San Diego Chinese Historical Museum

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404 Third Ave., San Diego, CA 92101
|
Open:
10:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. (Wednesday - Sunday)
Welcome to the heart of Chinatown! Explore the heritage and living history of Chinese-Americans during your next visit to the Gaslamp Quarter.
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 Chinese Historical Museum
Museum Highlights
What to Expect
See More & Save
Current/Upcoming Exhibits
Parking
Know Before You Arrive
Stay Nearby

Highlights

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

A Celebration of Multiculturalism & the Living History of San Diego’s Chinese-Americans

Entrance to the San Diego Chinese Historical MuseumSide of the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum

The San Diego Chinese Historical Museum offers a rare perspective into one of the city’s communities that encourages visitors to witness its evolution from the early days of Chinese immigration to the present-day celebration of its culture and contributions.

Located in the heart of downtown San Diego within the Gaslamp Quarter, this museum boasts an extensive collection of treasured objects, photographs, and documents that highlight the Chinese American experience in the city.

The San Diego Chinese Historical Museum in the Gaslamp Quarter
The San Diego Chinese Historical Museum in the Gaslamp Quarter

Housed in a Historical Mission-style Building

Prepare to be wowed when you visit this museum, which encompasses three buildings as well as a Chinese-styled garden.

The main mission-style building was once used as a Chinese community church and center for language classes to help recent immigrants.

The building used for the museum was restored and relocated to its present Embarcadero location in 1996. It continues to educate and entertain thousands of visitors each year.

An Exploration of Chinese Arts, Culture, & History

The museum frequently changes its displays and exhibits, making it an attraction worth more than one visit.

It also remains steadfast in its mission to promote the art, history, culture, and gifts of the Chinese Americans that made and continue to make San Diego their home.

Statue Outside the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum
Statue Outside the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum

What Makes This Museum a Must-See Destination?

As with many cities along the West Coast of the United States and Southern California more specifically, there is a large population of Chinese immigrants that play a vital part in the fabric of the community. I’m personally very interested in their stories, history and culture and that is a lot of what you will get when you bring your family for a visit to the museum.

The curated collection and display design tells a story of what life was like in the old country, coming to the US, the challenges of immigration and integration, and the honor and success of Chinese Americans who have participated in the American Dream.

It is an inspiring journey, best told through the accounts and artifacts of the people who lived it.

The End of the Flight Deck on the USS Midway
The End of the Flight Deck on the USS Midway

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Stay at the Horton Grand Hotel

What to Expect During Your Visit to SDCHM

Chinese New Year Celebration Miniature Typical Home
Chinese New Year Celebration Miniature Typical Home

Unlike other museums with professional administration to curate and display their collections, the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum’s array of relics and heirlooms were donated almost entirely from the local Chinese community.

Together, they weave a tapestry of stories of the past that combine with ongoing programming to make this museum as much a community center as it is a tribute to the history of Chinese Americans in San Diego.

Not only will visitors get a glimpse into Chinese immigrant experience, but also a deeper look into the history of China.

That experience is unique as it blends expertly to create a living museum that educates and entertains visitors of all ages.

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Exhibits, Attractions, & More

While SDCHM has a vast assortment of items in its archives, it does not rest on permanent displays alone.

Instead, the exhibits showcase experiences or elements of Chinese American life in a more fluid way.

Current Exhibits at the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum
Current Exhibits at the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum

Permanent Exhibits

SDCHM’s displays its dedication to preservation proudly across the walls and exhibits of the museum.

The museum invites visitors to discover the timeline of Chinese history, an herbal cabinet containing samples, a section dedicated to the history of Chinese Laundries, and more.

Look for these vignettes during your visit.

Calligraphy and Painting

The ancient art of Chinese character writing and painting is explored through examples of this medium.

Look at the scrolls to see how styles have changed while the materials stay the same.

Chinese New Year Celebration Miniature Typical Home
Chinese New Year Celebration Miniature Typical Home

Scale Models

Marvel at the dioramas of a Chinese fishing village, old homes, and businesses based in San Diego’s Chinatown.

These detailed scale models are fascinating, intricate, and accurate in their interpretations.

Exploring the Diaspora

Documents and photographs tell the story of Chinese Americans who assimilated into their communities yet retained their culture and customs.

Some of these examples include the acceptance of Chinese restaurants and laundry services as industries where immigrants thrived.

Local Tips
Walking Virtual Tour
The SDCHM hosts regular walking tours of the Asian Pacific Historic District. You may access a virtual walking tour.

Treasured Objects

The assortment of artifacts, heirlooms, and objects of historical significance that have been donated to the museum are rotated frequently.

Some are from the old country, such as figurines and vases, bound-feet slippers, jade, cloisonne, and a fully restored rickshaw, to items from life in San Diego’s Chinatown, including laundry tools, opium pipes, and busts of honored community members.

Keep an eye out for the museum’s oldest artifact: a Buddha head that is over 1,500 years old!

Photos of Old San Diego

This display brings together photographs of Chinese immigrant contributions to the growth and development of the city.

These images highlight everyday life in Chinatown, immigrants working on the Pacific Railroad, and old fishing junks in the harbor.

Chinese New Year Celebration Miniature Art Piece
Chinese New Year Celebration Miniature Art Piece

True Colors: Student Art Showcase

This exhibit allows students of traditional Chinese art forms to display their work.

Some of the art may be the result of lectures and programs offered by the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum.

Chinese Garden

Venture outside to the traditional garden to walk among the sculptures, observe the monument to the Chinese fishermen of La Playa, and enjoy the koi pond and waterfalls.

Fun fact: some of the koi in the pond are over 20 years old!

Upcoming Exhibits & Events

From an annual festival to large-scale oil paintings, SDCHM continues to grow the connection between the past and today.

Poem ‘Li Sao’, Qu Yuan & Dragon Boat Festival

Qu Yuan, the Father of Chinese Romantic poetry, wrote the autobiographical poem Li Sao, translated as Encountering Sorrow, nearly 2,300 years ago, during his exile by King Huai.

Qu Yuan’s death inspired the Dragon Boat Festival, and every year his life and art are celebrated amidst the regatta and drums.

The museum celebrates both Qu Yuan and Li Sao and their “perennial longing for the inner light that is inherent in each and every soul.”

The exhibit runs from 3/29/24 - 09/01/24.

The Art of Chunming Yu

Visitors will see 40+ sketches and oil paintings by Chunming Yu created from 1985 to the present of Chinese residences across the vast territory of China and featuring over 56 ethnic groups.

For many of the items, this will be the first time they are on display. Guests won’t want to miss this chance to view Chunming’s perspective into the “patchwork of natural and geographic condition” that makes China’s residential buildings unique.

The exhibit runs from 9/20/24 - 03/02/25.

Educational Programs: Expanding Your Understanding at SDCHM

Front of the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum
Front of the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum

Where I think the museum shines is through its educational programs, which are at the heart of its mission.

Some of their community activities include weekly tai chi classes, a lecture series, live music performances, art classes, and even a meetup group where people can practice their Mandarin language skills.

The museum is also happy to arrange field trips and private group tours for a more informative experience.

The Chinese American Experience and Beyond: A Monthly Lecture Program

Delve deeper into Chinese culture, history, and art through the museum’s dedicated monthly lectures.

Hosted on Zoom, The Chinese American Experience and Beyond was created alongside the San Diego State University Chinese Cultural Center. Attendees can explore various topics on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month.

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Parking

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What To Know Before You Go: Tips for a Great Visit

I always think it’s worth mentioning a few things you might not consider that if you know in advance could really help you have a fantastic visit to the museum.

Outside the Horton Grand Hotel
Outside the Horton Grand Hotel

Where to Stay Near the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum

There are a lot of great hotel options in Downtown San Diego near the SDCHM but I would recommend a stay at the historic Horton Grand Hotel.

With views of the city or courtyard, each room has period furnishing and a gas burning fireplace. You’ll feel you’ve stepped back into a bygone time.

If you’re looking to see more of San Diego, The Horton Grand Hotel is just minutes away from the Convention Center, Petco Park, and the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park.

Walking Tour

The museum hosts a monthly walking tour of the Asian Pacific historical district that covers old Chinatown as well as Japanese and Filipino neighborhoods.

Special Events & Holiday Schedule

Check the schedule of events to see upcoming special programming as well as Chinese holiday celebrations throughout the calendar year.

Chinese New Year which is based on the lunar calendar and falls in January or February each year is my personal favorite.

The Gift Shops

Be sure to stop at one of the two museum stores for mementos to take home or give as gifts.

Outside the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum
Outside the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum

Make Sure to See it All

Remember that the entire collection is spread among three buildings which are a short walking distance apart from each other.

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