San Diego Air & Space Museum


Location: Balboa Park (3 Miles Northeast of Downtown San Diego)

Open Daily: 10AM – 4:30PM (Must enter by 4PM). Open until 5:30PM during Summer. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Cost: $18 ($7 for Kids ages 3-11 and $15 for Seniors, Military, Students)

Features: One of the Nation’s Best Aerospace Museums; San Diego has the Richest Aviation History in the World

aerospace-museumSan Diego Air & Space Museum Highlights: San Diego has arguably the richest history of aviation in the world. Its mild climate and light breezes attracted the pioneers of flight to develop and perfect the equipment and skills needed for flying. San Diego’s Otay Mesa community was home to the first heavier-than-air manned flight in the United States in 1883. Coronado’s North Island is recognized by Congress as the Birthplace of Naval Aviation and the Cradle of Army Aviation. Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis was built in San Diego. The San Diego Airport was the first federally chartered airport in the country. The Atlas Rocket was developed and manufactured in San Diego’s Kearny Mesa and was used to send local San Diego astronauts, including Wally Schirra, up into space. Today, San Diego is still home to Naval Air Station North Island, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, and the development and manufacturing of both unmanned drones (General Atomic’s Predator and Northrup Grumman’s Global Hawk). San Diego’s strong connection to Air & Space development provides a fertile environment for a robust and active Air & Space Museum.

When to Visit the Air & Space Museum

  • Admission on the fourth Tuesday of every month is free for San Diego County residents. If you want to avoid the crowds, it is best to avoid this day, especially during the summer months.

What to Expect

  • Consider setting aside at least three hours to enjoy the Museum, but much more if you are a big fan of aviation history or if you have kids who will become engaged with the interactive exhibits, simulators, and movies.
  • There are 60 aircraft, all on one very large floor. (See more about the aircraft under “Air & Space Exhibits” below.) However, the aircraft are just a small part of the overall exhibitions covering the full history of aviation. For example, you will see:
    • Video Exhibits throughout the Museum, each showing clips from a different era of aviation.
    • Mini-movie theaters showing full-length Hollywood Movies that display the drama and allure of flying. (A good place to give your kids a break from visiting all of the exhibits.)
    • Room full of World War I Artifacts from both the Allies and Central Powers.
    • In-depth history of Charles Lindbergh’s Historic Flight from the development of his plane in San Diego to a collection of artifacts marking his journey. (Be sure to look for the goggles he wore on his cross-Atlantic flight.)
    • A few planes where kids can climb into the cockpits.
    • History of the acrobatic barnstormers, including San Diego’s own Lillian Boyer, who was referred to as “The Most Daring Girl in All the World” for climbing the wings of a plane during flight and jumping from a speeding car to a speeding plane.
    • For military aviation, you will learn about the Flying Tigers, Eagle Squadrons, and other notable flying groups.
    • There is also a nice exhibit area featuring America’s First Discount Airline known for its friendly service, San Diego’s own Pacific Southwest Airlines, which operated from the 1950s – 1980s.
  • Simulator Rides – There are a number of simulators including consoles where you can operate an airplane’s controls hooked to computer stations, group flight simulator rides, and individual flight simulators. There is an extra fee for riding the simulators, which are scattered in various parts of the Museum. You can purchase tickets from the attendants who manage the rides.
  • You can obtain a guided tour from volunteers if they are available.
  • Coincidently, jets fly right over the Museum on their approach to the San Diego Airport, which kids love to watch.
  • If you want to see even more aircraft than what is available in this aerospace museum, you can visit their restoration facility on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 8AM – 3PM. There are more than two dozen additional aircraft as well as an Atlas Rocket on display. The facility is about 20 minutes away at Gillespie Field in El Cajon. Admission is Free.
  • No Smoking is allowed in or around the Air & Space Museum.

Air & Space Exhibits – The San Diego Air & Space Museum web site takes you on an online tour of their exhibits from early development of flight, to military aircraft, and onward to space. You can then select each area of the exhibition to get the full details on aircraft you will see. Some are replicas and others are reproductions. Here is a map of the museum, which includes the layout of the aircraft on display. If you want to brag to your friends back home on some of the cool things you did in San Diego, here are a few items to look for:

  • Only Flying Replica of the Plane Charles Lindbergh flew on his Historic Flight across the Atlantic. The Replica was built by volunteers, who included the builders of the original plane.
  • Apollo 9 Command Module – The only Apollo Module on display west of Texas.
  • Nieuport 28 – First U.S. decorated fighter plane in WWI. This appears to be the only Nieuport 28 in existence.
  • Ford Trimotor – First flown by Pan American Airlines in 1928 between Miami and Cuba.
  • Royal Airforce Spitfire – One of the few in the world still remaining from WWII.
  • MiG-15 from the Korean War.
  • Cobra Helicopter that saw action in Grenada.
  • Full reproductions of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo Spacecraft – the late San Diegan Wally Schirra was the only astronaut to fly in all three early space programs.
  • Unmanned Predator Drone – Patrolled in Yugoslavia during that former country’s civil war.

Aviation Library – The Museum is home to one of the most extensive collections of aviation archives in the world. It includes logbooks, photos, film, audio, and books. You can view their catalog online.

Food – There is a new restaurant available in the Air & Space Museum called Flight Path Grill with outdoor seating. If you are looking for something more formal, Balboa Park’s Prado Restaurant is more of an upscale full service restaurant. You can read more about the food options on the Balboa Park web site.

Fun Activities

Special Events – The Museum is a frequent host of special events, which often include aviation dignitaries.

Family Project Days – On the second Saturday of every month, spend time as a family with a hands-on learning activity related to a specific theme. It lasts about 45 minutes and is included with admission. No pre-registration required.

Summer Camps for Students – Several half-day camps are available and run for one week. For the student in the family who loves airplanes and outer space, this is a great opportunity for them to learn about their hobby in San Diego while still making time to visit other San Diego attractions.

Information on Visiting the San Diego Air & Space Museum

Admission Prices: (Costs are Approximate)

  • Parking is Free
  • Standard Fee is $18; ($7 for Kids ages 3-11 and $15 for Seniors.)
  • Retired Military Members and Students with I.D. can gain access for $15.
  • Active Duty Military Members may enter for Free.
  • Flight Simulator Rides cost $4 and up.
  • Special Exhibitions may cost more. Check the admissions page for details.
  • General Admission is Free for San Diego County residents, Active Military & their families, and children under 18 on the 4th Tuesday of each month.
  • Passport to Balboa Park – Pay one low price for a Pass that will allow you one entry into each of thirteen participating Balboa Park Museums. You have seven days to use the Park Pass once you begin using it. For an additional fee, you can add a discounted San Diego Zoo Best Value ticket.  Also note, the Passport to Balboa Park Pass allows you to watch an IMAX movie at the Science Center. Passport to Balboa Park tickets can be purchased online or at participating attractions, except at the Zoo.

Directions from Google Maps to 2001 Pan American Plaza in San Diego, CA 92101

Parking – There is a parking lot in front of the Air & Space Museum. However, this often fills up quickly, especially during the summer and on weekends since it also shares the parking lot with the San Diego Automotive Museum, the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum, and the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater. You will see there is additional parking nearby if you look at the Google Map for the directions above or Balboa Park Map noted below. However, these lots often get busy as well.

If you don’t want to deal with parking hassles, especially during the summer and on weekends, go to the large parking lots on the opposite side of Park Boulevard. They are on Presidents Way on the east side of Park Boulevard, away from the museums. The Tram starts at the end of the driveway and circulates every 10 minutes from 8:30AM – 6PM daily with extended hours during the summer and special occasions. Get off at the first stop (Pan American Plaza northbound) if you don’t mind walking about 150 yards to the Museum. Otherwise, stay on the Tram for 15 – 20 minutes until the last stop (Pan American Plaza southbound) to be dropped off less than 50 yards from the Museum.

Traffic – Unless there is a major event at Balboa Park, which occurs a few times during the year, getting in and out of Balboa Park is relatively easy using Park Boulevard. If you approach Balboa Park using southbound SR-163, traffic occasionally backs up a little over a mile before reaching the Park Boulevard Exit, which is the same exit for the I-5 northbound. However, the delay will only take a few extra minutes. Likewise, if you are planning to get on SR-163 northbound after leaving the Air & Space Museum, plan on a short delay during the mid and late afternoon hours as a few entrance ramps merge together before reaching the highway. (Learn how to get the latest traffic updates.)

Transit – Buses serving Balboa Park drop passengers off on Park Boulevard at the intersection with Presidents Way. You will have to walk about 200 yards to reach the Museum or you can catch the Free Balboa Park Tram. The Tram starts at the end of the driveway, on the east side of Presidents Way and circulates every 10 minutes. You can get off the first stop (Pan American Plaza northbound) if you don’t mind walking about 150 yards to the Museum. Otherwise, stay on the Tram for 15 – 20 minutes until the last stop (Pan American Plaza southbound) to be dropped off less than 50 yards from the Museum. (See San Diego Transit Information for the downtown transit map, which includes Balboa Park, and information for the online Transit Planner.)

Balboa Park Map – The map shows a listing of all Balboa Park Museums, attractions, bus and tram stops, and places to eat. You should also print out the Balboa Park Tram Map from the City of San Diego. It is not as detailed but is helpful because it includes names on each of the buildings. With the other map, you need to use a map key to find the name of a building.

Find More Attractions with Similar Themes or Location: *Top San Diego Museums*, Astronomy & Outer Space, Aviation & Auto Museums, Balboa Park, Kids Attractions & Activities, Military Museums & Presence, Nostalgia & Western Frontier |

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