spots mentioned here are more level than average.

None of the mentioned parking locations are perfect. However, they are far better than parking with the 1000 cars that crowd the zoo and museum parking lots.

  • No Parking between midnight and 7:00 am
  • No overnight parking in Balbo Park

Balboa Park Trails

Balboa Park has a series of tails that traverser the entire park called The Balboa Trails. Most of the trails are easy and short in duration, but all you must do is conjoining trails if you want to hike longer.

Exploring Balboa Park by hiking all its trails is the best way to see the park. The trails take you away from the museums, roads, and grassy areas and into the inner regions of the park. These internal areas offer unique wildlife, flowers, and scenery.

The Balboa Trails are broken up into five Gateways. Each gateway has a sign that shows you all the trails in the area. I recommend starting at one of these gateways and use it as a base to explore all the surrounding trails. These Gateways are:

  1. Golden Hills Trail Gateway
  2. Marston Point Trails Gateway
  3. Morley Fields Trail Gateway
  4. Park Boulevard Trails Gateway
  5. Sixth and Upas Trails Gateway

Parking Tip: The best places to park so you can hike the trails is Parking Tips A & D. Each one of these parking spots are close to Gateway entrances. 

Website: Balboa Park Trails

Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve

The Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve is a great place to see how the original landscape looked before the park was built. The preserve is 150 acres of coastal sagebrush with native wildlife running around. The preserve is a perfect place to stroll around and take pictures of the beautiful foliage.

The Balboa Park Rangers are trying to return Florida Canyon to its original state.  They are conducting exotic plant removal projects to accomplish this.

Within the Preserve is the Florida Canyon trail. The Florida Canyon Trail is 2.2 miles heavily trafficked loop trail that features the coastal sage of the preserve. The trail is good for all skill levels and makes for a relaxing hike. Just remember that dogs must be kept on a leash.

If you are interested in learning more about the Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve, the Nat Canyoners of the San Diego Natural History Museum conducts guided tours of the area.

Parking Tip: You can park on the west side of Park Blvd adjacent to the San Diego Natural History Museum. Then use the pedestrian bridge to reach both the rose garden and plant preserve.  This is not a recommended place to park all day, but it is ok for an hour to check out the rose garden and preserve.

Website: TheNat Canyoners of the San Diego Natural History Museum  

Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden

The most beautiful location in Balboa Park is the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden. It is stunning to walk around and see all the roses in full bloom and smell their fragrance.

The rose garden is located right next to the Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve. It has approximately 1,600 roses of more than 130 varieties on a three-acre site.

The garden is in bloom from March through December, with the roses usually peaked in April and May.

This rose garden has received numerous awards for its beauty throughout the years. There is an excellent veranda where you can sit down and be surrounded by roses.

Parking Tip: You can park on the west side of Park Blvd adjacent to the San Diego Natural History Museum. Then use the pedestrian bridge to reach both the rose garden and plant preserve.  This is not a recommended place to park all day, but it is ok for an hour to check out the rose garden and preserve.

Website: Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden

Morley Field Disc Golf Course

If you have ever wanted to try disc golf, then a visit to Morley Field Disc Golf Course is perfect for you. The golf course was established in 1978 and is one of the original disc golf courses in the country.

The disc course is open to the public from dawn to dusk year-round. The only time it is not open to the public is when tournaments are held.

I have heard the course can be challenging due to the proximity of trees and bushes around the baskets. The course isn’t long, but it has a few lengthy holes and is maintained by the shop employees. They change the pin position weekly to keep it challenging.

Monthly tournaments are usually held on the 3rd Saturday of each month. Tournament divisions include Pro, Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice. Check the schedule for the next tournament.

Morley Field also has two-disc golf leagues per year – Spring and Fall. These are handicap leagues with all skill levels welcome to play. Also, during the summer, there is Wednesday Night Doubles at 5:00 pm.

Parking Tip: The best places to park so you can play disc golf is at Parking Tips E or the Morely Disc Golf parking lot off Pershing Drive. However, the Morely Disc Golf parking lot is small and not suited for large vans or RV’s.  

Fee: $4 Weekday; $5 Weekend

Website: Morley Field Disc Golf Course

Bud Kearns Memorial Swimming Pool

(Closed for Repairs)

As a nomad myself, I always enjoy finding good swimming pools to work out and relax. Within Balboa Park, there is the Bud Kearns Memorial Pool. It is a lovely outdoor facility located in the Morley Sports Field Complex section of the park.

The swimming pool offers recreational and lap swimming times. There are 12 lanes,  a restroom, and changing room.

The Bud Kearns Memorial Pool makes a perfect offbeat adventure while visiting Balboa Park. It has plenty of parking and is near other adventures.

Parking Tip: Parking Tip E. 

Fee: Day $4

Website: Bud Kearns Memorial Swimming Pool

Balboa Park Archery Range

The Balboa Park Archery Range is in the Morley Field area of Balboa Park. It provides a fun, offbeat adventure for any nomad curious about archery. You can participate or sit back in the stands and watch others.

The range is 30 acres in the park and is next to the Velodrome and Bud Kearns Memorial Pool. It is open to the public from sunrise to sunset, 365 days/year, with 14 different targets.

Parking Tip: The best place to park is Parking Tip E.

Fee: $2 a day per archer

Website: San Diego Archers

Redwood Circle

Redwood Circle is a large circular lawn area with a few redwood trees on the perimeter. It is a great little secluded area within Balboa Park near parking.

There are a few picnic tables, but it is best to lie on the grass. It is one of my favorite places to relax in the park.

Lawn Bowling

Balboa Park has lawn bowling, so if you have ever been interested in throwing a ball down a grass lane, this is an experience you will enjoy. It is located on the northeast side of the Cabrillo Bridge across from Founder’s Plaza.

The bowling park was created in 1931 and is run by the San Diego Lawn Bowling Club. If they are there, you will notice they are dressed in all white. If you are lucky and ask nicely, they might even give you a quick lesson.

Parking Tip: The best place to park is Parking Tip D.

Website: San Diego Lawn Bowling Club

Sand Diego Chess Club / Horseshoe Club

(Temporarily Closed)

Located on the north side of Balboa Park are the San Diego Chess Club and Horseshoe Club. It is a great place to visit to practice your chess or horseshoe skills.

Tournaments held every Wednesday evenings (one round per week, slower time control) and Saturdays (four-round rapid event, game in forty-five minutes with five-second delay)

Parking Tip: The best place to park is Parking Tip A.

Website: San Diego Chess Club

San Diego Velodrome

The San Diego Velodrome is a unique feature of Balboa Park. I had never been to a velodrome before I stumbled upon this one.

It is in the back of the baseball fields in the Park’s Morley Field Sports Complex. You can park your van in the parking lot next to the baseball fields and walk over to the Velodrome.

The velodrome was constructed in 1976 and has 27-degree banked corners. The entire length of the velodrome is 333.3 meters and is an excellent place to test your biking skills.

The Balboa velodrome is one of three velodromes in the Southwestern United States.  It is a training ground for premiere cycle training and racing.  

Parking Tip: The best place to park is Parking Tip E.

Website: San Diego Velodrome

Extra Credit: Bird Park

Bird Park is one of my favorite spots in all of Balboa Park. It is a small park with a partially enclosed play area for kids and a grass field for relaxing.

What makes Bird Park a good place is all the local activity. You will see many people from the local community come out to Bird Park to practice yoga, do homework, or just lay in the sun.

Bird Park makes for a good, offbeat adventure to see the locals. Maybe if you are lucky, you can join in on a yoga class.

Bird Park is located on the northeast side of Balboa Park near 28th Street & Upas Street.

Parking Tip: Off 28th Street in front of the park

Conclusion

The offbeat adventures mentioned in this blog will give you a great set of activities to keep you occupied while in Balboa Park. You can choose only to do one and save the others for another trip, or you can try to do them all. Either way, you will not be disappointed in either of the off-beaten adventures listed here.

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