San Diego History Center

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1649 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
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Open:
Daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Get an in-depth look at the fascinating and rich history of your favorite city in Southern California when you visit San Diego History Center in Balboa Park.
San Diego History Center
Delve Into the Past
What to Expect
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All About the Exhibits
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Tips for Your Visit
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Exhibits / Attractions
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Tips
Exhibits / Attractions
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Tips

Delve Into the Past

San Diego History Center is unlike any other museum in San Diego because its entire collection of documents and artifacts detail the origins, communities, struggles, and successes of the city. If you love San Diego, plan a visit to the museum to better understand where the city came from and where it is headed in the future. You’ll appreciate this fascinating look at the rich and varied incarnations of the birthplace of California as you explore the exhibits.

Found in historic Balboa Park, this San Diego history museum opened in 1981 and features rotating and permanent exhibits to explore as well as interactive experiences that appeal to the young and young at heart. It also offers educational programs and special events throughout the year.

Both the building and its contents highlight the embodiment of how San Diego has evolved; the museum collection is housed in Casa de Balboa, an historic building which was constructed in the 1910s as the Electric Building for the Panama-California Exposition and even used as military barracks during World War II. Presently, it is home to the museum and its archives, a valuable resource for educators and historians in the area.

What makes this museum worth your time? The ever-changing displays and exhibits about San Diego provide a snapshot of what life was like for different segments of the population or what events in the past changed the course of its history. You never know what you might learn during your visit, but chances are good it will leave a lasting impression on you.

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Know What to Expect When You Visit

Your experience at San Diego History Center begins before you enter the museum. Walk around the building and grounds for a sense of the opulence and vision that was meant to showcase the city in the early 1900s.

Once inside, plan to spend an hour or two strolling through the exhibits, or if you prefer, take a guided tour with a knowledgeable docent to lead the way. It is always a good idea to check the calendar before you go to see if anything special is scheduled during your trip. Any way you spend your time here, you can have an engrossing look at the people and events that shaped the city.

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All About the Exhibits

The displays at this San Diego history museum are not your typical chronological progression from by-gone days to the present. Instead, each exhibit focuses on a specific aspect of San Diego’s growth as told through the eyes of an individual or a community. It is a creative approach that can encourage children and adults to connect with the past. Check out these exhibits while you are there:

Balboa Park: The Jewel of San Diego

This 30-minute film serves as an introduction to this beloved city park and its many attractions that are frequented by both residents and visitors.

Inside|OUT

Located in the central atrium, this permanent exhibit presents items from the extensive archives of the museum. The artifacts, photos, and documents are rotated every quarter to share some of the over 17,000 curated pieces with the public.

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Massive Collection
The Document Archives, the region’s largest collection of historical materials, holds over 45 million documents including public and architectural records, books, maps, scrapbooks, manuscripts, newspapers, ephemera, diaries and oral histories.

Her-Story: Pioneers of San Diego

Women can sometimes be overlooked by history, but not at this museum. This exhibit focuses on six women who documented their journey West and what life looked like in the early days of California.

I’m Not Like You: Notes from the San Diego Underground

Concentrating on the skate, punk, and hip-hop culture of the ‘70s through the ‘90s, this exhibition brings together three counter-culture movements through art and photographic images.

The Path of the Mystic: Art & Theosophy at Lomaland

Did you know that San Diego was home to a utopian society around the end of the 19th century? Learn all about this unusual slice of life through artifacts and documents preserved from the area.

LBGTQ+SD

Embrace the diversity in San Diego by observing at the struggles and victories of an often

persecuted and marginalized community.

Nathan Harrison: Born a Slave, Died a San Diego Legend

Focusing on a former slave and homesteader, this exhibit is a snapshot into hardships of the early African American settlement.

Marston’s History Emporium

This hands-on learning lab gives child visitors a glimpse at the city’s history in an experiential way.

Expanding Through Education

In addition to the seven stations of the History Emporium, the museum offers other informative programs to augment the education of students in the city.

Some of these enrichments include school field trips, Boy and Girl Scout activities, Bum the Dog’s Kids Club, private group tours, public lectures, an online at-home learning program, and resources and lesson plans for local educators.

These enlightening opportunities enhance and foster community engagement as well as visitors’ experiences in a meaningful way.

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Tips for a Successful Visit

  • Parking is free in Balboa Park but not always easy to find close parking. Don’t forget the tram can take you from a parking lot to the museum.
  • Pets are not permitted. Only service animals are allowed in the building.
  • Photography is fine during your visit, if you do not set up a tripod or use your flash, the light from which can damage old documents.
  • Host your private event at the History Center. From weddings to work functions, the staff can assist with arrangements and budgeting.

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