Where to Eat Near Balboa Park

San Diego has some of the best weather on earth, offering the best outdoor vacation year-round.

chef preparing grilled chicken at a restaurant in Balboa Park San Diego

While you may head to San Diego to bask in the sun at Coronado Beach or marvel at the giant population seals posted up at La Jolla, San Diego’s rich cultural bounty offers a slew of museums, gardens, and performing art centers.

Nearly all of San Diego’s cultural and historical attractions fall within the iconic Balboa Park, a massive outdoor city park with 17 museums, gardens, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

Between strolls through the immaculate gardens and trips to history, art, and cultural museums, you’ll surely need to take snack and meal breaks.

Balboa Park’s stunning grounds are the perfect backdrop to a romantic meal, coffee date, or happy hour.

Panama 66

1450 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: 619-696-1966
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Restaurant Panama 66 in Balboa Park San Diego

Located inside the San Diego Museum of Art and Lowell Davies Festival Theater complex, Panama 66 is an artsy gastropub owned by jack-of-all-trades couple Jeff Motch and Clea Hantman.

They have live music all weekend and Wednesday jazz jam sessions weekly in the beautiful outdoor patio.

They offer 12 locally sourced craft beers on tap along with daytime and evening cocktail menus to accompany lunch or dinner of elevated bar fare.

The menu has everything from cheese and fruit boards to sandwiches, salads, and main entrees. I loved the signature Wagyu Beef burger with sharp cheddar, lettuce, and remoulade.


1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: 619-557-9441
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Prado is a refined New American Bistro in the heart of Balboa Park inside the gorgeous Spanish Colonial building that serves as the park’s visitor center.

Prado is a popular restaurant for weddings and private events in a beautifully lush, historic setting.

It’s also popular for families, friends, and parkgoers looking for a picturesque happy hour, lunch, or dinner to relax and replenish after exploring Balboa Park.

Prado is famous for its amazing margaritas and mezcal drinks using the freshest California citrus.

I had a blood orange margarita with a plate of spicy calamari fries as a precursor to the main course of mustard-crusted pork chop. 

Daniel’s Coffee.

1770 Village Pl, San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: 619-867-2860

Daniel’s Coffee. is a stunning and vibrant coffee house and café inside the Spanish Village Art Center with a magnificent outdoor patio atop a veritable rainbow road of colored tiles, umbrellas, and art installations.

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You can grab an artisanal coffee and espresso drink then head outside for a photoshoot in its colorful patio.

Apart from being the life force fueling art projects and works of the 90+ resident artists at the Art Center, Daniel’s Coffee. is the perfect setting for coffee dates with friends.

Their vast menu uses fresh, sustainably sourced coffee beans to create everything from espresso to over-the-top “whipped” coffee drinks with a thick cream topping. 

WorldBeat Cafe

2100 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: 619-230-1190
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WorldBeat Café is a part of the Worldbeat Art Center, a non-profit, multi-cultural community center that creates music art, dance, and education dedicated to educating the public and supporting indigenous cultures from the Americas and African diaspora.

Worldbeat Café likewise supports global cultures by offering an array of specialties from Latin America, Creole, and Cajun cultures with a 100% vegan preparation.

They offer fresh-pressed juices, elixirs, and exotic smoothies like moringa superfood and baobab to accompany a vegan feast.

I loved the African Peanut Coconut Curry, with fresh mixed vegetables slow-cooked in a coconut milk curry with ginger, peanut paste, and spices over basmati rice with plantains and a spring salad. 

Albert’s Restaurant

2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: 619-685-3200
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Albert’s Restaurant is an elegant New American restaurant and bar inside the iconic San Diego Zoo with completely open deck seating overlooking a stunning waterfall.

While most zoos have concession stands with cheap kid-friendly comfort foods, Albert’s Restaurant offers a gourmet selection of refined meals, beer, wine, and decadent weekend brunches. 

Albert’s Restaurant has been a San Diego staple for decades, named after the zoo’s most famous inhabitant, a silverback Gorilla and patriarch to the current three generations of gorillas at the zoo.

The eclectic menu of sandwiches, entrees, salads, and small plates has everything from Philly cheesesteak sandwiches to red wine braised short ribs. 

Hash House A Go Go

3628 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92103
Phone: 619-298-4646
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Hash House A Go Go is a hip, trendy breakfast eatery, specializing in Midwestern food from Executive Chef and Co-founder Andy Beardslee’s family recipe repertoire.

Located a few blocks from Balboa Park’s Marston House Museum and Gardens, Hash House A Go Go has received accolades from a never-ending list of national publications from The New York Times to Eater to USA Today.

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Their signature dish is their sage fried chicken that uses farm-fresh, free-range chicken breast dusted with cornstarch then rolled in cornflake crumbs, fresh sage, and house spices before being fried to perfection. You can get it in a sandwich, fry basket, with over-easy eggs, over a salad, or over waffles.  

Sweet Shack

2929 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

a delicious dish served at San Diego's Shake Shack

Another San Diego Zoo haunt, the Sweet Shack is an ice cream shop and concession stand, offering fried chicken sandwiches, burgers, chicken tender plates, funnel cakes, and extravagant ice cream creations.

Located off the Fern Canyon trail across from Jungle Java, the Sweet Shack has something for your sweet tooth as well as a decadent salty craving.

They even combine salty and sweet in their over-the-top doughnut burger with two patties, raspberry mayonnaise, maple smoked bacon, white cheddar, and onion rings atop a glazed donut with a side of curly fries. Save room for a funnel cake a la mode topped with salted caramel ice cream.

Safari Kitchen

Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

Located next door to the San Diego Zoo’s ticket counter, Safari Kitchen is a fast-casual counter café serving classic American comfort food that both kids and parents will love.

They serve simple offerings like burgers, chicken tenders, corn dogs, and hot dogs for kids with more sophisticated versions for adults.

They also make soft-baked pretzels, frozen lemonades, fresh baked cookies, and other delicious snacks.

My favorite meal was their Fish n Chips with three pieces of wild cod battered and fried and served with tartar and malt vinegar with a side of fries.

Pure Project Balboa Park

2865 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92103
Phone: 619-323-2000
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Pure Project Balboa Park is an eco-friendly, community-oriented artisanal brewery and taproom in Bankers Hill, a block from the Quince Drive entrance to Balboa Park.

Starting as a rustic brewery in the mountains of Costa Rica, Owners Jesse Pine, and Mat Robar brought it to their native San Diego and hired the expertise of master brewer Winslow Sawyer to oversee the production of award-winning craft beer.

They have 20 beers on their rotating tap list along with another 20 bottles of artisanal beer, brewed onsite using exotic ingredients like coffee, cacao, raspberries, cherries, and more.

They also offer a variety of small plates and wood-fired pizzas from local food vendors sold in the Biergarten. 

The Balboa

1863 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: 619-955-8525
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Located in Bankers Hill, The Balboa is a casual cocktail and beer bar and grill offering some of the best burgers in San Diego.

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The understated, no-frills dining space is a beloved neighborhood spot for happy hours, pool tournaments, and family-friendly burger nights. San Diego Eater and Thrillist voted their burgers Best Burger in San Diego.

They have a full bar with a small yet delicious cocktail menu. I loved the jalapina Margarita with tequila, lime, triple sec, house sour, jalapeno, and pineapple juice with a salt and tajin rim.

Their Burgers are perfect in their simplicity, with only four burgers that come with a hearty serving of thick-cut fries.

Farmer’s Bottega

860 W Washington St, San Diego, CA 92103
Phone: 619-458-9929
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Owned and operated by Sicilian transplant Alberto Morreale, Farmer’s Bottega is a farm-to-table New American kitchen in a spectacular rustic meets country-chic space brimming with potted plants and illuminated by dimly lit chandeliers.

Located in Mission Hills, Farmer’s Bottega is a wildly romantic restaurant that has been featured in Travel and Leisure, Thrillist, and Eater.

San Diego Uptown Downtown News voted Farmer’s Bottega the Best Sunday Brunch in San Diego.

Their decadent brunch menu has creative takes on French toast, pancakes, benedicts, and scrambles along with gourmet plates of classic regional favorites like monte Cristo sandwiches, breakfast burritos, and my personal favorite, meatloaf hash with pesto.

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian attended West Virginia University, then started his career in the IT industry before following his passion for marketing and hospitality. He has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and bar industry.

As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.

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