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

Seven Spots to See Classic Art

Where to connect with centuries of beauty and creativity

Whether you love the craftsmanship of a few perfect brushstrokes conveying subtle human emotion, or thrill at seeing signs of the artist's hand from long ago, San Diego's museums are rich in the classics. Here are seven spots where you can admire time-honored artistic talent.

Coronado Museum of History and Art

Coronado Museum of History and Art

Coronado celebrates and preserves its past, and with good reason. Archaeological excavations show that this seaside resort has attracted visitors for thousands of years. That makes the Hotel del Coronado, which opened in 1888, a relative newcomer. Dive into the stories at the Coronado Museum of History and Art, located in a 1910 neoclassical building that once housed the Bank of Commerce. Permanent exhibits include photographs and artifacts from the turn of the century when the area was known as "Tent City," and the significance of the Naval Air Station North Island, where naval aviation began.

For more of Coronado's past, make a stop at Bay Books across the street. One of the few remaining independent bookstores, it's particularly strong in biographies and military history.

Where: 1100 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118

Heritage of the Americas Museum

Heritage of the Americas Museum

In San Diego's East County, on the campus of Cuyamaca College, is an eclectic array of paintings, sculpture, antiquities, gems, minerals and taxidermied animals. Organized into four wings (Natural History, Archaeology, Anthropology and Art) you can move through Heritage of the Americas Museum in a chronological manner, beginning with meteorites, trilobites and fossils from the La Brea Tar Pits before advancing to pre-Columbian treasures from Mexico and Peru — or just skip around to whatever catches your eye. It's a good place to visit with the family because parents can browse one wing while kids visit another. Highlights are a jade Chinese burial suit from the Han Dynasty and a Nez Perce dentalium shell dress.

Where: 12110 Cuyamaca College Dr West, El Cajon, CA 92019

Mingei International Museum

Everything about the Mingei bespeaks elegance, from the clean lines of the glass and steel entry doors, to the soft lighting, honey-colored birch floors, and vibrant raw silks in the gift shop. It all stems from the museum's focus. The word "mingei" was coined by Japanese philosopher Sōetsu Yanagi, and translates to "art of the people." Exhibitions center on beauty found in daily life: the patina of a child's wooden toy or the graceful lines of a mid-century modern chair. Fans of decorative arts will find much to appreciate in Mingei's permanent collection and rotating shows, which are anchored in the Japanese aesthetic but feature craftsmanship from many cultures.

Where: 1439 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101

San Diego Chinese Historical Museum

San Diego Chinese Historical Museum

When was the last time you saw a Chinese unicorn? That's one of the delights you'll find at this gem of a museum. San Diego's Chinese community first appeared around the 1850s when fishermen built a thriving commercial industry and export business. More waves of migrants came in the 1870s and 1890s with the gold rush and railroad construction, and San Diego's Chinatown grew. The Chinese Historical Museum tells their story, placing it in context with art and artifacts from earlier eras. There's a limestone Buddha head from the Northern Qi Dynasty; a fierce temple guardian from the Ming Dynasty, created with bulging glass eyes and a beard and mustache of real hair; and an elaborate processional shrine from the late 19th century. The unicorn, or qilin, appears on a stone hitching post circa 1750-1800.

Where: 404 Third Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

San Diego Museum of Art

San Diego Museum of Art

With an extensive collection of European, American, Latin American and Asian art from 5,000 B.C. to the present, SDMA is high on the list for those seeking the classics. And while everyone has their favorites, from the massive Japanese urn to the German Impressionists, visitors invariably gravitate to Juan Sánchez Cotán’s "Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber." This masterpiece, now over 400 years old, looks strikingly contemporary in its composition and high contrast. Michael Brown, associate curator of European art, calls it "utterly revolutionary." It was one of the first still-life paintings made in Spain and marked the birth of naturalism. Also on the "don't miss list" are works by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in the Visible Vaults. Thanks to a creative solution of storage and display, visitors can enjoy an intimate look at his drawings and illustrations.

Where: 1450 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92102

Muesum of Man

San Diego Museum of Us

For artistry that transcends time, it's hard to beat ancient Egypt. Head to the second floor of the Museum of Us, where you'll be rewarded with rare amulets, mummy masks and sculptures called ushabtis, symbolic servants who would do manual labor on behalf of the deceased. Wealthy nobles might be buried with as many as 365 statuettes, thus ensuring an easy afterlife.

Adjacent to the Egyptian gallery is an exhibit of Kumeyaay art and tools. Look for baskets with bold geometrics, characteristic of the period between 1870 and 1930, and pottery bowls adorned with whimsical faces.

Where: 1350 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92102

San Diego Natural History Museum

San Diego Natural History Museum

A major renovation in 2016 made the Natural History Museum's research library into an airy, welcoming space for the public, and created a gallery for their collection of watercolor "plant portraits" by Albert Robert Valentien. In 1908, the journalist and philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps commissioned Valentien to document the wildflowers of California. For ten years, he traveled from the Mexican border to the northern California coast, and the results are the marriage of a botanist's eye and an artist's touch. The collection consists of 1094 paintings depicting 1500 species, with approximately 10 paintings on display at a time.

Also popular are illustrations of dragons and mythical beasts, taken from the 1640 "Serpentum et Draconum Historiae" by Ulisse Aldrovandi and the rare 1517 "Hortus Sanitatis," one of the first encyclopedias of natural history. The museum is understandably proud of their complete "Birds of America," a Double Elephant Folio from John James Audubon. The term refers to the size of the book, 40 inches by 30 inches, large enough that birds could be shown life-size.

Where: 1788 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101

Timken Museum

Online reviews of the Timken invariably mention the security guards. Yes, they can be exceptionally attentive, but wouldn’t you be if you were guarding a priceless Rembrandt, the only one on regular display in San Diego? "Saint Bartholomew," painted in 1657, is a standout in a collection known for several stunning Dutch and Flemish works, along with other European masterpieces such as Francisco de Zurbarán's "Saint Francis in Meditation," walls of French tapestries, and Russian icons spanning five centuries. The building is itself a work of art, a mid-century jewel box of travertine, bronze and glass where the art is displayed on upholstered walls under natural light.

Where: 1500 El Prado, 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


Kids Go Free Pacific Southwest Railway Museum

Pacific Southwest Railway Museum
Valid: Oct 1 - Oct 31, 2023

Kids Free at the Museum with the purchase of a Kids Pumpkin Express Excursion Ride ticket.   Join Us on October 7-29, 2023 at the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum in Campo, CA for our Annual...


$3 Off Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Valid: Jun 9 - ongoing

Dive into the world of sharks, seadragons and Little Blue Penguins at Birch Aquarium. As the public outreach center for Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, Birch Aquarium features...


$15 Historic Bay Cruise with General Admission*

Maritime Museum of San Diego
Valid: Jul 6 - ongoing

Purchase general admission to the Maritime Museum of San Diego and add a 45-minute narrated Historic Bay Cruise for only $15 more! Daily tours at 11:00 a.m., 12:45 p.m., 1:45 p.m. 2:45 p.m. and 3:45...

Events to check out


San Diego International Film Festival

San Diego Int'l Film Festival
Oct 18 - Oct 22, 2023

The 22nd Annual San Diego International Film Festival is ‘Celebrating the Power of Film’ with curated screenings that inform, inspire and entertain.  Festival events include Opening...


San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival

Nov 8 - Nov 12, 2023

Welcome to the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, where sailboats and sandy beaches serve as the backdrop to one of the country's most talked about weeks in food. Featuring dozens of events,...


Fleet Week San Diego 2023

Nov 3 - Nov 12, 2023

Experience one of San Diego’s largest Military events featuring Military Displays, High Tech equipment in the Innovation Zone, Active Navy & Coast Guard Ship Tours, Live Music, Food, and Fun...

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





Follow Us


English | Change Language

Select your country or region

Great Britain

Or use Google Translate