The San Diego Museum of Art is located in the heart of Balboa Park, just south of the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Occupying a beautiful, Spanish Colonial-style structure that dates to the early 20th Century, the San Diego Museum of Art houses some 20,000 works of art that date from the year 3000 B.C. to contemporary times. The particular strengths of this wide-ranging collection are considered by most experts to be in Spanish, South Asian, and German Expressionism paintings, though those categories only scratch the surface of the museum’s varied holdings.
Save on your visit to the San Diego Museum of Art!
San Diego Museum of Art is included on the Go San Diego Pass. Save an additional 10% on the Go City Pass with Coupon Code: CMGOCITY10 The discount stacks on top the current sale prices! Promo expires on December 31st.
San Diego Museum of Art History
The seed of the idea that would become the San Diego Museum of Art was planted during the Panama-California Exposition of 1915, which was held in San Diego and intended to celebrate the construction of the Panama Canal while presenting San Diego as a viable world-class city to an international audience. It was in the wake of the success of a series of temporary art exhibits during this festival that local leaders recognized the need for a permanent art museum in San Diego.
This vision was realized in 1926, when the Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego opened to the public for the first time. Its stunning new home, designed by the architect William Templeton Johnson in a vibrant style that combined Spanish Colonial forms with sixteenth century Spanish Renaissance ideas, was an immediate hit with locals and visitors alike. This facility has gone through a number of expansions, renovations, and alterations during the intervening decades—including adopting its current name, the San Diego Museum of Art, in 1978—but it remains today one of the region’s outstanding cultural treasures.
What’s at the San Diego Museum of Art
The San Diego Museum of Art’s collection contains roughly 20,000 works drawn from all over the world and throughout the entirety of art history. There’s definitely something here to pique each and every person’s unique interests, but favorite pieces would have to include works by legends such as Goya, El Greco, Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, and Georgia O’Keefe, just to name a few. Buddhist sculpture, South Asian painting, and Latin American art are particular strengths of the collection, too.
The May S. Marcy Sculpture Court & Garden is another must-see element of the museum. This lovely outdoor space combines the natural beauty of San Diego with several unforgettable examples of modern sculpture to create an environment you won’t soon forget. It’s a fabulous place to spend part of an afternoon.
Admiring timeless art isn’t all fun and games—sometimes you get hungry in the process! Fortunately, the San Diego Museum of Art contains an in-house bar and restaurant. Called Panama 66, this hip establishment serves a variety of soups, salads, sandwiches, and appetizers alongside an extensive, well-curated drinks menu. Dine-in or grab-and-go options are available, and Panama 66 routinely hosts special events, live music, and more.
There are two unique stores found within the San Diego Museum of Art. The Museum Store is the quintessential museum gift shop, where you’ll have your choice of souvenirs, jewelry, art prints, house décor, and more. In the museum’s Sculpture Court is Bibliotique. It specializes in San Diego-centric item and creative-arts gifts.
Tips for Visiting the San Diego Museum of Art
- If you are seeing other sights while in San Diego you can save some money if by getting a Go San Diego Pass. The San Diego Museum of Art is included as are many other great San Diego Attractions.
- One of the great perks of the San Diego Museum of Art is that all children under the age of 17 years old can enter the attraction for free!
- If you’re looking to add some structure to your visit, consider taking one of the Museum’s guided tours. These docent-led tours run multiple times a day, last 30-45 minutes, and are free! Space is limited, so you must make a same-day reservation, but it’s well worth it. You can secure your spot by talking to someone at the museum’s Visitor Relations desk.
- In addition to the museum’s impressive permanent collection, the San Diego Museum of Art is always organizing special exhibitions. You never quite know what wonders will be featured during one of these special exhibitions, but recent shows have profiled contemporary photography, landscape architecture, and environmentally conscious art.
- The San Diego Museum of Art has its own free app available for download straight to your smart phone. It’s a useful tool to have as you plan your visit and peruse the galleries.