San Diego Museums

In addition to its reputation as a delightful destination to lovers of outdoor adventure, San Diego is also home to a diverse collection of renowned museums and other cultural institutions. All throughout San Diego you’ll find museums devoted to a rich and remarkable array of subjects, including wide-ranging topics like natural history, model railroads, art history, cars, and the military, just to name a few. There are also multiple science centers and children’s museums located in the city. And of course, no trip to San Diego is complete without a tour through the “Smithsonian of the West,” Balboa Park. That’s right, San Diego’s iconic Balboa Park is itself home to a whopping 17 distinct museums and performing arts venues! Add it all up and San Diego is an adventure waiting to happen for museum buffs, art lovers, and children curious about the natural world around them.

Things to Do at San Diego Museums

San Diego’s museums are an eclectic bunch, which will leave you spoiled for options regarding what to see and do when you’re in the mood for some art, culture, and science. A great place to start your museum-going—let’s be honest, probably the place to begin your adventure—is San Diego’s beloved Balboa Park. Home to numerous popular attractions, including the San Diego Zoo and the Japanese Friendship Garden, Balboa Park has what feels like a museum for practically everyone and every theme under the sun. There you’ll encounter several museums full of works of art from around the world, a museum displaying automobiles of all shapes and sizes, another museum laid out with miles and miles of model railroads, and, one of the more popular, a museum solely devoted to aviation and space travel. There are even still other institutions nearby dedicated to anthropology, photography, and natural history.

But San Diego’s museum scene isn’t limited to what you’ll find in Balboa Park. Because of San Diego’s storied history as a naval port city, there is a variety of maritime attractions ranging from smaller monuments and commemorative plaques to internationally-acclaimed museums. For example, maritime enthusiasts and history buffs will jump at the chance to explore real-life naval ships and historic sea vessels at the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum. This iconic museum is sure to be a fascinating stop for travelers interested in learning about one of the United States’ longest-serving aircraft carriers.

If you plan on making one or more of San Diego’s many museums a part of your visit to the city, you’ll want to take the time in advance of your trip to look into each venue’s calendar of events. That’s because many of the popular cultural institutions regularly host any number of special events. These can range from traveling art exhibits making a temporary stop in San Diego to holiday fireworks to limited-edition IMAX film screenings and more. While the city of San Diego reserves February of each year to particularly showcase their famous museum scene, various special events do take place year-round, so be sure to do a bit of research ahead of time.

Museum Activities for Everyone

San Diego’s museums are quite varied in scope, which makes them perfect for visitors of all backgrounds, interests, and passions. Families with younger kids will face no shortage of terrific options, as some of San Diego’s most popular museums are explicitly aimed at children. Interactive exhibits and hands-on learning tools are everywhere you look throughout the city’s multiple discovery and science centers, and museums like the San Diego Museum of Natural History and the San Diego Air & Space Museum, in particular, cater to the whole family.

For everyone else, the permanent collections of San Diego’s numerous art museums make for hours of rewarding, contemplative enjoyment. Whether you’re an aficionado of contemporary art, a devotee of the old Renaissance masters, or you’d just like to catch some live music in an engaging art gallery space while sipping on a craft cocktail, it won’t be difficult to find something you’ll love during your time in San Diego. That’s because, while it may have a well-deserved reputation as a premier city of fun in the sun, don’t be fooled for a moment—San Diego is a destination rich in art, history, culture, and science, too.

Gaslamp Museum at the Davis-Horton House
The Gaslamp Museum at the Davis-Horton House consists of an informative gallery space located inside one of the most historic structures remaining in San Diego. The Davis-Horton House dates back to 1850, and today is proudly listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Gaslamp Museum regularly features rotating exhibits, and is a tremendous resource for visitors who want
USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum
The world's most visited floating ship museum. The USS Midway served in military and rescue operations around the globe for 47 years.
Mingei Museum – A Fusion of Beauty And Purpose
The museum’s 26,000 pieces of folkart, crafts, and designs represent more than 141 countries. It's in the Mission Revival-style House of Charm in historic Balboa Park.
The Coronado Museum of History and Art
The museum chronicles the history of Coronado Island and its famous Hotel del Coronado. See photos of Charles Lindbergh's famous New York to Paris flight.
San Diego History Center
The History Center in Balboa Park has a premier research library that houses millions of documents and images detailing the history of the people, places, and events of San Diego.
The Maritime Museum of San Diego: A Wave of History
There are four sailing ships showcased at the Museum: two submarines, The Tall Ship Californian and the oldest active sailing ship in the world, The Star of India
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center: Inspiring Inquiring Minds
The Fleet Science Center has been delighting visitors and educating children about the wonders of science since 1973. This acclaimed facility is home to several permanent exhibits that are both informative and interactive, and its giant IMAX theater shows movies and documentaries.
San Diego Museum Of Art: A Museum On A Mission
The most acclaimed art museum in the greater San Diego area, the San Diego Museum of Art is located in historic Balboa Park and features an extensive collection of paintings by the Spanish “Old Masters,” as well as numerous South Asian and German Expressionist works.
The San Diego Sports Museum and Breitbard Hall Of Fame
Created in 1953 by Robert Breitbard, it's devoted to San Diego athletes that have excelled in their sport. This 70,000-square-foot center is the largest in the nation.
The Fascinating Museum Of Us
Another fine cultural institution that calls Balboa Park home, the Museum of Us presents numerous exhibits that explore the history of what it means to be a human being. Popular exhibits here include Ancient Egypt, BEERology, and the California Tower.
Visit The Largest Model Railroad Museum In North America
One of the more unique museums located in San Diego’s remarkable Balboa Park, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum features almost 30,000 square feet of miniature train tracks. It’s the perfect place for curious minds of all ages to explore the many engineering wonders of the railroad industry.
The San Diego Automotive Museum Is Driven By A Love For Cars
See a beautiful array of vintage cars and motorcycles including a 1927 Bentley, a 1931 Rolls Royce, a 1947 “everything” Cadillac, and Steve McQueen's 1953 Allard.
Take Flight With A Visit To The San Diego Air and Space Museum
One of only ten aerospace museums in the country affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute. One of the biggest draws to the museum is the simulators and interactive areas.
Make It A Point To Visit Point Loma and The Cabrillo National Monument
Learn about Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to sset foot on the West Coast. Check out the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, one of the first lighthouses on the West Coast.
The Museum of Contemporary Art In San Diego
The museum offer tours by volunteer docents, film nights, lectures, and child-friendly activities. Check out both locations; in historic downtown, and trendy Prospect St. in La Jolla.
Celebrate Regional Artists At The San Diego Art Institute
The institute host several events each year that promote and celebrate regional artists, including regional, youth, special outreach, and One Foot shows.
Experience Carlsbad’s Museum of Making Music
Located in Carlsbad, directly across the street from LEGOLAND California and just 35 miles north of downtown San Diego, the Museum of Making Music is a unique facility devoted to honoring the makers and users of all manner of musical instruments.
Come See What Makes The New Children’s Museum So Different!
The museum uses contemporary art to engage families in the museum experience. With participatory exhibits your children will have a fun new way to play.
Celebrate Life At The Natural History Museum
One of Balboa Park’s many treasures, the San Diego Natural History Museum is four floors of fun that’s sure to enchant curious visitors. In particular, fans of dinosaurs, exotic fossils, plants and animals native to California will find much to love here.
Be Amazed At The Museum Of Photographic Arts
One of the quintessential San Diego experiences, the USS Midway is a decommissioned United States naval aircraft carrier that has been transformed into a museum. Here you’ll find exhibits detailing what life was like for sailors on the ship, as well as over 30 historic aircrafts.