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Featured Photo Courtesy of Museum of Us, Stacy Keck

Best Balboa Park Museums In The San Diego River Valley

Listed as one of the Great Places in America and a National Historic Landmark and District, Balboa Park is one of San Diego’s hidden gems, and a wonderland for museum aficionados. The park boasts 1,200 acres of trails, gardens, attractions, year round outdoor festivals and performances, shops, and restaurants. But on top of that, Balboa Park is home to 17 different museums and cultural institutions, each with diverse collections and an interest for everyone who visits. Here are some of the best museums in the park to visit next time you find yourself in the San Diego River Valley.

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Balboa Park Museums: San Diego Museum of Art

Best For Major Art Exhibitions
The San Diego Museum of Art is the park’s largest and oldest fine art museum, making it a great place to start your day or week of exploring Balboa Park’s many museums. Known for housing some of the world’s finest art, the museum features nationally renowned collections like 19th and 20th century American paintings and sculptures, South Asian paintings, and Spanish and Italian old masters. But the museum provides a rich and diverse cultural experience with rotating exhibitions from native San Diego artists and other well known modern artists from around the world. The museum also holds year round cultural and educational events for adults, teens, and children that can make any trip to the museum all the more fun. To view future, current, and past museum exhibitions, you can check out their website and even get access to the museum’s library and archives for more collections and art.

San Diego Museum of Art Trip Tips
Pass: Balboa Park Explorer Pass, Popular Event: Art Alive, Must-See Exhibit: Art of the Americas

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Balboa Park Museums: The Museum of Photographic Arts

Best For Variety of Photographers and Exhibits
Another great museum you might not want to miss out on in Balboa Park is the Museum of Photographic Arts. Featuring both photography and film, you can see a variety of visual pieces including masterworks, emerging talent, portraits, photojournalism, and everything in between. Visitors to the museum can come to explore and engage with the photographs, or plan to come to one of the many museum events. A popular recurring event to check out is an Open Show, which is an evening of live presentations from five local photographers or filmmakers. You can listen as they share their work, ask questions and mingle with the artists, and even win raffle prizes.

The Museum of Photographic Arts Trip Tips
Pass: Balboa Park Explorer Pass, Popular Event: Open Shows, Must-See Exhibit: Darkest Nights, Brightest Stars: 15th Annual Juried Youth Exhibition

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Best For Learning About Southern California
Whether it’s your first visit to San Diego and Southern California or not, the San Diego Natural History Museum is a great place to learn about the natural side of the region. From past to present, the museum exhibits feature rattlesnakes, flesh-eating beetles, dinosaurs, fossils, and much more. This stop is often one of the longest of the Balboa Park museums with five floors of interactive exhibitions, a giant-screen theatre, and events that can take you on fun adventures outside of the museum. Popular exhibits range from Coast to Cactus and Fossil Mysteries to Hidden Gems and Extraordinary Ideas from Ordinary People: A History of Citizen Science. After exploring the museum, you can even take part in adult and family museum programs like free guided hikes.

San Diego Natural History Museum Trip Tips
Pass: Balboa Park Explorer Pass, Popular Event: Canyoneer Hikes, Must-See Exhibit: Hidden Gems

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Photo Courtesy of Museum of Us, Stacy Keck

Balboa Park Museums: Museum of Us

Best For Most Unique Museum Experience
Formerly known as the Museum of Man, the Museum of Us is a beloved San Diego institution that has been around for over 100 years. The goal of the museum is to inspire human connections by exploring the human experience. Visitors can see this through their unique exhibitions that focus on viewing human experiences from different perspectives and through alternative narratives. Some of their most popular and unique exhibits include Cannibals: Myth or Reality?, Race: Are We So Different?, and Living With Animals. The Museum of Us is a great place to stop with kids, as well, for a fun day of learning and exploring for the whole family. You can top your museum visit off with a guided tour up the California Tower, one of San Diego’s most iconic historic landmarks.

Museum of Us Trip Tips
Pass: Balboa Park Explorer Pass, Popular Event: California Tower Tours, Must-See Exhibit: Living with Animals

Content Writer and Social Media Coordinator. I paint, listen to music, and play with my dogs a lot. When I’m not doing all that, I love to read and try new things.

Maeve Miller

Writer, River Travel Magazine