A beautiful garden few visitors see in Balboa Park.

A rare visitor enjoys the rugged 1935 (Old) Cactus Garden behind the Balboa Park Club.
A rare visitor enjoys the rugged 1935 (Old) Cactus Garden behind the Balboa Park Club.

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.

Some prickly pears line a driveway that leads to parking lots behind buildings in Balboa Park.
Some prickly pears line a driveway that leads to parking lots behind buildings in Balboa Park.
A huge old prickly pear cactus near the edge of a canyon filled with tall eucalyptus trees.
A huge old prickly pear cactus near the edge of a canyon filled with tall eucalyptus trees.
The 1935 (Old) Cactus Garden in San Diego's beautiful Balboa Park contains many large specimens of cacti and succulents.
The 1935 (Old) Cactus Garden in San Diego’s beautiful Balboa Park contains many large specimens of cacti and succulents.
Barrel cacti in sunshine and shade on a fine day in Balboa Park.
Barrel cacti in sunshine and shade on a fine day in Balboa Park.
Several dirt paths run among the botanical marvels. Few people know this fantastic garden exists.
Several dirt paths run among the botanical marvels. Few people know this fantastic garden exists.
Looking up through the cactus garden toward the rear of the Balboa Park Club.
Looking up through the cactus garden toward the rear of the Balboa Park Club.
According to a plaque on this large outdoor brick fireplace, it was built in 1944 by Geo. J. Morganstern C.W.T. U.S.N. RET.
According to a plaque on this large outdoor brick fireplace, it was built in 1944 by Geo. J. Morganstern C.W.T. U.S.N. RET.
A closer photograph of the stately outdoor fireplace.
A closer photograph of the stately outdoor fireplace.
Seldom-used picnic benches overlook the historic Cabrillo Bridge in surprise-filled Balboa Park!
Seldom-used picnic benches overlook the historic Cabrillo Bridge in surprise-filled Balboa Park!

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Published by

Richard Schulte

Downtown San Diego has been my home for many years. My online activities reflect my love for writing, blogging, walking and photography.

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