San Diego boasts a broad range of museums and galleries that provide an insight into human history and experience. You’ll find most of these museums at the Balboa Park, San Diego’s 1200-acre park and home to 18 top-notch museums. From different forms of art and history of diverse cultures to natural science and pop culture, the vibrant city has it all.
Whether you’re looking to keep the kids busy or swoon a romantic date, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most exciting museum attractions that are fun for everyone. Step into a world of wonder and explore the complexities of our society and universe at these eleven captivating museums in San Diego.
In 1874, a group of amateur naturalists teamed up to study the rich biodiversity of the San Diego region, forming the San Diego Society of Natural History, and the rest really was history. Now, almost 150 years later, The Nat houses 8 million specimens, offers amazing school and community programs and conducts scientific research throughout Southern California and the Baja California Peninsula.
The museum is an incredible scientific and cultural institution, where everyone is welcome to learn and discover their large fossil collection, live animal exhibits, hidden gems from their minerology department and the unique habitats of Southern California. New exhibitions change regularly, so keep an eye on their socials to see what’s coming up.
🏛️ 1788 El Prado
Located in the heart of Balboa Park, this monster of a museum is the oldest and largest in the region. It’s world-renowned for its extensive collection of more than 20,000 European artwork and objects, particularly Spanish and Italian, American, Latin American, and Asian, from 3000 B.C. to the present. You’ll find paintings by Matisse, O’Keefe, Dalí, Magritte, Miró, Monet, and the list goes on and on. Best part is, members and youth aged 17 and under get free entry, so it’s ideal to visit on a fun day out with the kids.
Besides the collections, the San Diego Museum of Art also boasts an all-encompassing library and research center located through the May S. Marcy Sculpture Court gates. The region’s largest library specializing in the visual arts, it has over 30,000 volumes concerning a broad range of art topics and themes, highlighting Italian Renaissance, Spanish Baroque, Indian miniature painting, and Chinese art.
🏛️ 1450 El Prado
Also located in the Balboa Park, the Timken not only is a prime example of mid-century southern California modernism, but is also the only museum in the park with free admission.
Designed by San Diego architect John Mock, The Timken Museum of Art has a vast collection of paintings, sculptures and tapestries from American, Italian, French, Flemish and Spanish old masters that were once part of the collection of the Putnam sisters. From Savoldo and Cole to Rubens and Rembrandt, if you’re a fan of the classics, you should definitely consider a visit to the Timken.
🏛️ 1500 El Prado
Ahoy! The USS Midway Museum used to be the longest-serving U.S. aircraft carrier in the 20th century and is now one of San Diego’s most popular attractions. Named after the Battle of Midway that took place in the Pacific Theater of World War II after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942, the aircraft carrier continues to draw visitors due to its naval history.
At 300 meters long, the Midway played a key role during the Cold War until 1992, when it was decommissioned in San Diego. If you’re an avid fan of military history, geopolitics and international relations, hop aboard the USS Midway to explore over 60 restored exhibit areas from high up on the bridge and on the flight deck down to the main engine room, mess halls and galleys.
🏛️ 910 N Harbor Drive
As the name suggests, the Women’s Museum of California aspires to educate and inspire generations about the experiences and contributions of women from different walks of life by collecting, preserving, and interpreting their stories. It was founded in 1983 by Mary Maschal as an archival project, who was committed to documenting the history and experiences of women in California.
You can check out interactive workshops and exhibitions, like “Crafting Feminism: Textiles of the Women’s Movement”, centered on the history and the role of textiles of the women’s movement. Moreover, the Women’s Museum of California Archive collection holds around 300 linear feet of material documenting the life and work of prominent female leaders, so if you’ve ever wondered about the untold stories of groundbreaking women, now you know where to go.
🏛️ 1649 El Prado
6. Museum of Us
Another Balboa Park museum, the attraction explores the human experience through interactive exhibits. The Museum of Us holds over 75,000 documented ethnographic cultural resources, 350,000 archaeological cultural resources, 50,000 photographic images, and approximately 7,000 Ancestors from a global community, most of which are of Indigenous origin.
Visit the “Becoming Us”, “Ancient Egypt” and “Maya Peoples” exhibitions and climb the California Tower to learn more about one of the city’s most iconic historic landmarks with a view!
🏛️ 1350 El Prado
Named after the aviation pioneer Reuben H. Fleet, who founded the U.S. Air Mail service, the Fleet Science Center consists of a science museum with over 100 interactive and hands-on exhibitions, permanent and rotating, a planetarium and an IMAX Dome that opened in 1973.
For kids and young science enthusiasts, the center offers tons of science workshops, school field trips and camps, whereas adults can enjoy a giant screen film adventure depicting the natural phenomena of the Earth and the universe. Located next to the Bea Evenson Fountain in central Balboa Park, a visit to the Fleet Science Center is a great way to spend the day regardless of age or experience in science. Tickets include one documentary in the Heikoff Giant Dome Theater and all exhibit galleries.
🏛️ 1875 El Prado
The Spanish Village Art Center is a colorful complex made up of various art galleries, studios, workshops and spaces for you to visit, that was designed in 1935 for the 2nd California Pacific International Exposition to replicate an old village in Spain.
Besides the art shows and live performances, at the Spanish Village you can also grab a bite to eat at its cantinas, restaurants and shops. It also has an open courtyard, laid with kaleidoscopic tiles and surrounded by multi-colored plants. You can’t miss it—it’s located right next to the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park.
🏛️ 1770 Village Pl
The San Diego Chinese Historical Museum celebrates the long history and diversity of Chinese culture. Through rotating exhibitions, cultural programs, field trips, lectures and a large permanent collection of artifacts, the museum tells the experiences of Chinese Americans, particularly of those that reside in Southern California.
The permanent collection comprises fine art, folk art, decorative arts, clothing, household and commercial goods, archeological finds, and mementos. The museum only opens Fridays from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. and weekends, from 11:00 to 5:00 p.m.
🏛️ 404 3rd Ave
If you’re a fan of visual arts, this museum will certainly speak to you. The permanent collection has over 9,000 images and objects of more than 850 photographers that include Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Stieglitz, and Ruth Bernhard. From early 19th century daguerreotypes and albumen prints to pictorialism, photojournalism, and digitally constructed imagery, the Museum of Photographic Arts encompasses a wide range of styles and genres that suit every interest.
The museum offers new perspectives on photography that can best be illustrated by its rotating collections. If you want to find out about their current and upcoming exhibitions, check out their website and social media channels for the most updated versions. Unlike other museums in San Diego, the Museum of Photographic Arts is only open Thursday to Sunday, so be mindful of the opening hours when planning your visit.
🏛️ 1649 El Prado
11. Comic-Con Museum
We all know the goliath, international convention that is Comic-Con. But something that isn’t known to everyone is that you don’t have to attend the annual convention to celebrate what you most love about pop culture.
Open all-year long, the Comic-Con Museum offers exhibitions, classes, activities, online programs and movie screenings, where fans can get together and share their love for comics, TV shows, films, video games, anime and books. Explore their rotating and interactive exhibitions and unleash your inner otaku and nerd that is impatiently waiting to explore new, exciting things.
🏛️ 2131 Pan American Plaza