Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego, CA

San Diego Tours Bring Local Landscapes to Life

Nearly 1,000 people attended What’s Out There Weekend San Diego, two days of free, expert-led tours throughout the region on October 26-27. The event was organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) and various local partners. A lineup of outstanding guides shared intimate knowledge of the braided relationship between the region’s natural and cultural history. Participants were particularly drawn to places with deep cultural roots, such as Barrio Logan, and the behind-the-scenes access to hidden gems in Balboa Park. The tours included breathtaking natural reserves and iconic contemporary designs, and are accompanied by the richly illustrated What’s Out There San Diego guidebook (available for purchase here), which presents 34 of the region’s exceptional landscapes (note: the Barrio Logan and U.S.-Mexico border tours were added to the Weekend itinerary after the guidebook went to print).

Friendship Park, Tijuana, MX
Friendship Park, Tijuana, MX - Photo by Eduard Krakhmalnikov, 2019

The Weekend began with a lively invite-only reception hosted by the Balboa Park Conservancy at the House of Hospitality on Friday, October 25, where an enthusiastic crowd enjoyed delicious hors d’oeuvres. The highlights of the event were the three dynamic PechaKucha-style presentations by Tomas Herrera-Mishler, Larry Herzog, and Wayne Donaldson, who painted colorful portraits of the past and present conditions of Balboa Park, Barrio Logan, and Liberty Station, respectively. 

Saturday began with seven separate tours, including the full-to-capacity tour of Barrio Logan with Professor Larry Herzog, architect Joseph Martinez, and muralist Victor Ochoa. The unique backgrounds and perspectives of the three guides afforded a deeper understanding of the landscape’s cultural memory and aesthetic sensibility. Other Saturday morning highlights included Mission Basilica San Diego de Alacala and an information-packed, combined tour of three sites by Heath Fox of the La Jolla Historical Society, Patrick Ahern with Berkshire Hathaway, and Ann Dynes with La Jolla Parks and Beaches. The sites—the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Park, Wisteria Cottage, and Children’s Pool—represented narratives of patronage, conservation, and community support for the public realm. Immediately afterwards, David Marshall of Heritage Architecture & Planning unveiled the many hidden details of the Gaslamp Quarter, while Wayne Donaldson, former chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, gave a primer on the history and revival of Liberty Station. In addition, Parish Rye, from the City of San Diego, revealed the hidden past of Presidio Park, while Gary Fogel led attendees to the unique wonder that is the Torrey Pines Gliderport, a site whose ideal soaring conditions has allowed pioneering aviators to test new flight technologies.    

Martin Luther King, Jr. Promenade, San Diego, CA
Martin Luther King, Jr. Promenade, San Diego, CA - Photo by Eduard Krakhmalnikov, 2019

A busy Saturday afternoon began with three simultaneous tours: Kathleen Brand of Civic San Diego focused on women in landscape architecture in a packed walk from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Promenade and Children’s Park to the Chinese Historical Society Gardens. A much anticipated stroll through the steep terrain and numerous features of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography ended at the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier. And Darren Smith, with California State Parks, led an informative outing to Old Town San Diego. The afternoon included tours of Mission Hills with local expert guides Janet O’Dea and Allen Hazard, University Heights with the eloquent Kristin Harms, and the ecological rarities and stunning views of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve with Darren Smith, an eighth-generation San Diegan.

The Sunday series of events began with a popular tour of Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park with Mick Calarco of the City of Carlsbad and a walk through Mission Trails Regional Park with expert trail guides. Meanwhile, Sarai Johnson offered an insightful look at the Marston Museum House and Gardens. The morning also included a unique moment in the ten-year history of the What’s Out There program, as two tour groups met at an international border. One group carpooled to Friendship Circle, where they encountered another group in Tijuana, Mexico, on the opposite side of the border fence. Attendees explored the contested border landscape, the only place along the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border where separated friends and family can meet. Participants then entered Mexico to experience the colorful sights and sounds of Tijuana before returning in the afternoon. The dual tours were led by Michelle Landis and Rania Theodosi of Studio West Landscape Architecture and Planning, and by Dan Watman and Maria Theresa Fernandez from the Friends of Friendship Park. One participant reflected, "Our group at the US side of Friendship Park enjoyed the experience, learned some history and gained insights into the dynamic relationship reflected in the park." The morning concluded with a brisk walk through the beautiful Stuart Art Collection with expert docent Tina Dyer, and a stroll down Seventh Avenue and into Balboa Park with Paul Johnson and Vonn Marie May.

House of Hospitality in Balboa Park, San Diego, CA
House of Hospitality in Balboa Park, San Diego, CA - Photo by Eduard Krakhmalnikov, 2019

The gregarious Mike Singleton of KTUA led a trip to Bankers Hill, while other attendees enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at the Hotel del Coronado, where Kate Sessions, “the mother of Balboa Park,” laid out the inner courtyard. The final tours came full circle, with several excursions into Balboa Park. Dennis Otsuji of Wimmer Yamada and Caughey led attendees on a peaceful walk through the Japanese Friendship Garden. And the Balboa Park Conservancy’s David Kinney and Jackie Higgins led simultaneous tours through the beautiful grounds of the House of Hospitality, part of the California Pacific International Exposition grounds and the park’s ‘hidden gems,’ where attendees were given a look at ongoing restoration efforts.

The Weekend could not have happened without support from the National Endowment of the Arts Art Works, the Balboa Park Conservancy, and the San Diego chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. The tireless involvement of local committee members Sharon Singleton, Amy Hoffman, and Joy Lyndes, who generously volunteered their time and knowledge, was also essential to the Weekend’s success.  

Please visit the comprehensive and richly illustrated What’s Out There San Diego guide to learn more about the sites featured during the Weekend.