Balboa Park Japanese Garden

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Spring is one of our favorite “seasons” in San Diego. Balmy, 70-degree weather, sunny skies…what’s not to like?? It’s a great time to head outdoors and explore all that San Diego has to offer. We recently stopped by the Balboa Park Japanese Garden to check out the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, and the weather was on point.

The Balboa Park Japanese Friendship Garden hosts the annual Celebration of the Cherry Trees, which boast those beautiful pink blossoms you see above. The festival includes cultural performances, Japanese street food, unique local vendors, and a children’s corner, making it a great outdoor activity for children and adults alike.

This year’s fest featured everything from “healthy”Japanese pancakes, to a beer and tea garden. I sampled a variety of Japanese teas, which offered much needed refreshment after the 1.5 miles we walked to get there (it was probably more than that since we got a little lost). Guests can also partake in Hanami, the traditional custom of picnicking under the cherry trees and, as you can see, this was a popular choice among many…

The Garden’s design is based on centuries-old Japanese techniques adapted to San Diego’s climate – it really is gorgeous! We loved exploring the 12 acres of koi ponds, water features, sukiya-style buildings and beautiful landscape.

A few tips if you plan to attend the Cherry Blossom Festival…

Purchase your tickets online.
We’ll let you in on a little secret: there’s a separate entrance for online ticket holders so you can go right into the gardens without having to wait in crowded lines. Who doesn’t like a fast pass??

Go on a weekday.
The Cherry Blossom Festival is usually a three-day gig – we highly recommend going on Friday rather than Saturday or Sunday to avoid crowds. We were there on both Friday and Sunday – yes, we’re hard core cherry blossomers. Actually, on Friday, we’d brought our dogs and – note for pet owners, dogs aren’t allowed into the gardens (for understandable reasons, and our dogs proved why that day).

Both Kaia and Tiki have major small-dog complex (they are chihuahuas after all) and decided to bark at everything that moved, so Balboa Park was not a good idea for them. We took them out for an afternoon at dog friendly Hotel Del Coronado instead, where they were both happy as can be…


When we returned to the Cherry Blossom Festival on Sunday, there was a line of cars at least a mile long waiting to enter Balboa Park. We ended up parking about a mile and a half away and walked. I may or may not have rounded down the distance and told Todd it more like a mile – haha. I mean, it was a gorgeous day for a walk. Just ask him about the time I took him on a “short” 7+ mile walk in Hawaii…oops. 😉 Anyway, he was a trooper and, despite getting a little lost, we made it. Plus, we got to see all kinds of cool sights along the way, like the many Balboa Park museums…

Sometimes it’s about the journey, not the destination, right?

Anyway, if you really want to avoid crowds at the Japanese Friendship Garden, we’d recommend going Monday – Thursday. While you’ll miss the activities of the Cherry Blossom Festival, you can still see the cherry blossoms in bloom and you’ll get to enjoy the peaceful solitude of the gardens.

The Japanese Friendship Garden is also open to San Diego residents at no cost on the third Tuesday of every month as part of Residents Free Days aka “Balboa Park Tuesday.”

Check for updates and view the latest schedule of free attractions at Balboa Park here.

There’s also a really cool Tea Pavilion outside the Japanese Friendship Garden that offers imported teas and food – we plan to try that out next time when it’s a little less crowded.

We hope you’ll check out the Japanese Friendship Garden, enjoy a cup of tea and savor the beauty of spring in San Diego!

In the meantime, here are some links that might help you plan your trip to the Balboa Park Japanese Friendship Garden:

What are your favorite spring activities in San Diego?

And if you’re a visitor and haven’t been to San Diego yet, what activity do you want to try first?

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