Seven Bridges Hike is a classic San Diego walk that takes you through Balboa Park and the Hillcrest neighborhood. The fact that it is flat and goes across some cool bridges make this a perfect walk for doing with kids.
Starting Point: Park Blvd near San Diego Zoo (we park on the street between Robinson and Upas)
Length: 6.5 miles
Elevation: mostly flat
Because Seven-Bridges Hike is a loop you can start it anywhere. We like to start along Park Blvd near the San Diego Zoo. Even on crowded weekends, you can usually find free parking in this area. This is especially true if you park on Park (had to say that) several blocks north of the zoo.
You will walk down Park Blvd, past the zoo parking lot. If you are on the zoo side, you want to cross Park Blvd. This will take you into the Desert Garden and then the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden. These are both nice attractions in themselves. Between March and December, over 130 varieties of roses are in bloom.
The first bridge starts in the rose garden. This short bridge takes you across Park Blvd into the center courtyard of Balboa Park between the Natural History Museum and the Fleet Science Center. This is the heart of Balboa Park and will be busy, especially on weekends. On our last walk, there was a huge group playing Pokémon GO.
Simply walk straight down the Prado through the heart of Balboa Park. On weekends this area will be filled with street performers. On both the right and left are many of Balboa Park’s main attractions. Right past the Museum of Man and Globe Theater you will come to the second bridge.
Bridge Two is Balboa Park’s Cabrillo Bridge. Built-in 1915 it is a 152-foot-high, 1,500 foot long cantilevered, multi-arched bridge (the first in So. Cal). It was built as the entrance to the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Today it crosses the 163 freeway.
You are near the airport and this bridge is a good spot to watch airplanes coming into San Diego. The bridge ends on the far western section of Balboa Park. There are many open grassy areas. On your left is a large Dog Park. There is likely to be a lot of homeless people here, but it is generally a safe area.
Past the dog park, Balboa Park ends at 6th Avenue. As you cross 6th Avenue, El Prado becomes Laurel Avenue. Head down Laurel for five blocks until you reach First Avenue.
From Laurel, you turn right on First Avenue and head up a few blocks to the First Avenue Bridge. This neighborhood is officially called Banker’s Hill.
The First Avenue Bridge was built in 1931. According to this article, the bridge is 104 feet high and 463 feet long. The bridge crosses over Maple Canyon Open Space and is the only steel truss bridge of its kind in San Diego. It was closed for 2 years in 2008 for an earthquake retrofitting.
As you cross the First Avenue Bridge you can look to your right and see bridge number four.
A few blocks after crossing the First Street Bridge you will come to Quince Street. Turn right to go to the Quince Street Bridge.
As a side note the streets in this area that run perpendicular to the numbered avenues, are named alphabetically after trees. So, you have gone from Maple, Nutmeg, Olive, Palm to Quince. I actually did not know what a Quince was. It is a fruit that looks a lot like a pear.
The Quince Street Bridge is extremely cool looking and was built way back in 1905. It is 236 feet long and 80 feet high. According to this article, it cost $805 to build.
After crossing the Quince Street Bridge, most guides to this walk tell you to turn around and retrace your steps back across the bridge. I am not sure why as going forward is essentially the same distance. This might be because construction had some areas blocked off. In my mind turning around ruins some of the beauty of doing a loop.
After crossing the Quince Street Bridge, I simply turn left and head up Fourth Avenue to Spruce Street. Turning left on Spruce Street will take you to the fifth bridge.
From Fourth Avenue, you will head down Spruce Street for 5 blocks to reach the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge. This is the coolest bridge on the hike.
Spruce Street Suspension Bridge is another pedestrian-only bridge. It is 375 feet long and crosses 70-feet over Kate Sessions Canyon. It was built in 1912.
The cool thing about Spruce Street Suspension Bridge is it rocks. Kids will generally love this bridge (those afraid of heights may have some issues). After crossing the bridge turn right on Brant Street.
The Spruce Street Suspension Bridge will be the last bridge for a while. You will now be walking through some of the residential areas of Banker’s Hill and Hillcrest. Note the numbers in the cement on the sidewalk. These tell the year the cement was laid. They did not plan for Y2K so a 16 means 1916, not 2016.
Head up Brant Street, about 2 blocks until it dead-ends at Upas. Turn right on Upas (FYI Upas is a tree in the mulberry and fig family). Upas goes one block and you turn left on Albatross. Albatross go one block and you go right on Walnut. Follow Walnut for two blocks and turn left on First Avenue.
Head up First Avenue about four blocks to University Avenue (post-Walnut the tree names end). Turning right on First Avenue will put you in the heart of the Hillcrest commercial district. If you are hungry there are all kinds of places to eat.
You will take University all the way through Hillcrest and across a bridge. This bridge crosses the 163 freeway and is not considered one of the “Seven Bridges.” So actually, you are doing 8 bridges.
Shortly past the bridge, you will come to a shopping center at Vermont Street. Turning left will take you to bridge number six.
Bridge Six is Vermont Street Bridge. It is right by a Trader Joe’s where we like to stop for supplies and a restroom break.
Vermont Street Bridge is another pedestrian-only bridge. It is a 420-foot long steel and concrete bridge. It was built in 1995 to replace an older bridge. The side of Vermont Street Bridge is filled with colorful quotes from people like Dr. Seuss and Martin Luther King.
After crossing Vermont Street Bridge, you will want to turn right on either Pascoe St. or Lincoln Avenue. Pascoe is a short dirt street, while Lincoln is one block north. Both will dump you at a major intersection with Washington Street.
You want to cross Washington Street, so you end up continuing down Lincoln Avenue. After a few blocks, Lincoln Avenue will cross Park Blvd. You are near where you started and ready for the final bridge.
Right past Park Blvd you will make a right turn from Lincoln Avenue onto Georgia Street (if you reach Florida St you have gone too far, another street name pattern!). The Georgia Street Bridge is a very short bridge that crosses University Avenue.
There is a great deal of construction in this area so there is a chance it may be closed (the 1914 bridge and surrounding area are being retrofitted). If that is the case don’t be too disappointed as Georgia Street Bridge is minor compared with the other bridges. You can always tell kids they crossed seven bridges when you include University Avenue over the 163.
After crossing Georgia Street Bridge continue down a block and turn right on Robinson. This will take you to an intersection of several streets. You will want to turn left and follow Park Blvd which has a slight fork to the right.
As mentioned, we like to park near here on Park Blvd. Balboa Park officially starts about 5 blocks down at Upas St. When you find your car you have completed the loop.
This walk is great for kids because it is flat and there are a lot of things to see and do. If you get hungry or thirsty there are plenty of watering holes and places to eat. If you like you can combine it with sites in Balboa Park. Check out some of our guides.