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Jewell: A Southwest corner treasure

dfox • Updated Dec 8, 2015 at 9:28 AM

I encourage all of you readers who might head out this way to visit San Diego’s Balboa Park. It will give you one reason why I choose to live here rather than head back home to Lebanon or Nashville. I suspect the park is often overlooked for one of the biggest tourist attractions, the San Diego Zoo, on the north side of the park.

I have been a member of the San Diego Zoological Society for thirty years, and visit the zoo as often as I can. Incredibly, it just keeps getting better. However, the rest of Balboa Park, 1,200 acres in the middle of the city, is something special in its own right. 

There are 17 museums, and nine performing arts venues including the Old Globe Theater based on the London theater where many of Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed. There are 19 gardens of which Maureen’s and my favorite is the Japanese Tea Garden, a large sculptured landscape and small rooms with origami, tatami mats, and sparse stone sculptures. 

There is a children’s delightful puppet theater.

Adjacent to the zoo is the Spanish Village Art Center where arts and crafts fill the small shops in the colorful plaza. There are a number of restaurants. The Prado restaurant, located off the courtyard of the “House of Hospitality” is great dining with the patio looking over another garden. El Prado is an esplanade with a majestic fountain on the east side of the park proper, the beginning or end to a walk along the majestic ornate buildings. 

Near the Natural History Museum is an Australian “Moreton Bay Fig” tree. It was planted over 100 years ago with the park’s inception. It now rises to 80 feet, with a girth of 42 feet and a canopy covering 145 feet. 

Along the El Prado walk are street performers of every type from break-dancers to tuba players to mimes. Food carts are plentiful. Kiosks abound, selling toys, baubles, and religion of almost every genre.

The park was established for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and more buildings were added for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. It has expanded across Park Boulevard to the east and includes a golf course, and the Morley Field Complex with tennis, swimming, archery, disc golf, bocci ball, and velodrome cycling.

What seems like thousands of years ago, I would run the park perimeter through trees and up and down switchbacks with my marine and SEAL friends rather than partaking of the noon mess in my ships’ wardroom.

In addition to runners, hikers, roller bladers, and roller skaters, there are always picnics spread around the grounds or people just stretched out on the grass, taking naps.

Last Thursday, I just walked around for about an hour, watching the people. With all of the wonderful things to do, people watching competes for my attention.

Between the Timken Art Museum and the Botantical Building, there were two young women in jeans and tee shirts passing a football back and forth. One was explaining her wobbly spiral to her companion as a product of not wanting to break her polished nails. 

On almost every bench, there were men and women with a pad of paper of various sizes. Some were artists hard at work capturing an edifice or a flower. Some were writing diaries, some journaling, some writing the next potential great novel. Others were working on their calligraphy. Others were simply sitting without a pad, contemplating.

Almost every nationality, every religion, and every race seems to be around. It is crowded in the main area. Parking is difficult, especially on holidays and weekends. Yet it somehow exudes peace and calm.

This past weekend the park celebrated “December Nights.” Yes, some politically correct bozos changed it from “Christmas Nights.” But it is three days and nights of colorful celebration, complete with a surfing Santa. The main events occur at the Spreckels Organ Pavillion with one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs. Our daughter Sarah performed with her high school show choir for four years.

If you travel to the Southwest corner, I encourage you to include the park in any visit to San Diego. It is one of the city’s jewels and well worth the stop.

Jim Jewell, a retired Navy commander lives in San Diego but was raised in Lebanon. His book, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems, is now available through Author House, Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. Jim’s email is [email protected].

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