Balboa Park’s easternmost section, aligned with 28th Street, isn’t well known among most San Diegans, let alone tourists. North Parkians, South Parkians, and Golden Hilliers, along with local golfers, do know of several out-of-the-way features here: Golden Hill Park, San Diego’s Municipal Golf Course, Grape Street dog park, Switzer Canyon, and Bird Park.
About three months ago, Balboa Park rangers established a new trail “gateway” at Golden Hill Park. Four routes, marked by small square signs at infrequent intervals, radiate from that gateway. Let’s take a tour on Trail 22, a looping walk that begins at the Golden Hill Gateway, explores the easternmost extremities of the park, and returns through Florida Canyon. You’ll be on a combination of unpaved trails (some briefly steep and rocky) sidewalks, and roadside shoulders. Mountain biking is allowed, but that activity is all but impossible on certain of the steeper pitches.
First, you need to find the starting point, Golden Hill Park, on the north edge of the Golden Hill neighborhood. You’ll discover the main entrance to it at the north end of 25th Street in Golden Hill, just north of A Street. Look for the trail gateway signboard, featuring a map of the trail routes departing from it.
Following the Trail 22 signs, head east and downhill from 25th Street to the four-way stop sign at 26th Street. Go straight across to Golf Course Drive and stay on the left (west) wood-chip-surfaced shoulder of that two-lane road. Follow the road as it curves past the golf course clubhouse. Look behind your shoulder to catch a unique (if you haven’t been in these parts before) vista of the downtown San Diego skyline.
Past a couple more curves, Golf Course Drive intersects with 28th Street. Very near that intersection, make a left on the signed trail heading due north. Due north you go, paying no heed to the topography, down one steep hill and up another slope to flat land again. You go by Grape Street picnic area/dog park, on the left, only one of three areas within Balboa Park where unleashed dogs can roam.
Continue following the north-heading Trail 22, losing elevation again. You find yourself right alongside one of the golf course’s fairways, fringed with a beautiful grove of planted native live oaks. Just ahead you’ll see an informational signboard for the Switzer Canyon open-space, a small city-owned natural area occupying the canyon on the right side. Keep going straight, though, steeply uphill, and hook up with 28th Street on the rim of Switzer Canyon, staying to the right of the golf course.
Use the sidewalk of 28th Street to travel north for five blocks to Upas Street, passing numerous homes of historical importance. Notice the contractor’s date stamps in the sidewalk concrete slabs. Bird Park, a mini-park within Balboa Park at 28th and Upas Street, pays homage to San Diego’s great variety of native birds.
Now head west on Upas Street for 0.5 mile, hang a left on Morley Field Drive, continue about 100 yards, and hang a left again at the entrance to a parking lot next to the Morley Field dog park. Travel south through the dog park and pick up the trail descending into Florida Canyon — Balboa Park’s primary area of native vegetation. Keep heading south, parallel to Florida Drive, a mile or so, until you reach the intersection of Pershing Drive, Florida Drive, and 26th Street. Use the pedestrian crosswalks to get across to 26th, and head upward along the right shoulder of that curving road, which doubles as the final leg of Trail 22 that takes you back up to Golden Hill Park. During the bottom half of this climb, take note of the beautiful grove of live oaks arching over you. Called the Bennington Memorial Oak Grove, its trees were planted in memory of the 62 men killed in the boiler steam explosion that took place aboard the USS Bennington gunboat in San Diego harbor in 1905.
East Balboa Park
Discover several low-key attractions along Balboa Park’s far-east edge.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 1 mile
Hiking length: 4.4 miles