Historic carousels in San Diego, California

Balboa Park Carousel

One ride on the Balboa Park Carousel will set you back $3, or four for $10. | Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

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The iconic Balboa Park Carousel is celebrating its 100th anniversary at the landmark, planning for a big party on Mon., July 25 — right on National Merry-Go-Round or Carousel Day.

If the hard-carved menagerie could speak, oh, it would have stories. Although the animals go round-and-round, the carousel did move around before landing in Balboa Park. Let’s take a spin around its history — and then hop over to the Seaport Village Carousel to learn about that longtime attraction, too. Just no horseplay, OK?

According to Balboa Park, the 1910 Herschell-Spillman carousel was made in New York and shipped to Los Angeles. In 1915, it was put on display at the Hotel del Coronado’s Tent City, a summer camping resort for those who wanted to experience Coronado Island but couldn’t afford a stay at the luxe hotel.

In 1922, the carousel was moved to Balboa Park, near the San Diego Natural History Museum. In 1968 — as the Bea Evenson Fountain + Fleet Science Center building were being constructed — the carousel was moved for the final time, north to where it still stands today. The nonprofit Friends of Balboa Park (now Forever Balboa Park) bought the carousel in June 2017, and now maintains the historical attraction. Donations to keep it in tip-top shape are always accepted.

Balboa Park Carousel

Don’t miss this walk down memory lane in front of the ride. | Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Ready to ride? The carousel’s summer hours — 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily — run through Fri., Aug. 26, timed to coincide with the final day of break for San Diego Unified School District students. The rest of the year, it’s open Saturdays, Sundays + on school holidays, from 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the booth at $3 per ride, or $10 for four rides.

And get this — rides will be free all day during National Carousel Day. The local celebration will feature live music, dance performances + other family-friendly activities.

Pro tip: Check out the historic timeline display at the base of the carousel for a full look at its past — including historic photos + awards. 👀

Seaport Village Carousel

The Seaport Village Historic Carousel is 127 years old. | Photo via Stacy Keck


Hopping over to Seaport Village — just a little over 2 miles from Balboa Park — stands the 127-year-old Seaport Village Historic Carousel, aka the Fair Park Looff Carousel.

Famed carousel builder Charles I.D. Loof built it in 1895 in Brooklyn, New York, and in 1904, the merry-go-round debuted at Fair Park in Dallas, Texas.

Seaport Village Carousel

A tribute to famed carousel-maker Charles I.D. Looff can be found on the side of the carousel building at Seaport Village. | Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

In the 1950s, the carousel moved to SoCal — specifically, Pacific Ocean Park in Santa Monica, where it ran for 20 years before moving to Spanaway, Washington. In 1979, the Perron Family bought the Fair Park Looff Carousel and relocated it again, this time to Portland, Oregon (oh hey, PDXtoday), where it was part of the Portland City Dedication in 1982.

In 1987, it was registered in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1991, Historic Carousels, Inc., fully restored the ride for a horticultural exhibition held in Ohio the following year.

Seaport Village Carousel

The Seaport Village Carousel features 54 hand-carved animals. | Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

In 1997, the carousel moved to Burbank, California, and finally — in 2004 — the carousel made its final move to Seaport Village in San Diego where it still stands today in the landmark’s aptly-named Carousel District in the west wing. The Fair Park Looff Carousel replaced the Broadway Flying Horses Carousel that stood at the landmark from 1977-2004.

According to the landmark, the attraction features 54 hand-carved animals + two horse-drawn chariots; one of these chariots is where my eldest daughter took her first-ever carousel ride in July 2015 (I’m not crying).

The carousel is open daily from 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Rides cost $4.

Seaport Village Carousel

SDtoday Editor Monica holds her daughter on her first-ever carousel ride in summer 2015. Promise, she’s happier than she looks. | Photo via Monica Garske

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