The Spectacular Museums of Balboa Park

Balboa Park isn’t just one of San Diego’s crown jewels, it’s one of the most stunning plots of urban green space anywhere in the world. Its 1,200 acres (even larger than the 840 acres of New York’s Central Park) feature amazing wildlife, waterways, lush vegetation, and endless recreational opportunities. 

What visitors to San Diego may not know is that Balboa Park is also home to the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, plus an absolutely incredible collection of museums, showcasing historical wonders, art, crafts, culture, and everything in between. There are a staggering 17 Balboa Park museums in all, guaranteeing something for everyone. 

Not sure where to get started? We’re here to help. Check out our Balboa Park museum guide and start planning your trip.

San Diego Air and Space Museum   

This uplifting educational experience offers a look at aviation, space, and science history in a compelling Smithsonian-affiliated setting. Visitors will see incredible exhibits, including an actual GPS satellite, artifacts from Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Neil Armstrong, and the Wright Brothers. Don’t miss the interactive simulators, 3D movie theater, and the Apollo mission command module. 

San Diego Art Institute

SDAI is San Diego’s home for contemporary art. Through educational initiatives, fantastic exhibits, and outreach programs, SDAI affords amazing education on the ever-evolving world of emerging art forms. This is definitely a must-see. The Art Institute has plans to reopen in November of 2020, and is hosting a series of virtual exhibits in the run-up to once again admitting visitors.    

Museum of Photographic Arts

Enthusiasts of film, photography, and video will want to head straight to the Museum of Photographic Arts. The collection and outreach programs of MOPA are intended to educate and inspire anyone with a love of visual imagery. The museum itself houses a collection of nearly 10,000 images by some of the world’s most notable artisans. Much like the Art Institute, the MOPA is planning to reopen this month. 

Museum of Us

With a focus on cultural anthropology, the beloved Museum of Us invites visitors to delve into the story of humanity, our cultures, historical perspectives, and development via a captivating collection of interactive exhibits. You’ve never experienced anything like this unique and enlightening institution.

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The Museum of Us – ALL of us.

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Japanese Friendship Garden

Established in 1991 as an expression of fellowship and community, the Japanese Friendship Garden explores our fundamental human connections. Featuring exhibits on Japanese culture courtesy of San Diego’s sister city Yokohama, the garden offers visitors a wholly unique experience in music, art, crafts, and architecture. 

Fleet Science Center

Visit the Fleet Science Center and check out more than 100 incredible interactive exhibits that educate and delight in equal measure. While there, take in an IMAX presentation, touring displays, and enlightening presentations on the nature and workings of the world around us. The Science Center — one of our personal favorites — has plans to reopen in early 2020

Centro Cultural de la Raza

This lively and inspiring museum is dedicated to preserving and advancing Latino, Chicano, Hispanic and indigenous art, culture, and music. A series of rotating exhibits curated by local artisans bring dance, theater, performing arts, and more to vibrant life.  

Mingei International Museum

With a focus on “art of the people,” this intriguing collection helps us all understand that art can be created anywhere, from any source, and by anyone who feels the inspiration to be creative. As a celebration of the “art is everywhere” idea, the Mingei collection asks us to look at the world with an eye for unexpected beauty. Though currently shuttered for a renovation, Mingei is on-track to reopen soon. 

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🧵In the midst of unsteady days like these, we’re so thankful for artists like @mayracamachoatelier. When we initially interviewed fiber artist and museum educator, Mayra we didn’t expect to be in the moment we are now. But looking back, her story about how her family’s distinct personalities, heritage and wisdom inspire her craft couldn’t be more appropriate at this moment when we’re all looking to each other—family, friends and neighbors—for inspiration. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Mayra. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Visit the link in our bio to read her full interview.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ En medio de días inestables como estos, estamos muy agradecidos por artistas como @mayracamachoatelier. Cuando inicialmente entrevistamos a la artista de fibra y educadora del museo, Mayra Camacho, no esperábamos estar en el momento en cual estamos ahora. Pero mirando hacia atrás, su historia sobre cómo las personalidades, el patrimonio y la sabiduría distintivos de su familia inspiró a su oficio no podría ser más apropiada en este momento cuando todos nos miramos mutuamente (familia, amigos y vecinos) en busca de inspiración. Gracias por compartir tu historia con nosotros, Mayra.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Visite el enlace en nuestra biografía para leer su historia.⁣⁣

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Marston House

George W. Marston is remembered as the “Father of Balboa Park,” and for good reason. As one of the driving forces behind the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, his initiatives helped to establish Balboa as a place of natural beauty and ongoing education. His 1905 home is on the National Register of Historic Places and tells the perfectly preserved story of the man who was called “San Diego’s First Citizen.”

San Diego Automotive Museum

Start your engines! As a monument to all things growling, gas-powered, and great, the SDAM offers visitors a look into the history of the automotive arts — from cars to motorcycles to all the things that drive us. The museum includes an impressive collection of historically notable cars, bikes, and other motoring memorabilia. 

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Charles Richard Patterson was born into slavery in 1833. In 1862 he escaped and settled in Ohio and learned the skills of a blacksmith. He found work in the carriage making trade, where he developed a reputation for building a high a quality product. By 1873, he formed a business partnership with another carriage maker in town and around 1893, he eventually became the sole owner and renamed the company to C.R. Patterson & Sons. At first, the company offered repair and restoration services for the “horseless carriages” that were beginning to proliferate on the streets of Greenfield, Ohio. By 1915, it announced the availability of Patterson-Greenfield automobile at a price of $685. Patterson’s company is considered the world’s first and only African American owned and operated automobile company. For more information check out this link: #ohio #crpatterson #pattersonandsons #horselesscarriage #automobiles #history

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San Diego History Center

SDHC is a Smithsonian-affiliated institution with a distinctly local focus. Here San Diego Locals and visitors alike can learn about how “America’s Greatest City” was founded, grew, and how it plans to keep moving forward in the future. It’s also home to an extensive research library, photo collection, and outreach program. 

Timken Museum of Art

A world-class collection of fine art from old masters can be found at the Timken Museum. Famous European, Russian, and 19th-century American artworks are on display here, including San Diego’s only publicly viewable Rembrandt. Don’t miss out on taking in this up-close and intimate experience. Timken is currently offering virtual tours online as they prepare to reopen early next year.

Veterans Museum at Balboa Park

In honor of those who served, Balboa’s Veterans Museum houses both permanent and traveling exhibits that aid us all in remembering the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. The museum itself also serves as an exhibit, having chosen the former home of San Diego Naval Hospital’s chapel as its home.   

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This past week we had some fun publicity at the museum. Monday, Aug. 27 we kicked off working with participants and producers of the PBS show “We’ll Meet Again”, hosted by famous news anchor Anna Curry. We were proud to host the show and it’s current subject, Navy corpsman and Korean War Veteran, Tony, and his wife Billie. Also, a big thanks to @kusinews and morning personality @alliewagnertv for coming out Aug. 28 to help us get out the word about this year’s San Diego County Veteran of the Year. Saturday, Oct. 1 marked the deadline for nominations. A bonus of this visit was locating the signature of former American POW and patriot, John McCain. Big thanks to the SDCVOY committee members and former recipients for getting up so early to be on the news! #serviceafterservice #veterancommunity #communitypride #koreanwarvet #sandiegoveterans

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San Diego Natural History Museum (The NAT)

The NAT encompasses a massive collection of fascinating and inspiring displays spanning five floors. Exhibits feature wonders both great and small, from the tiniest beetles all the way up to massive dinosaurs. Many displays are also interactive, showing off the magic of nature in real-time, hands-on fashion. Virtual events are also currently available online.  

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

This 27,000-square-foot exhibit hall celebrates the wonders of tiny transportation. Model railroading is a passionate hobby for thousands, and this museum offers exhibits on the history, craft, and future of model railroading. Visitors will marvel at the magnificently detailed examples of these little locomotives. 

San Diego Mineral and Gem Society

San Diego has long been revered for its rich and numerous deposits of extraordinary mineral and precious-stone varieties. The Mineral and Gem Society aims to delight and educate visitors about this under-examined aspect of the city’s local history through the display of countless examples of geological diversity.  

WorldBeat Center

Located in a repurposed water tower, the WorldBeat Center has preserved and promoted indigenous African and African-American culture since 1996. Dance, costumes, art, music, technology, and anthropological exhibits offer a captivating look at the rich traditions and history of the people and customs. Visitors are welcome to check out online virtual events in advance of attendance.

Truly, the dizzying range of museums at Balboa Park offers a host of incredible experiences for anyone with a mind and spirit open to learning. Best of all, many of these facilities offer free or “pay what you can” admission to visitors. Don’t miss seeing everything Balboa Park has to offer during your visit!