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The ideal San Diego getaway involves visiting the San Diego Zoo, exploring the vibrant neighborhoods, and checking out the pristine beaches of the county—but, the fun is just getting started. If you thought Los Angeles was the only one with fabulous galleries and museums, San Diego will prove you wrong. Your San Diego itinerary isn't complete without the city's impressive museums. There are over 90 museums sprinkled throughout San Diego County, with 17 of them located in the nation’s largest urban cultural park: Balboa Park. The next time you’re in the area, check out the top San Diego museums that are bound to inspire you.
Location: 1450 El Prado, San Diego
Price: $8–$15 for general admission, free for people ages 17 and under
The region’s oldest and largest art museum is The San Diego Museum of Art, which is located in the heart of Balboa Park. This San Diego museum contains one of the most comprehensive art collections, with works ranging from 5,000 BC to the modern era. An assortment of Italian Renaissance, Dutch, and Baroque pieces can be found here. The museum also features pieces by famous Spanish artists such as Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Francisco de Zurbarán, Juan Sánchez Cotán, and Jusepe de Ribera.
Architects William Templeton Johnson and Robert W. Snyder designed the building in a plateresque style to match the rest of the structures from the Panama-California Exposition of 1915. The annual Art Alive flower exhibit (held under normal circumstances) takes place right here at the San Diego Museum of Art. Each April, floral designers gather to express their interpretation of an art piece selected from the museum’s permanent collection, using only flowers and organic materials.
Location: 1788 El Prado, San Diego
Price: $11–$20 for general admission, free for children ages 2 and under
The San Diego Natural History Museum, often referred to as "The Nat," is a local favorite. Founded in 1874, it’s one of the oldest institutions in Southern California. Showcasing the natural history and unique biodiversity of the binational region, the San Diego Natural History Museum includes dinosaur bones, bugs, skulls, hands-on fun, and top-notch temporary exhibits for people of all ages to enjoy.
The most popular exhibition is Fossil Mysteries—an interactive exhibit tracing the 75-million-year, fossil-rich history of Southern California and Baja California, Mexico. With four floors of exhibitions, a 3D theater, and a research collection boasting nine million specimens, this San Diego museum promotes the understanding of the evolution and diversity of SoCal.
Location: 320 North Broadway, Escondido
Price: $6–$10 for general admission, free for children ages 1 and under as well as for active-duty military and veterans
Providing interactive educational exhibits for children, the San Diego Children's Discovery Museum is where science, cultural diversity, and art programs come to life. The lively indoor and outdoor museum offers early learning supplemental educational resources to children, parents, and educators. As the only hands-on educational children's museum in North San Diego County, the interactive museum features four focused program areas: experimentation, exploration, imagination, and discovery.
Offering eye-opening experiences to visitors, this San Diego museum focuses on the critical years of child development while also encouraging families to learn together. With professionally designed exhibit spaces and programs for hands-on activities, children can experiment at the Magnification Station, discover nature in the Children’s Discovery Garden, and experience many more adventures at this exceptional establishment.
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Location: 2001 Pan American Plaza, San Diego
Price: $12–$22 for general admission, free for children ages 2 and under and active-duty military
The San Diego Air and Space Museum is where aviation history unfolds. Educating the public about the historical and social significance of air and space technology, this San Diego museum is a true haven for aviation enthusiasts. Displaying a wide range of exhibits—ranging from the Montgolfier brothers’ hot-air balloon of 1783 to space-age technology—the museum preserves significant artifacts of air and space history and technology.
Here, the most exciting exhibit is the World War I Gallery, where rare aircrafts are on display. The Golden Age of Flight Gallery is just as impressive—a Lincoln Standard J-1, Consolidated PT-1 Trusty, Aeronca C-3 Collegian, and a Ryan M-1 replica are all found here. Inspiring excellence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the San Diego Air and Space Museum shows people how far we’ve come since mankind first started flying.
Location: 1875 El Prado, San Diego
Named after aviation pioneer Reuben H. Fleet, founder of the U.S. Air Mail service, the Fleet Science Center is a science museum and planetarium situated in none other than Balboa Park. Connecting people of all ages to the possibilities and powers of science, this San Diego museum piques the interest of everyone curious about the universe.
This science museum is the first to combine interactive science exhibits with a planetarium and an IMAX Dome theater. The center set new standards for other science museums to follow suit. Featuring over 100 interactive exhibits across eight galleries, the science center in San Diego welcomes county residents to explore the museum for free every first Tuesday of each month.
Location: 1649 El Prado Modern and Contemporary Art and Dynamic, San Diego
The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is yet another one of Balboa Park’s wonders. Through miniature constructions of California railroads, this train museum in San Diego has preserved the heritage of railroading—it boasts the largest indoor exhibit of its kind in North America and one of the largest in the world. With an exhibit space measuring 27,000 square feet, the museum holds five enormous scale and model layouts depicting railroads of the Southwest in O, HO, and N scales. Educating the public on the history of railroading, this San Diego museum is where people discover their love for trains and engineering.
Location: 910 North Harbor Drive, San Diego
Price: $10–$26 for general admission, free for children ages 5 and younger as well as for active-duty military and first responders
The USS Midway Museum in San Diego is one-of-a-kind. The USS Midway was the longest-serving aircraft carrier in the 20th century and now houses an extensive collection of aircraft. This historic San Diego museum features over 30 restored aircraft and around 10 acres of exhibits and displays.
Visitors are allowed to climb aboard real cockpits and experience the astonishing Battle of Midway Theater and other interactive displays. Here, you can also explore the places where the crew lived and worked—explore the mess halls, galleys, narrow bunks, a floating hospital ward, and the massive engine room that made it all happen. With two flight simulators making your experience even more exciting, the USS Midway Museum in San Diego is undoubtedly a must-visit whenever you’re in the area.
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