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Explore These Awesome Museums

Where learning is more like recess

Who says learning can’t be fun? Hands-on exhibits and special activities at museums throughout San Diego County aim to prove just that.

By: Chelsea Gladden; Mommy Blogger at Breezy Mama

Hands-On Learning, Special Exhibits and More!

Whether you’ve got a budding biologist, artist in residence, or a Bill Nye wannabe, you can find a San Diego museum that fosters their individual passion. From the toddler to the teenager, discover the right mix of education and enjoyment for your whole family.

Downtown

USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway Museum pays tribute to the hundreds of thousands of men who served their country aboard the vessel and highlights San Diego's rich military history. Explore more than 60 exhibits with a collection of 25 restored aircraft. The self-guided audio tour, narrated by former USS Midway sailors, brings the carrier's history to life. Those who dare can "take to the sky" aboard one of the flight simulators. With their family sleepover programs, youngsters and their loved ones can experience "deployment" aboard the USS Midway. Overnight stays include tours, simulators, meals on the mess deck and sleeping in enlisted crew berths.

Maritime Museum of San Diego

The floating Maritime Museum of San Diego features one of the finest collections of historic ships in the world, including the fully restored Star of India, the oldest active sailing ship. The museum's collection also includes the 1898 steam ferry Berkeley, the 1904 steam yacht Medea, and the H.M.S Surprise, an 18th century Royal Navy frigate replica that was featured in the film "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World." In 2016, the Maritime Museum completed a full-sized, fully functional, and historically accurate replica of the San Salvador, the flagship for Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo when in 1542 he became the first European to set foot on what is now the west coast of the United States.

Fleet Science Center

There's something for children of all ages at the Fleet Science Center (formerly the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center) in Balboa Park. Children six and under will want to spend time at Kid City, playing in the child-sized grocery store, learning the physics of movement via the mousetrap-like ball wall and feeding the correct shapes through the four-level factory. Toddlers will enjoy the block corner and there's even an area specifically for infants. For older children, the 100+ interactive science exhibits will stimulate their imagination and teach scientific principles through activities such as free-form building using wooden KEVA planks, whisper disks that allow a secret conversation from across the room, constructing simple mechanical toys from recycled materials, and touching and interacting with a tornado. Also, the IMAX Dome Theater, the first of its kind in the world, presents IMAX films and lively planetarium shows to add to the discovery adventure.

Balboa Park

In addition to the Fleet Science Center, Balboa Park houses 17 museums ranging from art and automotives to photography and natural history. Of particular interest to families with younger children are the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, the largest museum of its type with four enormous scale and model layouts, and the San Diego Natural History Museum, which is filled with insects, dinosaurs, mammals, geology, flora, fauna—everything pertaining to natural history. For teenagers, the San Diego Air & Space Museum, which features the actual Apollo 9 Command Module and the only real GPS satellite on display in the world; and the Museum of Photographic Arts, which is particularly strong in social documentary photography and photojournalism.

WorldBeat Cultural Center

Also located in Balboa Park, the WorldBeat Cultural Center offers classes in Brazilian capoeira, Tribal belly dance, Afro-Cuban percussion and West African drumming that draw a steady crowd of local teens. Look for their all-ages concerts that showcase reggae and world-musicians benefiting social causes around the globe.

The New Children's Museum

The New Children's Museum encourages children to think, play and create with innovative, hands-on art opportunities, classes and first-rate exhibitions designed by emerging and established contemporary artists. And it's not just for the little ones, as many of the art studios and activities are appropriate for kids of all ages.

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Contemporary art is a natural for younger travelers, and admission for teens is always free at both the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego - La Jolla. NOTE: The La Jolla location is closed for a major expansion starting in 2017.

La Jolla

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Birch Aquarium at Scripps features more than 60 habitats of fishes and invertebrates from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest to the tropical waters of Mexico and beyond. In three living tide pools, children can touch and learn about the inhabitants, including anemones, hermit crabs, mussels and sea plants. An enormous kelp forest tank and smaller shark reef tank will capture children's attention, as well as the "There's Something About Seahorses" exhibit, which showcases the various life stages of the sea's most captivating creatures.

South Bay

Living Coast Discovery Center

The Living Coast Discovery Center provides an inexpensive aquarium and nature experience from its location on the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. Interactive exhibits revealing the geology, ecology and natural history of the wetlands bring the bay to life, including a 4,500-gallon shark and stingray pool, burrowing owl aviary, enclosed shore bird exhibit complete with integrated tidal slough, two bird-watching platforms and gardens focusing on plants that are drought-tolerant and attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.

North Coastal

Museum of Making Music

Carlsbad's Museum of Making Music tells the story of how an industry—the music products industry—supplies the world with the instruments, products and gear that we all use to make music. When you step inside, you’ll see outstanding examples of musical instruments, many of them displayed in vintage music store settings. You'll also hear some familiar tunes in audio and video clips, have many hands-on opportunities to pick up and play a variety of instruments, and discover the innovative ways that the music industry has grown over the years. It's an insider's view of the world of making music.

California Surf Museum

The California Surf Museum in Oceanside honors the legends of surfing history with rotating exhibits and a wild collection of vintage boards and surf memorabilia.

North Inland

San Diego Children's Discovery Museum

At the San Diego Children's Discovery Museum in Escondido, whether playing musical instruments, discovering history in an archeological dig box, or exploring the amazing world of plants and insects in their garden, children can combine active learning with creativity for a fun educational experience all their own.

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