The Best San Diego Museums

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USS Midway Museum

Whether you’re planning a trip to San Diego or have been residing there for years, there’s no shortage of museums to visit in the bustling city. The weather is always beautiful, but sometimes having a day indoors can make some great, lasting memories. 

From historic to cultural, the San Diego museum’s culture has a little something for everyone. We present, in no particular order, some of the best museums that San Diego has to offer.

Related: 14 Best Small Private Party Venues in San Diego

USS Midway Museum

USS Midway Aircraft Carrier | San Diego Museum

With over sixty exhibits, this historic aircraft carrier also houses twenty-seven restored aircraft. The USS Midway, named after the Battle of Midway in 1942, was constructed only for 17 months. While it didn’t see World War II’s action, its armored flight decks give visitors an at-sea experience without having to leave port.

Admission to the Maritime Museum grants you access to one of the world’s finest collections of historic sea vessels. Once on board the ship, you will find that people of all ages can have fun and learn a lot. But that is not all! You will get to explore submarines too! Since the museum was founded, it has been displaying exhibits of art, exploration, commerce, and maritime history.

The USS Midway Museum also offers virtual tours so that you can learn about this military history from anywhere. They also offer self-guided audio tours.

You can add a historic bay cruise for an extra nominal fee (on top of the normal admission fee). It will take you 1-2 hours to see the museum entirely. If you are into the history of boats and in the San Diego area, there is no better way to spend the day than on the bay.

Natural History Museum

San Diego Natural History Museum

For more than 130 years, the Natural History Museum in San Diego has been a beacon of learning. Don’t let the long-running museum fool you. The Natural History Museum showcases state-of-the-art exhibits and focuses on Southern Cali and the Baja region’s natural side. 

The museum also hosts an exciting 3-D theater. The Natural History Museum will leave everyone with a new appreciation for the environment and the world we live in.

One of the main attractions the museum has to offer is the giant screen theater. Through its immersive screen, everyone is able to enjoy and view films about the natural world. The museum also likes to engage its visitors by providing travel accommodations to several exhibitions each year. During these “field trips,” the visitors learn about the natural world today, and as it was in the past.

The San Diego Museum of Art

San Diego Museum of Art
San Diego Museum of Art

The San Diego Museum of Art is a fine arts museum located in Balboa Park, San Diego, California. SDMA houses a wide collection of curated exhibitions that shouldn’t be missed! Current exhibits range from the beautiful “Art of the Open Air” (excellent for those with concerns over social distancing) to the Modern and Contemporary Art gala. When visiting the museum pay special attention to the large collection of Spanish art they are known for housing.

This museum is one of the oldest in the region. It’s also one of the most visited. Rich in culture, visitors never forget their trip there. 

The museum has been known to be a nationally renowned permanent collection of Spanish and Italian old masters, South Asian paintings, and 19th- and 20th-century American paintings and sculptures. It is located in the heart of beautiful Balboa Park. Occasionally, the museum likes to exhibit pieces of art from around the world. With the money that is donated, the museum is able to support cultural and educational programs for children and adults. Because the museum has Latin heritage, you’ll always see description text in English and in Spanish.

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San Diego Air & Space Museum

San Diego Air & Space Museum

Tucked away in Balboa Park, this aircraft-themed museum is an experience you’ll never forget. The San Diego Air & Space Museum features ancient aircraft besides space-age technology. There is even a two-seat Flight Simulator so you can experience the flight action of World War I firsthand.

The gift shop offers some superb replicas as well—a sure-flyer win for anyone with an aviation interest.

Mingei International Museum

Mingei International Museum

Art is a powerful voice for people and helps us connect and express ourselves beyond language barriers. The Mingei International Museum showcases the “art of the people” across time and cultures. The exhibits are constantly changing to highlight new historical, contemporary folk art, crafts, and design and discover the finest examples of creative expression from underappreciated artists. Over 18 thousand pieces are in the collection, and the Mingei International Museum represents over 140 different countries.

This museum offers tours, gardens to explore, and performing arts. Without a doubt, it is a unique cultural experience to see in San Diego.

Model Railroad Museum

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

This exciting museum is the host of the largest indoor model railroad set in the world. The Model Railroad Museum in Balboa Park and strives to preserve the heritage of railroading through the models. Including layouts built to scale throughout history. For over forty years, the Model Railroad Museum has been bringing railroad history to life

They also have unique experiences online. Model Railroad Museum has also had a feature on the National Science Teaching Association Reports.

The San Diego Model Railroad Museum was established in 1983. Model train aficionados, architects, engineers, artists, and families in San Diego have been enjoying their visits there for the past 30 years. The museums gain the attention of youngsters by inviting them to an educational program that targets developmental milestones, such as critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving via tailored school workshops, and summer camps.

Museum of Photographic Arts

Museum of Photographic Arts

Get ready to see the world from another perspective. The Museum of Photographic Arts showcases over 9 thousand images. These visual masterpieces range from the 19th century up until the current day. The museum offers a diverse view into different cultural events, historical moments and addresses social issues throughout its galleries. 

The Museum of Photographic Arts also offers resources, workshops, and classes for all ages to expand their knowledge within the world of photography.

The Museum of Photographic Arts is one of the only museums in the country dedicated solely to the photographic arts. It showcases the work of some of the world’s most celebrated photographers and cinematographers in its spacious new galleries and state-of-the-art 228 seat theater.

San Diego Automotive Museum

San Diego Automotive Museum

With over 90 vehicles on display, the San Diego Automotive Museum is a must-see for car fanatics. With full rotating exhibits, visitors will leave with a newfound appreciation for the history of the automobile. Visitors can also see motorcycles and other historic vehicles throughout the exhibits.

International Motorcycles is a must-see exhibit. During your visit, you can even find out about how a successful bicycle racer made his way into the automotive industry.

The museum has an outstanding display of vintage automobiles and motorcycles, including a 1927 Bentley, 1931 Rolls Royce Phaeton, and Steve McQueen’s 1953 Allard.

Whaley House

Whaley House Museum

It’s time to get spooky. The Whaley House, rumored as one of the most haunted houses in America. In fact, Michigan houses a museum about the historic home. San Diego, however, offers tours for the beautiful two-story mansion. Packed with historic charm and a slight chill despite the southern California air, this house once served as a theater, courthouse, and general store. 

If you’re looking for something that’s not quite as crowded or just a little different, this historic landmark will prove to be a hauntingly good time.

The museum was named to commemorate and honor the excellence of over 40 professional and amateur players.

One of the most historic buildings in Old Town San Diego, the Whaley House was built in 1857 by Thomas Whaley, a San Diego pioneer, as his family home. Over the course of history, the Whaley House has served as a general store, county courthouse, and theater. It has been said that the Whaley House has “witnessed more history than any other building in the city.”

New Children’s Museum

New Children’s Museum

The New Children’s Museum is an interactive art museum that strives to deliver tactile interaction with its visitors. Children and adults alike will enjoy a more hands-on museum of art.

The NCM is a new model of a children’s museum, whose mission is to stimulate critical thinking, imagination, and creativity in children and families through inventive and engaging experiences with contemporary art.

So be ready to think, play and create your way through this enchanting art museum. Virtual experiences are also available. 

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Museum of Making Music

Museum of Making Music

The Museum of Making Music offers visitors a unique experience with the history of music. You can explore the innovations that changed instruments and see how popular American music changed throughout the years. 

Get hands-on with instruments from around the world and throughout history with the Museum of Making Music’s interactive exhibits.

The Museum of Making Music celebrates the music products industry’s rich history from 1900 to today through unique exhibitions. With varied and lively music performances and educational programs, the museum shares the accomplishments and impact of the people who make, sell, and use musical instruments and products

It’s like a time machine that takes you back when you step into the museum. You will see mesmerizing examples of musical instruments that were used throughout history. Many of them are now considered classical instruments. 

You will hear familiar tunes in audio and video clips, and have opportunities to pick and play a variety of instruments. You will also discover the innovative ways that the music industry has grown over the years.

Davis-Horton House Museum

Davis-Horton House Museum

Perhaps the oldest building in downtown San Diego. Throughout the year’s many historical figures have visited the Davis-Horton House Museum formerly named the William Heath Davis House. As visitors tour the house, they will see each room is dedicated to a different period in the house’s history, and most of it was restored to its 1850’s glory. Rumor also has it that this house hosts its own ghostly visitors as well. 

Historic of ghost hunting, the Davis-Horton House Museum is a stop you’ll want to make when you find yourself downtown.

So, if you are into a paranormal investigation, you can find a team of experts meeting up monthly.

The museum has the goal to educate guests about the rich history of both the Gaslamp Quarter and San Diego. You will enjoy exploring the 1850s salt-box style home and the rotating exhibit in the basement gallery. 

They also offer walking tours of the Gaslamp Quarter. Historical and Architectural Walking Tours are Thursdays at 1 pm and Saturdays at 11 am. Ghosts of the Gaslamp Walking Tours are held Fridays at 5 pm.

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is the region’s foremost forum devoted to the exploration and presentation of the art of our time. 

Founded in 1941, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) has evolved into a national and internationally renowned organization. 

The museum provides an unprecedented variety of exhibition spaces and experiences for the community, showcasing a dynamic schedule of exhibitions and public programs. Anyone who goes there will start having fun with the very first step they take into the vicinity. 

The museum has become part of the culture in that part of the town, with contemporary art and living artists at its core

The museum is split into two. Each one presents works across all media created since 1950. The museum at La Jolla was initially an Irving Gill-designed residence. It was built in 1916 as the home of philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. 

The museum located at La Jolla also houses the Museum’s X Store, filled with a selection of contemporary art books, apparel, and innovative design objects.

The museum offers spaces that are adaptable and elegant. When you go there, consider the fabulous ocean view from the Edwards Garden Gallery, or lunch on the patio at the Museum Café. If you are planning to host any kind of important event, like a wedding, for example, you can be sure that dining and dancing in the luxurious Axline Court with an ocean view is well worth it.

Ready to explore the Museums of San Diego? Sparks Gallery is the perfect place to start. It’s a great way to get a real feel of all that San Diego has to offer.

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