Learn about all of the free San Diego museums & attractions with the list below. For example, Old Town State Park enables visitors to travel back in time and experience life during San Diego’s Mexican and early American period between 1821 and 1872. Visit restored and recreated historic buildings where you can view exhibits featuring a wide range of artifacts. Costumed interpreters relay fascinating stories and little-known facts about the rich culture of San Diego.
*Some San Diego museums and attractions ask for a small donation.
Seaport Village offers meandering cobblestone pathways that lead visitors to fountains, gardens and ponds. A half-mile stretch affords great views of the Pacific. View historic architectural gems reflecting Victorian, Mexican and New England styles.
Casa de Aguirre was one of the first homes built in Old Town. Constructed circa 1853, the adobe mansion houses a small museum with exhibits chronicling life in the area during the mid- to late-19th century.
The Wells Fargo Museum, located inside the Colorado House, features one of the company’s original 1867 Concord stagecoaches. The recreated and historically-furnished former hotel also houses actual historic telegraph machines and a variety of other memorabilia related to the banking and transportation company.
Photo Courtesy of Historic Old Town Community Foundation
The San Diego Union Museum enables visitors to see where the San Diego Union, the first newspaper in the city, got its start. Visitors to this San Diego museum can tour the recreated editor’s office and the original print room to see how they looked in 1868. The prefabricated wooden building was manufactured on the East Coast, shipped to California and reassembled in 1851.
The Mason Street School, San Diego’s first public schoolhouse, was built in 1865. The school offers a glimpse into the social and educational standards of the late 19th century in San Diego. While touring this San Diego museum, visitors can sit at the desks in the one-room schoolhouse and read the long history of the school inscribed on plaques adorning the walls.
The First San Diego Courthouse, rebuilt in 1992, was originally the town hall. Constructed by the Mormon Battalion, the first brick building in San Diego became the courthouse when the city was incorporated in 1850. It also served as a school, church and polling place.
Heritage Park Victorian Village is a 7.8-acre park containing a number of architectural gems, including Temple Beth Israel, San Diego’s first synagogue. The restored Victorian homes reflect the wealth of San Diego residents in the late 19th century.
The Mormon Battalion Historic Site honors the soldiers and women who completed the longest march in military history. The unit traveled from Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1846 to reinforce the San Diego military garrison during the Mexican-American War.
Casa de Estudillo is a National Historic Landmark. Built in 1825 to house one of San Diego’s earliest families, the building is reputed to be haunted by the ghosts of prior residents.
The African Diaspora Museum and Research Center chronicles over 6,000 years of African world history. Exhibits highlight ancient, colonial and contemporary periods on the African continent and throughout the African Diaspora. *Small donation requested.
The Seeley Stable Museum is a reproduction of the Yuma to San Diego stage stop. This San Diego museum displays a wide collection of 19th-century transportation vehicles and equipment as well as other rare artifacts.
The Gaslamp Quarter is home to 94 historic buildings, some of which are listed on the National Register. The buildings feature a variety of architectural styles with details like stained glass windows, intricate carvings and vibrant colors. The area also hosts a number of festivals throughout the year.
The Chinese Historical Museum displays Chinese-American art, culture and history. Housed in a restored mission-style building, exhibits include miniature models, historic photographs and rare artifacts related to the heritage of San Diego’s Chinese community. *Small donation requested.
Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre urban green space featuring natural vegetation zones, planted gardens and walking paths. It is one of the oldest public recreational areas in the country. The park’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion is the site of free weekly concerts.
The Model Railroad Museum features approximately 27,000 square feet of exhibits. It is the largest display of its kind in North America. Displays include HO, N and O scale model trains. *Small donation requested.
The Timken Museum of Art, established in 1965, displays a collection of European masters, notable American artists and Russian icons. Works of fine art include paintings by Rembrandt, John Singleton Copley and Peter Paul Rubens as well as sculptures and tapestries.
Veterans Museum at Balboa Park honors the memories of the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States as well as the Wartime Merchant Marine. The museum houses permanent, rotating and visiting collections of patriotic, military and war-related artifacts and memorabilia. *Small donation requested.
The Museum of Us is a museum of anthropology located in Balboa Park, San Diego, California and housed in the historic landmark buildings of the California Quadrangle
The History Center presents engaging, family-friendly exhibitions with participatory activities that tell the remarkable stories of our region – past, present, and future. We also offer popular public programs and special events.
The Embarcadero is a waterfront boardwalk that features several memorials and numerous public artworks as well as beautiful views, shade trees and a public fishing pier. The scenic pathway also connects several grassy parks.
La Jolla Cove and Scripps Park are two of San Diego’s most photographed areas. Snorkel in the calm water to see a variety of colorful fish and an abundance of other sea life. Situated on the cliffs above, Scripps Park is a wonderful setting for a picnic or to just lounge around enjoying the marvelous views of the Pacific Ocean.
Mission Bay Park offers a wide variety of free activities. This large waterfront park features beaches, a waterfront promenade, picnic areas and recreational facilities. Dogs are welcome on Fiesta Island.
Children’s Pool is a natural habitat for seals and sea lions. Bring a camera for memorable photos of these playful creatures basking in the sun.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve features massive sandstone cliffs that soar 300 feet above the Pacific coastline. Scenic hiking trails within the 2,000-acre preserve offer unparalleled views of the ocean, colorful flowers and a variety of wildlife.
Photo courtesy of Annie Pearson
Founded in 1962, the San Diego Firehouse Museum is the former home of San Diego Fire Station No. 6. It features firefighting equipment and apparatus dating back to the late 1800s. *Small donation requested.
The Coronado Historical Museum’s collection includes art and ephemera from Coronado’s unique history. Check out a 22-minute video of Coronado that is shown every hour. *Small donation requested.
The Ice House Museum will feature permanent exhibits and rotating displays highlighting The Del’s heritage. It will also be the meeting place for the resort’s tours. The Legacy Court, located outside the Ice House Museum, will host intimate cocktail parties and receptions.