San Diego’s Balboa Park is home to many museums showcasing rare collections of railroads, classic cars, sports, scientific discoveries, photography, cultural arts, anthropological antiquities, art and marine life.
Some of the museums in Balboa Park include:
Centro Cultural de la Raza
Balboa Park on Park Blvd., San Diego 619-235-6135
A Balboa Park landmark with striking exterior murals, the center is spotlights the visual and performing arts of Mexican, Native American and Chicano artists.
Mingei International Museum
1439 El Prado, San Diego 619-239-0003;
The Mingei International Museum featuress an eclectic collection of more than 10,000 traditional and contemporary folk art and crafts from 80 different countries.
Early American weather vanes, dance costumes of Ecuador, ritual arts of India, textiles from Indonesia and tapa cloth from around the world are just a few examples of the intriguing collections on display.
Museum of Man
1350 El Prado, San Diego 619-239-2001;
The only anthropological museum in San Diego exhibits archaeological findings, artifacts and folk art that help to unfold man’s physical and cultural development. The permanent collections highlight the lives of the Kumeyaay Native Americans, the original inhabitants of San Diego, the Mayans of Mexico as well as the people of Egypt. The museum is housed in Balboa Park’s most prominent landmark, the California Building with its 200-foot tower. It resembles the Tepotzotlan Cathedral near Mexico City.
The Museum or Photographic Arts
1649 El Prado San Diego 619-238-7559
The Museum or Photographic Arts is one of the oldest museums in the country dedicated exclusively to photographic arts. Six to eight exhibits are presented each year.
Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center
1875 El Prado, San Diego 619-238-1233;
A major renovation in 1998 has more than doubled the size of this unique facility. In addition to the five interactive exhibit galleries, the center is now the home of the Nierman Challenger Learning Center, an exciting program with capabilities to simulate a space voyage. Scitours, a simulator ride, takes you on a wild ride through our solar system.
The famed OMNIMAX Theater features movies on its giant domed screen. The center also has two classrooms and a learning lab for young scientists, ages two to six.
San Diego Aerospace Museum
2001 Pan American Plaza, San Diego 619-234-8291;
The museum is located in a building that was originally built for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. It is listed on the National Register of Historical Places and is an exceptional example of the “Moderne” style of architecture.
An impressive collection of 97 U.S. and foreign aircraft and aviation memorabilia bring to life the history of flight and space exploration. Among the aircraft on display are many famous World War II planes including a Curtis P40 Warhawk, a Douglas F6 Hellcat, a PBY Catalina, a British Spitfire and a Japanese Zero.
A tour of the museum also includes the International Aerospace Hall of Fame, the Spirit of St. Louis, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft and a tribute to engineers, pilots and aviation industry leaders.
San Diego Art Institute
1439 El Prado, San Diego 619-236-0011;
The institute displays the works of San Diego-area artists. Shows change every six weeks.
San Diego Automotive Museum
2080 Pan Pacific Plaza, San Diego 619-231-2886;
More than 80 rare and vintage automobiles and motorcycles are on display at the museum, which offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of motor
San Diego Historical Society Museum and Research Archives
1649 El Prado, San Diego 619-232-6203; www.sandiegohistory.org
Colorful exhibits and an extensive library tell the story of San Diego’s colorful past.
San Diego Model Railroad Museum
1649 El Prado, San Diego 619-696-0199;
This is the home to the world’s largest operating model railroad exhibit and features four model railroads of the Southwest. Especially popular with children is the toy train gallery with hands-on controls. The museum also features artifacts and displays of railroad memorabilia including a centralized traffic control machine, a working semaphore and a crossing signal.
San Diego Museum of Art
1450 El Prado, San Diego 619-232-7931;
Since its inception in 1926, the largest museum in the city has been a magnet for art lovers in San Diego and around the world. The museum’s offerings include paintings by great Renaissance masters, the work of American artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Thomas Eakins, a remarkable collection of South Asian miniature art, Chinese art from 300 B.C. to the 20th century, and pieces by modern masters such as Raul Duffy, Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse and Paul Klee. Lectures, art classes and free docent tours are also available.
San Diego Natural History Museum
1786 El Prado, San Diego 619-232-3821;
This museum explores the rich and diverse natural environments of Southern and Baja California. Some of the permanent exhibits include dinosaur and whale skeletons, a real-time seismograph, a Foucault pendulum and Bug Zoo — an interactive lab featuring live insects.
A gem and mineral collection focuses on the geological history of the area. Rotating exhibits have included Birds of Prey, Antarctica, larger-than-life animatronic insects, the Nature of Diamonds and the currently showing Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, The Lost World.
The museum also has an extensive collection of books on natural history, an education department and interactive traveling exhibits for children.
Timken Museum of Art
1500 El Prado 619-239-5548
This museum includes European and American art from the 15th to 19th centuries, including paintings by Rembrandt, Cezanne and Rubens — and a collection of Russian icons. Admission is free.
Learn more about Balboa Park architecture and building.