There are over 90 museums in San Diego County catering to a broad, diverse range of interests and subjects. From the fine arts, including classical, contemporary and folk art, to science and natural history, San Diego’s museum world offers and abundance of options. Our museums collectively dedicate themselves to preserving and caring for our cultural, natural and historic heritage. Wherever your interest may lie, you’re sure to find a museum that will provide you with deeper insight, engagement and inspiration.
Often referred to as the “Smithsonian of the West," Balboa Park is the largest urban park with cultural institutions in the United States. Fifteen museums devoted to topics as varied as anthropology, art, aviation, natural science and technology are spread throughout the pristine gardens and historic Spanish Colonial architecture in Balboa Park.
If you are planning to visit Balboa Park over the course of a few days, take advantage of the park’s Passport program, which includes one admission to 14 museums over seven consecutive days. If you only have one day, head to the Visitors Center in Balboa Park and ask for the “Stay-for-the-Day” pass, which offers admission to five museums for the day.
Considered the “birth place” of California, Old Town San Diego gives visitors a glimpse into San Diego’s colonial period from 1821-1872. Many of the historical sites and museums in this neighborhood have free admission. Over a hundred shops and boutiques line the streets, along with plenty of restaurants. At the center of Old Town is the Whaley House Museum Complex, which consists of five historic buildings, the most famous of which is the Whaley House, the most haunted house in the country according to the Travel Channel’s “America's Most Haunted.”
View a rare original stagecoach at the Wells Fargo Museum, see a scale model of 19th century Old Town at the reconstructed Robinson-Rose House, and tour the Black Hawk Livery & Blacksmith, the first public schoolhouse in San Diego. Casa de Estudillo is considered one of the finest adobe haciendas in the state. Up the hill is Heritage Park, a 7.8 acre county park where seven Victorian homes have been relocated and now house shops, bed and breakfasts, and the Serra Museum, site of California’s first mission and fort.
While most of the museums are child-friendly, a few cater specifically to children. The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park brings science to life with hands-on experiments that are sure to engage your child’s inquisitive mind. Also in Balboa Park you’ll find the San Diego Model Railroad Museum with an interactive Lionel layout for children. The New Children’s Museum in downtown San Diego and the Children’s Discovery Museum in Escondido bring art and discovery to life with fun activities, craft projects, and inventive play areas. Recent exhibits at the New Children’s Museum have explored issues like recycling and food sustainability through child-focused art and craft projects. Many of these museums have toddler areas as well so the littlest ones can join in all the fun.