There is no place like historic Balboa Park to find a full day of affordable family entertainment. Located in scenic downtown San Diego and home of the famous San Diego Zoo, this museum-studded park is the jewel in San Diego’s crown.

Take advantage of the wealth of museums where one can find culture and education immersed in fun settings that allow children’s imaginations to run free. Whether they are into cars and planes, animals, dinosaurs, space, dancing or singing- this is a can’t miss outing.

Start your day with breakfast at the Café in the Park between the Museum of Photographic Arts and the Museum of San Diego History. The Café is located west of the large fountain in front of the Science Center near the central plaza.

Afterwards, take a few hours to explore the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. This epic museum contains two stories of hands-on exhibits and experiments featuring topics like electricity, aging and space travel.

Next, let your children run free in the Center’s scientific playground; they can play and learn for hours. But make sure you reign them in for a breathtaking IMAX movie in the unique Dome Theater; its circular shape and giant screen surround you with both image and sound. Shows run all day and they are guaranteed to fascinate your little ones with titles like Sea Monsters and Dinosaurs Alive. (You can buy a combo ticket to use the hands-on gallery and to see an Imax movie).

Catch lunch at Galileo’s Café which is tucked away at the west end of the museum lobby. This convenient eatery offers healthy sandwiches, salads, pizza and pasta.

After lunch take head to one of the many other museums. The Natural History Museum is the most kid-friendly since robotic dinosaur skeletons and wildlife panoramas abound. Kids will also love the San Diego Air and Space Museum shaped like a huge aircraft hangar and filled with real airplanes.

The San Diego Automotive Museum features vintage cars. For sports fans visit the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum for a closer look at the stars of football, baseball, golf and more. And finally, visit the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, the world’s largest operating model railroad museum, for a look into a train buff’s miniature world.

If you still have energy after museum-hopping head to The Prado for dinner. Located inside the House of Hospitality- a beautiful Spanish-style building- the restaurant specializes in Spanish offerings like adobo-braised pork osso buco and sangria as well as international choices like tempura ahi and kids favorites like four-cheese ravioli.

After dinner walk to the northern end of El Prado where you will find The San Diego Junior Theatre. All plays feature the acting and singing of children ages 8 to 18 and most shows are suitable for ages 3 and up.

Balboa Park offers so many options it is sure to appeal to the whole family and will sure to be an adventure to remember forever.

What & Where:
Balboa Park Visitors Center (1549 El Prado; 619-239-0512)
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center (1875 El Prado; 619-238-1233)
Café in the Park (Casa de Balboa- 1649 El Prado; 619-237-0322)
San Diego Natural History Museum (1788 El Prado; 619-232-3821)
San Diego Air & Space Museum (2001 Pan American Plaza; 619-234-8291)
San Diego Automotive Museum (2080 Pan American Plaza; 619-231-2886)
San Diego Hall of Champions (2131 Pan American Plaza; 619-234-2544)
San Diego Model Railroad Museum (1649 El Prado; 619-696-0199)
The Prado (1549 El Prado; 619-557-9441)
San Diego Junior Theatre (1650 El Prado, Suite 208, Casa Del Prado; 619-239-8355)


Helpful Hints: If all these museums interest you there is a Passport to Balboa Park that costs $35 and provides admission to 13 Park attractions. Or for more deals take advantage of Free Tuesdays

The best time to come to the Science Center is on weekends or on weekdays after 1 p.m. The best day for kids is the first Tuesday of every month, when the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center hands-on exhibit is free.

For almost guaranteed parking at the southern end of Park Boulevard you will find a large lot on President’s Way. If you are driving from the 163 exit, make the first right after turning left onto Park Boulevard. If you are driving south from the direction of the Zoo, turn left onto President’s Way; you will see it right after the Naval Medical Center. This free parking lot is huge and often empty, and though it is far walk from the museums it will save you a lot of time and hassles.