Do you get tired of sunsets and palm trees in San Diego? Head downtown for some Balboa park photography and capture a different side of San Diego.
Balboa Park was originally just a city park, creatively named City Park!
It was spruced up for a Panama-California exposition in 1915. Those expositions were a big deal back in the day, so the city – always staying classy – built a series of Spanish Baroque style buildings in anticipation of all the visitors.
The buildings were only meant to last a year or two – but San Diego loved Balboa Park so much, the city decided to restore the buildings and keep the park.
Lucky for us! It now holds several museums, gardens, fountains and other cool and beautiful things to photograph. It’s really a gem on the west coast, which is full of incredible sights to add to your US itinerary.
Balboa Park Photography
[table id=2 /]
Balboa Park Map
The architecture at Balboa Park transports you to another country. The buildings are both grand and ornate, so you can experiment with capturing both aspects.
There’s also a lot of them mostly concentrated in a central area of the park. Very walkable, with lots of museums, and some restaurants if you are travelling with friends or doing family roadtrip in southern California.
Balboa Park Attractions
Balboa Park Bell Tower
The Bell Tower, probably the most recognizable sight at Balboa Park, is located at the Museum of Man.
Local tip: You can actually take a tour up inside the bell tower for beautiful 360 views!
When you shoot tall buildings you will run into the perspective distortion effect.
Sometimes this really enhances the height of the building but sometimes it’s better to aim for parallel lines.
The trick to getting parallel lines is to try not to tilt your camera up. You can achieve this by standing somewhere further and higher, on a hill or a different floor, but this is often not possible.
Another trick I use is to take the photo without tilting, even though I end up with the building mostly in the top half of my image. Then I crop out the boring bottom later!
You can also fix perspective in post-process in Lightroom, Photoshop or even on your phone using apps like SKRWT.
Casa Del Prado Theater
The Casa Del Prado Theater is another gorgeous building, quite close to the Bell Tower. Here it is, taken at 5pm in the golden hour. The warm sunset light adds to the dimension, color and tones in the architecture.
You can see the Bell Tower in the background, lit up in a hazy glow!
Spreckels Organ Pavilion
Spreckels Organ Pavilion is an open air auditorium style area with the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ.
While you are gazing at the buildings, don’t forget to take in the little details. There are beasts and human figures carved into every facade, as well as lines and curves in every corner.
There’s a lot of flourish everywhere you look. It’s a great way to come home with some unique shots, rather than the standard postcard shots that are overdone.
Balboa Park Botanical Gardens
Along with the buildings, Balboa Park is full of beautiful gardens perfect for photography. The Botanical Garden contains thousands of flowers and plants and is a great spot to try your macro skills. The building itself and lily pond out front are also very photo-worthy.
I haven’t gone down the macro route much myself, but I play around with the gear I have on me and see how close I can get.
You never know when you might find a tiny tiger hiding in an orchid.
The Alcazar Gardens are small but extremely pretty – accented with Portuguese/Moorish style tiling.
The garden is a little hard to find unless you know to look for it (which you do now). It’s in the courtyard behind the Art Institute and Mingei Museum.
There’s a lovely little fountain paved with beautiful blue and yellow moorish tiles, and the garden is all around gorgeous.
If you bring an ND filter, you can use a longer exposure to blur the water in the fountains for a more interesting result.
Consider trying a shutter speed of 1/10s or longer. See the water, a little slower would have smoothed it nicely.
Balboa Park at Night
Note that while you can visit Balboa Park at night, some attractions do close.
Most of the Museums close (or at least have a last admission) at 4.30pm.
The Botanical Gardens close at 4pm.
However, the grounds, gardens, and Spreckels Pavilion are open, and a lot of the museums might be closed but you can walk around them and photograph from the outside.
Balboa Park at night brings out a whole different world as the buildings are gently lit up. It’s a great opportunity to try some blue hour or night lights shots.
Go Pro – Have a Photo Shoot!
One final tip – Balboa Park is a great place to do a photo shoot if you have friends or family that want some special photos to share.
It’s also a great spot for romantic photos, so definitely consider it if you’re looking for romantic daytrips in socal.
There are lots of trees with great shade for well-exposed, non-squinty photos. And lots of nooks that can help you evade photo bombs even when the place is busy.
I’ve done family shoots here, as well as maternity shoots. It’s always a success.
I hope you enjoyed this post and will get a chance to check out all that Balboa Park has to offer.
This post has affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. The opinions presented are my own.