San Diego Automotive Museum

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2080 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101
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Open:
Daily 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
For the first roads to the most unique vehicles ever to travel the motorways of America, the San Diego Automotive Museum has it all. Plan your visit today!
Todd Sarouhan
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means if you make purchases through them, I may be compensated at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
San Diego Automotive Museum
World Changing Vehicle
What to Expect
Explore & Save
Exhibits & Attractions
Parking
Know Before You Go
Stay Nearby

Highlights

Exhibits / Attractions
Tickets
Parking
Tips
Exhibits / Attractions
Tickets
Parking
Tips

Learn How Motorized Vehicles Have Changed the World

San Diego Lowriders 1964 Chevy Impala Six42lo at the San Diego Automotive Museum1931 Ford Model a Deluxe Roadster at the San Diego Automotive Museum

The San Diego Automotive Museum has one mission: to tell the world how motorized vehicles have changed the social and technological world in the past and how it is expected to do so in the future.

A renowned automobile collector named Briggs Cunningham originally brought up the idea of the museum, although it took many years before the idea came to fruition. The museum finally opened in 1988 and today operates as a non-profit corporation.

Individuals and groups alike flock to Balboa Park each year to take in the museum's permanent and changing exhibits, attend a variety of events, and much more.

I find it a very interesting place for car and motorcycle enthusiasts or just anyone that would like to learn about automotive history. Perhaps on the same day you could visit another museum in Balboa Park like the Fleet Science Center, or maybe just enjoy the park itself!

Outside the San Diego Automotive Museum
Outside the San Diego Automotive Museum

Visit More Than Just the Museum

Planning to explore more of beautiful Balboa Park after your visit?

Consider Go City San Diego passes to all the museums Balboa Park has to offer at a discount. Use code GVSD5OFF to save even more on most of the museums in Balboa Park plus the San Diego Zoo and many more museums and attractions throughout the area.

Exterior of The Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club & Bungalows
Exterior of The Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club & Bungalows

Get a Hotel Nearby

If an overnight stay is in the itinerary, I recommend what I think is one of the more unique hotel experiences in San Diego.

Reserve a room at The Lafayette Hotel and Club, a Colonial-style hotel built in 1946 for young Hollywood hosting, including Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra, and Bob Hope. It even includes a two-lane bowling alley for a night of family-fun!

While there, be sure to travel back in time at its Beginner’s Diner, which mimics a traditional diner from the 1940s, all the way down to the placemats, flatware, and fountain drinks. It is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Local Tips
Signature Cars
One of the signature cars in the collection is Louie Mattar's Fabulous Car, a 1947 Cadillac that was driven non-stop from Alaska to Mexico City and across the United States.
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What to Expect When You Visit

1912 Bsa Motorcycle at the San Diego Automotive Museum
1912 Bsa Motorcycle at the San Diego Automotive Museum

Expect lots of fun and a solid education about automotive history when you visit the San Diego Automotive Museum!

From the 1927 Bentley to the 1931 Rolls Royce, you'll learn about individual cars, renowned companies, and unique individuals who have made the automotive industry what it is today.

There is a variety of exhibits from the classic Indian Motorcycles to perfectly preserved cars from the 1920’s.

As you’ll read about next, you can expect rotating exhibits ensuring a fresh experience with each visit and permanent exhibits covering everything from highways to the evolution of cars and motorcycles.

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Local Tips
What is a Go City San Diego pass?

The Go City San Diego pass allows visitors to experience more attractions while simultaneously saving money.

With the pass, you can visit San Diego’s top attractions like the San Diego Zoo or LEGOLAND, all while saving up to 55% off on admissions. Plus, the pass gives you the ability to skip the line when visiting select attractions.

Use our exclusive discount code GVSD5OFF to save an extra

Exhibits & Attractions

Inside the Berg Family Library at the San Diego Automotive Museum
Inside the Berg Family Library at the San Diego Automotive Museum

The San Diego Automotive Museum has a wide range of attractions that includes permanent and visiting exhibits, educational opportunities, and much more.

Themed exhibits rotate every three to four months and have included: Unpopular Mechanics, an exhibit showcasing vehicles that were unpopular in and often ahead of their time, but many that are now seen as industry standard or even cutting-edge; Steve McQueen, which takes a look at the world-famous racer and actor’s life on the road and behind the cameras; and Barn Find, which replicates the feeling of opening a barn door and finding a perfectly preserved classic car.

Current exhibits include:

1942 Willys  MB Jeep at the San Diego Automotive Museum
1942 Willys MB Jeep at the San Diego Automotive Museum

Salute to San Diego’s Troops

To show appreciation for the 200,000 veterans and 140,000 active duty service members of San Diego, the San Diego Automotive Museum is inviting current and past United States service members to sign their names on two designated Willys Jeep hoods: the 1942 Willys MB “Jeep” and the 1964 Willys M38A1 “Jeep”.

San Diego Lowriders Front of the 1964 Chevy Impala Six42lo at the San Diego Automotive Museum
San Diego Lowriders Front of the 1964 Chevy Impala Six42lo at the San Diego Automotive Museum

San Diego Lowriders

A unique form of artistic expression and a symbol of cultural pride, the Lowrider traces its roots back to the 1940s and 1950s, where Chicano youth modified their cars with hydraulic or air suspension systems that could raise and lower their vehicles.

Two Lowriders currently on exhibit include the 1948 Fleetline Lowrider and the 2000 Gilroy-Indian Chief “El Indio De Oro”.

Harley-Davidson Collection

William S. Harley drew his first motorcycle engine plans in 1901. Today, Harley-Davidson is one of the most known names in the motorcycle community and beyond. The museum's collection takes a look at the history of Harley-Davidson and some of its most popular work of the 1900s.

Some current Harley-Davidson motorcycles on exhibit include the 1916 Harley-Davidson V-Twin 16F, the 1926 Harley-Davidson Model A “Peashooter,” and the 1981 Harley-Davidson Heritage Edition FLH80.

1947 Indian Chief Motorcycle at the San Diego Automotive Museum
1947 Indian Chief Motorcycle at the San Diego Automotive Museum

Indian Motorcycles

1901 wasn't just the year of Harley-Davidson's origin. Soon to become one of the most famous motorcycles in the world, Indian Motorcycles were also taking off in 1901.

A designer and engineer named Carl Oscar Hedstrom, along with his partner George M Hendee, provided the first production motorized bicycle, known then as a “motocycle.”

The museum exhibit takes a look at Indian Motorcycles' history, including its relaunch in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, in 2008.

Louie Mattars Fabulous Cadillac at the San Diego Automotive Museum
Louie Mattars Fabulous Cadillac at the San Diego Automotive Museum

Louie Mattar's Fabulous Car

Did you know that you can drive from San Diego to New York and back without stopping? If you don't believe it, all you need to do is look up Louie Mattar.

The San Diego Automotive Museum's exhibit teaches you all about Louie Mattar's Fabulous Car. He built his dream Cadillac in 1952 and proceeded to make a 6,320-mile trip without stopping, fueling from a moving gas truck as needed. His car was even equipped with a stove, refrigerator, sink, and all the other necessities of home, all stored under the cushions!

The Plank Road at the San Diego Automotive Museum
The Plank Road at the San Diego Automotive Museum

Plank Road

Created in the early 1900s, Plank Road was a necessity for those who traveled through the hot desert and high sand dunes of Imperial County. The single-lane road was not without issues though, including traffic jams and needing to pull off to let other drivers pass in the opposite direction.

Despite its dangers, people who traveled the road always considered it an adventure, and some people even took picnics with them as they traveled the road purely for amusement. The museum's display teaches you more about the road's history and importance.

Educational Programs

The San Diego Highwayman Write up at the San Diego Automotive Museum
The San Diego Highwayman Write up at the San Diego Automotive Museum

San Diego's Automotive Museum provides a variety of educational opportunities, the most popular of which is its field trips. Student groups learn about the history of the building, the museum, and the exhibits as they are guided through the grounds.

Summer camps, teacher resources, and a library with more than 60,000 books, magazines, manuals, and more are also available.

Featured Hotel
The Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club & Bungalows
Outdoor Pool at the Lafayette Hotel Swim Club and Bungalows
Balboa Park
Balboa Park
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Feast your senses and experience the glamor of 1980s luxury at the stylized Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club, & Bungalow in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood.
Prices Starting at $127
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Know Before You Go

The museum is an interesting experience for anyone that’s into cars, motorcycles, engineering and/or general history of the automotive industry. Below are a few tips to ensure a seamless trip to the museum.

Welcome to the San Diego Automotive Museum
Welcome to the San Diego Automotive Museum

Purchase your Tickets Ahead of Time

It is a good idea to purchase your tickets ahead of time.

If you purchase a Go City San Diego pass you can get a discount to not only many museums’, including the San Diego Automotive Museum, but to over 55 other attractions and activities including the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld San Diego to mention just a few.

A Go pass will ensure you get the cheapest admission cost. You can even get an additional discount if you purchase the Go City San Diego pass using our discount code GVSD5OFF.

Parking at the San Diego Automotive Museum
Parking at the San Diego Automotive Museum

Arrive Early

Last admission is at 4:30 p.m. daily and the museum closes at 5 p.m.

Clearly I don’t think 30 minutes is enough time to take in all the museum has to offer so I suggest you arrive early so you can take your time and explore the museum.

San Diego Residents = Free Tuesdays

San Diego County residents can take advantage of free admission to the museum on the 4th Tuesday of most months (excluding September and December). Proof of residency is required for those 18 years and older.

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