Hungry? This Balboa Park Restaurants Guide + 2022 Price Chart Will Satisfy You


Find your best Balboa Park San Diego restaurants fast. Includes a chart with prices, hours, cuisines, popular dishes, plus menu links, dining tips, and my reviews for each. 

There are 14 restaurants in Balboa Park. Dining options range from fine dining at eateries like The Prado, Panama 66, and Alberts to small coffee carts like Daniel’s. Most serve lunch, but there are also breakfast and dinner spots. Many meals cost under $10 for a filling burger, sandwich, or salad and drink.

Read on to discover where to find Balboa Park breakfasts, vegetarian, gluten-free food, and a relaxing drink.

Balboa Park Restaurants & Food. Original drawing showing bell tower, Apollo capsule a giraffe eating the "k" in Balboa Park, a koala, and an elephant holding a "Feed Me" sign.

But first, let’s do an overview of every eatery in Balboa Park with the comprehensive chart below. FYI, “Prices” indicate the cost of the main dish.

BALBOA PARK RESTAURANTS CHARTPricesWhen Open – Cuisine
FULL TABLE SERVICE
The Prado$10 – 50Lunch & Dinner – American fusion (try the Kobe burger)
Artifact at Mingei$10 – 25Lunch – Globally inspired food (try the dumplings)
Albert’s Restaurant$8 – 30Lunch & Brunch – International favorites (try the locally caught fish tacos)
ORDER AT COUNTER
Panama 66$7 – 25Lunch & Dinner – Outdoor dining | Burgers, steak, chicken, shrimp – (try theTruffle Parm Fries)
Flight Path Grill$5 – 9***Lunch fast food with outdoor seating – Good burgers and sandwiches. *** Must buy museum ticket to enter***
Lady Carolyn’s Pub$5 – 9Only open before Old Globe Theater performances and during intermissions. Limited food menu & drinks.
WorldBeat Cafe$4 – 16Lunch Counter ordering – Afro-Caribbean-Hispanic vegan (try their chili)
Craveology$4 – 10Lunch – Counter ordering with patio dining | Hot sandwiches, pizza, salads (try the Spicy Panini Turkey)
Tea Pavilion$3 – 10Lunch Fast Food | Japanese – salads, sandwiches & tea (try the Soba Noodle Salad)
QUICK CAFES
Craft Cafe at Mingei$4 – 15Breakfast & Lunch – Coffee, tea, pastries, lunch grab-n-go. (try the breakfast burrito)
Daniel’s Coffee$4 – 8Breakfast & Lunch – Food cart – Coffee, tea, & pastries. (Smoothies are excellent)
Cafe in the Park$3 – 10Breakfast & Lunch – Counter ordering – burritos, burgers, sandwiches, coffee (try the Avocado Toast)
Prado Perk$3 – 8Breakfast & Lunch – Coffee, tea, pastries. (fresh pastries baked at The Prado restaurant next door)
Flying Squirrel$3 – 6Breakfast & Lunch – Coffee, tea, assorted baked goods from Bread & Cie
Casa 1915CLOSED
The Village GrillCLOSED

DISCLAIMER: Pricing and menu information is not guaranteed. I’m a frequent visitor to Balboa Park, but I can’t catch every change. If you spot one, please email me at TopTaco@SanDiegoing.com and I’ll accept your input with gratitude and a shout-out.

Restaurants Within Balboa Park – Reviews & Tips

The Prado restaurant in Balboa Park, San Diego main entrance. Courtyard with “Woman of Tehuantepec” sculpture pouring tequila into a blood orange margarita, with Kobe burger.
Prado entrance from House of Hospitality courtyard with “Woman of Tehuantepec” sculpture, blood orange margarita, and Kobe burger.

The Prado is Balboa Park’s Top Dining Spot

When people ask, “What is the name of the restaurant in Balboa Park?” The most common answer locals give is “The Prado”.

The Prado is Balboa Park’s go-to spot for first dates, anniversaries, and celebrations. Its ambiance and eclectic menu of traditional American favorites with a San Diego flair are popular with tourists and locals alike. Specialty cocktails, local craft brews, and wine make it a top place for a drink too.

The Prado Balboa Park Menu
— Price Range: $10 – $50
— Dining & Food Style: Fine Dining, New American fusion style food
— Hours: Opens at 11:30 AM Tues – Sun. Closed Mondays.

  • No kids menu
  • Only service dogs allowed
  • It’s wheelchair accessible
  • There are restrooms for patrons on-site

What’s good on The Prado restaurant menu? If you look around before you order you’ll notice many people ordering the pan-seared sea bass and fish taco plates. For meat-eaters, the very popular 8oz Kobe burger is delicious with a stack of seasoned fries. If you’re more adventurous try the seared prime beef sushi roll. 

There are also numerous vegetarian and gluten-free options at The Prado. Try the black bean soup and chipotle hummus with their crunchy flatbread. 

The Prado is one of the best places to enjoy an adult beverage in Balboa Park. It has a dozen or more specialty cocktails on the menu. After a long, hot day of museum walking, a tangy-sweet Blood Orange Margarita is citrus nirvana. If beer is more your style they’ve got a selection of 14+ local and international brews on draft, and in bottles and cans.

This restaurant has four main dining areas with differing moods. They range from duskily intimate to bright outside seating on the terrace with fountains splashing in the background. This variety also makes The Prado a sought-after wedding venue. 

The Prado Money-Saving Tip: Check HERE to see if they’re currently offering their “Tuesdays Date Night” combo. You get 2 salads, 2 entrees, and a bottle of wine for $49.95. If not, go on Tuesdays thru Sunday nights after 8 PM for the “Dinner After 8” special. It’s a 3-course prix fixe meal that comes with a glass of wine or cocktail for $33. 

There’s a 4% surcharge on all sales to cover recent San Diego county wage increases. It’s annoying. But maybe it’s best to consider it as a reminder that all government mandates have a price. TANSTAAFL.

This eatery does not serve breakfast. But they have menus for lunch, mid-afternoon, dinner, and happy hour. 

Parking options for The Prado include valet parking. But free off-street parking is available close by in the Alcazar Garden Parking lot. It’s a little more than 0.1 miles away (a 3-minute walk). The most scenic route to the restaurant is to head north through the arches through the Alcazar Garden and turn right towards the House of Hospitality.

Distance from San Diego Zoo: ½ mile (10 minutes average walking)

The Prado at Balboa Park website
1549 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 557-9441

Artifact at the Mingei Museum in Balboa Park.  Photo collage showing the wine wall, 32 foot bar, beef osso bucco and endive salad.
Artifact at Mingei Museum restaurant interiors and tasty beef Osso Bucco stew and endive salad.

Artifact In Balboa Park’s A World-Wide Eating Adventure

The Artifact restaurant in Mingei has food inspired by ancient cooking methods and global flavors. Try unexpected food combinations from both classical and indigenous cuisines in sharable and single-serving portions. Choose from Snack, Dumpling, Salad + Bowl, Broth, Wrap, Sweet menu options, and a full bar. 

Artifact Menu and Hours
— Price Range $10 – $25
— Dining & Food Style (Full-service restaurant & bar – globally inspired snacks, dumplings, salads, soups, wraps, and desserts)

  • Kid-friendly
  • Service dogs only
  • Wheelchair accessible
  • Restrooms are located down the hallway to the right of the museum store

What’s good at Artifact at Mingei International Museum?

For an affordable, tasty snack, order the cashew-lime hummus on sabaayad flatbread to share. It has cilantro, cumin, and pumpkin/hemp seed crunchies. The chef found the recipe for the Somali bread in one of the books that he picked up in the Mingei’s gift shop. 

Next time I’m there I’ll be ordering the Peri Peri Chicken Wrap just because it combines flavors from so many countries. It has Peri Peri-style chicken, a favorite from Mozambique. There’s also chimichurri sauce (like Argentinian pesto), lemon gremolata (Italian), couscous (Morocco), lettuce, green olives, and tomatoes on a sangak flatbread (Persian). 

Half the menu at Artifact in Balboa Park is vegetarian and/or gluten-free items. I suggest that you try the beet or potato dumplings. They’re a refreshing change from what usually passes for vegetarian fare at restaurants.

The 30 foot reclaimed wood bar is one of the most eye-catching features of Artifact. The entire counter and all the tables in the restaurant are made from one huge walnut tree. The wood and metal inlaid pieces hide where the holes and knots were. 

Wine bottles are showcased on another wall as if they’re art pieces.  

Not only does the bar look good, but they have many unique drinks as well. They’ve got 6+ cocktails including the poetically named “28 Blossoms” which is bourbon, dark cherry, cocoa nib, and thyme shrub. There are also 4+ local craft brews and 30 or more wines. 

Their non-alcoholic drink selection is exotic also. Does anyone want to try “Change”, which is butterfly flower lemonade? 

Tips for this Mingei Museum restaurant: There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that you do not need a Mingei Museum membership or admission ticket to eat at Artifact. The restaurant is on the Commons Level, which is always free for everyone. They have a few exhibits in this entry space as well as their well-stocked museum gift shop.

The bad news is Artifact will add a 3.95% surcharge on food and drink to your bill. The good news is that now you won’t be surprised when you get your bill. 

There’s outdoor seating at Artifact in their beautiful courtyard. The tables and chairs offer a great view of the massive art piece on the wall and out through one of the House of Charm’s arches.

The closest parking lot to Artifact is the Alcázar Garden Parking lot. It is less than a tenth of a mile to the Mingei entrance. It’s only a 3-minute stroll unless you stop to take pictures of blooms in Alcázar Garden or monstrous Moreton Bay fig trees in Palm Canyon. Then it could be hours before you get there. You’ve been warned.

Your next best parking choice is the lot in the back of Casa de Balboa at the end of Space Theater Way.

Distance from San Diego Zoo: 0.5 miles (9-minute walk)

Artifact
1439 El Prado
Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 239-2222 (Urban Kitchen Group-owners)

View of the waterfall from Alberts Restaurant, San Diego Zoo, and a tasty chicken sandwich.

Albert’s Restaurant – Balboa Park’s Wildest Dining

Albert’s Restaurant is one of the best restaurants in Balboa Park. It’s located within the San Diego Zoo and admission’s required for non-members. This fine-dining eatery serves breakfast and lunch with a full bar. A multi-level waterfall and lush green surroundings make it popular for special occasions. 

I’ve written extensively about eating at Alberts on my San Diego Zoo restaurants page. I cover the other 20+ eateries at the zoo in that article also.

Want to eat at Alberts for less? Check my 30+ San Diego Zoo discount tickets page for an admission deal that works for you. 

Albert’s Restaurant Menu Link – it’s under “Albert’s Restaurant Hours” on the Zoo page
— Price Range $8 – $30
— Dining & Food Style (Full-service restaurant & bar – globally inspired snacks, entrees, salads, soups, desserts, and cocktails)

  • There is no kids menu 
  • Only service dogs are allowed here
  • Wheelchair accessible via elevator
  • Restrooms are located outside of Albert’s entrance.

Alberts Restaurant is open from 10 or 11:00 AM thru 3 or 3:30 PM. Reserve a spot HERE. They also have a weekend brunch from 10 to noon that serves breakfast and bottomless mimosas.

Alberts Restaurant
2920 Zoo Drive
San Diego, CA 92101

Panama 66 in Balboa Park San Diego photo collage showing sculpture garden view, diablo drink, parm fries, salmon, tomato soup.
Panama 66 views of the sculpture garden, diablo cocktail, parmesan truffle fries, salmon, and tomato soup.

Panama 66 – Balboa Park’s Best Outdoor Dining

Panama 66 at the San Diego Museum of Art is a favorite eatery for locals guiding out-of-town guests through Balboa Park. There are salads, burgers, sandwiches, chicken, steak, and seafood on the menu at this outdoor patio restaurant. The Sculpture Garden and live music make it an entertaining space as well.

Panama 66 Menu link and hours.
— Price Range $7 – $25
— Dining & Food Style (Outdoor Fast Casual – Salads, Burgers, Sandwiches, Chicken, Steak, Shrimp)
— Opens at 11:00 AM except on Wednesdays

  • Kid-friendly
  • Dog-friendly
  • Wheelchair accessible
  • Restrooms are located on the right as you enter, behind the host podium.

What food is best on the Panama 66 menu? Don’t miss the Truffle Parm Fries made fresh with a mist of truffle oil and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Mine came with sides of catsup and a mild aioli. Have them with one of their burgers or just eat it as an appetizer. 

There’s a good selection of protein from steak and chicken to seafood like grilled fish and shrimp. 

Wash it all down with their house-made lemonade. It’s tangy!

I counted 17 vegetarian and gluten-free food items on the Panama 66 menu. I like the Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup combo even though I’m not vegetarian. The soup is garnished with a sprinkle of goat cheese and basil-infused olive oil.  Caramelized onions, fontina cheese, and toasted Bread & Cie sourdough-like Country Levain bread complete the grilled cheese sandwich.

Panama 66 is a favorite local Balboa drinking spot. They have more than a dozen local craft beers, 10+ California & Baja wines, and 15+ mixed cocktails. And that doesn’t count the daily specials on the chalkboard. 

Panama 66 Timesaving Tip: If you’re just ordering drinks there’s a separate line for you. And if you order a cocktail with your meal it’s sent to a cocktail pickup location. Ask where it is.

Enjoy free live music here. Check the Panama 66 live music calendar page for the scheduled Jazz Jam. For other no-charge Balboa Park musical experiences check out my free things to do in Balboa Park article. 

There’s a 90-minute table limit because they’re still working within limited table spacing due to COVID guidelines. If you want to hang around longer you can always go to the Sculpture Garden and sit on the benches or grass.

Dogs are allowed as long as they’re leashed but don’t tie them to the furniture. 

Dining at Panama 66 is 100% outdoors. It’s not a top choice on rainy days. 

The closest free off-street parking for Panama 66 is available in the Alcazar Garden Parking lot. It’s about 500 feet away (a couple of minutes walk) through the garden. 

Distance from San Diego Zoo: 0.5 miles (9-minute walk)

Panama 66
1450 El Prado
Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92101

Alaska Airlines Flight Path Grill in Balboa Park logo and airplane flyover to Lindbergh Field in San Diego.
Alaska Airlines Flight Path Grill images courtesy of the San Diego Air and Space Museum

Flight Path Grill in Balboa Park’s for Hungry Aviation Geeks

Alaska Airlines flight path Grill in Balboa Park is located within San Diego Air & Space Museum. A museum entry ticket is required to eat here. This outdoor cafe serves burgers, wraps, sandwiches, and their popular ice cream floats. It has outstanding views of the San Diego skyline and landing airplanes.

Flight Path Grill Menu link
— Price Range $5 – $9 (plus the cost of San Diego Air & Space Museum entry)
— Dining & Food Style: Fast food outdoor lunch cafe
— Hours: Sat & Sun only after 11:00 AM

  • Kid-friendly
  • Only service dogs are allowed here
  • It’s wheelchair accessible
  • Restrooms are inside the museum on the right side of the Zable Theater

What’s Good at the Alaska Airlines Flight Path Grill Menu? The grill’s burgers are popular because they’re filling and affordably priced. That’s a rare combination in San Diego. Leave some room for a frosty ice cream float made with either root beer or coke.

The Flight Path Grill’s selection of gluten-free and vegetarian items is limited. The menu has a couple of salads, a Tomato-Grilled Cheese Sandwich, and a Garden Burger. 

Unfortunately, you can’t get breakfast here.

This is one of the places where you can drink in Balboa Park. Alcoholic beverages served at the Flight Path Grill include San Diego Craft beers, wine, and mimosas.

There’s plenty of seating on the outdoor patio. You’ll find tables shaded by patio covers and eucalyptus trees. And the views of the San Diego skyline from the Flight Path Grill are some of the best in Balboa Park.

If you don’t like jet noise, don’t eat at the Flight Path Grill. It’s located under the Lindbergh Field incoming airline flight path. You’ll see (and hear) many airplanes flying low overhead on their landing approach to San Diego’s biggest airport. The view is dramatic, but so are the decibels.

Almost 120 parking spots for the Grill are available in the Pan American Plaza Parking Lot next to the Air and Space Center. There are many more in the lot behind Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

Distance from San Diego Zoo: 16 minutes (0.9 miles). The route is mostly flat and takes you by Spanish Village, the Lily Pond, the Japanese Friendship Garden, and the organ building.

Flight Path Grill
2001 Pan American Plaza
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 234-8291

Lady Carolyn’s Pub is on the ground floor of the peaked building. The outdoor patio eating area’s in the foreground.

Lady Carolyn’s Pub in Balboa Park –  A Theater Fan Favorite

Lady Carolyn’s Pub is located in Balboa Park’s Old Globe Theater. It’s only open 90 minutes before evening performances and an hour before matinees. It closes after the last intermission. You can buy soup, salads, and desserts here. They also serve iced beverages, coffee, wine, and beer. 

Lady Carolyn’s Pub menu
— Price Range: $5 – $9
— Hours: Limited to theater schedule

  • Kid-friendly (especially during “The Grinch”)
  • Service dogs only inside. Pets ok on the plaza.
  • Wheelchair accessible
  • Restrooms are located in the Old Globe lobby.

What’s good to eat on Lady Carolyn’s Pub menu? Since the Pub’s food is meant to be eaten during an intermission, there’s not a lot of time to order and eat. So get something that’s quick to prepare and munch. The Roasted Pepper Hummus plate, Kids PB&J Box, or one of the quesadillas are good choices.

Save time by ordering drinks in advance and picking them up during the break (at 619-231-1941, ext. 2751). And they’ve got my favorite local San Diego beer, Karl Strauss’ Red Trolley. It’s a yeasty red ale that reminds me of walking into a bakery.

There’s plenty of seating outside at numerous tables in the theater’s courtyard under the awnings in the Stephen and Mary Birch Pavilion. 

Lady Carolyn’s Pub
1363 Old Globe Way
San Diego, 92101
(619) 231-1941, ext. 2751

One World Beat Cafe in Balboa Park photo collage. Exterior view, combo plate and fresh pressed juice.
One World Beat Cafe in Balboa Park’s combo plate and fresh-pressed juice.

Pick WorldBeat Cafe in Balboa Park For Fresh Vegan Food

One World Beat Cafe inside the Worldbeat Cultural Center is your best choice in Balboa Park for affordable, fresh, vegan cuisine. That’s because they grow some of their food in the nearby Ethnobotany Children’s Peace Garden. Check the Center’s Sunday schedule for some of the finest drumming in San Diego.

One World Beat Cafe Menu link
— Price Range: $4 – $16
— Dining & Food Style: Vegan Afro-Caribbean-Hispanic take-out & delivery
— Hours: Open Fri – Sun at 11:00 AM 

  • Kid-friendly
  • Your pooch is welcome on the outdoor eating patio, not inside
  • It’s wheelchair accessible
  • Restrooms inside Cultural Center on the left

The World Beat Center is 0.4 miles (a 7 min walk) over flat terrain from the new Comic-Con and the San Diego Air & Space museums. 

The most popular menu item at WorldBeat Cafe is their Combo Plate. You’ll get a sampling of their 3 most popular entrees plus salad, plantains, collard greens, and pita bread. The Costa Chica chili in this dish was flavorful, but not too spicy, and the plantains are outstanding. It’s the most expensive menu choice, but it easily satisfies 2 people.

If you’re just looking for a cheap, savory snack, you can’t go wrong with one of their Jamaican Veggie Patties. I’ve only had the Jerk Tofu, but its flaky crust and spicy filling hit the spot.

If you’re looking for a late breakfast you can’t go wrong with one of their Soysage Burritos. I’m usually not a big fan of tofu ‘eggs’, but they add soy sausage, faux cheese, onions, and green peppers to the mix. It makes this wrap filling and tasty.

WorldBeat Cafe does not serve alcoholic beverages. But their fresh-pressed watermelon juice really puts the smack-down on your thirst. 

TIP: The WorldBeat Cafe is also a great spot for shopping for unique African and indigenous artwork and other gifts. And it’s one of Balboa Park’s best spots for free events.

WorldBeat Cafe has outdoor seating on its cozy patio. You can take your time because your children will love wandering in the nearby Ethnobotany Garden.

WorldBeat Cafe currently offers delivery and takeout. Their food’s available on Doordash and Grubhub.

There’s a tiny parking lot that is usually full next to this eatery. Street parking is available on Park Blvd. And there’s almost always room for your car across the boulevard in the large Inspiration Point parking lot by the Veterans Museum.

Distance from San Diego Zoo: 0.8 miles (15-minute walk). The most scenic route is south on Village Place past the Moreton Bay Fig tree, turn left past the San Diego Natural History Museum, swing to the right of the Bea Evenson Fountain, and follow the path past the Fleet Science center to Park Blvd. 

WorldBeat Cultural Center
2100 Park Blvd
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 230-1190

Craveology in Balboa Park photo collage with the Bea Evenson fountain view from the patio and a bbq chicken wrap.
Craveology’s large bbq chicken wrap combo and view of the Bea Evenson fountain

Craveology – Balboa Park Lunch With a Fountain View 

Craveology is located next to the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. Order and take out hot and cold sandwiches, wraps, salads, and flatbread pizzas. Their entrees are big enough to share. There’s an extensive selection of beverages including specialty coffee, beer, and wine to sip on their outdoor patio.

Craveology Menu
— Price Range $4 – $10
— Dining & Food Style (Cafeteria self serve, salads, sandwiches, pizza, ice cream)
— Hours: Opens 10:00 AM Friday thru Tuesday. Closed Wed. and Thurs.

  • Kids menu
  • Dog-friendly
  • Wheelchair accessible
  • Restrooms are located inside the Fleet Science Center lobby to the left of the red pillar.

My favorite item at Craveology is the Spicy Panini Turkey hot sandwich. The smoked turkey has melted pepper jack cheese, sweet bell peppers, onions. And the rosemary artisan bun is slathered with a slightly spicy chipotle sauce. 

If you don’t want to wait for a hot entree, there’s a good selection of pre-made salads, wraps, and sandwiches in the refrigerated section. The photo above shows our barbeque turkey wrap, a drink, and chips. It was more than enough for the two of us.

There are plenty of drink choices here. I counted 14 different types of coffee from Americano to frozen mocha frappes. They’ve also got teas, hot chocolate, and Red Bull to help fuel your walking. Adult selections include craft and international beers, wine, and an assortment of hard seltzers.

Craveology has satisfying vegan and gluten-free selections too. Their 5-grain salad with a Greek feta cheese dressing is good for those avoiding wheat.  And the Southwest Quinoa wrap is a vegan favorite. It’s jammed full of goodies like quinoa, pepper jack cheese, at least 7 different veggies, and Chipotle dressing. Both items are in the grab-and-go cooler case.

Color-changing spoon at Craveology in the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park, San Diego.

Fun Craveology Tip: The coolest item isn’t on the menu. It’s a spoon that changes color when it gets cold. It’s the same technology that’s used on Coors Light beer mountain cans. The plastic utensil comes with any of their dozen different soft-serve ice cream varieties. If they don’t give you one, just ask for it.

Craveology – Fleet Science Center has plenty of outdoor seating. Take your lunch outside to their patio. There are almost 20 tables with umbrellas that have great views of the historic Balboa Park Bea Evenson Fountain

Parking for Craveology is easy to find. There are two lots off of Space Theater Way, south of the Fleet Science Center Museum. One lot is adjacent to the museum. The other is across on the other side of the road. There’s also an electric charging station for your EV ride located in the lot closest to the museum.

Distance from San Diego Zoo: 0.4 miles (7-minute walk)

Craveology
1875 El Prado Blvd
San Diego, CA 92101
Inside the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park
(619) 238-1233

Tea Pavilion restaurant in Balboa Park with teriyaki and salmon bowls and drinks.
Tea Pavilion chicken teriyaki bowl on the left and salmon curry rice on the right.

The Tea Pavilion In Balboa Park Has Fresh, Cheap Eats

The Tea Pavilion at the Japanese Friendship Garden’s one of the least expensive lunch spots in all of Balboa Park. Rice bowls, soups, noodles, salads, sandwiches, sides, and beverages are on their takeout menu. Enjoy zen garden views on the deck where you’ll find half a dozen umbrella-covered outdoor tables. 

Tea Pavilion Menu
— Price Range: $3 – 10
— Dining & Food Style: Japanese fast food & self serve
— Opens at 11:30 AM Tues – Sun. Closed Mondays.

  • Kid-friendly
  • Dog friendly
  • It’s wheelchair accessible
  • No restrooms on-site. But there are facilities located nearby in a small building to the west of the Organ Pavilion. It’s across Pan American Rd. 

The selections on the Japanese garden menu are not spectacular, and they tend to be salty. Because of that, I’d recommend the salads like the soba noodle salad, with added chicken. If you don’t feel like eating greens, the curry chicken salad sandwich is good. It’s mildly spicy but tasty.

There are plenty of gluten-free and vegetarian items here. 

This Japanese tea garden in San Diego features 40+ different varieties of tea on the menu. They include green, white, oolong, black, and herbal tisane. You can also get hot and cold chai lattes, and kombucha.

Alcoholic beverages at this restaurant include hard kombucha, beer, wine, and sake.

Seaweed and salt potato chips at the Tea Pavilion in Balboa Park, San Diego

I love their imported Japanese drinks and snacks. This bag of seaweed and salt potato chips had a very definite umami flavor and a good crunch.

There’s also a 4% surcharge on guest checks here.

There’s plenty of parking within a very short walk of the Tea Pavilion. 

  • Alcázar Garden Parking Lot. 0.2 miles (2-minute walk) – Go east on the raised wooden walkway just south of the driveway into the parking lot. Don’t miss the eye-popping monstrous root systems of the Moreton Bay fig trees in Palm Canyon on your right.
  • Organ Pavilion Parking Lot. 0.2 miles (2-minute walk) – The most direct route is to go up the stairs on the north side of the lot. If you have difficulty with stairs use the road on the right.  You’ll see the columns of the organ stage in the distance. Continue on the path. When you get to the back of the organ pavilion, turn right to go around it to the Japanese Tea Garden.

Distance from San Diego Zoo: ½ mile (10-minute walk)

The Tea Pavilion in Balboa Park website
2215 Pan American Way
San Diego, CA
(619) 231-0048

Craft Cafe at the Mingei Museum in Balboa Park, San Diego. Showing pastries and grab and go cooler.

Craft Café at Mingei is Fast, Tasty & Inexpensive

The Craft Café at Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park is a popular spot for a quick, affordable breakfast or lunch. It has coffee, tea, pastries, lunch items, and a grab-and-go cooler. It’s one of two Mingei museum restaurants. The other is Artifact which serves globally inspired lunches and cocktails.

Craft Café Menu link
— Price Range $4 – 15
— Dining & Food Style (Take-out cafe, coffee & tea, pastries, breakfast, lunch, grab + go)
— Hours: Opens 8:30 AM Mon-Sun

  • Kid-friendly – there’s a small kids menu that includes favorites like chicken nuggets and a Nutella banana sandwich.
  • Dog-friendly
  • Wheelchair accessible – There are low ramps leading up to the covered walkway outside of the museum and cafe. The interior and ordering area of the cafe is small, but you can maneuver a chair there. 
  • Restrooms are located inside the Mingei lobby down the hallway to the right of the museum store

What food’s good at Craft Café? 

The Mingei Café pastries are worth the trip. And they’re rather photogenic too. On a recent family outing, I had a flaky, rich, Florentine spinach and cheese croissant big enough to match this tall lady’s appetite. My sister had a massively decadent chocolate muffin with her mocha latte.

In addition to their baked goods, they’ve got a robust breakfast burrito with egg, chorizo, cheese, potatoes, and tomato salsa. 

There’s also pizza, sandwiches, bowls, empanadas, and filling smoothies if you’d like lunch.

Craft Café has many gluten-free & vegetarian choices. I’ve been tempted by their fragrant vegan soba noodle bowls with mushrooms. If I were limiting my meat and dairy intake that would be my first choice.

TIP: You can’t order alcohol at Craft Café. The closest place to buy beer or wine is at Artifact within the Mingei.

Mingei’s Craft Café is too small for indoor seating. There are a dozen small tables located around this eatery in the shady colonnade.  The Plaza de Panama in front of the museum also has tables with umbrellas and benches where you can nosh and people watch.

Alcázar Garden Parking is the best place to park your car if you want to eat at Craft Café. It’s 0.1 miles from your parking spot to the ordering counter. Most people take about 3 minutes to walk there. The next best lot is the lot in the back of Casa de Balboa at the end of Space Theater Way.

Distance from San Diego Zoo: 0.5 miles (9-minute walk)

Café Mingei
1439 El Prado
San Diego CA 92101
(619) 239-0003

Daniel's Coffee in Spanish Village within Balboa Park, San Diego, with one of their Caramel Frappes.

Daniel’s Coffee Is A Locals’ Favorite

Daniel’s Coffee, in Balboa Park San Diego, is an outdoor coffee kiosk within Spanish Village. It’s known for reasonably priced coffee, teas, blended coffees, smoothies, croissants, and other fresh-baked treats. Sit at the umbrella tables or sip and stroll through the colorful plaza and watch artists at work.

Daniel’s Coffee (no menu posted online) 
— Price Range $4 – 8
— Dining & Food Style (Food cart –  Beverages, Coffee, Tea, Pastries)
— Hours: Opens Tues – Sun. at 9:00 AM. Closed Mondays.

  • It’s kid-friendly
  • Dog-friendly
  • Wheelchair accessible, although the plaza has uneven spots
  • Restrooms are located between Studios 6 and 7 

What should you order at Daniel’s Coffee in Balboa Park? I’ve never had a disappointing beverage at Daniel’s Coffee. The baristas like to experiment. So ask them what they recommend today. If you’re not a coffee or tea aficionado, definitely try their fruit smoothies. They are very filling and stuffed with plenty of frozen fruit. 

Daniel’s is a popular breakfast spot for people who work at Balboa Park and the Zoo. You can get a quick, inexpensive, European-style breakfast of beverage and pastry for under $10.

Those looking for gluten-free or vegetarian selections will not be disappointed. I’m not sensitive to wheat protein, but one of their gluten-free cookies looked so good that I had to have it. It went down like a carby dream with my hot chocolate.

TIP: There are places to sit scattered all over the Spanish Village plaza. Don’t worry if all of the tables in front of the coffee cart are taken. Just wander a bit further and you’re sure to spot an open sitting spot on one of the brick tree planters or a bench in the shade.

Parking for Daniel’s Coffee is available nearby in several different lots. The closest abuts the east side of Spanish Village. It will take a minute to get in line for your coffee once you’ve parked.

Distance from San Diego Zoo: 0.1 miles (3-minute walk)

Daniel’s Coffee
1770 Village Place
San Diego, CA 92101
(In Spanish Village Art Center)
(619) 867-2860

Cafe in the Park eatery. Located inside Casa de Balboa in Balboa Park, San Diego.
Cafe in the Park’s hard to find, but the value-priced food’s worth looking for.

Cafe in the Park – Balboa Park’s Affordable Secret Food Spot

Cafe in the Park in Balboa Park’s located inside Casa de Balboa close to the San Diego History Museum. This out-of-sight budget eatery serves breakfast and coffees as well as lunch; burgers, deli sandwiches, and salads. There are a dozen small tables for eating inside the building and a few benches outside. 

No online menu is posted, so I took photos of the Food menu and also the Drink list.
— Price Range: $3 – $10
— Hours: 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM, Thursday through Sunday 

  • Kid-friendly
  • Dog-friendly
  • Wheelchair accessible
  • Restrooms are located in the lobby in front of the San Diego History Museum

The prices are reasonable and the food’s fresh. For a quick snack, the Pumpkin Spice squares are a good deal at $2. The chicken Caesar wrap ($8.99) is big enough to share. The salads are crispy. And the chili’s not too spicy. You can also get a burger here. 

What’s Good at Cafe in the Park? Avocado toast is popular. They spread mashed avocado on your choice of toasted bread and put hard-boiled egg slices on top. Then “Everything But The Bagel” seasonings is sprinkled on top. If you’re watching your sodium intake, ask them to put the seasoning on the side for you because it’s a bit salty.

Their Half Sandwich and a Cup of Chili special is a good value. The only problem is that you may have a hard time choosing between the almost 20 deli sandwich selections.

They’ve got a varied breakfast menu from bagels and cream cheese to a burrito stuffed with eggs, potatoes, and cheese. Add sausage, bacon, or ham for a bit extra.

There are plenty of vegetarian options. The menu includes veggie burgers & wraps, paninis, cheese quesadillas. Also, the standard wraps and salads can be made vegan. 

TIP: Cafe in the Park typically has shorter lines on busy days, even though it’s close to many of Balboa Park’s museums. That’s because you can’t see it from the outside on Prado Street. Only people in the know (like you!) go there.

For even faster service call ahead and order at (619) 331-1992.

Parking for Cafe in the Park can be found at the backside (south) of Casa de Balboa. You can drive to the lot there via Space Theater Way.

Distance from San Diego Zoo: 0.3 miles (7-minute walk)

Cafe in the Park
1649 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101
(Located in the Casa del Balboa building Between the San Diego History Center and the Museum of Photographic Art)
(619) 331-1992

Prado Perk coffee cart in the House of Hospitality in Balboa Park, San Diego. Edwardian costumed lady with parasol waiting in line.

Try Prado Perk for a Quick Breakfast & Caffeine Boost

The Prado Perk in Balboa Park is a coffee stand located outside The Prado Restaurant in the House of Hospitality courtyard. They offer hot and cold coffees, lattes, and teas at reasonable prices. You can also grab a fresh pastry or baked bar. Buy milk, yogurt, and bottled water there too.

No online menu link
— Price Range: $3 – 8
— Dining & Food Style: Coffee and snack cart
— Hours: Opens at 8:00 AM Tues – Sun. Closed Mondays.

  • Kid-friendly
  • Dog friendly
  • Limited wheelchair accessibility
  • No restroom on-site. The closest is across the plaza on the first floor of the Mingei Museum. 

The delicious pastries are baked next door at the Prado. Because of that their croissants are always fresh. My chocolate one cost a dollar extra, but it was worth it. Flaky, light, and enough cocoa bits to satisfy this chocoholic.

Nearby outdoor seating in the courtyard is limited to a few benches. If it’s not too hot, take your beverages and carb treats outside to the umbrella tables on the scenic Plaza de Panama. 

If you need some relief from the heat, there are benches in the colonnades surrounding the building. 

Or you can take a short walk to the petit but beautiful Casa del Rey Moro garden which is located just south of The Prado restaurant. Turn left when leaving the House of Hospitality courtyard. Then turn left again at the end of the building and go down the incline to the garden. Sit on the cool stone benches in the shade there. 

1549 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101
Call El Prado restaurant for info (619) 557-9441

The Flying Squirrel in San Diego Natural History Museum - photo collage of menu, snacks and seating.

Flying Squirrel Cafe in Balboa Park – Quick Coffee Breaks

The Flying Squirrel at the San Diego Natural History Museum was temporarily closed for renovations in December 2021. It has reopened with a limited menu of coffee, pastries, and snacks. Call (877) 946-7797 to find out if they’re back to their full menu. 

At the Flying Squirrel Cafe within the San Diego Natural History Museum, you can enjoy coffee, pastries, and snacks. The air conditioning is a big draw on hot days. You do not have to pay museum admission to eat here.

Flying Squirrel Menu link (if the posted menu is from 2019, it is not the current one)
— Price Range: $3 – 6
— Dining & Food Style: Counter order – coffee, tea, assorted baked goods
— Hours: Opens 10:00 AM. Fri – Tues. Closed Wed & Thurs. 

  • Kid-friendly 
  • Only service dogs are allowed into the Natural History Museum. But you can send someone in to grab and go. Eat your selections with your pup outside by the fountain or in the back of the museum on the grass around the Moreton Bay Fig Tree
  • The Nat and the Flying Squirrel are wheelchair accessible on the first floor in the atrium
  • Restrooms are located next to the Subaru Giant Screen theater. 

What’s Good To Eat at the Flying Squirrel?

The baked goodies are the best food items here. The Squirrel serves a rotating assortment of scones and muffins brought from Bread & Cie bakery daily. If they have any Orange and Cranberry scones left, grab one. They’re tart and sweet with the flavors of the fruit coming through boldly. 

Flying Squirrel Tips: You do not have to pay admission to the San Diego Natural History museum to eat at this restaurant. Enter on the north side of the museum (by the Moreton Bay Fig). Tell the person at the ticket counter that you’re just coming to eat (and maybe visit the gift shop). They’ll let you in. 

Natural History Museum members and Balboa Park employees get a 10% discount at the cafe. 

The Flying Squirrel is rarely crowded. And the air conditioning inside the museum’s atrium is wonderful on a hot day. 

There’s no outdoor seating at this museum eatery. But you can take your food outside and sit on one of the benches in the park.

Parking is very convenient for The Flying Squirrel. It can be found adjoining the Natural History Museum on its east side. There’s also another lot across Village Place next to Spanish Village Art Center (my article covers what to see and do there).

Distance from San Diego Zoo: 0.3 miles (5-minute walk)

The Flying Squirrel
1788 El Prado, Balboa Park
(Inside the atrium in San Diego Natural History Museum)
San Diego, CA 92101
(877) 946-7797

Casa 1915 Is Closed

Casa 1915 in Balboa Park, San Diego, owned by the Cohn Restaurant Group was permanently closed in December 2017. Cafe in the Park is now in that space.  

The Village Grill Is Closed

The Village Grill, which was located at the corner of Village Place and Old Globe Way has been shut permanently.   

Balboa Park Food Trucks and Other Vendors – Should You Eat There?

The safety and quality of Balboa Park food truck fare are excellent. That’s because the trucks are stringently vetted by the San Diego County Health Department and judged for quality by the Conservancy. 

Most of the cart and tent vendors do not have approval from either of those organizations. Eating at unlicensed vendors is a gamble with food safety.

Food Truck Fridays – Balboa Park’s Best Foodie Experience

Food Truck Fridays have been canceled due to COVID. Check with the Balboa Park Conservancy website to find out if they’re happening again. 

This weekly summer event was one of the biggest date night destinations in San Diego. There was always live entertainment and a rotating selection of a dozen gourmet trucks. They provided a wide variety of top-quality appetizers, main dishes, desserts, and beverages from up-and-coming chefs throughout San Diego county. 

Also, many of the museums stayed open late so that the crowds could enjoy them as well. 

I can’t wait until Food Truck Fridays return to Balboa Park.

Balboa Park food vendor/food cart in San Diego

Balboa Park Food Carts And Tents – Are They Worth It?

The cheapest Balboa Park food can be found at the numerous food vendor carts that gather on the Prado and near the Bea Evanston Fountain. But many of these carts are not licensed by the San Diego County Health Department, unlike the Food Truck Fridays vendors. Eat at your own risk.

The carts and pop-up tent purveyors that are approved by the San Diego County Health department will display the notice proudly on the front of the stand. If you don’t see one, they probably don’t have one.

These vendors primarily serve Mexican favorites. You can easily eat lunch for under $10. Here’s a sample of recent prices:

  • Tamales: $5
  • Elote (spiced corn) in a cup: $5 – $9
  • Nachos: $10
  • Sausage dogs with peppers & onions: $8
  • Iced drinks: $4

Is it safe to eat at off-the-street vendor carts in Balboa Park? According to a July 2019 article by NBC 7 News, a San Diego County spokesperson said: 

“It has not received any food-borne illness complaints linked to food vendors in Balboa Park. The city also replied, saying all food trucks and food vendors operating at Balboa Park must possess proper health permits from the county.”

Why are unlicensed food cart vendors in Balboa Park there if they aren’t approved? A 2021 article by CBS8 news explains: 

In 2018, California legislators approved Senate Bill 946 which decriminalizes sidewalk vendors. San Diego police say because of that they can’t enforce the local vendor law that prohibits the sale of goods on public property without a permit unless there is a health or safety concern.”

December Nights

December Nights has been scaled back to a drive-thru event since the COVID pandemic arrived in 2020. Check the Balboa Park Conservancy website for news of its full return.

December Nights was the biggest Balboa Park food fest of the year with over 300,000 attending on the first Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Most of the 34 International Cottages served national specialties. Gourmet food trucks lined Plaza de Panama and El Prado. There were also treats at Spanish Village.

Entertainment was also plentiful, with over 125 local groups offering live music and dance performances. In addition, some of the museums were free.

In 2020 and 2021 a smaller drive-thru version called “Taste of December Nights” was offered. It had 20 food trucks and a slate of musical groups to listen to while you were waiting for your food in your car. 

I think that all of San Diego is looking forward to the return of the full December Nights experience. 

Where To Eat Breakfast In Balboa Park

There are 4 Balboa Park restaurants and cafes that serve breakfast items. Most of them are located on El Prado street in the heart of the park. See the map above for locations.

  • Cafe in the Park
  • Daniel’s Coffee
  • Craft Cafe at Mingei
  • Prado Perk

Where To Drink In Balboa Park

There are 8 eateries within Balboa Park where you can buy adult beverages. This count does not include the Food Truck Friday vendors or special events. Check the map above for their locations. 

  • The Prado
  • Panama 66
  • The Tea Pavilion at the Japanese Friendship Garden
  • Artifact at the Mingei
  • Craveology
  • Flight Path Grill
  • Albert’s Restaurant (and many other locations inside the zoo)
  • Lady Carolyn’s Pub

Drinking is also allowed in many areas within the park if you wish to bring your own bottle or cans. See this map for all the locations where alcohol is permitted or prohibited. 

Balboa Park Restaurants – The Final Word

The food scene in the park is ever-changing. And I hope that I’ve given you a good overview of the variety of cuisines and prices that you can expect in the park. I would appreciate your help in my efforts to keep this page current. 

So if you eat a new dish or spy a new menu email me. I’ll include your suggestions (with a mention if you’d like) in this article on Balboa Park Restaurants.

Nancy Ulrich

I'm nuts...about animals, polymer clay, mixed media art & husband Bob. Happily planted in San Diego among good friends, family that I would have chosen if given the choice and optimism for a bountiful future for us all.

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