San Diego hosts some of the rarest, authentic artworks in the United States. That’s because there are several museums and galleries that are dedicated to one specific artist, art style, time period, or medium. There’s a reason why San Diego is called “The Smithsonian of the West.”
While in San Diego, you’ll experience a wide variety of collections and fascinating art institutions, ranging from the bizarre to complex, from stunning outdoor pieces to mausoleums.
Museums and Galleries You Have to See in San Diego
Of all the incredible things to do in San Diego, visiting the following museums and galleries should be on your bucket list. Here are some of the best places to visit in San Diego.
1. The San Diego Museum of Art
Sat next to the 1,200-acre Balboa Park, The San Diego Museum of Art holds two massive exhibits every year and several other smaller showcases every month. Make sure to see their Asian art collections, the local Panama 66 restaurant, and the jazz conservator for live music.
2. The USS Midway Museum
This incredible museum inside a historic aircraft carrier houses another 27 restored aircraft. Admission to the Maritime Museum gives you access to the most incredible collection of sea vessels, like submarines, but you’ll also see boat-based art collections throughout the ship.
3. The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD)
The MCASD is another famous San Diego attraction that focuses on preserving more modern art (from the 50s to the present day). With over 4,700 artworks, sculptures, photographs, lithographs, paintings, and installation art, you’re going to need a full day here to see everything.
4. The Natural History Museum
For over 130 years, the Natural History Museum has been an integral learning site. This San Diego museum showcases Southern California preserved, pictured, or recreated wildlife, either physically or in its 3-D theater. Go here to learn all there is to know about the natural world.
5. The Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA)
The MOPA is where aspiring filmmakers and photography enthusiasts gather to see old cameras, photosensitive plates, and motion pictures. You can also see thousands of photos from over 800 artists. Sit in to see the first video ever made: a man on a galloping horse.
6. The Whaley House Museum
If you’re interested in haunted American sites, visit the Whaley House to learn about 17th-century life. Rumored to be one of the most ghost-infested homes in the United States, the Whaley House is a preserved, 1857 property with a theater, general store, and courthouse.
7. The La Bodega Gallery
As one of the most colorful spots in San Diego, the La Bodega Gallery is home to some of the best local art. The art community is free to host their art via pop-up exhibits, so you’ll see a wide range of art mediums. You may catch one of their famous poetry parties if you visit at night.
8. The Chuck Jones Gallery
Artist Chuck Jones was an active artist for over six decades and is most famous for his work on the Looney Tunes show. At his gallery, you’ll see sketches and panels of Bugs Bunny and friends, as well as drawings from DC Comics, The Simpsons, Peanuts, and StarWars.
9. The New Children’s Museum (NCM)
Although it’s called “The New Children’s Museum,” all are welcome at this interactive art museum that strives to deliver tactile interaction to its patrons. At the NCM, you’re encouraged to touch, feel, and smell the art. You can even create your own in a separate room.
10. San Diego Watercolor Society
The San Diego Watercolor Society specializes in, you guessed it, watercolor art. On display are pieces from artists of all ages from varying decades. The Watercolor Society changes up its exhibits at least once a month, so there’s always something new for you to experience.