The San Diego Museum of Art

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1450 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92102
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Open:
10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (Mon, Tue, Thurs, Fri, Sat)
12:00 - 5:00 p.m. Sunday
Closed Wednesday
At The San Diego Museum of Art, you’ll get your fill of culture and fine art as you view works from old world masters and contemporary artists alike.
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.
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Explore Art and Culture at The San Diego Museum of Art

Main Lobby at the San Diego Art MuseumJuan Sanchez Cotan Painting at the San Diego Art Museum

The San Diego Museum of Art is a treasured museum in the heart of Balboa Park in San Diego, California and surely one of my favorites!

It is a center for showcasing the cultural pursuits of historic and modern artists, encouraging the creation of new art, and providing the community with enriching outreach programs meant to celebrate the power of art.

The museum is one of the oldest art museums in the region. It began its life as The Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego all the way back in 1926, adopting its current name in 1978.

The construction of the building took cues from the Panama-California International Exposition held in 1915, utilizing a Spanish Gothic and plateresque style that can still be seen in some areas of the museum.

Beautiful Art at the San Diego Art Museum
Beautiful Art at the San Diego Art Museum

Frequently New Additions

The San Diego Museum of Art is constantly undergoing new renovations and additions!

The museum doubled its original size in 1966 to add a west wing and a sculpture court, and another addition was made in 1974 to install an east wing and house more exhibits. More recent renovations include restoration and revamps to the auditorium, rotunda, and sculpture garden.

From its architecture to its collection of paintings, sculptures, and other artistic works, The San Diego Museum of Art has lived up to its mission of inspiring, educating, and cultivating creativity and curiosity through making fine art accessible to the public.

With works by masters such as Matisse, Renoir, Rubens, Goya, and Frida Kahlo, this museum provides access to incredible art as well as ample enriching opportunities for visitors of all ages.

The Groovy Bar, Panama 66, at The San Diego Museum of Art
The Groovy Bar, Panama 66, at The San Diego Museum of Art

A Groovy Restaurant & Bar - Panama 66

In addition to the many exhibits and outreach programs, this San Diego museum of art also has a restaurant and gift shop on site. Be sure to grab some lunch or bring home a great souvenir to remember your trip!

The museum’s café, Panama 66, offers casual dining with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients and craft beer. It’s a popular location on Friday nights, where it hosts the Art After Hours event.

The museum store is full of interesting and eclectic books, prints, and keepsakes to take home for yourself or give as gifts to friends or family.

Where to Find Discount Admission

Kids 17 and under can visit the museum for free, but will need to show proof of their age to get free tickets. Additionally, visiting the outdoor sculpture garden is free for all guests.

The Cheapest Way to Visit the San Diego Museum of Art!

Dani Entering the San Diego Art Museum
Dani Entering the San Diego Art Museum

Like many other attractions in Balboa Park, The San Diego Museum of Art is included in the Go City San Diego Pass, which can help you save money during your trip. Buying a pass ahead of time gets you access to our additional exclusive discount using code GVSD5OFF, on standard admission prices.

Where to Stay Nearby

I think it’s best to spend your time at an expansive museum like this and cut down on hassle when you stay at a nearby hotel!

With so many hotels and other fun San Diego Zoo and Japanese Friendship Garden, there’s plenty of reasons to book a hotel in the Balboa Park and Downtown San Diego area, especially if you’re looking to make the most of your All-inclusive Go City San Diego pass.

My personal recommendation is the Carte Hotel San Diego Downtown, which is a less than a 10-minute drive from the San Diego Museum of Art and within a few blocks of Embarcadero and some of Little Italy’s best restaurants and tours.

The boutique Carte Hotel adds a sense of luxury to every guest’s experience with high-class amenities, including its pool, fitness center, and upscale on-site restaurant.

The 4-star Westgate Hotel exudes class and an air of exclusivity. Todd's tour of this hotel highlights its luxury amenities and its proximity to attractions like Petco Park, dining, and the Gaslamp Quarter.

Stay at the The Westgate Hotel

What You’ll See

Peter Paul Rubens Workshop Painting at the San Diego Art Museum
Peter Paul Rubens Workshop Painting at the San Diego Art Museum

The galleries of The San Diego Museum of Art are full of many different mediums, styles, and eras of art. The majority of the pieces are traditional art, but there are plenty of sculptures, photos, and artifacts included in the well over 20,000 works of art hosted at the museum. There are pieces from well-known artists from as early as 5000 BC to as recent as 2012.

The museum also features contemporary art, often created by San Diego locals and other California residents. Their Summer Salon Series features a rotation of works from different modern artists as well as workshops and presentations about the art on display.

You can peruse the different galleries and exhibits in the museum at your own pace. Take time to really appreciate the artwork and the level of skill and effort that went into their creation as you walk through the museum.

Local Tips
At Home? No problem
Enjoy at-home art activities for emerging and established art students of all ages from the Museum Education team. Explore drawing exercises, crafts, writing prompts, videos, podcasts, and more inspired by The San Diego Museum of Art collections.

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What attractions are included with a Go City San Diego pass?

Attractions that you can visit with a Go City San Diego pass include:

The San Diego Zoo, Birch Aquarium, SeaWorld, Safari Park, LEGOLAND, Harbor Cruise, USS Midway Museum, the NAT Museum, Whaley House, PETCO Park Tour, iFLY San Diego and many, many more!

Want to save more? Use our exclusive discount code GVSD5OFF to save an extra 5%!

Art Installations and Exhibits

Painting of Venice Italy at the San Diego Art Museum
Painting of Venice Italy at the San Diego Art Museum

The San Diego Museum of Art contains both permanent installations and rotating exhibits. Some exhibits are annual events, such as the Art Alive event which occurs every year in April. During this fundraiser, artists replicate one of the works on display at the museum with flower petals and other organic material.

Art Alive is just one of the many different non-permanent exhibits at the museum. Check the official museum website for more information about rotating attractions, or check out the permanent attractions listed below.

Keep in mind that due to the large size of the collection, not every piece of art owned by the museum will be on display at the same time. Parts of the permanent collection may be rotated out to give other works time to shine. This means there’s always something new to see on repeat visits!

While many incredible exhibits have been rotated such as the Visions of the West, Visible Vaults, Renaissance to Realism and California Colorist, others like the Art in the Open air series just continue to evolve.

Read on to learn about the latest exhibits on display now at the museum!

Modern Tapestry Art at the San Diego Art Museum
Modern Tapestry Art at the San Diego Art Museum

Modern and Contemporary Art

While much of the museum’s gallery was created hundreds or thousands of years ago, there are modern components too. In the Modern and Contemporary Art collection, you’ll see how modern painters break from many of the old art traditions and create works that are entirely new in their construction, tone, and purpose.

Painting by the Famous French Artist Claude Monet at the San Diego Art Museum
Painting by the Famous French Artist Claude Monet at the San Diego Art Museum

Impressionism and Post-Impressionism

The impressionism period began in Paris, France in the early 1870s, but its aftershocks lasted until well into the 20th century. The Impressionism and Post-Impressionism exhibit showcases paintings during this time period as well as works inspired by the artistic era. Featured artists include Amadeo Modigliani, Pierre Bonnard, Edgar Degas, and Edouard Vuillard.

The Outdoor Cafe and Bar - Panama 66 at The San Diego Museum of Art
The Outdoor Cafe and Bar - Panama 66 at The San Diego Museum of Art

Art of the Open Air

Art of the Open Air is a showcase of sculptures in the Plaza de Panama sculpture garden. In the garden are sculptures made out of various materials and in all shapes and sizes.

This exhibit is unique in that it is accessible outside of the museum, allowing the museum to provide free public access to these works.

Art of the Americas at the San Diego Art Museum
Art of the Americas at the San Diego Art Museum

Of Sea and Sand: California Paintings

View California’s most majestic sights through a painter’s eyes. From its glittering oceans to its deserts and hills, see how different artists have approached the task of interpreting and portraying California in the Of Sea and Sand: California Paintings exhibit.

Art by Bartolome Bermejo at the San Diego Art Museum
Art by Bartolome Bermejo at the San Diego Art Museum

Art of Devotion

Portrayals of Christianity have evolved significantly over time, even among the canon of classical artwork. The Art of Devotion exhibit showcases religious paintings created in Europe from 1300–1800, starting with paintings commissioned by the Catholic Church during the Medieval and Renaissance eras and capturing the changes in attitudes that followed the Reformation and Post-Reformation eras.

Art of the Portrait

Experience a look back at the ways that portraiture has developed over the past 100 years at the Art of the Portrait exhibit. From the realm of wealthy aristocrats to the domain of the modern “selfie,” see samples of this art form throughout the decades.

Modern Women

The Modern Women exhibit is a collection of artwork acknowledging the often-understated contributions that women have made to the world of art. Works on display range in style and medium, just as diverse as the women who created them.

Art of East Asia

The Art of East Asia exhibit includes pieces from Japan, China, and Korea, all of which are housed in a newly-renovated gallery. Many works feature elements from Buddhism, Daoism, and Shintoism. Unique interactive elements invite guests to learn via a hands-on experience.

Arts of South and Southeast Asia

View paintings and other works from Southern Asia and beyond at the Arts of South and Southeast Asia exhibit. Some of the pieces in this gallery are as old as the first century, while others are from the nineteenth century, covering a broad span of time characterized by its cultural and artistic changes.

German Expressionism Art at the San Diego Art Museum
German Expressionism Art at the San Diego Art Museum

German Expressionism

The German Expressionism collection houses 48 paintings from German and Austrian artists during the height of Europe’s avant-garde movement. The paintings represent a form of rebellion in the early 20th century, with expressionism providing an outlet for artists’ voices.

Arts of Iran

The paintings and other works of art in the Arts of Iran exhibit range from pieces produced in modern-day Iran to artwork made during the Persian Empire. Alongside paintings, this collection includes diverse mediums such as metalworking, ceramics, calligraphy, and glass blowing.

Pottery and Sculptures at the San Diego Art Musuem
Pottery and Sculptures at the San Diego Art Musuem

Art of the 20th Century

The rise of abstract art characterizes many of the works in the Art of the 20th Century exhibit. These modernist artworks employ techniques like surrealism and cubism as a reaction to shifting social and political trends. Visit this gallery to see the way artwork transformed over the course of the century.

Museum of Photographic Arts

In July of 2023, the Museum of Photographic Arts (also known as MOPA) merged with the San Diego Museum of Art, combining the two institutions. Visitors to SDMA can now view selections from MOPA’s extensive collections of photographs in the new department The Museum of Photographic Arts at The San Diego Museum of Art, or MOPA@SDMA.

Javi Admiring Art at the San Diego Art Museum
Javi Admiring Art at the San Diego Art Museum

Rotating Exhibits

The San Diego Museum of Art houses temporary collections that rotate every few months. Exhibits currently on display include:

  • Korea in Color: A Legacy of Auspicious Images (through March 3, 2024)
  • Pearls from the Ocean of Contentment (through April 7, 2024)
  • Berenice Abbott: Changing New York (through June 16, 2024)
  • Agents of Power: Body Adornment in African Art (through July 7, 2024)

For the most up-to-date list of the current exhibits on display, check the museum’s homepage.

Todd having a Beer at Panama 66 at The San Diego Museum of Art
Todd having a Beer at Panama 66 at The San Diego Museum of Art

Art After Hours

Art After Hours is an attraction that runs on Friday evenings. Guests are invited to tour the museum after closing time and enjoy the weekly showcase. Adult guests can order beer and cocktails at Panama 66, while they select from a menu of locally sourced food and experience live musical performances.

Though alcoholic beverages are served with ID, this event is open to all ages.

Panama 66 Bar at The San Diego Museum of Art
Panama 66 Bar at The San Diego Museum of Art

Culture and Cocktails

Culture and Cocktails is a 21+ only event and attraction. Enjoy a night of good drinks, great conversation, and amazing artwork, complete with a rotating featured art exhibit. These events include exciting music and dance performances, and catering by local businesses.

A Devotion to Educating and Inspiring Future Artists

After Many Days Painting by Thomas Hart Benton at the San Diego Art Museum
After Many Days Painting by Thomas Hart Benton at the San Diego Art Museum

The San Diego Museum of Art includes learning at the core of its mission, and it offers multiple opportunities to absorb and create.

Throughout the year, this San Diego museum has a full calendar of films, lectures, workshops, music performances, and family activities. These activities vary every week, which means there’s always something new and exciting to take part in.

In the summer, camps for children and teens are in high demand. At summer camp and day camp lessons, kids will learn about different artistic periods and get the opportunity to create their own artwork. The museum also partners with educators to offer group tours and field trips for classes during the school year.

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Tips for a Successful Trip

To have the most fun and the least stress on your trip, check out these helpful insider tips.

Parking

The closest parking lot to the museum is in the Alcázar lot, which is just a five-minute walk away at 625 Pan American Road East. Alternative parking is available in lots throughout Balboa Park.

Upstairs at the San Diego Art Musuem
Upstairs at the San Diego Art Musuem

Photography and Videography

Visitors are welcome to commemorate their trips with non-flash photos, except for in designated areas with “No Photography Allowed” signs. Flash photography, filming videos, and reproducing or selling photos of museum exhibits for profit are all forbidden.

Gift Shop

The museum’s gift shop is really incredible! It contains art books, jewelry, gifts, toys, decorative pieces, and much more.

The Bibliotheque, the museum’s second gift shop, focuses on the cultural side and sells keepsakes themed around local culture, arts, and hobbies. The Bibliotheque is located right next to the museum in the May S. Marcy Sculpture Court.

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