Balboa Park: Prado and Candlelight

Balboa Park After Dark

Summer in San Diego is coming to an end, so we’re trying to pack as much local adventure as we can in the final weeks of August.

When Andy suggested a candlelight concert at the Museum of Natural History, I was excited. Music and a nighttime stroll through Balboa park is an intriguing adventure! So I recommend reservations at The Prado restaurant. It has been ages since we enjoyed their margaritas.

It’s set! Our evening will include dinner at The Prado, a candlelight concert by a string quartet doing Queen classics, and an after dark stroll enjoying the beautiful grounds of Balboa Park with the buildings all lit up. Very romantic!

Slowing Our Roll

Getting downtown San Diego at rush hour can be challenging. We leave with what we think is plenty of time, and The Prado holds reservations for 15 minutes. But several accidents on the freeway slow us down by 45 minutes. No worries, a quick call to the restaurant to let them know we would be late is all we need.

The Prado is located in the historic House of Hospitality, a two-story building dating to 1934. The décor is artistic with a touch of Old World charm, including a fountain that has graced the courtyard since the beginning, though a statue pouring water was added later.

When we arrive, tonight they have a DJ and bar in the courtyard with a beautiful fountain by the entrance. When we check in (20 minutes late, doh!), the hostess and our server both ask if we are attending a show, and if so, what time? This way they can serve us without us feeling time anxiety. Nice touch!

We’re led to a table waiting outside on the back patio, overlooking lush gardens of Balboa Park. The patio itself is nicely lit, has water fountains, and lush landscaping. And tonight we get a huge bonus. While we dine on the patio, we can hear a Santana cover band playing live at the organ pavilion.

Turns out, Balboa Park has a free Twilight Concert Series at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 6:30 to 7:30 during the summer months. Tonight, Santana Ways is playing all our favorite Santana songs. The Pavilion is just far enough away for the music to be a pleasant level for dinner conversation. How fabulous!

Act 1: Dinner

We like The Prado, but this is our first time visiting for dinner. They update their California cuisine menu frequently. We start with margaritas on the rocks. Blood orange for me and spicy Mezcal for Andy. They totally hit the spot! So… maybe we will have more than one.

Crab dip comes next. Prada serves it gooey and warm with toasted bread crumbs on top, and toasted sliced baguette for dipping. Nothing is left.

For our entrees, I choose the Prado Paella. The rice is done with a lobster saffron broth that includes white fish, clams, calamari, chorizo, and topped with muscles and micro cilantro. So good! I especially like that the rice is really moist. Sometimes Paella can be a bit dry, but not this one. There is just enough of the broth to keep it light and moist, but not soupy.

Prado Paella… as good as it looks!

Andy is going wild with Kvarøy salmon and short ribs. The pan-seared salmon is served over sesame rice, with baby boc choi and a miso sauce.

The short ribs are braised in red wine, and served atop goat cheese mashed potatoes.

As if that’s not enough, his dish includes a summer squash and radish salad. I’m able to sneak a few bites off his plate! Clearly, this meal met with Andy’s approval, because he sent his plate back completely clean!

Kvarøy Arctic salmon is a sustainably farmed salmon from Norway. You can find Kvarvøy Arctic salmon hot dogs at Amazon. Andy thinks that might be an ew, but I’m kinda curious!

Act 2: The NAT

On to the Museum Of Natural History for tonight’s Main Event!

The NAT is located at the far east end of the park near the water fountain, just a few hundred feet from The Prado. It was founded in 1874 by the the San Diego Society of Natural History, but the NAT has occupied several locations in the park area, starting in 1917 and settling into it’s East Prado location in 1933. San Diego architect William Templeton Johnson designed the building, and although the Great Depression caused the plans to be scaled back, it is still quite grand.

Growing up, I always knew this museum to be the dinosaur museum. But tonight we’re here for an evening of culture. We are enjoying a candlelight string quartet tribute to Queen in the auditorium. Our seats in this roughly 500-seat theater are right in the center for a perfect view and amazing sound!

The only light comes from candles placed all around the auditorium, and the stage filled with candles (the safe kind). Our quartet is called Range Ensemble, and they take us through a medley of Queen hits. I can imagine people waltzing in a ballroom!

A concert like this comes with some instruction from the musicians. They encourage us to hoot, clap, and show appropriate appreciation during a song. But there’s an audible groan when they ask us not to sing along! Knowing this is less than satisfying, they allow cameras and singing for the last two songs: “We Will Rock You” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The audience is invited to sing, stomp, clap, and groove in their seats! So much fun!

For the record: the singers you hear on this video are neither Darcy nor Andy!

Act 3: Balboa Park Moonlight Stroll

After the concert, we enjoy a romantic summer night stroll through the park. Balboa Park was built for the California Pacific International Exposition in 1935, and the buildings are all lit up, showing off their striking Italian Renaissance style.

After dark the park is still pretty lively. We investigate sounds from the Old Globe Theater, and the Culture And Cocktails event is winding down at the San Diego Museum Of Art.

The Botanical Building and Lily Pond in Balboa Park.

Our favorite sights are the pond and Botanic Garden bathed in purple light, and the California Tower all lit up at the west end of the park.

This is such a lovely way to end a wonderful evening!


  1. What a lovely evening!

    • Thank you Kim! This was fun adventure.