I love beautiful Balboa Park — you can always separate the great cities from the wannabees, by their parks. balboa.jpgThe Spanish Baroque “leftovers” from the 1915 Panama-California International Exposition, fill Balboa Park with graceful buildings and tropical gardens inviting leisurely strolling and picnicking. But the place is also filled with serious cultural diversions, from the Mingei Museum of international crafts, and the legendary Zoo, to the Aerospace Museum and the ornate Museum building, surrounded by gardens, fountains and even an old-fashioned organ pavilion, always well-used by lavish Mexican wedding parties.

My mom and I checked out the much-hyped Annie Liebovitz show, loaded with celebrity photos and intimate family vacation portraits. I found out more than I needed to know about every single hotel room in Venice that Liebovitz and her partner, the late Susan Sontag, had shared. And in all, it seemed more pop-star voyeurism trumped up as “art” than anything genuinely revealing about the human animal. A notable exception was a poignant photograph of Johnny Cash, not long before his death, looking at his wife, June Carter as she played the autoharp on their rambling front porch. His life was rolled into that single look of love and regret. Would that more of Liebovitz’ images on display had held as much.

ricebowl1.jpgThere’s nothing like a line-up of Vanity Fair covers to work up an appetite, so we next hit the user-friendly Tea Pavilion dining patio, and swilled down udon noodles and teriyaki tofu rice bowls, washed down with green tea. This little al fresco spot, wedged conveniently between the main museum and the rose-filled Japanese Friendship Garden, offers friendly staff, fresh Japanese foods and low prices.