Exploring the Best of San Diego Museums

From art and science to history and anthropology, San Diego boasts a wide variety of museums that cater to all interests and ages. These museums not only showcase the city’s history and cultural diversity but also offer a glimpse into the latest research, innovation, and artistic expression. Discover our top picks for museums in San Diego.

California Surf Museum

Peruse an impressive collection of surfing artifacts, photography, literature and memorabilia; plus exhibits that detail the lives and achievements of world-renowned surfing legends. 
Hours: Open Daily, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Address: 312 Pier View Way, Oceanside
Website: surfmuseum.org

San Diego Museum of Art

It’s home to more than 20,000 works dating back to 3000 B.C. The collection includes Italian Renaissance and Spanish Baroque-era works, 19th–20th-century American and European paintings and sculptures, and a vast Asian collection. Plus, dozens of new, rotating exhibits on view throughout the year.  
Hours: Open Daily, 10 a.m-5 p.m.
Address: 1450 El Prado, Balboa Park
Website: sdmart.org

USS Midway Museum

Now a retired aircraft carrier, the world’s largest floating naval-aviation museum is home to more than 30 restored airplanes and interactive exhibits inside; a massive flight deck overlooking San Diego Bay (a perfect spot for family photos); plus military veterans giving personal tours. 
Hours: Open Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Address: 910 N. Harbor Drive, San Diego
Website: midway.org

Museum of Photographic Arts

Boundary-pushing collection includes contemporary photography, social documentary and photojournalism; plus regularly rotating exhibits and film screenings. 
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Address: 1649 El Prado, Balboa Park
Website: mopa.org

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (La Jolla Campus)

The modern museum features post-1950s art spanning many genres and media. Its La Jolla campus reopened April 2022 after extensive renovations. 
Hours: Thursday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Address: 700 Prospect St., La Jolla
Website: mcsd.org

Maritime Museum of San Diego

At this world-renowned floating museum, visit the 1863 barque Star of India (world’s oldest active ship); the 1898 steam ferryboat Berkeley; the 1904 steam yacht Medea; a oviet-era submarine; and the HMS Surprise, the Royal Navy frigate featured in the film Master and Commander. The schooner Californian also offers half-day sailing trips. 
Hours: Open Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Address: 1492 N. Harbor Drive, San Diego
Website: sdmaritime.org

Fleet Science Center

Its interactive science galleries (housing 100-plus exhibits) lets science lovers of all ages explore the wonders of astronomy and physics; plus a state-of-the-art IMAX Dome Theater. 
Hours: Open Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Address: 1875 El Prado, Balboa Park
Website: fleetscience.org

Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego

Museum-meets-studio lets visitors see artists-in-residence as they work, along with their forthcoming exhibits; plus education programs, art camps for kids and more. 
Hours: Thursday-Sunday, Noon-5 p.m.
Address: 1550 S. El Camino Real, Encinitas 
Website: icasandiego.org

Green Dragon Museum

Peruse rare historical documents, newspapers and memorabilia from the Revolutionary War era inside a colonial-style building; plus an on-site restaurant serving New England-style dishes, a bar, cafe and gift shop.
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
Address: 6115 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad 
Website: greendragontavernca.com

Museum of Making Music

Check out vintage instruments and interactive audio and visual exhibits that explore the history of American popular music, including how instruments are made, used and sold. 
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Address: 5790 Armada Drive, Carlsbad
Website: museumofmakingmusic.org

New Children’s Museum

Modern museum designed by Rob Quigley encourages kids to use their imaginations with interactive exhibits.
Hours: Wednesday-Monday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Address: 200 W. Island Ave., San Diego
Website: thinkplaycreate.org

Oceanside Museum of Art

Regional and international artists showcased in exhibits ranging from landscape painting to furniture, neon sculpture, art quilts and architectural glass. It’s a North County gem. 
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Address: 704 Pier View Way, Oceanside
Website: oma-online.org

WNDR San Diego

The museum seamlessly blends art and technology, offering visitors an immersive experience. Among the approximately 20 exhibits available, visitors can interact with the Lightfloor, which reacts to movement, and Inside Out by Leigh Sachwitz and flora&faunavisions, a captivating digital garden house where they can endure a simulated storm.
Hours: Monday-Wednesday, noon-10 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sundays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Address: 422 Market St., San Diego
Website: wndrmuseum.com

San Diego Natural History Museum

Founded in 1874, it’s the oldest scientific institution in Southern California. Inside you’ll find dinosaur displays, giant-screen films, photography exhibitions and more. 
Hours: Thursday-Tuesday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Address: 1788 El Prado, Balboa Park
Website: sdnhm.org

San Diego Archaeological Center

Learn the story of how people have lived in San Diego County for the past 10,000 years at this dynamic curation facility and museum. The fun includes educational programming about local archaeology, rock art, “zoo-archaeology,” and even the prehistoric Otay Mesa landscape.
Hours: Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Address: 16666 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido 
Website: sandiegoarchaeology.org

San Diego History Center 

Peruse a range of exhibitions and memorabilia that chronicle San Diego’s storied and diverse history. The museum also features an extensive research library—home to several million documents and photographs from the city’s past, including portraits of famed San Diegans such as Dr. Seuss. 
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Address: 1649 El Prado, Suite #3, Balboa Park
Website: sandiegohistory.org

Centro Cultural De La Raza

Celebrate Mexican, Chicano and indigenous art and culture with vibrant murals, art exhibits and performances. 
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 12-4 p.m.
Address: 1875 El Prado, Balboa Park 
Website: centrodelaraza.com

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Discover a treasure trove of all things locomotive. Learn about the heritage and history of American railroading by way of educational displays and exhibits, scale models of railroads across California, toy trains and more. 
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Address: 1649 El Prado, Balboa Park
Website: sdmrm.org

San Diego Museum of Us

This cultural anthropology museum explores cultures from around the world, focusing on the human experience in an effort to inspire human connection and spark meaningful conversations. It’s also home to the landmark California Tower, which offers tours to the top.  
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Address: 1350 El Prado, Balboa Park 
Website: museumofus.org

Stuart Collection

Scattered across the UC San Diego campus, the outdoor art collection—created in 1981 and comprising more than 20 sculptures—includes talking and singing trees, a “Sun God” and more.
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Address: 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla 
Website: stuartcollection.ucsd.edu

San Diego Air & Space Museum

The family-friendly venue is a wonderland for kids of all ages—showcasing spacecraft, jets, historical aircraft, science exhibits and more inside the domed, cylinder-shaped former Ford Building.
Hours: Open Daily, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Address:  2001 Pan American Plaza, Balboa Park
Website: sandiegoairandspace.org

Photo credits: California Surf Museum by Kimo McVay. Boats on docks by Maritime Museum. Galleries by Museum of Contemporary Arts San Diego Building. San Diego Natural History Museum Main Building, sdaff.org. Sun God, 1983 Niki de Saint Phalle, Stuart Collection. Thanh Nguyen Phuc by mops.org. All other images are courtesy of the businesses.


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