A recipe for Lavender Lemonade inspired by our time in San Diego and Balboa Park! This floral lemonade includes a homemade lavender syrup for a cool and refreshing drink.
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We loved our short time in the area so much, we ended up going back for a longer trip during Spring Break! I recently shared Pastel de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Pastry) and San Diego, so today I am covering Balboa Park and a couple surrounding food stops.
We stopped by Balboa Park twice during our latest trip and still only saw a portion of it. This area covers 1,200 acres and is home to nearly 20 museums, gardens, trails, events, attractions, and the San Diego Zoo.
A few highlights include the Botanical Building and Lily Pond, California Tower, San Diego Model Railroad Museum, Spanish Village Art Center, The Old Globe, Balboa Park Carousel, Spreckels Organ Pavilion (largest outdoor pipe organ in the world), and the Cabrillo Bridge.
Parking within Balboa Park is free (keep in mind some of the parking lots fill quickly on busy days), as is the tram. Wear comfortable shoes for walking between the different attractions. A jacket or light layers are also helpful as the mornings/evenings can be cool even on hot days.
Hours of operation and admission may vary based on the specific museum, event, or attraction.
San Diego Air and Space Museum
The San Diego Air & Space Museum was our first stop after arriving in the city. This museum is packed with exhibits focusing on air and space technology from the first milestones of flight all the way to the Modern Jet & Space Age.
They first opened to the public on February 15, 1963 in the Food and Beverage Building. A fire on February 22, 1978 destroyed the Electrical Building (where they moved in 1965), over 50 aircraft, and archival collections as they were preparing to transition to a new location.
Since February 22, 1980, the museum has been housed in the former Ford Building at 2001 Pan American Plaza and is now home to a vast collection highlighting the Golden Age of Flight (1919-1939), WWI, WWII, and the Modern Jet and Space Age. They have also been a Smithsonian affiliate since 2005.
A few notable aircraft on display include the Apollo 9 Command Module, Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10 Engine, Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XVI, Spirit of St. Louis replica, Lockheed A-12 Blackbird, General Atomics RQ-1K Predator, Ford Trimotor 5-AT, Bell AH-1E Cobra Helicopter, and more.
Along with the permanent displays, special exhibits may be available. During our visit, we were able to walk through GALILEO: Space Visionary with hands-on and engaging displays showcasing how “Galileo’s groundbreaking science” has shaped the world today.
The museum is family-friendly with easy paths for strollers, plenty of hands-on activities to facilitate learning, and even a Kid’s Aviation Action Hangar with crafts, toys, and experiments geared towards younger children.
Our kids particularly enjoyed the flight simulators, sitting in the cockpits, and virtually assembling a space station.
The detailed Museum’s Social Story is also helpful to prepare for the visit with sensory notes on quiet and more busy areas.
At the time of this post, the museum is open daily 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day). Check their website for the current admission.
Allow for at least a couple of hours to walk through the museum. We were able to comfortably see everything in about 2-3 hours.
San Diego Natural History Museum
We visited the San Diego Natural History Museum (theNAT) on our second day. This museum houses over 8 million fossils, models, reptiles, and more through 75 million years of history and four floors.
The society behind the museum was founded in 1874 and opened its first single-room museum in 1912. Their current building was dedicated on January 14, 1933 at 1788 El Prado.
Like the Air & Space Museum, the San Diego Natural History Museum is packed with hands on exhibits and displays created with children in mind.
According to Evan, the building has all of his favorite things with dinosaurs, a Megalodon, Gila monster, bears, and even prehistoric mammals!
A few notable items include an Allosaurus (Al) cast skeleton made from fossil bones collected in Utah, Foucault Pendulum, over 100 gems and minerals, Carcharodon megalodon replica, a demonstration lab, and nearly 200 animal skulls of all shapes and sizes.
We particularly loved the focus on the local area with the exhibit, Coast to Cactus in Southern California, highlighting the diverse terrain found in the state and “one of only 36 biodiversity hotspots in the world.”
The Living Lab in the basement was another favorite. This Vivarium showcases regional wildlife and the adaptations they use to survive.
Some animals found in this section include a Gila monster, rattlesnakes, centipedes, frogs, salamanders, spiders, and a bee hive.
We also spent a lot of time in the Extraordinary Ideas from Ordinary People: A History of Citizen Science exhibit with rare books (some from the 1600s!), artwork, and photographs.
This kids loved being able to flip through the pages digitally and the upstairs reading nook was perfect for taking a small break.
We spent about 3 hours at this museum and it was the perfect amount of time to see everything and loop back to a couple of favorite areas.
At the time of this post, the San Diego Natural History Museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Check their website for current admission and hours before visiting.
When entering or leaving the museum, be sure to check out the Moreton Bay Fig Tree near the north entrance. The largest of the Ficus macrophylla (native to east Australia) in Balboa Park, this tree was first planted in a garden in 1915 and is now one of the three largest Moreton Bay Fig trees in California at 78 feet (24 meters) high and a trunk 486 inches (12.3 meters) across.
Japanese Friendship Garden
We walked (a little less than 0.5 mile) to the Japanese Friendship Garden at 2215 Pan American Road after our visit to the San Diego Natural History Museum.
The gardens first opened to the public in 1991 with a collection of plants native to both San Diego and Japan (San Diego’s sister city is Yokohama).
With expansions in 1999 and 2015, the area now features Japanese landscaping designs and techniques across 12 acres and two sections (Upper Garden and Lower Garden).
It is also a popular location for weddings and other private events with the picturesque scenery.
A few highlights are the Koi Pond (a sign of longevity, the oldest recorded Koi named Hanako was 226 years old!), Bonsai, Dragon Bridge, Azalea Garden (home to 40 types of Azaleas and 27 types of Camellias), Maple Bridge, Karesansui (Dry Stone Garden), and Oribe-doro (stone lanterns originally used to light the path for tea ceremony guests).
The kids also enjoyed the scavenger hunt with objects hidden among the trails.
If we did this trip again, I would reverse the order and visit the Japanese Friendship Garden first before it gets too hot.
We were there for about 1 1/2 hours at 1 p.m. and the sun was very bright (temperatures were near 90˚F/32˚C) with minimal spots for shade. Otherwise, it was a wonderful spot to relax and enjoy a bit of quiet.
At the time of our visit, the Japanese Friendship Garden was open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last admission 6 p.m.). Check the official website for current admission and hours before visiting.
Purchasing tickets online is recommended. No pets are allowed on the grounds. Wear comfortable shoes. Most of the curved paths (curved to discourage evil spirits) are paved.
Dia del Café
Dia del Café was the perfect place to pick up coffee as we were driving into Balboa Park. Located in North Park at 2873 Adams Ave A, they have a wonderful variety of hot/iced coffee, specialty drinks, tea, pan dulce, and other treats.
We were able to find street parking right in front early on a weekday morning. Our favorites included the Miel y Canela Latte (honey and cinnamon), Chai Latte, Concha, Bigotes (my favorite- butter sugared croissant), and Cuernos (plain croissant).
Taste of Denmark
We stopped by Taste of Denmark at 142 University Avenue in Hillcrest for lunch on our first day after spending a couple of hours at the Air and Space Museum.
Taste of Denmark is currently open for lunch Wednesdays – Mondays 11-4. They feature Danish burgers, Hot Dogs, Smørrebrød, Comfort Food, and Desserts.
We tried the:
- Meatball Smørrebrød- open faced sandwich with potatoes over rye bread.
- Grill Bar Burger- rib roast burger with cracklings, pickled red cabbage, and Remoulade.
- Danish brown sausage with mustard, ketchup, and Remoulade.
- Sweet Danish Pancake with chocolate sauce and ice cream.
- Flødebolle– Danish chocolate covered marshmallow puff.
All were so good and comforting! I also picked up a bottle of Swedish Birch Sap Wine to take home for later.
After the Natural History Museum and Japanese Friendship Garden, we stopped by Eclipse Chocolate at 2145 Fern Street in South Park to cool off a bit.
This shop was Claire’s dream come true with all the glitter, sparkles, and sprinkles! Eclipse Chocolate is currently open 10-4 (closed Tuesdays) + weekend brunch on Saturday/Sunday. Along with all the fun treats, they also have a variety of gourmet gifts and artisan products.
We ordered the:
- The Fat Elvis Banana Split- peanut butter banana sprix waffle bowl, peanut butter and chocolate magic shells, fresh banana, peanut butter mousse pop, vanilla whip, maple bacon, and lots of glitter.
- Mermazing Grace Deluxe Waffle Cone- with blue raspberry candies, sprix-studded waffle cone, magic shell dip, and glam.
- Sparkling Lavender Lemonade- fizzy water, lavender lemon shimmer tonic.
- Craft Beer Soft Serve Float.
To pair with this post, Claire requested the Lavender Lemonade inspired by Eclipse Chocolate! This floral lemonade has hints of lavender with a homemade syrup and a little vanilla extract.
To create that light, floral flavor in the lemonade, I used a condensed version of my Homemade Lavender Syrup. This amount will add a more floral undertone to the drink. Bump up the amount of lavender to 3 tablespoons or so for a stronger flavor, but take care not to add too much!
If desired, garnish the drinks with lemon slices and fresh herbs such as rosemary sprigs or mint.
Adjust the flavors to taste. If the lemon is too strong, add a little more water. If not strong enough, add a little more lemon juice.
Cover and refrigerate the pitcher for up to three days if not serving right away. Stir well before drinking. The homemade lavender syrup can be prepared and refrigerated up to 1-2 weeks in advance.
For a sparkling drink, swap some of the water for sparkling water (add immediately before serving).
Make sure the lavender you use is culinary grade. I used dried lavender since it is more readily throughout the year. Increase the quantity a little bit if using fresh lavender. Some grocery stores carry lavender in the spice section and also on Amazon- Dried Lavender.
We added some purple, food-safe glitter to give the drink a little extra sparkle. The purple reacted with the natural color/acidity of the drink and ended up creating a light aqua hue.
Lavender Lemonade Recipe
Adapted from Culinary Hill
- 1 cup (240 milliliters) water
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons (4 grams) dried culinary lavender
- 4 cups (950 milliliters) water
- 2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a medium saucepan, combine the water and granulated sugar.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is starting to thicken slightly, 10-15 minutes.
- Remove from heat and add the dried lavender. Cover and allow to steep for 1 hour.
- Strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl and discard the lavender buds.
- In a large pitcher, combine the lavender syrup, water, lemon juice, and vanilla extract.
- Adjust flavors to taste and serve over ice.