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Balboa Park: A Year in Photos

A look back at a year in Balboa Park through twelve memorable photos.

Lily Pond Restoration

Lily Pond

One morning I woke to Twitter notifications about vandalism related to a midnight water gun fight at the Lily Pond. The next 72 hours were filled with media inquiries, donation campaign launches, and phone calls from eager volunteers. With more than $14,000 in contributions from individual donors (some involved with the water gun fight) and local companies, the City’s team worked hard for weeks to refill, replant, and restore the pond.

Kate Sessions

Kate Sessions

This haunting photo of Kate Sessions was one of our most-liked photos on Facebook this year. Some people asked if it was a statue of Mary Poppins. Balboa Park PR Manager Debbie Petruzzelli -- my early-bird colleague who took the photo during a morning walk -- explained that Sessions was a horticulturalist who helped turn the park’s land into an urban oasis. She is sometimes called the Mother of Balboa Park.

Japanese Friendship Garden Expansion


The Japanese Friendship Garden started its expansion project a few years ago; this year brought the first docent-led tours of the nine acres that are still under construction. When it is complete, the expansion will include a traditional tea house, a pavilion for three hundred patrons, outdoor amphitheatre and meandering paths that are handicap accessible.

Comic-Con Fever


Several museums hosted events related to Comic-Con this year. The Museum of Photographic Arts held a special POP Thursday reception/costume party and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center held a dazzling event called IMAX REMIX with IMAX movie scenes remixed to electronic music interpretation from DJ Glenn Morrison.

Top Dog


Every year, we hold a photo contest called “Top Dog” and watch the entries pour in -- some beautiful, some hilarious, and some that blatantly disregard the rules (photos must have been taken in Balboa Park). This year’s winner was Jedi, a lab collie mix that happily posed by the Lily Pond.

Big Winner

Secretary Bird

Danielle Zuest captured this colorful photo of a Secretary Bird and entered it to win first place in our “Focus on Balboa Park” photo contest in fall 2012.

Sailing Show 


A new sailing exhibit opened at the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum. The Hall completely transformed its bottom level with the installation of gorgeous floors and the Star Class sailboat as a striking centerpiece.

36-Hour Salon

Summer Salon

In July, The San Diego Museum of Art kicked the popular Summer Salon Series up a notch with 36 straight hours of programming. I stopped by on Saturday morning for Alexander Jarman’s sunrise tour of the Sculpture Garden and a taste of the Sculpture Court Cafe’s chicken and waffles. Some people were taking a break in the courtyard.



Local nonprofit news organization Voice of San Diego offered extensive coverage of Balboa Park throughout 2012, culminating in a Meeting of the Minds event at the San Diego Natural History Museum and a public photo experiment. Writer Kelly Bennett asked people to pick a place in the park one day at 3pm and share a photo via Instagram, Twitter, or email. I chose this spot in the Desert Garden.

Plaza de Panama Project Vote


In July, Mayor Sanders held a press conference in Balboa Park to celebrate the Plaza de Panama Project a day after the San Diego City Council voted 6-1 to approve the plan. The project will remove parking from the heart of the park to restore areas such as the Plaza de Panama (in front of The San Diego Museum of Art) and the Plaza de California (in front of the San Diego Museum of Man) to their historic use as pedestrian park spaces.

December Nights

Dec Nights

For hundreds of thousands of San Diegans, December Nights is a don’t-miss, who-cares-about-the-traffic, it’s-so-beautiful, we-gotta-go kind of event. I wasn’t sure about hanging out late to navigate through the massive crowds, but it’s worth it for moments like this. Here, a young visitor watches as the Civic Dance Arts performers finish their Friday night routine on a stage in the Casa del Prado.

Visit from LeVar


Actor and literacy champion LeVar Burton (of “Star Trek,” “Roots,” and “Reading Rainbow” fame) came to the park a year ago to film scenes for RRKidz, a reading adventure app now available in the iTunes Store. We had to keep it a secret for a couple of months, so even though he visited us in 2011 I’ve opted to include it in this 2012 round-up. In this photo, he’s composing himself for a segment in front of the Moreton Bay Fig Tree.


--Maren Dougherty