San Diego’s Balboa Park is the United State’s largest urban cultural park. You’ll find numerous affordable and even free things to do in Balboa Park!

Home to 15 major museums, renowned performing arts venues, beautiful gardens and the San Diego Zoo, the Park has an ever-changing calendar of museum exhibitions, plays, musicals, concerts, and classes—all in the beautiful and timeless setting of this must-see San Diego attraction.

Are skyrocketing prices taking a big bite out of this year’s travel budget?

Balboa Park, offers numerous activities that you can do for free, or for a relatively small fee.

Free things to do in Balboa Park, San Diego
Free things to do in Balboa Park, San Diego

Affordable and free things to do in Balboa Park

1. Explore beautiful gardens

Balboa Park is renowned for the lush landscaping and lovely gardens on its 1,200 acres, offering a magnificent backdrop for the cultural attractions. The Park was ranked among the Best Parks in the World by the Project for Public Places in 2003 for its mixture of horticulture and art and culture.

There are many gardens in the Park which are free and open to the public, including the lovely Alcazar Garden, the award-winning Inez Grant Parker Memorial rose garden, the desert garden and the historic Botanical Building.

2. Enjoy free tours of Balboa Park

Get to the root of the Park’s flora on an Offshoot Tour or Park Ranger Tour (both free) or take in the Park’s historic grounds with a Walking Audio Tour ($5).

3. Take in free music, dance, and performances

Balboa Park is the perfect venue for free performances year round. Enjoy a cultural festival at the International Cottages (free) every Sunday at 2:00pm with music, dance and food from around the world. Take in a Sunday Organ Concert at Spreckels Organ Pavilion (free) and listen to gorgeous music on the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ.

4. Summer Nights in Balboa Park are special!

Twilight in the Park holds a free concert series. Twilight’s live music under the stars has been delighting visitors to the Park for 29 years with music from military bands and Dixieland jazz to big band swing and Latin salsa. Concerts run through the summer, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. on the stage of the majestic Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

Unfortunately the concert series was canceled in 2020 due to Covid-19, look out for the series in 2021 and beyond.

Other fun and affordable ideas

Explore miles of well-maintained nature trails (free). Be a kid again and ride the Balboa Park Carousel and Miniature Railroad (prices vary – open weekends and school holidays – daily during summer). Take up lawn bowling, archery, or bocci ball (free). Window shop at the Spanish Village art studios or at the vast assortment of museum shops in the Park (free).

Looking for things to do in California? Here’s a few tips:

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    Travel Dudes

    I'm sure you've had similar experiences I had whilst traveling. You're in a certain place and a fellow traveler, or a local, tip you off on a little-known beach, bar or accommodation. Great travel tips from other travelers or locals always add something special to our travels. That was the inspiration for Travel Dudes.