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

Explore San Diego’s Colorful Public Art

Vibrant artworks by internationally renowned artists

With nearly perfect weather year-round, most visitors to San Diego want to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Fortunately for art lovers, San Diego’s great outdoors also happen to be home to vibrant artworks by internationally renowned artists. Make a day (or two) of hunting for these famous sculptures around San Diego.

Birds' Word's

Birds' Word's

Pae White

When Pae White was chosen to create artwork for the revamped B Street Pier, she recalled trips to San Diego as a child. She remembered lying in the sun and reading books. Words from those memories now form a sheltering canopy over visitors as they buy tickets for a harbor cruise, browse the gift shop at the Information Center, dine at Carnitas Snack Shack, or people-watch from mini parks studded with jacarandas, the city's official tree. "Birds' Word's" integrates art and architecture through the steel and aluminum canopy, glass panels in the hues of the bay at dawn and dusk, kiosks, and a pleasingly puzzling restroom covered in cryptic letters. While some of White's words can be read from below, others are visible only to passing seagulls and airplanes.

Where: B Street Pier - 1140 N Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101

Arbre de Serpents (Serpent Tree)

Arbre de Serpents (Serpent Tree)

Niki de Saint Phalle

On any given afternoon, Waterfront Park is filled with moms pushing strollers, friends playing soccer, and kids and dogs splashing in the arcing fountains. Watching over the happiness is a rainbow-colored, multi-headed snake, Niki de Saint Phalle's "Serpent Tree." Stained glass and mirrors glitter in the sunshine, the mosaics echoing the tiles on the adjacent County Administration Building and around the base of Donal Hord's massive 1939 sculpture, "Guardian of the Water." Saint Phalle, who lived in La Jolla in the last years of her life, overcame childhood trauma through art. She described herself and her work as "color, joy, abundance." More of her sculptures can be found by the south fountains and playground, as well as in Balboa Park, Downtown, La Jolla and Escondido.

Where: Waterfront Park - 1600 Pacific Highway, San Diego, CA 92101

Fault Whisper

Fault Whisper

Living Lenses (Po Shu Wang and Louise Bertelsen)

With a strong science and technology community based here, it's no surprise that those disciplines find their way into San Diego's art. "Fault Whisper" beautifies a small city park while providing a glimpse into what's underneath. Two mirror-polished spheres sit on either side of a shallow section of the Rose Canyon Fault. Stand at the west sphere and peer through the viewfinder. The east sphere was exactly in the center when the sculpture was installed in 2015. If the fault has shifted, you'll see a change on the sightline. Meanwhile, an accelerometer deep in the ground monitors the Earth's movements and the data is translated into musical notes. For its ingenuity and aesthetics, "Fault Whisper" received local and national recognition. If the idea of constant seismic change leaves you rattled, stroll a few blocks to East Village for your choice of amazing restaurants and cafes to talk about your experience. Then pay a visit to the San Diego Central Library, which features art throughout (more than 150 paintings, drawings and photographs), a large art gallery with rotating exhibitions, and the exquisite Hervey Family Rare Book Room.

Where: 1433 Island Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

Fallen Star

Fallen Star

Do Ho Suh

When locals share their favorite places to see public art, UCSD's Stuart Collection is almost always on the list. Nineteen pieces grace the campus, ranging from mischievous to contemplative to downright daring. "Fallen Star" checks all those boxes. In an artistic and engineering feat, Korean artist Do Ho Suh cantilevered a house off the seventh floor of Jacobs Hall. It's his first major permanent installation and continues his themes of displacement, perception and the meaning of "home." Plan to visit when the house is open to the public (Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM), and then take time to explore the rest of the collection before heading to La Jolla to catch the sunset.

Where: Jacobs School of Engineering - University of California San Diego, La Jolla, 92037

Unconditional Surrender / Embracing Peace

JOHN SEWARD JOHNSON II

Visitors love it. Locals are mixed. Some appreciate that it recognizes San Diego's military history and veterans. Others point to ongoing controversy, such as whether Johnson's use of the famous 1945 Alfred Eisenstaedt photograph constitutes copyright violation and whether the pose glorifies sexual harassment. (Perhaps that's one reason why Johnson changed the title from "Unconditional Surrender" to "Embracing Peace.") One thing is certain — it's in the right spot. Sheltered by the enormous U.S.S. Midway Museum, a decommissioned aircraft carrier open for tours, Tuna Harbor Park features the "Greatest Generation Collection," a selection of memorials and artworks honoring the men and women who served our country.

Where: Tuna Harbor Park - 3 Tuna Lane, San Diego, CA 92101

32 Foot Acrylic Column

ROBERT IRWIN

Robert Irwin, the venerable master of Light and Space phenomena, is known for probing the basic tenets of art and our interactions with it. He's also known for his wicked sense of humor. That's evident in two pieces at the Federal Courthouse, where an Irwin-designed hedge zigzags from street level to the elevated entryway. Inside the lobby, a 32-foot clear acrylic prism fractures light, disappearing almost completely when viewed from certain angles. Both pieces introduce elements of uncertainty, causing the viewer to question perception and truth — a message that is simultaneously impish and deeply resonant to those entering the legal system.

Where: United States District Courthouse - 333 West Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101

Broadway Fountain

IRVING J. GILL

When a city values innovation as much as San Diego does, it's sometimes difficult to find relics from the days of dusty streets and horse-drawn carriages. One prize, however, has withstood more than a century of development, even as downtown grew up around it. The 1910 Revivalist fountain in Horton Plaza Park is variously called the Broadway Fountain, Wilde Fountain or Irving Gill's fountain. Gill (1870 - 1936) was a trailblazing architect who would develop a style that defined Southern California. In the early 1900s he was hired to tame the park, which was developing a reputation for rambunctious public speech. He drew on classical elements of Greek and Roman architecture, which he then modernized. The fountain was one of the first public monuments in the country to incorporate colored electric lights with water, and it is the first recorded item in the city's civic art collection. Over the years it suffered from neglect and vandalism until a recent $450,000 restoration brought it back to life. Engraved in the frieze above the elegant columns is the phrase, "Broadway Fountain for the People."

Where: Horton Plaza Park - 900 Fourth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

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

Entertainment

VIP Gender Reveal

Skydiving Innovations
Valid: Oct 14, 2020 - ongoing

Skydiving Innovations can help you announce the gender of your upcomming pride and joy! We can jump into a number of locations where, after we open our canopies, deploy red or blue smoke to the...

Tours & Sightseeing

Save 20% on an Amazing Scavenger Hunt Adventure

Amazing Scavenger Hunts by Urban Adventure Quest
Valid: Jan 1 - ongoing

Turn San Diego's Old Town or Balboa Park into a giant game board with this fun Scavenger Hunt Adventure. Combine the excitement of the Amazing Race with a three-hour city tour. Guided from any smart...

Accommodation

Rise and Shine Package

The Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club & Bungalows
Valid: Feb 19 - ongoing

Relax and unwind surrounded by the vintage vibes and modern charm in a spacious, plush guest room. Then wake up to a cozy breakfast for two, served to your room so you have more time to plan the day's...

Events to check out

Event

That Good Good Market

Aug 8, 2021

That Good Good Market is an entirely vegan market that takes place on the second Sunday and last Thursday of every month. The event is located just 10 minutes from downtown San Diego at a new event...

Event

Mission Federal ArtWalk

ArtWalk San Diego
Oct 2 - Oct 3, 2021

Mission Fed ArtWalk is returning to the streets of Little Italy with an in-person event on Saturday, October 2 and Sunday, October 3.

Event

Compliment Conversations, an Art Exhibition

San Diego Watercolor Society
Jul 2 - Aug 29, 2021

The San Diego Watercolor Society presents “Compliment Conversations, an Art Exhibition” juried by award-winning artist Dean Mitchell. The exhibit runs July 2nd – Aug 29th, 2021 at...

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

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