Best of Balboa Park

Lots of nice little changes hide behind those venerable façades
Peter Jensen

The comforting thing about San Diego's Balboa Park is that it doesn't seem to change much. But poke around a bit on your next visit and you'll see that a lot has been going on. Here are some of the highlights.

Casa de Balboa on El Prado houses an expanded Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA). Quadrupled in size, MoPA reopened last year, unveiling the park's best new secret: the Joan & Irwin Jacobs Theater, a luxurious space that showcases classic as well as new and experimental films. Note the theater's crepuscularly lit ceiling. 1649 El Prado (in Casa de Balboa); (619) 238-7559.

Also on El Prado, a new restaurant named the Prado has opened inside the House of Hospitality. An instant hot spot ― thanks to a great location in the park, a menu of innovative Mediterranean-Latin fusion dishes, and a sizzling interior design ― it revives a San Diego tradition of dining outdoors on one of the House's historic garden terraces. 1549 El Prado; 557-9441.

 

 

In the San Diego Museum of Art, don't miss the new Museum Store's vast collection of books, gifts, and original jewelry. 1450 El Prado; 696-1971 or 232-7931.

Adjacent to the Organ Pavilion, you can now sample teas from around the world or have a light sushi lunch on the Japanese Friendship Garden's cheery Tea Pavilion patio. Although the setting is a little stark, umbrellas cozy it up, and the view into the canyon's treetops can be quite pleasant. 2215 Pan American Way; 232-2721.

There's more, of course. The park seems to be holding its breath in anticipation of the grand opening of the San Diego Natural History Museum's new wing and giant-screen theater, scheduled to open in April. But that's for another visit.

Free parking in lots along Presidents Way, off Park Blvd. Balboa Park Visitors Center, inside the House of Hospitality on El Prado: (619) 239-0512 or www.balboapark.org.