With so many permanent and touring exhibitions in the park, one day is just not enough. Plan to return and see it all!
Balboa Park is home to a host of museums and cultural institutions that provide an enriching and enchanting look at the human experience from multiple points of views. While all are open year-round, February is Museum Month and a great time for special deals and extended hours. The Balboa Park Explorer Pass gives you access to 16 of the museums, making your experience hassle-free. Insider tip: The Timken Museum of Art is always free!
This cultural arts center is dedicated to creating, promoting, preserving and raising awareness of Chicano, Mexican, Indigenous and Latino art and culture. Housed in a former water tower and painted with colorful murals, Centro features rotating exhibits and performances with theater, dance, music and film/video.
The Comic-Con Museum, which has transformed the 1935-vintage Federal Building into a shrine for all things comic-book-related and (much) more, features exhibits devoted to everything from superheroes to sci-fi franchises, and hosts movie screenings and other special events. It’s the perfect year-round complement to that summer spectacular, Comic-Con International: San Diego, which brings celebrities, movie-studio honchos, mom-and-pop merchants and thousands of fans from around the world to the San Diego Convention Center.
With more than 100 interactive exhibits, the Fleet Science Center allows visitors of all ages to explore and investigate the wonders of science and innovation. The center is also home to the Eugene Heikoff and Marilyn Jacobs Heikoff Giant Dome Theater, providing an IMAX film adventure that shows the wonders of the planet — and beyond.
The Japanese Friendship Garden commemorates the connection between San Diego and its sister city of Yokohama, Japan. It offers visitors a wondrous experience through its bonsai exhibit, a moon-viewing deck, beautiful black pine trees, azaleas and ornamental plants such as camellias, magnolia, wisteria and cherry blossom trees.
Built in 1905 for George W. Marston, who is considered the “Father of Balboa Park,” The Marston House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Designed by renowned architects Irving Gill and William Hebbard, the home sits on five acres of landscaped English and California-influenced gardens and is a starting point for several historical walking tours.
Now open again after a three-year renovation project, the beautifully re-envisioned Mingei International Museum — dedicated to folk art and more — boasts additional exhibit space, a new courtyard and outdoor terraces and a flexible theater space. It also offers two new dining options, both presided over by the accomplished Urban Kitchen Group: the sleek ARTIFACT, inspired by ancient methods and ingredients and taking its cues from the museum's exhibitions; and the more casual Craft Café, with a range of made-to-order and grab ‘n' go items.
As one of only three independent museums in the nation dedicated solely to the lens-based medium, the Museum of Photographic Arts aims to inspire, educate and engage through the innovative collection and presentation of photography, film and video. Exhibitions are presented in English and Spanish, with work from the museum’s archive as well as from contemporary artists. The museum also stores a permanent collection of nearly 9,000 images. The Edmund L. and Nancy Dubois Library strengthens the permanent collection with more than 24,000 items, all related to photography.
As one of only a handful of air and space museums in the country to be an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the San Diego Air & Space Museum is home to a collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft illustrating the history of flight. The collection includes a flight-worthy replica of Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis,” the actual Apollo 9 Command Module, and the only real GPS satellite display in the world. View artifacts from the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Wally Schirra and other aviation and space pioneers.
Dedicated to advancing experimental, binational contemporary art, the Insitute of Contemporary Art San Diego — formed through a merger of the San Diego Art Institute and the Lux Art Institute —
focuses on commissions of new work by artists living between Los Angeles and Tijuana, with a focus on San Diego artists.
Featuring more than 80 historic autos and motorcycles, the San Diego Automotive Museum offers a unique look at some of the most prized and unique vehicles of the 20th century, including Louie Mattar’s one-of-a-kind 1947 Cadillac (which set a cross-country endurance record in 1952), as well as one of the finest motorcycle collections on the West Coast.
One of the oldest and largest historical organizations on the West Coast, the San Diego History Center is dedicated to the heritage of the region, and presents dynamic, engaging exhibitions that highlight what makes San Diego unique, as well as exploring the region’s emerging role in the 21st century.
At 28,000 square feet, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is the world's largest operating model railroad museum. Dedicated to preserving the heritage of railroading, the unique museum has a series of miniature representations of California railroads, including four enormous scale and model layouts of Southwest railroads. In addition, the museum features a Toy Train Gallery with an interactive Lionel layout for children, and state-of-the-art theater lighting.
Housed in the historic California Building, with its soaring California Tower, the Museum of Us has been educating and entertaining visitors from around the world for more than 100 years. The museum offers a variety of unique, interactive exhibits that cover a vast range of human history and culture from beer to cannibalism to monsters. The museum also offers guided tours of the California Tower, where visitors can learn about the history of Balboa Park and San Diego while taking in sweeping, 360-degree views of San Diego from nearly 200 feet up.
Explore the natural history of Southern California — from past to present — at the San Diego Natural History Museum (aka The NAT). From rattlesnakes and flesh-eating beetles to dinosaurs and fossils, to a pendulum that proves the earth is spinning, there’s something for everyone at this Balboa Park favorite. The museum offers inventive, interactive exhibitions on five different floors, and features a giant-screen theater with daily showings of 2D and 3D films, as well as rotating exhibitions that bring nature to life.
Located in the heart of Balboa Park, the San Diego Museum of Art is known for its nationally renowned collections of Spanish and Italian old masters, South Asian paintings (including the Edwin Binney III Collection of Indian paintings), and 19th- and 20th-century American paintings and sculptures. The museum regularly features major exhibitions from around the world, and is known for its commitment to technology that enhances the user experience. The museum also hosts an extensive year-round schedule of cultural and educational programs, including Culture & Cocktails, Film in the Garden, Art After Hours and the annual Bloom Bash.
Affectionately called San Diego’s jewel box of fine art, the Timken Museum of Art is home to the Putnam Foundation’s globally important collection of European old masters, 19th-century American art and Russian icons. Artists represented include Rubens, Fragonard, Bierstadt, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, John Singleton Copley and Eastman Johnson. The collection also includes the only Rembrandt painting on public display in San Diego. The Timken offers free admission and provides visitors with an accessible and enriching cultural experience.
Dedicated to showcasing the history of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine, and honoring those who have served, the Veterans Museum & Memorial Center is a civic institution that offers permanent, rotating and visiting exhibits of patriotic, military and war-related memorabilia, artifacts, photographs and other items.
Housed in a colorfully painted former water tower, the WorldBeat Center opened in Balboa Park in 1996. The Center is dedicated to promoting and preserving African, African-American and other Indigenous cultures of the world through art, music, dance, education and technology. Classes in international dance and drumming are offered year-round, along with concerts and lectures.
Looking for more fun things to do? From where to shop, eat and play to what's happening around town, the Visitor Planning Guide is your roadmap to San Diego fun.
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