5 Museums You Must Visit in Downtown San Diego

Prepare for an Awesome Adventure Around San Diego



Whaley House, San Diego

Photo from Whaley House

Let the family fun begin with the best museums San Diego has to offer. Make plans to take a trip to Balboa Park or Old Town for entertainment you will never forget! We love museums - the culture, the entertainment, the fun - and we have some of the best museums for you located in the downtown area! Take a look at our list of top 5 downtown (or near downtown) museums, and get your culture on!

Whaley House Museum - Old Town

The Whaley House is a popular tourist destination, with over 100,000 people visiting a year. The museum is owned by the county of San Diego and is under the management and operation of the non-profit organization, Save Our Heritage. So, why is this 19th century house such a tourist attraction? It is believed to be haunted! Built in 1857, Thomas Whaley lived there with his family. The building originally housed the second county courthouse and first commercial theater in San Diego (both restored now) but before the house was built, the land was used to execute criminals (hence, why it is believed to be haunted). Along with the spirits of the Whaley family, it is believed that Yankee Jim’s spirit also haunts the house. 

The house does contain original items from the Whaley family. This house is beautifully historic and an interesting sight to see in Old Town. If you are feeling really adventurous, visiting in the evening can be extra spooky. Although you are not guaranteed to see a ghost, knowing the history is enough to feel scared. The Whaley House does allow flash photography and paranormal equipment, as long as you check it in.

This unique museum is open Sunday to Tuesday from 10am-4:30pm, and Thursday to Saturday from 10am to 9:30pm. Regular admission to the museum is $8, with discounts available for children, military, and seniors. Evening admission is $13 for adults, with discounts available for seniors and children. For more information, visit the Whaley House Museum.

Museum of Man - Balboa Park

Despite its alluring title, this museum is not filled with men. This museum explores the human experience with exhibits from evolution to cannibalism! The museum prides itself on being adventurous, passionate, and engaging. Museum of Man pushes boundaries and connects humans together to build a better community. Discover yourself and others with this one-of-a-kind museum. 

At the Museum of Man, you can have the opportunity to climb Balboa Park's exclusive California Tower and enjoy the incredible view that you cannot get anywhere else! Recently the exhibit, Cannibals: Myth & Reality, opened at the Museum of Man, and it is not one to miss. The exhibit is unique as it explains a different side to cannibalism and has interactive qualities throughout. If you opt out of that one, there are plenty of other exhibits to see, like BEERology, an exhibit where you will learn about different cultures and their unique brewing options. If you are lucky, you can catch a day where they actually allow you to sample craft beers.

Museum of Man is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Ticket prices vary depending on what you choose to experience and what time of the year it is; please visit Museum of Man for full ticket information. 

San Diego Natural History Museum - Balboa Park

The San Diego Natural History Museum is the oldest scientific institution in southern California. Located in Balboa Park, this museum is perfect for environmental, educational, family fun! The museum has exhibits that include mysterious fossils, about 200 animal skulls from all over the world, and California's water systems with hands-on activities. Water: A California Story will teach you about local issues on land and in the ocean. Learn about the regional water system, how the water is imported, and the cost of making it all happen. 

Be sure to visit the Charmaine and Maurice Kaplan Theater, which is the largest Dolby 3D theater in a museum in California. This special screen creates a high-quality and perfect view for the theater's 300 audience members. Films are shown at different times every day, so it is best to check beforehand. No extra fee is charged for the theater, so visit with ease!

Adult tickets are $19, with a senior, student, and military discount of $2. Children age 2 and under are free; after that, children's tickets range from $11-$14. Operating hours are 10am to 5pm daily. Please visit San Diego Natural History Museum for more information regarding the film schedule and exhibitions.

Mingei International Museum - Balboa Park

Established in 1978 by Martha Longenecker, Mingei International Museum is far from your standard art museum. This museum displays their endless collections of folk art, craft, and design. In their permanent collection, they currently have over 20,000 pieces from 141 different countries. This museum has a whole new perspective on art.

Mingei, which means art of the people, exhibits art created by anonymous craftsmen of traditional cultures from the past and present. The first collection the museum ever exhibited was "Dolls and Folk Toys of the World", curated by John Darcy Noble. This exhibition displayed dolls and folk toys made from wood, metal, fiber or paper. Since this exhibition ended in 1988, Mingei has gone on to shared over 183 culturally diverse exhibitions that appeal to many different kinds of audiences.

The museum is open from 10am to 5pm, and it is closed on Mondays and most national holidays. General admission is $10, with senior, youth, student, and military discounts of $3 off. For more information visit Mingei International Museum.

Old Town Historic Park - Old Town

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park gives you a taste of what San Diego was like in the past. You can visit original adobes (since restored) like La Casa de Estudillo, La Casa de Machado y Stewart, La Casa de Machado y Silvas, and others! Estudillo was formerly a tourist attraction called, "Ramona's Marriage Place" based on Helen Hunt Jackson's novel Ramona

This park is filled with many historical and restored buildings. You can see the Schoolhouse, built in 1895, which was the first publicly owned school in San Diego. It will give you a new perspective on learning as the school was a one-room building, with all eight grades taught in the same room. The park is also home to San Diego's first courthouse, which burned down in 1872 but was reconstructed in 1992. 

Go for the full of experience and tour the whole park. The visitor information center sells a self-guided tour booklet, or you can book a private tour if you go with a large group of people!

Located on San Diego Avenue and Twiggs Street in San Diego, the park's museums are open from 10am to 4pm, depending on the day and time of year. For more information, please visit Old Town Historic Park.

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