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.