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Top 7 Museums in Balboa Park

By Mike in Things to Do in downtown San Diego with 0 Comments

Just a mile and a half from downtown San Diego lies a refreshing urban haven, the beloved Balboa Park. Among its cultural treasures are 15 world-class museums embraced by vibrant, colorful landscapes. Both visitors and locals who own real estate in downtown San Diego find it easy to get lost in the vast repertoire of themes, and there’s an appealing museum for everyone. Here are seven of the most delightful museums to check out in Balboa Park.

1. Fleet Science Center

Interactive exhibits explaining the powerful scientific forces governing our lives and Earth come alive when you touch them. In the Tinkering Studio, try your hand at fashioning inventions. At the high-tech theater, special effects envelop you in the sights and sounds of natural wonders, such as ocean depths and active volcanoes. If you have children under 5, take them to Kid City, where educational activities and safe equipment enhance their developmental growth. For school-aged kids, the Center hosts science-based field trips, summer camps, and workshops. On the first Wednesday of every month, take a tour of the glorious night sky. As you behold the splendor of dazzling stars and constellations, listen to an astronomer share the intriguing Greek legends associated with many of them. With each museum program you attend, your awe for creation will grow.

2. Museum of Man

At this attraction, you’ll trace the history of human development and artistic achievements. The Living with Animals exhibit reveals how we came to befriend wild animals, valuing them as pets. See how resourceful Native Americans adapted to living in California’s desert and mountain regions. Photographs and artifacts demonstrate their customs and culture, from their dress to natural medicines, food-gathering practices, ceremonies, games, and art. The Mayans, another ingenious culture, invented hieroglyphics, a writing system that used pictures and symbols. The Mayan exhibit displays replicas of their stone monuments, on which they recorded significant dates, ceremonies, and life-changing events. Today, Mayan descendants continue their traditional ways of communicating, weaving, wood carving, and cultivating food. In January 2020, the California Tower will reopen, newly fortified against potential earthquakes. Tours of the spire will also resume. A knowledgeable guide sets a relaxed pace, stopping at each landing to share nuggets of city history. Near the steeple, at the top of 140 steps, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of San Diego.

3. San Diego Natural History Museum

A family favorite, this forum depicts the ecosystems of Northern Baja, Southern California, and ancient global habitats that have shaped our existence. Starting with the prehistoric era, fossils and skeletons are striking evidence of roaming dinosaurs. Vivid murals and paintings project how they likely looked and lived. Try to budget time for the scavenger hunt, an engaging quest for fossil replicas. Meg the megalodon is a colossal shark, now extinct, whose mouth could easily devour a navy ship. Note that her triangular teeth were unearthed locally. The Coast to Cactus interactive exhibit acquaints you with native plants and animals, including endangered species. Learn about marine life and how climate affects its vital water supply. The enormous theater screens captivating movies in 2D and 3D. A gallery dedicated to naturalists honors their passionate efforts to conserve natural resources and wildlife. Other museum offerings are animated lectures, classes, and free guided hikes.

4. San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Here, both kids and nostalgic adults are enchanted by the treks of miniature locomotives, each one dutifully tugging a family of freight cars. The Lionel designs are authentic, created by skillful railroad club members and expert docents. Displays are intricately detailed, from the teeming fish ponds to the rooftop water tower. Four railroad lines traverse the tracks, chugging past quaint farmlands, ponds, storefronts, homes, and cars from the 1950s. As daylight fades to twilight, the trains continue their rhythmic tempo, a soothing refrain. Soft lighting casts a serene glow, outlining the towns in shadows as wispy clouds offer a benediction. Dioramas are precisely recreated to scale. Featured train lines are the Pacific Desert, Cabrillo Southwestern, Tehachapi Pass, and the San Diego and Arizona Eastern. For the current generation of children, there’s a Thomas the Tank Engine display. This model railroad museum is the largest accredited operation in the world, encompassing 28,000 square feet.

5. San Diego Air & Space Museum

Upon seeing the gleaming spacecraft at this facility, your spirit will soar. The museum’s venerable collection includes the Apollo 9 Command Module, a Wright Glider, a Blue Angels Hornet, a Supermarine Spitfire, and a replica of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. Your pulse will quicken upon seeing the artifacts of brave aviation pioneers, such as Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Wally Schirra, who hailed from our hometown. Five galleries—The Pioneer Era, World War I, Golden Age of Aviation, World War II, and Space Age—house the aircraft and memorabilia. Several rooms honor San Diego plane manufacturers and their aviation contributions. Also lauded are women Air Force pilots and racing pilot Jackie Cochran. You’ll want to avoid eating right before taking the Max Flight interactive ride, a high-tech flight simulator. With you controlling its moves, the pod dramatically executes dives, loops, steep banking, and combat maneuvers. If you have children, there’s a dedicated hangar for them with age-appropriate activities. Family Days take place year-round at the Pavilion of Flight. In the museum theater, special effects and interactive seats heighten the excitement of movies, both historic and futuristic.

6. San Diego Museum of Art

As you approach the ornate vaulted entrance to this building, you get a taste of the priceless treasures within. The decorative facade reflects the Plateresque architectural style, which was popular in Spain during the 1500s. Inside, you’ll tour the most extensive collection of fine art in our city. Artworks are international, sourced from Holland, Italy, Germany, India, and South Asia. The Baroque style, conveying grandeur, exuberance, and movement, is epitomized in works by Rubens. Other master artists represented are van Gogh, Rembrandt, Monet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, and Dufy. American and contemporary works are more recent, spanning the 19th through the 21st centuries. The museum has a full calendar of events for all ages. Youth offerings are Sunday Family Drop-In Days, Summer Camps, and Teen Summer Studios. For adults, there’s Art After Hours, Culture and Cocktails, and Film in the Garden. Art Alive, held in April, is a four-day fundraiser when floral designers create artworks inspired by the museum’s permanent collection.

7. San Diego Automotive Museum

Founded just 31 years ago, this museum showcases the classic autos and motorcycles of the 20th century. The huge inventory includes more than 80 gleaming vehicles, each one polished to a brilliant shine. Also available are automotive memorabilia and videos from around the globe. The Show Stoppers exhibit includes the groundbreaking 1909 International Harvester and the 1911 Ford Model T Speedster. Also displayed are Steve McQueen’s racing bikes and a motorcycle ridden by stunt performer Evel Knievel. The themed exhibits change every four months and are interspersed with special events. Also worth visiting is the museum library, which sells vintage car magazines at affordable prices. Living in one of San Diego’s downtown districts puts you within easy strolling distance of these amazing venues for learning and entertainment. Balboa Park is just one of the many reasons to consider making downtown San Diego your home. Whether you’re looking for lofts, penthouses, or condos for sale in downtown San Diego, the expert team from 92101 Urban Living can help you find the home that’s perfect for you. Reach out to one of our friendly agents today at 619-649-0368.