Top Museums in San Diego to Visit During Your Trip

Planning a vacation to San Diego? Our local experts put together a list of top San Diego museums that you should consider adding to your itinerary.

Sunny weather isn’t the only thing that attracts tourists to San Diego. “America’s Most Popular City” is home to a variety of top historic and innovative museums making it an educational hub for the appreciation of history, art, and culture.

Whether you’re a history buff or an art-lover, these top San Diego museums offer endless entertainment and educational fun.

Want Passes to Top San Diego Museums?

Admission to a number of these attractions are included on the Go San Diego® Card.

Choose as you go from dozens of top attractions and save up to 55% on combined admission vs paying at the gate.

Browse all available San Diego Multi-Attraction Passes.

A few of the museums available on the Go San Diego Card include…

  • USS Midway Museum
  • Natural History Museum
  • San Diego Air & Space Museum
  • San Diego Museum of Art
  • San Diego Museum of Man
  • and more!

USS Midway Museum

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Explore the longest-serving aircraft carrier in United States history at this legendary museum. You’ll experience life at sea without ever leaving the Navy Pier port as you discover over 60 exhibits and 27 restored aircraft.

The museum brings the past to life with a self-guided audio tour narrated by USS Midway sailors.

A visit to Midway inspires a deep appreciation for American military history and the country’s commitment to freedom.

Getting in: USS Midway Museum tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

Natural History Museum

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The oldest scientific institution in southern California, this 134-year-young museum is as relevant as ever with stimulating state-of-the-art exhibits.

The museum focuses on the natural worlds of the Southern California and Baja peninsula regions while maintaining a global scientific perspective.

Travel to the Polar Regions at the End of The Earth: From Polar Bears to Penguins exhibit, or see a striking film come to life in the museum’s 3-D theater.

Whatever you do, you’re guaranteed to find a new appreciation for nature and the environment.

Getting in: Natural History Museum tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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From ancient aircraft to space-age technology, all kinds of aviation history unfold at this Balboa Park museum.

Wander through the World War galleries or experience the action firsthand in the FS2000 Two-Seat Flight Simulator while visiting the city with one of the richest aviation heritages in the country.

Don’t leave without stopping in the museum store to pick-up a brass pocket compass or the replica MA-1 aviator jacket.

Getting in: San Diego Air & Space Museum tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

San Diego Museum of Art

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The region’s largest fine arts museum attracts more than 250,000 visitors a year to its diverse cultural exhibits. The museum’s collection is astoundingly comprehensive, with artwork ranging in date from 5,000 BC to the present.

The San Diego Museum of Art is most famous for its South Asian paintings from the Edwin Binney 3rd collection.

In addition to the collections and exhibitions, visitors will enjoy events in music, film, and theater at this nationally renowned attraction.

Getting in: San Diego Museum of Art tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

San Diego Museum of Man

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The San Diego Museum of Man is much more than a look at man’s history; the museum is part history museum, part art institute, and all parts educational and fun.

This anthropology museum is one of the most impressive presentations of human evolution in the nation. Explore the question “What makes us human?” through extensive artifact collections and exhibits like “Race: Are We So Different?”

This unique museum will enchant and inspire visitors of all ages as they discover facets of humanity they never knew existed.

Permanent fixtures include Egyptian mummies and the Kumeyaay exhibit on Native Californians dating back to the 1700s. The museum is located in Balboa Park, and is an easy walk from other top San Diego attractions.

Getting in: San Diego Museum of Man tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

Mingei International Museum

Mingei-International-Museum-1 Art speaks powerfully of the similarities and distinctions of individuals and cultures at this international museum for the “art of the people” (mingei).

The museum has an 18,000-piece collection representing 140 countries around the world.

Constantly changing exhibits enhanced by lectures, films, demonstrations, and other events make this a dynamic place for artistic enlightenment.

Getting in: Mingei International Museum tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

Model Railroad Museum

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The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is the largest indoor model railroad display in the world and one of the liveliest museums in Balboa Park.

The museum preserves the heritage of railroading through enormous model layouts built to scale and interactive historic exhibits.

After checking out this museum’s unique recreation of history, stop in the gift shop for an exclusive railroad souvenir.

Getting in: Model Railroad Museum tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

San Diego Automotive Museum

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The San Diego Automotive Museum is a must-see for any automotive enthusiast.

This museum features 90 incredible vehicles on display, rotating exhibits, and shows such as “Lowriders of Southern California”, “Law Enforcement Vehicles”, and “Cadillacs”.

Visitors will find a new appreciation for the automobile industry and how it has come to symbolize American progress.

Getting in: San Diego Automotive Museum tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

Museum of Photographic Arts

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See the world through the lens of a trained eye at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA), home to over 9,000 images from the 19th century to today.

The MOPA is dedicated to collecting, conserving, and exhibiting the entire spectrum of the photographic medium. The museum’s diverse exhibits explore cultural, historical, and social issues through photography.

Getting in: Museum of Photographic Arts tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

San Diego Sports Museum

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The San Diego Sports Museum features the best of the athletic world. Explore exciting history, educational treasures, and memorabilia from over 40 different sports.

With over 68,000 square feet packed with legends and fun, the San Diego Sports Museum is the nation’s largest multi-sport museum.

From baseball and football, to bass fishing and surfing, there are exciting things for the whole family to discover.

Getting in: San Diego Sports Museum tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

New Children’s Museum

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Think. Play. Create.

The New Children’s Museum is an interactive arts-based museum that commissions contemporary artists to create pieces with tactile, physical, and participatory elements to introduce kids to art and create an opportunity for them to observe, play, and create.

Getting in: New Children’s Museum tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

Museum of Contemporary Art

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Devoted to the exploration and presentation of art of our time, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Downtown San Diego includes more than 4,000 works created after 1950 representing a variety of media and genres.

Works include a variety of mediums and highlight emerging artists, under-recognized mid-career artists, and major figures in international contemporary art.

Visitors will find site-specific installations at both the Downtown and La Jolla locations and enjoy visiting two unique museum buildings and exploring their lively neighborhoods.

Getting in: Museum of Contemporary Art tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

Museum of Making Music

 At the Museum of Making Music, visitors can see, hear, and interact with over a century of musical history.

Explore the musical instrument innovations that played key roles in shaping American popular music from the invention of the player piano and the development of ragtime music in the 1890s, to the versatility of modern digital instruments that influenced the new wave music of the 1980s.

Take a turn creating a masterpiece with over a dozen instruments and interactive exhibits.

Getting in: Museum of Making Music tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

Coronado Museum of History & Art

Coronado Museum of History and Art

Take a trip out to Coronado Island right off the coast of San Diego and learn about the fascinating and rich history of this unique resort town and active Navy Base.

You’ll get to explore lots of topics, including art, architecture, history, preservation, and more

Getting in: Coronado Museum of History & Art tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

William Heath Davis House

Visit the oldest surviving structure in Downtown San Diego. Built by William Heath Davis in 1850, many fascinating people, including Alonzo Horton, have called the William Heath Davis House ‘home.’

You’ll get to tour the home, and its decorated rooms – each representing different eras in the life of the house and its various former (and rumored ghostly current) inhabitants.

Getting in: William Heath Davis House tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

San Diego Art Institute

San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park

By Oleg Alexandrov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Visit this vibrant, community-driven museum and get a taste of the San Diego art scene right at the source: the San Diego Art Institute.

This museum’s mission is to connect contemporary artists from southern California and northern Baja with audiences and to showcase art in a way that promotes cultural perspective and understanding.

Getting in: San Diego Art Institute tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card All-Inclusive Pass.

Remember to Save on Museum Admission

Our list of some of the most popular museums in San Diego.

Remember, many (if not all) of these options are included on the Go San Diego Card, where you can save up to 55% on combined admission vs paying at the gate.

Go San Diego Card

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