AutoMatters+: Discover San Diego’s Balboa Park at 100

The Botanical Building at San Diego's Balboa Park.

Celebrating 100 years in 2015, Balboa Park is located just minutes from downtown San Diego. Within the park are 15 major museums, the renowned Old Globe theater, 1,200 acres of beautiful gardens, shopping, dining and the World Famous San Diego Zoo.

Balboa Park’s 100th Anniversary Celebration

1915 Exposition Guide Book at San Diego Automotive Museum

The Panama California Exposition was held in San Diego from 1915-16 to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal and to promote San Diego as both a port — “the first United States Port of Call in the Pacific” — and as a truly beautiful city (see and

That World’s Fair and the California Pacific International Exposition, which followed in 1935, are responsible for much of the legacy of beauty and architecture found in today’s Balboa Park. “Most of the arts organizations along Balboa Park’s famous El Prado pedestrian walkway are housed in Spanish-Renaissance style buildings constructed for the 1915 Exposition.”

Balboa Park’s 100-year anniversary celebration is already well under way.

STEAM Family Day

STEAM Family Day

STEAM (for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) Family Day was 2015’s first major family-oriented event in the park.

Butterfly release at STEAM Family Day

Presented by the Balboa Park Conservancy, it featured hands-on activities, crafts, demonstrations, special exhibitions and more. Family Day activities included group butterfly releases from the Zoro Garden; puppet-making in the Japanese Friendship Garden; live music, dance and sports demonstrations amid the “House of Pacific Relations” international cottages; a massive paper airplane build and launch, plus quadcopter aerial photography demonstrations at the San Diego Air & Space Museum; a giant interactive robotic giraffe in front of the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center; a fun and interactive Maker exhibit, courtesy of the San Diego History Center; a solar-powered train from the San Diego Model Railroad Museum; booths on the El Prado walkway; a Spreckels Organ Society concert featuring music for kids; hands-on art activities in the Spanish Village Art Center; and much more.

Climb the California Tower

California Tower

For the first time since it was closed to the public in 1935, you can take a guided tour up the California Tower at the San Diego Museum of Man. Climb the steep, shallow stairs of the metal spiral staircase to the public observation level, and you will be rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of Balboa Park and a panoramic, 360-degree view of San Diego. Keep a sharp lookout and you might spot a red-tailed hawk.

Grinch on roof of Old Globe theater from California Tower

Down below, on the roof of Balboa Park’s internationally acclaimed Old Globe theater, you’ll see where they “hide” The Grinch in between Christmas seasons.

Jan and view from California Tower
Jan and view from California Tower

The tower’s carillon, originally installed in 1946, was upgraded to 100 chimes in the ’60s. It plays prerecorded seasonal songs at noon daily.

Mementos on display at the San Diego Automotive Museum

The San Diego Automotive Museum has a terrific collection of original mementos from the 1915 Panama California Exposition and the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Gigantic reproductions of artwork hang from the walls.

“Journey to Space”

New IMAX movie at Reuben H Fleet Science Center

The California premiere of “Journey to Space” gives us an exciting look at the past, present and future of manned space exploration. Used to full advantage is the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center’s giant IMAX dome screen, with its state-of-the-art digital technology that incorporates four Sony 4K-resolution cinema-grade projectors and its 16,000-watt digital surround-sound system. Together, these convey a powerful sense of a space shuttle launch.

We learned that after the successful unmanned test flight of the Orion spacecraft, work is well under way to develop and refine the technology that will be required to send manned missions on the long, 34-million-mile journey to Mars — and back again — in the not-too-distant future. San Diego may well play a role in that. By the way, another project is in the works that envisions taking settlers on a one-way trip to Mars, where they will establish a permanent settlement on this new world. For more, see Mars One at

Garden Party of the Century

Beautiful blossoms at Japanese Friendship Garden

On May 9, Balboa Park’s “Garden Party of the Century” will highlight one of the world’s most interesting civic gardens. Enjoy flowers galore, master gardener demonstrations, floral artisans, the Marine Corps Commemorative Plant Exchange and Cabrillo Bridge March, a flower-filled Crofton Bug (a miniature Jeep-looking, early-’60s-vintage vehicle from the San Diego Automotive Museum) and more.

Bea Evenson Fountain on El Prado

Entertainment will include organ pavilion concerts and the Youth Orchestra of the Californias.

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Copyright © 2015 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters+ #378