Friday, July 16, 2021

Balboa Park On A Lark

After a few days' cavorting around my newly adopted home away from home, I decide to reach out to my former-Washingonian and native-San Diegoan friend, Liz. 

I regret that won't have time to meet up with you, I preface, but just want to let you know that I'm in your beautiful city and I'm thinking of you. 

Little do I know in that moment that I am corresponding with San Diego's most informative and influential travel advisor.

But I soon find out, because Liz responds with several comprehensive and poetic descriptions of the best of the best San Diego landmarks, on and off the beaten path. In particular, she urges - no, she INSISTS - that we really must make time in our schedule for Balboa Park.

* * * * *

Balboa Park. 

Many years ago, though long after my first, ill-fated sunburn trip to San Diego, I'd heard about Balboa Park: 

Balboa Park is a must-see cultural gem of an urban park.

Balboa Park is a historical treasure, the site of the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition, which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and gave San Diegoans a good reason to get their park ready for the party.

Balboa Park is the beating heart of the city, San Diego's version of the Seattle Center, only fifty-plus years older and done up in Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, rather than Space Needle-centric Mid-Century Modern. 

I've dreamed of seeing the place for a long, long time. 

I got close to Balboa Park back in 2012 when I breezed into San Diego for a quick, spontaneous visit on the way home from dropping my fourth-born in Tucson, Arizona, where she attended university. But this time, my priority was to spend quality time with our sweet family friends, the Millers, and so my 24-hour flyover was devoted to viewing the kids' LEGO creations, munching pancakes, and getting reacquainted with the pets.

Balboa Park would have to wait. 

* * * * *

So it is that on our last evening in San Diego, while we soak in the sunset and watch the sea lions play in the falling darkness, I mention these messages to my third-born. As the birthday girl, she is calling the shots on our agenda and her original plan is for us to leave San Diego bright and early next morning, and spend the day in Los Angeles. I'm not trying to rock the boat, I tell her, but Liz says Balboa Park is a jewel. 

Hmm. My daughter takes this information under advisement and mulls the options. And a few hours later, she proposes a change. As long as we are in San Diego, let's do San Diego right, she opines. Let's take the morning to explore Balboa Park, and visit LA another time. 

And that's exactly what we do. Thanks to Liz's detailed notes and exquisite recommendations - only a tiny fraction of which we are able to put into play - we get at least a glimpse of what Balboa Park has to offer.

* * * * *

With zero game plan in mind, we drop the car near the Natural History Museum, which looks like it could use a full day of its own for proper exploration, and notice the iconic fountain to our left. Let's save that for last, we decide, and veer right instead. 

Now properly strolling on El Prado, we enjoy the already-busy Saturday morning vibes and look for whatever might capture our interest.

^ We are suckers for a long reflecting pool. Filled with water lilies? Yes, please. 

^ Closer inspection reveals that this is the Botanical Building, sadly closed for renovation but still worthy of our attention.

 ^ Overgrown tropical specimens reach out toward the sunshine from within the lathe walls and we are charmed.

^ I walk around and around and around the Lily Pool, looking for the best angles and most interesting compositions of light and reflection.

^ Turns out there are no bad angles.

^ And I feel like a modern day Monet.

^ On we go. Next feature of interest is a giant explosion of purple bougainvillea. I mean, how could we not be hypnotized.

^ Photos do not do it justice.

^ But you know, we keep trying anyway.

^ Takes us several minutes to recover from our flower-induced trance to notice yet another example of the sublime Spanish Colonial Revival architecture to which the magnificent blossoms cling.

^ From our viewpoint above, we gaze down onto the Japanese Friendship Garden, and mentally set aside another full day for adventuring through this masterpiece. Can't wait to explore every single one of those winding pathways and trip-trap over each and every adorable footbridge.

^ Slowly but surely we wander our way to what surely must be the heart of Balboa Park. The California Tower (left) and the California Building (right) are key features of the California Quadrangle which form the main entrance to the park. I think this would all make a lot more sense to me if we had entered the park through the front door, so to speak, over the Cabrillo Bridge and along the proudest stretch of El Prado. But we have apparently parked in the backyard so our perspective is a bit topsy turvy. Next time, we will know better. 

^ We turn around and slowly retrace our path back toward the fountain, freezing in our footsteps as we pass the sculpture garden at the Museum of Art. Just beyond the railed fence is a tantalizing collection of outdoor art - my favorite - but one must enter the courtyard via the museum and we don't have time for that. Sadly, we press on. Happily, we soon come across this red beauty in our path and feel just a teeny bit of satisfaction. Love the bold color and geometry against the classical architecture. 

* * * * *

Before we know it, we have come back to where we began. Circling the fountain, we revel in the fine mist on its leeward side and the gentle grace of the arching water. We are almost back to the car. 

To be sure, we have barely scratched the surface of Balboa Park, and I'll be studying Liz's notes for hours while planning my triumphant return.

But it's okay. Balboa Park is clearly a delicious banquet of dishes to be savored and enjoyed at leisure, and I'm happy that we have finally begun. 

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