arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up play-button plus tab-indicator dots close menu search facebook google-plus instagram pinterest rss twitter youtube rss-two heart Check FeaturedBadge linkedin minus apps placeholder linkedin

Best Places to See Contemporary Art

Trendsetting venues showing the best in local, national and international art

San Diego draws inventors, dreamers, pioneers and creators. It's an optimistic city, full of fresh ideas and energy, consistently ranked one of the best places to launch a startup. Maybe it's the ocean's endless movement and renewal, but whatever the source, the spirit of experimentation extends to San Diego's arts scene. Here are some of the leading museums and galleries who set the pace for the region that visitors won't want to miss.

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

The flagship of contemporary art in San Diego County, MCASD is concentrating on its downtown location while expanding and remodeling the La Jolla campus. Formerly the baggage claim terminal for the historic Santa Fe Train Depot, the downtown site boasts soaring ceilings that allow for big, bold statements, often relating to multicultural identity. While in the area, stop by the San Diego State University Downtown Gallery, just a block away. It has a strong program of local talent complemented by national and international artists.  

Where: 1100 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101

Quint Gallery

Quint’s openings are stylish social events where you’re likely to spot a celebrity artist or two. When the gallery moved from La Jolla to a warehouse in a low-key design district, the atmosphere became a little more laid-back - but the art remains top-notch. Look for three large-scale installations per year plus six exhibitions.

Where: 5171 Santa Fe St, San Diego, CA 92117

San Diego Central Library Art Gallery

This is not the typical community art gallery found in a library. Since opening in 2013, the Central Library established itself as a serious player with a string of tightly curated exhibitions featuring artists from around the region. In addition, the building contains more than 150 paintings, drawings and photographs from San Diego’s Civic Art Collection, permanently installed throughout nine floors. Library and gallery hours differ; check the website for details.

Where: 330 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101

Lux Art Institute

Perched atop a hillside in coastal North County, Lux Art Institute sets expectations with its striking concrete architecture and cantilevered roof — it the first art museum in California awarded LEED certification for new construction. Lux chooses five artists each year for its residency program, drawing big names who relish the idea of spending a month by the sea. Drop by, observe and ask questions during the creative process. Artworks remain on view for six to eight weeks after completion.

Where: 1550 S. El Camino Real, Encinitas, CA 92024

San Diego Art Institute

SDAI underwent a radical change in 2014, shifting from decades of demure portraiture and sleepy landscapes to…anything but. New media, immersive installations, kinetic work and internet art suddenly filled the space, and adventurous art-lovers responded with enthusiasm. Exhibitions often reflect San Diego’s unique take on art/tech/science hybrids.

Where: 1439 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101

Ship in the Woods

A group of artists bought a house in rural Escondido and turned it into a site for some of the coolest art parties around. Surprises are tucked into every corner, temporary pieces make use of the home's swimming pool and two acres of forest, and local bands frequently come to play. It’s a private residence, open only for events, but keep an eye on the Facebook page to learn what’s happening while you’re in town.

Where: 3007 Felicita Rd, Escondido, CA 92029

New Children's Museum

From its inception, the museum was designed to serve a dual purpose: to be an art museum and a children’s museum. Interactive room-sized installations let kids explore, experiment and create, all within an environment of thought-provoking, meaningful contemporary art. Several of the pieces examine aspects of life in California, from climate to border to language and culture. While it may be billed as a children’s museum, adults will fall in love with it, too.

Where: 200 W. Island Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

Bread & Salt

Architect James Brown transformed a century-old bread factory into artist’s studios, galleries and performance space. He kept the industrial equipment and raw floors, signaling that this is a work in progress where each visit will be different. Don’t expect docents or a welcome desk; it’s the kind of place where you ramble around and decide for yourself whether that rusty object is art.

Where: 1955 Julian Ave, San Diego, CA 92113

Find a place to stay

Book online or call 1-800-350-6205 to speak with a local expert

Related Articles and Features

Deals just for you

Childcare Services

Kids Free Rental Item from Toddler's Travels

Toddler's Travels
Valid: Oct 1 - Oct 31, 2018

Reserve one deluxe item (Crib, Toddler bed, Premium car seat, or City Mini GT/BOB Revolution Stroller) with Toddler's Travels and add any non-premium item of equal or lesser value from the...

Activity

San Diego Zoo Package

Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa
Valid: Nov 8, 2017 - ongoing

Let us help you plan the San Diego family vacation of your dreams. With the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa's San Diego Zoo package, experience the best that San Diego has to offer with ease. Take...

Accommodation

The Art-Minded Meeting Planner Special

Hilton Garden Inn San Diego Downtown/Bayside
Valid: Apr 9 - ongoing

Book your next meeting or event at the Hilton Garden Inn San Diego Bayside valued at $10,000 and receive a Complimentary One-Night Stay and Two tickets to a San Diego Museum of your choice.  ...

Events to check out

Event

Big Bay Boom!

Jul 4, 2018

The Big Bay Boom July 4th Fireworks Show is back, promising another spectacular display over San Diego Bay. Fireworks will be discharged simultaneously from barges placed strategically around the Bay...

Event

Comic-Con International: San Diego

Jul 19 - Jul 22, 2018

Comic-Con International is the largest comics and pop culture event in the United States, attracting thousands of artists, celebrities and fans of comic books, movie memorabilia and all things related...

Event

A.S. Roma vs. Tottenham Hotspur F.C.

Jul 25, 2018

The International Champions Cup is bringing together two of the best soccer clubs in the world to SDCU Stadium this summer - AS Roma and Tottenham Hotspur.

Stay in touch

Sign up to receive the latest news, events, and updates about San Diego. Our monthly and weekly newsletters will keep you informed about the latest and greatest happenings in the destination.

Sign Up

Visitor planning guide

For the ultimate guide to planning your San Diego vacation, view and download the San Diego Visitor Planning Guide, packed with useful information that will help you plan the perfect San Diego getaway.

Read More

Partners

Explore

Plan

Stay

Follow Us

Language:

English | Change Language

Select your country or region

China FlagChinaGermany FlagGermanyGreat Britain FlagGreat BritainJapan FlagJapanMexico FlagMexicoKorea FlagKoreaSwitzerland FlagSwitzerlandBrazil FlagBrazilFrance FlagFranceAustralia FlagAustraliaCanada FlagCanada USA

Or use Google Translate

Afrikaans Albanian Arabic Belarusian Bulgarian Catalan Croatian Czech Danish Deutsch Español Estonian Filipino Finnish Francais Galician Greek Haitian-Creole Hebrew Hindi Hungarian Icelandic Indonesian Irish Italian Japanese Korean Latvian Lithuanian Macedonian Malay Maltese Nederlands Norwegian Persian Polish Portuguese Romanian Russian Serbian Slovak Slovenian Swahili Swedish Telugu Thai Turkish Ukranian Vietnamese Welsh Yiddish