San Diego is the second largest city in California and it is one of Southern California's most influential. It's proximity to the Mexican border and its diverse culture gives the city it's own personality that distinguishes it from the state's other major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Jose. And while the city is as well known for it's many marinas and beaches as it is for being the first sight of Father Junipero Serra's California Missions (Mission San Diego de Alcala), there is one major area of the city that is not as often given the kind of attention say that the Mission or Sea World or the world famous Zoo (which happens to border the area of which I am speaking!). I am speaking, of course, of San Diego's Balboa Park.
The Balboa Park section of San Diego is one of the most beautiful Parks in California. Named for Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the Park was the site of two very important Expositions: The 1915 Panama-California Exposition and the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Each Expo had buildings created for them that have since become National Landmarks. The architecture of these buildings is nothing short of breathtaking. And within the Park are some of the most amazing Botanical Gardens, Museums and Tourist Attractions one could ever hope to enjoy. Among the nine Museums to take in include the quite popular San Diego Natural History Museum (which featured a limited exhibition of the famed Dead Sea Scrolls when I visited!) and the San Diego Museum of Art (which highlights some of the world's greatest Spanish Art). As I said before, adjacent to the park is the world famous San Diego Zoo, which doesn't need any explanation from me as to why it is so revered.
But the crown jewel of Balboa Park's many attractions (in my honest opinion), is the nationally renowned Old Globe Theatre. The Theatre is a replica of William Shakespeare's famed Globe Theatre in London and was built in 1935 as part of the Exposition (where it featured several 50-minute versions of some of Shakespeare's most famous plays). Almost 15 years later, the Globe launched its famous summer Shakespeare Festival, which still packs the house to this day. An arson in 1978 practically destroyed the Theatre (necessitating an outdoor theatre to be built!) and in 1981, the Old Globe was rebuilt and has since become one of most prominent regional theatres in the country. Some of the most influential plays and musicals got their start at the San Diego treasure (including Neil Simon's Rumors, Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods and August Wilson's The Piano Lesson). The Theatre is part of the Park's Old Globe complex which also features a smaller Theatre In the Round, an outdoor stage and the Starlight Bowl Amphitheatre. Plus, in the nearby Casa de Prado, the San Diego Junior Theatre (the oldest children's theatre in the nation) puts on free entertainment shows during the large Tourist season.
With the Theatre complex and the many Museums, Balboa Park has come to be one of the most culturally significant centers in California. It is a place I am proud exists within a very diverse city, which in turn is part of a very diverse state (which happens to be in the most diverse nation in the world!). It is a must for anyone's San Diego "To Do" List.