Museum of San Diego History

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

Open Daily: 10AM – 5PM. Closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Cost: $5 ($2 for Kids under 18, $4 for Seniors 65+)

Features: Great Stories and Photos of San Diego’s History; Learn about the Changes in Power from Kumeyaay Indians to Spanish Colony, followed by Mexican Independence and then American Statehood.

What to Expect When Visiting the Museum of San Diego History

  • Plan on spending up to two hours at the San Diego History Museum.
  • Start outside of the entrance by looking at photos of San Diego from the early and mid 21st century. This will be of more interest to those who live in San Diego since they can compare and contrast the difference of what San Diego used to look like with what it looks like today.
  • You will spend most of your time in the gallery that describes the history of San Diego. The exhibits follow a chronological progression from the days of the Kumeyaay Indians, who inhabited San Diego for over six thousand years, to the current time. Along the way, the exhibits explain how San Diego became a melting pot of many cultures. Spanish Rule of San Diego began in 1769 with a strong influence of Catholicism.  Mexican Independence prevailed in 1822 and followed by a transition of the area into America hands in 1846. Once California was admitted to statehood in 1850, businessmen from the East Coast sought to find riches in this new city in the southwest corner of the country; African Americans arrived to farm land and dig for gold in the San Diego Mountains; and Chinese workers moved down from Northern California after the Gold Rush to develop San Diego’s fishing industry.
  • Bring Your Cell Phone – How often are you encouraged to bring a cell phone to a museum? This may be a first. You will see numbers next to some of the exhibits, which refer to additional descriptions you can obtain by using your cell phone. Just dial 1-619-342-8013. You will reach the San Diego History Museum’s recordings for the audio tour.
  • Near the gift shop you will see an exhibition created from the viewpoint of teenage refugees from Somalia. They share their experiences on integrating into life in San Diego. One of their exhibits is a map of the world where they ask you to place a pin on your hometown. Be sure to show off your hometown while taking a look at where in the far reaches of the world others have come from to visit the Museum.

San Diego History Exhibitions – Learn all about San Diego in this impressive display of permanent and temporary exhibits. San Diego’s topography is just as much a part of San Diego history as the early cultures of this city. You can walk on a large display map showing the layout of San Diego and learn about the Kumeyaay Indians and other early cultures with the Museum’s vast collections of artifacts. Temporary exhibitions highlight life during various eras in San Diego. Visit the current exhibitions page for more information on current and future exhibits. (Note: The Historical Society of San Diego runs the Museum of San Diego History as well as the Junipero Serra Museum in Old Town, whose collection of exhibits is also noted on this page.)

Food – There is a cafe in the Casa de Balboa building, which houses the Museum of San Diego History. There are additional cafes near the entrances of some of the other museums in Balboa Park. If you are looking for something more than what is offered in a cafe, 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.

No Smoking is allowed in or around the Museum of San Diego History.

Information on Visiting the Museum of San Diego History

Admission Prices: (Costs are Approximate)

  • Parking is Free
  • Standard Fee is $5
  • $4 for Seniors 65 and over, College Students, and Military with I.D.
  • $2 for kids 6 – 17 years old.
  • Membership – Support the Museum by becoming a Member.
  • General Admission is Free for San Diego County residents and for Active Military & their families on the 2nd 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. Tickets cost $39 ($21 for kids ages 3-12). 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.

Directions from Google Maps to 1649 El Prado in San Diego, CA 92101. The Museum of San Diego History is on the main floor of the Casa de Balboa building, which is also home to the Museum of Photographic Arts (shown on the Google Map) and the Model Railroad Museum.

Parking – There is a small parking lot behind the Casa de Balboa building. You can access it by turning from Park Boulevard onto Space Theatre Way. Pass by the parking lots for the Science Museum and at the end of the driveway you will be in the Casa de Balboa parking lot. If this lot and the lots for the Science Museum are full, the next best option is to find street parking or head south on Park Boulevard towards downtown and take a left on Presidents Way where you will find large parking lots. It will take you 20 minutes or so to walk to the Museum.

You can also take the free Balboa Park Tram from the large parking lots. The Tram starts near the end of the Presidents Way driveway. Get off at the Prado stop near the Balboa Park Information Center and walk down the Pedestrian Mall to the next building past the Information Center.

Traffic – Unless there is a major event at Balboa Park, which occurs a few times during the year, getting in and out of the San Diego History Museum 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 San Diego History 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 near the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and the San Diego Museum of Natural History. The stop is underneath a pedestrian bridge, which you can take to reach the Casa de Balboa Building along the Pedestrian Mall. (See San Diego Transit Information for the downtown transit map, which includes Balboa Park, and information for the online Transit Planner.)

You can also get off the bus at Presidents Way to 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 from here to the main circle at the Prado stop, near the Balboa Park Information Center. The Casa de Balboa Building is the next building past the Visitor Information Center. The Tram runs from 8:30AM – 6PM daily with extended hours during the summer and special occasions.

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*, Balboa Park, Ethnic Culture, Nostalgia & Western Frontier |

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