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While the renowned Balboa Park and San Diego Zoo could easily take up two days of your trip, here’s how to split these attractions into a single day.


You will definitely need some fuel for a full day on your feet. If a hearty breakfast is your style, try Cafe on Park. This casual Hillcrest eatery has a lengthy morning menu ranging from scrambles and benedicts to insanely oversized pancakes. Two people could easily share a meal here! Prefer something on the lighter side? Juice Alchemy is a great choice, offering made to order juices, smoothies, acai and pitaya bowls. There is a table and a few stools, although Juice Alchemy is more of a grab and go situation.

Morning at the Zoo

There’s plenty of free parking at the zoo and around Balboa Park – hooray! The San Diego Zoo can get extremely busy, so we recommend arriving as close to opening hours as possible. The animals are typically more active in the morning before the temperature rises, so it’s a win-win. If this is your first visit to the zoo, plan on spending at least three hours here to take it all in. Feel free to pack your own drinks and snacks; most of the options throughout the park lean toward the junk food variety. Don’t forget to hop on the zoo’s aerial tram for a beautiful view of the city.


Take the pedestrian shortcut into Balboa Park and walk West toward the park’s main entrance for two sit-down dining options for you to refuel. The Prado offers indoor and outdoor seating with an upscale lunch menu. Choose from seafood including mussels and rock shrimp to salads, burgers, and similar fare. For a more laid-back experience try Panama 66, located at the San Diego Museum of Art. Grab a menu and opt for shareables like curry fries or a charcuterie plate, or heartier sandwiches. You definitely deserve an ice-cold local brew after hours of walking, too! Order at the counter, grab a number and pick a spot at this quaint outdoor restaurant.

Afternoon in the Park

Walk West to the Cabrillo Bridge for a beautiful view of the city and California Tower, and head back into the park for an abundance of attractions! Take your pic of 17 museums, ranging from photography and art to natural history and even model railroads. One or two museums in the afternoon is achievable, and admission prices vary. Wander through several free gardens throughout the park, including the Botanical Building and Lily Pond. The colorful Spanish Village Art Center is also worth passing through, featuring vibrant studios for more than 100 local artists. If kids are in your crew, they’ll love the carousel and miniature train located near the zoo exit. It’s a wonderful way to end your excursion!