The out of control “swap meet” in Balboa Park.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Balboa Park. I go almost every weekend.

Balboa Park is full of amazing beauty, culture, entertainment and history. It’s not only San Diego’s crown jewel, but one of the greatest urban parks anywhere in the world.

But lately the park is out of control.

I usually don’t write too critically about anything. The nature of my fun photo blog is optimistic. Cool San Diego Sights is not political or controversial. Which makes this particular post hard to publish. But I’ve seen enough.

Things have gotten out of control in Balboa Park. Unregulated vendors have taken over, turning its plazas and El Prado into a kind of swap meet. Anyone who has visited lately has experienced it.

Every single person I’ve spoken to about this “swap meet” is fed up, too. Many of these people are Balboa Park volunteers.

I’m told by people more knowledgeable than me that city leaders, who should act responsibly, have cancelled meetings concerning the situation.

Emergency access is hampered. Food vendors can seemingly dish out anything. Vendors frequently fight over spaces and park rangers must be called to deal with it. And the architecture and wonder and beauty of a very special place is almost lost behind the garish clutter.

Those I’ve spoken to who’ve criticized Balboa Park’s “swap meet” tell me they’re fine with the presence of a few vendors. And I agree. You know–the way it used to be. It’s festive and fun and adds color to the park–but this?

Balboa Park is also out of control after dark.

Once night falls, Balboa Park is practically taken over by vagrants and drug use. As visitors make their departure, the park becomes something quite different.

I’ve seen open alcohol and drug use on El Prado, in museum doorways, on benches, in dark places. I’ve seen the increased graffiti. Multiple windows have been broken at the International Cottages. Two of the cottages, I’m told, have had to hire security guards. We all heard about the stabbing near the Lily Pond a few months ago.

Lately two different people told me they’re afraid to walk through Balboa Park after dark. I don’t blame them. Perhaps that’s why Balboa Park empties of most visitors at nightfall and the park’s vibrancy fades.

Where is the leadership?


It has come to my attention some people interpret this blog post as an attack on the vendors. Of course it isn’t! When I visit the park, I often enjoy a Chips Galore ice cream (or two) myself.

I’m being critical of a chaotic, unregulated situation that now appears out of control. Balboa Park is a very special place. It’s a National Historic Landmark, after all, along with places like Mount Vernon, the Apollo Mission Control Center and Martin Luther King’s Birthplace. Beyond the obvious safety and aesthetic concerns, and the fact that the park restaurants and museum cafe’s are hurt, is there no point when there would be too many vendor tables and tents jammed into the park?


Proposed legislation that would address this situation made the news today, less than a week after I wrote my original post. The legislation is a compromise. It tries to address the concerns of both street vendors and those affected by them. It strives to be a win-win for all parties, and is the long-awaited first step in a process that will hopefully satisfy everyone.

From what I read, it sounds like the “swap meet” appearance of Balboa Park will be addressed, particularly during the busy summer months when the park receives numerous visitors.

You can read more about these developments here!

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.