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.
See, feel and touch replicas of early humans, primates and even cyborgs. Journey to ancient Egypt and view rare tomb artifacts and Peruvian mummies. At the San Diego Museum of Us, you’ll see the history and the evolution of man come to life by visiting the many galleries and exhibits on display.
Children of all ages are in for a real treat when visiting the Fleet Science Center. From virtual reality to interactive exhibits and the world’s first IMAX Dome Theater, most folks are having too much fun to realize they’re learning! In the IMAX Theater, see the biggest films on the planet and feel the sensation of floating in space. Travel from outer space to under the ocean and see the planetarium shows. Then, tour the more than 100 touchable, try-able exhibits in five different galleries. There’s even a special area just for kids under six.
Celebrating over 90 years of art in Balboa Park, the San Diego Museum of Art towers over the park’s central plaza. Opening its doors in 1926, as a fine arts gallery, the cultured and rich collection has only continued to grow. Changing its name in 1978, the museum continued to house a growing art collection provided by the generosity of countless donors and featuring the cultural growth of the San Diego community. With an art school, revitalized rotunda, international pieces and led by leading experts, the San Diego Museum of Art continues to share some of the world’s most beautiful artwork with visitors from around the world. Regularly showcasing world-class exhibitions as well as sharing a year-round schedule in educational and cultural programs for art lovers of all ages, the museum tells the history of the world through the brushstrokes and vision of artists. The mission ‘to inspire, educate and cultivate cultural curiosity through great works of art’ is seen through each exhibit, gallery and docent-led tour. Whether visitors begin their journey outside or in, there are spectacular paintings and sculptures to see and decades of knowledge to embrace. See glorious works from 19th and 20th century American artists, an amazing Asian collection, and of course both the old European and modern day masters. Take your time to see and appreciate all that the museum has to offer.
The San Diego Natural History Museum is the second oldest scientific institution in Southern California and home to a variety of intriguing exhibits. Watch in wonder how the Foucault pendulum swings back and forth, knocking over different dominoes throughout the day, signifying the Earth’s rotation. Invented in 1851 by French physicist Jean Foucault, observers enjoy learning how the pendulum works.
The William Heath Davis House is considered to be one of the most significant buildings in San Diego’s history. Visitors are intrigued by the exciting stories of the people who lived in it and the fact that it is the oldest wooden structure in San Diego. Its first owner, William Heath Davis, was the first to attempt to develop the new town—yet it was not until Alonzo Horton came along that the true city began to boom. And it is Horton that is credited with being San Diego’s founder. Incredibly, the William Heath Davis House was bought by Alonzo Horton and lived in by him and his wife for several years.
The world-renown Maritime Museum of San Diego was founded in 1948 by a group of local historians and maritime experts. Here visitors from around the globe come to walk the decks of the magnificent Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship. Built in 1863, the Star of India made her first voyage on November 14 of that year. The ship sailed for many years from Great Britain to India and then to New Zealand. After many difficult journeys, the ship became a salmon hauler from Alaska to California.
The USS Midway Aircraft Carrier sits in San Diego at the Navy Pier welcoming and enriching guests from around the world. Its patriotic service and military operations are brought to life throughout this interactive museum. Relive the legacy of the longest-serving aircraft carrier in U.S. Naval history-47 years! “Midway Magic” became a recognized term describing the amazing tenacity of the Midway and its crew. When other ships broke down or headed for port, the Midway continued to respond, to perform from the end of WWII all the way through Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
The Children’s Museum is an environmentally sustainable building that provides a dynamic, playful public space and community center for children and families – a place to experience exciting art exhibitions, hands-on studio projects, performances, birthday parties, in-depth classes, camps and educational programs. Across the street from the new building is a beautiful park, extending the museum visit outdoors with space for running, climbing, family picnics and a view of the trains and trolleys going by.