For 32 years, San Diego Museum Council’s annual Museum Month has meant discounted opportunities to visit 40+ San Diego museums throughout the month of February. Unfortunately, county-wide museum crawls aren’t possible right now. Fret not! Balboa Park is here to help you balance your 28 days of virtual museum moments with adventures in San Diego’s largest outdoor museum. Just in time for Museum Month, many of Balboa Park’s horticultural and historic spaces have been refreshed, rehabilitated, and transformed. When you think of Balboa Park as one giant outdoor museum, it becomes the perfect complement to this month’s special online explorations. Here are a few points of interest to get you started.

1. Dine in an Outdoor Sculpture Museum

The San Diego Museum of Art’s sculpture garden and courtyard is one of only a few outdoor fine art collections in San Diego. Featuring masterworks in stone and metal from the late 19th to late 20th century, it will once again serve as a culturally rich backdrop to artisanal eats and craft drinks from the museum’s Panama 66 café, which reopens for seated dining on February 4.

2. The Cherry Blossoms Are Coming

Another museum with a safe destination-worthy outdoor space is the Japanese Friendship Garden. Stroll the 12-acre garden’s winding paths through Japanese pavilions, statue-filled alcoves, koi ponds, soothing waterfalls, and Zen gardens. The entire garden will come alive in a few weeks when dozens of cherry trees reach full bloom.

3. Perfect for Plein Air Painting

One of the most museum-like garden spaces in the park has been recently restored by the Conservancy and other park partners. The Alcazar Garden features a gorgeous view of the California Tower, display planter beds with a variety of flora, ornate fountains covered with historic tilework, stately architectural elements, ample benches for contemplation and sketching, and a shady pergola with a view. Set up in a sunny spot and channel your inner Monet.

4. Cheat Code: Balboa Park at Home 

One of the best things to come out of this past year is the incredible amount of original content created by cultural organizations for safe in-home enjoyment. And Museum Month brings even more great content in the form of “Museum Moments.” Be sure to check out new offerings by The San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Model Railroad Museum, San Diego Natural History Museum, and more.

5. Primetime People Watching 

As the successful activation of the Plaza de Panama taught us, the ideal complement to a cluster of historic museum buildings is a historic public plaza. The City of San Diego’s recent transformation of the Pan American Plaza has turned a sleepy parking lot into a picturesque park hub for gathering, people watching, picnics, taking selfies, and free Wi-Fi, just like its original 1935 designers intended (except for the selfies and Wi-Fi part of course). 

6. Rediscover the New “Old” Cactus Garden

Perhaps the most easily overlooked garden on Balboa Park’s Central Mesa is also the most scenic. With views of the downtown skyline and the Cabrillo Bridge, the “Old” Cactus Garden, tucked behind the Balboa Park Club, was completely rehabilitated by the Conservancy and has since been maintained by our staff and Garden Stewards. Since you’ll already be at this end of the park for item #5, you’ll be in the perfect position to rediscover this hidden gem.