California on a Budget | San Diego

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San Diego is often referred to as “America’s Finest City.” With pristine beaches, one of the largest zoos in the world, and beautiful sunny weather year-round, it’s not an exaggerated description. San Diego truly embodies the classic Southern California culture. But a great San Diego vacation is so much more than an expensive hotel and a trip to the beach. The city is full of incredible art, picturesque scenery, and a booming culinary scene. There are plenty of things to see and do in San Diego that are extremely budget friendly. Take a look at these suggestions; your wallet will thank you!

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Sofia Hotel

You’ll be right next to the excitement of the Gaslamp Quarter when you stay at the Sofia Hotel. This boutique hotel is set in an ornate gothic revival building that dates back to 1926. It’s the perfect combination of historic elegance and modern luxury. The well-appointed guest rooms feature flat screen TVs, mini fridges, microwaves, and complimentary Wi-Fi. The property is also pet friendly and completely smoke-free. Book the San Diego Zoo package to experience one of the largest zoos in the world! You’ll receive deluxe accommodations and two tickets to the San Diego Zoo.

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Tacos El Gordo

Skip the fancy white tablecloth and head south. Tacos El Gordo is a family owned and operated company that has been in service for over 40 years. The San Diego location first opened in 1998, and since then they’ve become widely known for their dedication to quality and authentic flavor. The menu is simple and consists of traditional tacos, quesadillas, and various preparations of meat cooked to perfection. The line to order can get long, but it’s worth the wait! Order a few of their adobada tacos made with marinated spicy pork, cilantro, onions, and their signature cream sauce.

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Chicano Park

Visit Barrio Logan to see the murals scattered throughout Chicano Park. Chicano Park spans almost 8 acres and showcases San Diego’s diverse Latin roots. The astounding works of art give you a glimpse into the unique history of the city. Mexican-Americans first settled in the area as early as the 1890s!

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Mt. Woodson Trail

Gear up and climb the scenic Mount Woodson Trail. It begins at Lake Poway and takes you through a challenging route that reaches an elevation of over 2,000 feet. It’s a challenging hike, but you’ll come across extraordinary landscapes as you make your way to the summit. Find the infamous “potato chip rock” before you reach the peak. Be sure to snap a picture! It’s a dramatic rock formation you won’t find anywhere else. Once you reach the top, you’re rewarded with panoramic views from Lake Poway all the way across the city.

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Spruce Street Suspension Bridge

The Spruce Street Suspension Bridge is a historical site located in the Banker’s Hill neighborhood near downtown San Diego. The pedestrian bridge is a hidden gem that was built back in 1912. It spans 375 feet long and hangs almost 70 feet above the ground. Be extra cautious if you’re afraid of heights! The bridge tends to wobble and sway towards the middle. Make your way across and you’ll find several “love locks” adorning the railings. Take in the beautiful scenery and hike down to explore the canyon below.

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Cabrillo National Park

Explore Cabrillo National Park to learn about San Diego’s cultural and historic past. The national monument commemorates Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the West Coast back in 1542. The plaza around the monument offers scenic views that stretch all the way down to Mexico. The park is also home to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, an original structure that’s been restored and is now open to the public. Head south from the lighthouse and you’ll find the whale watch lookout. Keep your eye on the water; January and February are peak months for whale watching!

 

Shelter Island | San Diego

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Shelter Island is a waterfront neighborhood of Point Loma. Though it’s known as an island, it’s actually connected to the mainland by a narrow strip. It was originally a sandbank visible only at low tide and was built up and developed in the 1950s. It’s now home to several resorts, marinas, restaurants, and attractions. From water activities to fine dining, here are some of our favorite things to do on Shelter Island.

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The Bay Club Hotel & Marina

Spacious guest rooms, waterfront views, and a private marina make the Bay Club Hotel the quintessential San Diego vacation destination. Soak in the sunshine as you relax by the pool, or enjoy panoramic views of the San Diego Bay as you dine at the Quarterdeck, their onsite restaurant and bar. Book the Romantic Island Getaway package for and treat someone you love to water view accommodations, dinner for two, champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries.

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Pearl of the Pacific

Make sure you see the “Pearl of the Pacific”, located in Shelter Island’s Pacific Rim Park. It’s an outdoor work of art that is a symbol of San Diego’s connection to China, Mexico and Russia. The images on the park’s tiles represent the four countries that make up the Pacific Rim: the Chinese dragon, and American shore bird, Russian Siberian tiger, and Mexican Quetzalcoatl. The scenic waterfront location is a popular destination for weddings, picnics, and just laying out to relax.

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Stand up paddle boarding

Adventure out on the water and float across the gorgeous San Diego Bay on a standup paddleboard! Shelter Island is the ideal location, surrounded by calm waters for beginners and open ocean access for thrill seekers and more experienced riders. Commonly known as SUPing, it’s a fun activity for everyone to enjoy! Visit Action Sport Rentals located in the Kona Kai Resort on Shelter Island to rent a board for up to 8 hours.

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Sportfishing

Looking to take a fishing trip? H&M Landing is the oldest, most experienced sportfishing company on the West Coast! They’ve represented San Diego’s finest passenger fleet since 1935. Whether you’re looking to take the family out on a private charter or seeking the excitement of offshore fishing, their experienced staff and various boats will guarantee a memorable experience! They offer half-day up to multiday trips. Book online in advance to secure your spot!

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Bali Hai Happy Hour

Relax, grab a bite, and sip on a refreshing island cocktail at the Bali Hai Restaurant, a local favorite that’s been around for over 50 years. They serve delectable coastal Asian fusion cuisine and are known for their world famous Mai Tai. The restaurant is located right on the edge of Shelter Island and offers extraordinary views of the San Diego Bay and downtown skyline. Stop in for happy hour any weekday from 3 pm – 6 pm and enjoy discounted appetizers. Stay a while and catch the sunset over the water!

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Concerts by the Bay

End your night with live music right on the waterfront! Humphrey’s theater has been bringing talented musicians and entertainers to San Diego since 1982. Situated between Humphreys Restaurant and Half Moon Inn & Suites, the 1,400 seat outdoor theatre is the perfect place to spend a summer evening. Check out the concert schedule online and buy your ticket today!

Julian | San Diego

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Julian is a quaint mountain getaway, just an hour east of San Diego County. The historic gold mining town is full of culture and old-world charm that will take you back to a simpler time. Escape from the busy city lifestyle and experience a piece of history. Next time you visit Julian, check some of our favorite spots!

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Julian Gold Rush Hotel

This Victorian-style hotel will take you back to the gold rush era. Built in the 1890s, the Julian Gold Rush Hotel is a nationally registered historic landmark recognized as the oldest continuously operating hotel in Southern California! Reserve the Julian California Bed & Breakfast package for a truly unforgettable experience. The package includes a two-course breakfast, afternoon tea, and a gift basket full of specialty Julian treats. Book your stay online today.

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Cedar Creek Falls

Julian is surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty you don’t want to miss. Cedar Creek Falls is a stunning 80-foot waterfall that plunges into a large natural pool, commonly known as “Devil’s Punch Bowl”. The scenic six-mile route takes you through the beautiful backcountry hills of eastern San Diego. The trail is a strenuous hike with little shade, and is not advised for those who are not regularly active. If you decide to take on the challenge, wear a hat and don’t forget to bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

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Eagle Mining Company

Step back in time and experience an authentic, old-fashioned gold mine! Eagle Mining Company offers exciting and informative tours that take you through a mining operation that dates back to the 1870s. Bring the whole family and explore 1,000 feet of underground tunnels, a museum and rock shop, a gold panning facility, picnic areas, and more!

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Bailey BBQ / Julian Brewing Company

After a day full of adventure, indulge in a hearty meal at Bailey BBQ. This local favorite serves up slow smoked, wood pit barbecue and handcrafted brews from Julian Brewing Company. Located right on the main street, the restaurant has been a staple in Julian since the late 1970s. We recommend the burnt ends brisket sandwich with a side of beer battered onion rings. Be sure to come in on Saturday nights for live music and dancing!

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Julian Cider Mill

The Julian Cider Mill has been family owned and operated for over 30 years. Their artisan products, like the local raw local honey and homemade fudge, continue to draw in residents and visitors alike. The famed Julian apple cider is seasonal with the local harvest and is only available between September and January. However, their delicious berry cider is offered year round. Can’t make it to Julian? Call in to place an order and they’ll ship it anywhere in the continental U.S.!

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Julian Pie Company

No visit to Julian would be complete without a slice of that signature apple pie. The Julian Pie Company began in 1986, and has since expanded to two locations and multiple retailers across San Diego. Times may have changed, but the traditions and flavors remain the same. Have a seat out on the patio and enjoy fresh apple pie a la mode. Be sure to order a few pies to take home with you!

Borrego Springs | San Diego

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Borrego Springs is a scenic desert community located northeast of San Diego County. The warm climate and beautiful surroundings attract visitors from all over the country. The unique community has no big chain stores and the nearest stoplight is fifty miles away – it’s a refreshing change of pace from the hustle and bustle of the city. Need help planning your vacation? We’ve got a few suggestions!

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Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

With over 650,000 acres of land, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest desert park in America. It’s a national natural landmark with numerous campgrounds, wilderness areas, nature reserves, and over 100 miles of hiking trails. Our favorite trail is Whale Peak. The high-elevation route spans 4.5 miles and offers stunning views across all of Anza-Borrego Park. Be sure to put on lots of sunscreen and pack plenty of water!

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Metal Sculptures in Galleta Meadows

Over 130 life-sized metal sculptures are scattered throughout the sands of Borrego Springs. You can find prehistoric animals, historical characters, and a daunting 350-foot-long serpent. This public attraction draws in visitors from around the globe. The artist, Ricardo Breceda, brings life and movement to the installations by capturing each creature in motion. Drive through the surrounding roads to see the amazing artwork inspired by the beasts that roamed the area millions of years ago!

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Desert Excursion

This tour takes you through the sands of the Anza-Borrego desert in an open-air jeep or former military vehicle. Participants can choose from three levels of difficulty featuring different terrain and various hiking trails. The “adventure excursion” is an immersive experience that allows you to explore the rugged landscape and embrace the natural beauty of the desert! Reserve your spot online.

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Big Horn Bar & Grill

Have dinner at Big Horn Bar & Grill, a Western-style eatery serving up American classics. Be sure to try the house made chili and jalapeño cornbread. The full bar features classic cocktails and a wide selection of beer and wine. Take a seat on the outdoor patio and watch the sunset as you enjoy your meal.

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Stargazing

Your day doesn’t have to end when the sun goes down. Borrego Springs is an internationally recognized Dark Sky Community and was rated by USA Today as one of the top ten stargazing locations in the country. Look up at the night sky and gaze upon more stars and constellations than you’ve ever seen before! Click here for weekly stargazing tips.

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La Casa Del Zorro

Spend the night at La Casa Del Zorro, a stylish and romantic desert resort that has been serving Borrego Springs since 1937. It’s conveniently located adjacent to Anza Borrego State Park and offers unparalleled comfort and serenity. The beautifully appointed resort offers poolside guest rooms, private casitas, six tennis courts, and a world-class spa. Book their Stargazing Package for deluxe accommodations, use of the hotel telescope, and entrance to a stargazing party!

Coronado | San Diego

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Just across the bay from downtown San Diego, Coronado is a popular vacation destination with a charm unlike any other city. The quaint shops, beautiful architecture, fine dining, and stunning beaches draw in locals and visitors alike. Here are a few of our favorite things to do on the beautiful Coronado Island!

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Ferry Landing

Take the ferry over to Coronado Island from downtown San Diego. Explore the unique shops, art galleries, and restaurants right along the coast of the San Diego Bay. Buy a souvenir to take home or enjoy a delicious meal overlooking the water. The Ferry Landing Marketplace has something for everyone!

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Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach was named one of the top beaches in the country by Dr. Beach. Take a walk along the shore and it’s easy to understand why! The 1.5 mile beach shines silvery white because of the presence of the mineral mica. Numerous fire pits line the sand, and the northwestern end is dog friendly. A little known fact about the beach is that the sand dunes along the edge actually spell out “CORONADO”.

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Action Sport Rentals

Take advantage of the San Diego sunshine and spend some time out on the water. Action Sport Rentals, located in the Loews Coronado Bay Resort, is the one stop shop for your next adventure. Kick back and relax on an electric Funcat with a built in cooler or try Water Skiing if you’re a thrill seeker!

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1500 Ocean

Walk down the beach to the world famous Hotel Del Coronado and visit their signature restaurant, 1500 Ocean. The upscale eatery offers California coastal cuisine with fresh, local ingredients. With stunning views of the ocean, it’s the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion. Try the four-course tasting menu with hand selected wine pairings for a truly exceptional culinary experience. Reserve your table today.

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Spreckels Park

Spreckels Park is located on 7th and Orange, right in the heart of Coronado. It spans 8 acres and features a playground, gazebo, picnic tables, and plenty of natural shade. The park is named after J.D. Spreckels, one of Coronado’s founding fathers. Free concerts take place in the center of the park every Sunday during the summer.

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MooTime Creamery

Satisfy your sweet tooth with a local favorite. MooTime Creamery is a Coronado staple that has been serving handcrafted ice cream and hand-rolled cones since 1998. They now have two locations on the island and continue to create their treats from scratch. The flavors rotate daily, and you can even purchase custom ice cream cakes and pies!

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Glorietta Bay Inn

The Glorietta Bay Inn is a timeless, award-winning Coronado hotel and that is the perfect aplace to unwind after a long day on the island. The quiet setting and rich architecture guarantee a comfortable and memorable stay. Step back in time with their featured Historic Coronado Package! It offers a two-night stay, $25 local restaurant gift card, tickets to the Coronado Historic Walking Tour, and more. Book your stay today!

Encinitas | San Diego

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Encinitas is a beautiful beach city located along six miles of the Pacific coastline, just 30 minutes north of downtown San Diego. Full of sunshine and natural beauty, Encinitas is the perfect summer vacation destination. Spend a day out on the town and check out some our favorite things to do!

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Take the scenic route

If you’re planning a visit to Encinitas, skip the hassle of parking and take the Pacific Surfliner train. Enjoy gorgeous ocean views as you travel along the Southern California coast! The train stops right in the heart of Encinitas, walking distance from everything the city has to offer. The route features multiple stops connecting San Diego and San Luis Obispo through Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Reserve your seat online.

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Get your caffeine fix

Start your morning at Lofty Coffee, a locally owned company dedicated to serving sustainable, “farm-to-cup” coffee and tea. Grab a seat on the patio and sample their selection of organic pastries and locally sourced breakfast options. Their specialty drinks are crafted from scratch with house-made sweeteners – our favorite is the Salted Caramel Latte!

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Cruise around and ride the waves

Walk down the main street to CONCEPT Surf Shop, a family owned storefront that has become the go-to stop for surfers and beach goers in Encinitas. Rent a beach cruiser for the day and ride along the coast, taking in the ocean air and California sunshine. Feeling more adventurous? They’ve got everything you need to gear up and hit the waves! CONCEPT carries a wide variety of surfboards, boogie boards, and wetsuits. Ask about their daily surfing lessons!

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Experience tranquility

Locals and tourists alike gather at this hidden gem behind the Self-Realization Fellowship church. Tucked on a cliff overlooking Swami’s Beach, the garden provides spectacular ocean views. A canopy of trees, lush greenery, and exotic plants surround the area. Stroll through the peaceful grounds and relax by the koi pond. The serene environment creates a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

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Satisfy your cravings

There’s nothing like a juicy burger and a cold beer after a long day at the beach. Head over to the Encinitas Ale House for one of their “locally world famous” burgers. Their unique menu offers an array of humanely raised meats, including beef, bison, alligator, duck, rabbit, ostrich, and more! They also have a selection of more than 400 bottled beers from all over the world. Can’t decide? Try a flight of four beer tasters! Ask about their daily specials.

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Watch the sunset

End your day at Moonlight Beach, one of the most visited beaches in Encinitas. Gather around a cozy bonfire or bring a blanket and lay out on the soft sand. It’s the perfect location to unwind and enjoy the gorgeous West Coast sunset. Don’t forget to bring your s’mores essentials!

 

 

Gaslamp Quarter | San Diego

Whether you are in San Diego for a long weekend, convention or staycation, you can always find something to do in the historic Gaslamp Quarter. The Gaslamp Quarter covers approximately 16½ blocks in downtown with 94 Victorian-era buildings that feature some of the best restaurants, shops and nightclubs in the city. The next time you are in town, check out a few of our favorites things to do downtown.

Morning on the Waterfront

It’s going to be a busy day! Start your morning off with a sunrise run or walk around the waterfront. If you are staying at the Manchester Grand Hyatt or the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina Hotel, all you have to do is walk out the back door to start your waterfront run at Seaport Village. If you are staying in the Gaslamp Quarter, the best way to reach Seaport Village is to cross along 1st Avenue and then head south to make your way to the waterfront. From Seaport Village, you can explore the waterfront all the way around to Harbor Island and beyond.

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Breakfast at Café 222

After your morning run, we always like to stop at Café 222 for a wholesome, home-cooked breakfast. We recommend the Tamales and Eggs or the 5-Grain Waffle with Granola. Café 222 also makes an assortment of fresh-baked goods daily to go with your soy latte.

Shopping in the Gaslamp

With more 130 stores, Westfield’s Horton Plaza is a must stop for savvy downtown shoppers. Get your shop on and enjoy an upscale, outside shopping experience that will get you in the mood to further explore the other boutiques in the Gaslamp Quarter. As you exit Horton Plaza on the East Side, you can stroll up and down 4th and 5th Avenues to finish up your shopping marathon. You’ll find an assortment of local boutiques offering urban-chic clothing, modern furniture and great home accessories.

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Pool Time Drinks

Not a shopper? No worries. Nothing says relaxation like fresh margaritas by the pool at the Hotel Solamar. Get away for the day, or the weekend, and enjoy the perennial San Diego sunshine. Located in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter, call ahead and reserve your own poolside cabana. Read a book, swim, or mingle with the poolside crowd. You will have fun in the sun all day long.

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Dinner & Theatre

No day is complete in the Gaslamp Quarter without some great food and memorable entertainment. San Diego has not always been known for its upscale eats and culture… but do we have a surprise for you! Bring your dressy casual threads and take your special someone out on the town for an evening you will remember.

Start at Bice restaurant on 4th Avenue. You will enjoy true Italian hospitality, an outstanding wine list, and an enticing world of complex entrée combinations – true Italian cuisine. And be sure to ask about the gourmet cheese bar. Bice was named Open Table’s Diners Choice Winner for 2015. Reservations are strongly recommended.

Westside

After a relaxing dinner at Bice, you can enjoy a vibrant and intimate production of West Side Story, America’s favorite love story, at the Grand Horton Theatre. Enjoy Bernstein & Sondheim’s musical masterpiece filled with great songs like Tonight, Somewhere, When You’re a Jet, I Want to Be in America, and Maria. This ‘don’t miss’ production is directed by Deborah Gilmour Smith with musical direction by Partick Marion and choreography by Colleen Kollar Smith. Get tickets today.

 

Let’s Go Padres | Giveaway Night Games

You don’t have to be a die-hard baseball fan to enjoy a night watching the world famous San Diego Padres. Located conveniently in the East Village, you and your friends can walk over to Petco Park from the Gaslamp Quarter. Catch a game, grab a beer and pick up your free souvenir at any of these special night games.

  • Saturday, June 27th | Arizona Diamondbacks | Padres Beach Towel
  • Wednesday, July 22nd | San Francisco Giants | Sunglasses
  • Saturday, August 8th | Philadelphia Phillies | Throwback Replica Jersey
  • Saturday, August 22nd | St. Louis Cardinals | Dri Fit T-shirt
  • Saturday, September 5th | Los Angeles Dodgers | Grab Bag Giveaway


See Full Padres Promotion Schedule
 | Buy Tickets

Images courtesy of the San Diego Union Tribune and the San Diego Padres.

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Balboa Park | Spanish Architecture Tour

When visitors talk about their lasting impressions of Balboa Park, the topic of Spanish-Renaissance architecture always tops the list of what they remember most.

Balboa Park was the first place in the United States that this architectural style was prominently featured. The El Prado esplanade and Spanish-Renaissance cultural buildings were developed as temporary exhibition halls for the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition commemorating the opening of the Panama Canal.

These buildings truly shine at sunrise and sunset any time of year. Take your camera to document your favorite architectural features.