When people refer to Balboa Park’s cactus garden, they usually mean the wonderful Desert Garden on the east side of Park Boulevard, just north of the gorgeous, award-winning Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden. But there’s another. It’s called the 1935 (Old) Cactus Garden. And few visitors to the park know it exists.
The historic old garden might be a bit raggedy and lonely, but it’s the perfect place to sit at a picnic bench and relax in the sun while enjoying a quiet view of Bankers Hill and the Cabrillo Bridge. And plant lovers have plenty of large, fascinating specimens to explore. There are cacti, succulents and exotic Protea, not to mention trails that run down into the rugged nearby canyon and into tropical Palm Canyon, which runs toward the heart of Balboa Park.
The old cactus garden was created by Kate Sessions (San Diego’s beloved botanist and “Mother of Balboa Park”) for the California Pacific International Exposition in 1935. It is located near a park employee parking lot, off the beaten path. You’ll find it behind the Balboa Park Club, which was originally the New Mexico State Building. The picturesque Pueblo Revival-style building was designed for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.
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