Besides being known for its nearly constant perfect weather, top-notch surf, and amazing craft beer scene, San Diego is also one of the Golden State’s great museum hubs. As California’s oldest city, art and culture converge around every corner. To find the vast majority of San Diego’s museums, look no further than Balboa Park. Often referred to as the “Smithsonian of the West," Balboa Park is the largest urban park with cultural institutions in the United States. Set on a well-manicured 1,200 acres, the park boasts a grand total of 17 museums, each covering a diverse range of topics from art and technology to anthropology and aviation. Discover some of these incredible museums and more with this list below.
San Diego Museum of Art
Located in the heart of Balboa Park, the San Diego Museum of Art is best known for its impressive collection of Spanish old master paintings from acclaimed artists such as Goya, El Greco, and Sanchez Cotán. Featured exhibitions often showcase the works of world-renowned painters, including Picasso, Monet, and Matisse. To accommodate San Diego’s multicultural populace, the exhibition text is presented in both English and Spanish. The museum hosts year-round events and educational programs for children and adults. Don’t miss Culture & Cocktails, a 21-plus cultural and social experience featuring fine art, great food, live musical performances, and much more.
Address: 1450 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92102
Cost: $20 for an adult general admission ticket, free for visitors 17 and under
San Diego Natural History Museum
Also known as “The Nat,” this Balboa Park museum is home to more than 8 million specimens, ranging from tiny insects and rare gems to giant whale bones and prehistoric fossils. Aside from its diverse array of exhibits, the museum also offers many fun events, including Nat at Night Trivia every Friday at 7 p.m., Summer Camp for kids, and free, canyoneer-led hikes throughout San Diego County. Insider tip: The Nat typically offers Residents Free Days on the first Tuesday of each month. Get there early to snag your spot in line as entry is not guaranteed.
Address: 1788 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
Cost: $22 for an adult general admission ticket, $12 for a youth general admission ticket (ages 3–17)
San Diego Air & Space Museum
From the first-ever hot-air balloon to the actual Apollo 9 Command Module, the San Diego Air & Space Museum houses some of space and aviation’s most historic flying machines. Visitors can see flight-worthy replicas of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, reproductions of the 1902 Wright Brothers’ glider, and artifacts from legends like Amelia Earhart, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin. The museum also contains an interactive MaxFlight simulator: Guests can enter the cockpit and experience how it would feel to engage in dogfights, carrier landings, and aerobatic maneuvers.
Address: 2001 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101
Cost: $23 for an adult general admission ticket, $13 for a youth general admission ticket (ages 3–11)
For superhero fans and comic book collectors alike, Comic-Con doesn’t have to be a one-week annual pilgrimage to San Diego anymore. Situated in the Palisades area of Balboa Park, the Comic-Con Museum offers a wide range of rotating exhibits. Guests can try to top their personal best at the Pac-Man exhibit before checking out 8 Decades of Archie, which chronicles the comic’s origins from 1941 through today. Of course, a visit wouldn’t be complete without seeing the meticulously curated Spider-Man: Beyond Amazing exhibit. See the Green Goblin’s mask and learn about the creators who have contributed to the Spider-Man mythos.
Address: 2131 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101
Cost: $30 for an adult standard admission ticket, $18 for a child standard admission ticket (ages 6-12)
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
With locations in La Jolla and Downtown San Diego, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) is best known as a prominent launchpad for new and emerging artists. Visitors can contemplate the museum’s many conceptual installations, take in the extensive collection of examples of minimalism and Pop Art, and gain familiarity with the work of artists from California and the San Diego/Tijuana region. Check MCASD’s website for events, including morning yoga sessions at the museum’s oceanfront La Jolla location. Insider tip: On the third Thursday of every month, the museum offers free admission to visitors. Remember to reserve your timed-entry online ticket in advance.
MCASD Address: 700 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037
MCASD Downtown Address: 1100 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101
Cost: $25 for an adult general admission ticket at MCASD, $10 for an adult general admission ticket at MCASD Downtown. Free for visitors 17 and under at both locations.
Fleet Science Center
With more than 100 interactive exhibits to explore, the Fleet Science Center has something for every kind of curious mind. Exhibits range from the family-friendly Kid City to the mind-bending Illusions. At the Heikoff Giant Dome, adults and kids alike can get a 360-degree view of IMAX movies, documentary films, and educational experiences. Journey through the cosmos at one of the center’s monthly planetarium shows, narrated by the Fleet’s resident astronomer. Insider tip: The center offers a Sharp Minds lecture on the first Monday of the month. Come watch local scientists share their latest research and discoveries. Admission for seniors is discounted at $10.
Address: 1875 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
Cost: $24.95 for an adult general admission ticket, $19.95 for a child general admission ticket (ages 3-12)
Museum of Us
Described as a cultural anthology museum, Balboa Park’s Museum of Us explores the human experience from multicultural perspectives to spark conversation and connection. Whether it’s exhibits on ancient Egypt, beerology, the Mayan people, or a curated collection of secrets penned on postcards, the Museum of Us works hard to spark self-reflection. Go off-campus with the museum’s guided tour of San Diego’s iconic California Tower. Guests will learn the history of the area’s many diverse communities as they climb to the Tower’s eighth-floor viewing deck, where panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Cuyamaca Mountains await.
Address: 1350 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
Cost: $19.95 for an adult general admission ticket, which qualifies buyers for a year of free admission; $16.95 for a youth general admission ticket (ages 6-17)
Maritime Museum of San Diego
For boat and sailing enthusiasts, there’s no better place than the Maritime Museum of San Diego (MMSD). Located on San Diego Bay, MMSD showcases 500 years of seafaring history and boasts one of the largest collections of historic sailing ships, steam-powered boats, and submarines. MMSD even operates the world’s oldest active sailing ship, Star of India. Among its many on-the-water adventures, skippers can join crewmembers on a daily bay tour aboard Pilot, a restored 1914 San Diego Harbor boat, or experience the high seas like a 16th-century sailor on the San Salvador, a replica of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s galleon.
Address: 1492 North Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101
Cost: $20 for an adult general admission ticket, $15 for students ages 13-17, and $10 for children ages 3-12
USS Midway Museum
Step onto the historic naval aircraft USS Midway on Downtown San Diego’s Navy Pier to experience this immersive museum. At the hangar and flight deck, visitors will find more than 30 restored fighters, bombers, and helicopters spanning decades of battle. A trip below deck will reveal how young sailors once lived. Thrill seekers can test if they have what it takes to pilot an F/18 fighter jet on the Screaming Eagles VR experience. Insider tip: Visit the flight deck for views of the downtown skyline, San Diego Bay Bridge, and U.S. Navy ships in the original home of Top Gun.
Address: 910 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101
Cost: $26 for an adult general admission ticket, $18 for a youth general admission ticket (ages 6-12)
The New Children’s Museum
Conceived as a space where children can let their creativity and imagination run wild, The New Children’s Museum collaborates with and commissions contemporary artists to create one-of-a-kind art installations. From interactive murals to immersive sets, each room-sized exhibit is designed to stimulate critical thinking in children and families. Insider tip: San Diego Public Library cardholders can reserve a free pass to visit the museum on any specific date. The pass covers admission for two adults and up to six children.
Address: 200 W. Island Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
Cost: $15 for general admission ticket (ages 1+)
Whether it’s space artifacts, renaissance paintings, or comic books that are your thing, there is something for every museum lover in San Diego. With 70 miles of coastline and more than 90 museums to explore, it’s no wonder creativity and history come alive in this SoCal destination. Check out all the amazing beaches, restaurants, and nightlife San Diego also has to offer on your next trip. For the best cultural value, consider getting Balboa Park Explorer Passes for discounted prices on admission.