Southern California is home to two great cities and both have great city parks. The crown jewel of San Diego is Balboa Park, home to the San Diego Zoo. The gem of LA is Griffith Park, home to the Hollywood sign and the LA Observatory. But which park has what it takes to be Southern California’s King Kong Champion of the World City Park? Let’s see …
Attractions: Observatory + Hollywood Sign vs. Zoo + Conservatory
In Los Angeles, the Observatory is filled with fun and free exhibits inside the architecturally awesome building. And there are amazing views of LA from its roof. Across the park you can hike to the iconic Hollywood sign, backdrop of billions of movies and dreams.
In San Diego, the zoo is world-renowned but costs a steep $43 admission per person. You can see giraffes. Across the park at the free Conservatory Building you can enjoy the sun-dappled tranquility of a billion orchids (nearly) and breath the floral bouquet of clearly better, less-smog-filled air. But your ears will ring with the sounds of landing planes overhead.
Winner: Griffth Park. Way to be free and amazing.
Beauty: Griffith Park’s shabby chic vs. Balboa’s ordered awesomeness
Griffith Park seems largely untouched by maintenance workers, landscape architects, and urban planenrs. It’s just there. Sure, some of it is erroding away and other bits are cobbled and ramshackle, but that’s part of the attraction. It’s practically wilderness, just butted up right next to a city.
Meanwhile, Balboa Park is a lesson in formal beauty. From the Japanese Gardens to Palm Valley to the Conservatory Building, everything is in its place and gorgeous. The buildings are ornate and beautiful. There are fountains. There are beautiful restaurants and sculpture gardens.
Winner: Balboa Park. You’re a looker.
Setting: Central LA vs. North of SD
Griffith Park is pretty centrally located in Los Angeles. Numerous neighborhoods bump up against it and tons of locals flock to it for recreation. It’s been the setting of countless movies, including (supposedly) Back to the Future II.
San Diego’s Balboa Park, while technically inside the city limits, seems to be at the outer reaches of them. It feels a bit like a piece of real estate spoiled by the airport’s flight path and given to the public because of it. Sure, some locals use it, but nearly everybody drives to Balboa Park. It’s more of a tourist-fueled parking lot with trees than a natural oasis.
Winner: Griffith Park. Way to be in the heart of things.
So the best city park of Southern California is … Griffith Park in Los Angeles! Sure, you’re a bit rough around the edges (especially the edges of the trail), but we love you anyway.
City parks should be places for residents to escape their crowded apartments and houses — good ones are the city’s garden, a shared backyard. Successful city parks blend many uses in comparatively small spaces: museums, gardens, playing fields, concert venues, lakes, wilderness. A park should give its residents and visitors what they can’t get in the city itself. Griffith Park is great for the same reason Central Park is great in New York, why Lincoln Park is great in Chicago, why Hyde Park is great in London. Nice work, LA!