The Sophisticated Side of Beach Town USA
When you think of San Diego, what comes to mind first may be stunning beaches, beautiful people, killer weather, and maybe even the best zoo in the world. But San Diego is also proud to share its incredible arts and culture scene with visitors.
Balboa Park offers a landmark museum and cultural centers focused on varied subjects, such as the Museum of Photographic Arts, the San Diego Air & Space Museum, the San Diego Natural History Museum, and the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. Balboa Park is the natural first stop on your cultural tour of the sophisticated side of this famous beach town. It would be a mistake to simply stop there, however.
The San Diego Symphony Orchestra, for instance, has been an elite staple of American music for more than 100 years. After playing its first public concert in San Diego in 1910, SDSO earned the honor of being named a “Tier One Orchestra” by the League of American Orchestras in the year of its one hundredth anniversary. Now performing about 140 live concerts per year, including music by classical, jazz, and modern experimental composers, the SDSO is a staple of the San Diego arts and culture scene. Popular concert series include an outdoor Summer Nights concert series at Embarcadero Marina Park South, and a particularly lively series of events where the orchestra accompanies greatest hits from the silent film era.
San Diego is the crown jewel of Southern California for many reasons, and chief among them may be its stunning outdoor landscape. But this unique cultural city is home to some of the nation’s best performing artists and fine arts collections. All you have to do is look.
The city of San Diego claims nine distinct arts districts
- Best for Chicano street art, hip galleries: Barrio Logan.
- Best for public and gallery art by San Diego’s dynamic immigrant populations: City Heights.
- Best for cool, contemporary gallery spaces and the Music and Arts Library: La Jolla.
- Best for local emerging artists: Miramar and Clairemont.
- Best for historic mission architecture mixed with live theater selections: Mission Valley.
- Best for live music in the park and taking public art classes: Northeast.
- Best for impossibly hip, urban galleries and quirky art: North and South Park.
- Best for a mixture of art and history, dance studios, textile art, and classic Californian architecture: Point Loma.
- Best for film, street fairs, and multi-cultural art: Southeast.
Bread and Salt
A former bread factory, this cutting-edge gallery in Barrio Logan hosts experimental artists and the “Fresh Sound” music and composer series.
1955 Julian Ave. San Diego,
Athenaeum Music & Arts Library
This library is known for its popular jazz concerts. Visitors can also attend art and music lectures, chamber music concerts, and a school of the arts program.
1008 Wall St. La Jolla,
La Jolla Historical Society
Hosting rotating art exhibits and a research library, the Society also offers a popular “secret garden tour” and “modern homes tour.”
780 Prospect St. La Jolla,
UC San Diego’s Geisel Library
Geisel Library holds collections from longtime La Jolla resident Dr. Seuss. See original drawings, photos, manuscript proofs, books, and other delights.
9500 Gilman Dr. La Jolla,
Scripps Ranch Library
The Library is famous for its popular, year-round Scripps Ranch Symphony in the Park series.
10301 Scripps Lake Dr. San Diego,
Women’s Museum of California
Celebrate the rich and beautiful history of American women, from politics to sexuality.
2730 Historic Decatur Rd. San Diego,
The NAT: San Diego Natural History Museum
This museum is great for families. Visitors will learn about California’s natural history and view an impressive collection of fossils.
1788 El Prado (Balboa Park) San Diego, CA 92101
The San Diego Museum of Art
This world-class art museum features American collections as well as international exhibits.
1450 El Prado San Diego,
San Diego Museum of Man
This unique anthropological center hosts interesting exhibits on topics such as cannibalism, beerology, ethnicity, and street art.
1350 El Prado San Diego,
Museum of Photographic Arts
Featuring striking photography exhibits by famous and lesser-known photographers, this museum has something to offer for all ages.
1649 El Prado San Diego,
San Diego Air & Space Museum
If aviation and space exploration interest you, give yourself several hours to explore everything this landmark museum has to offer. Located in the former Ford building of Balboa Park, this museum is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
2001 Pan American Plaza San Diego, CA 92101
San Diego Model Railroad Museum
Living up to its motto, “Bringing California’s railroad history to life,” this unique stop on your museum tour is the largest indoor exhibit of its kind in North America. Lose yourself for hours in its 27,000 square feet of model trains.
1649 El Prado #4 San Diego, CA
San Diego Performing Arts Center
Referred to as San Diego’s premiere location for the performing arts, this auditorium and arts space hosts youth theater, African drumming, a charter school, and more in its 5,100-square-foot auditorium.
4579 Mission Gorge Place San Diego,
San Diego Automotive Museum
You already know that southern Californians love their cars. It’s common to see the freeways filled with high-end, luxury vehicles. However, you won’t often see historically important and impressive autos out on the road like the ones held at the museum. The dozens of vehicles exhibited here are part of the museum’s award-winning atmosphere of automotive history.
2080 Pan American Plaza San Diego,
San Diego Civic Theatre
This elegant concert hall and theater is home to San Diego’s Broadway-style shows and events.
1100 Third Ave. San Diego,
Marston House Museum & Gardens
Commissioned by George Marston and his wife, Anna, this striking example of the Arts and Crafts architectural movement was designed by William Sterling Hebbard and Irving Gill. The 8,500-square-foot home became a museum in 1987 and now hosts thousands of yearly visitors who come to walk its formal garden paths and view its historical architecture.
3525 Seventh Ave. San Diego,
La Jolla Playhouse
Located on the campus of UC San Diego, this non-profit professional theater, founded in 1947, has hosted Tony Award-winning plays and actors like Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire.
2910 La Jolla Village Dr. La Jolla,
The Spreckles Theatre
This historical building was built in 1912 and touted as “the first modern commercial playhouse west of the Mississippi.” This fixture of San Diego’s theater district strives to host the
finest cultural offerings of the area.
121 Broadway #600 San Diego,
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD)
If it’s happening now in the art world, you can find a piece of it at MCASD. Exciting and rotating exhibits highlight what’s meaningful in contemporary art. The museum also has an ethos of bringing art to youth. For instance, everyone under the age of 25 is admitted free of charge.
1100 Kettner Blvd. San Diego,
Whaley House Museum
Located in Old Town San Diego, the Whaley House, built in 1857, is a favorite destination for haunted folklore and ghost tours. Additionally, the home itself has been lovingly restored and is a historic example of mid 19th-century architecture.
2476 San Diego Ave. San Diego,
Copley Symphony Hall
First opened as the Fox Theatre in 1929, this beautiful concert hall has been home to the San Diego symphony since 1984.
750 B St. San Diego, CA 92101
Junipero Serra Museum
This museum, run by the San Diego History Center, houses its collections on regional history and culture in a beautiful Spanish revival structure. Its site just above Old Town San Diego in Presidio Park is greatly important, as it is the place where Europeans first landed in California.
Presidio Park, 2727 Presidio Dr. San Diego, CA 92103
San Diego Mormon Battalion Historic Site
Showcasing the history of the Mormon Battalion’s military service in the Mexican-American war, this historic site’s museum is good family fun. Live-action historical actors make history come to life.
2510 Juan St. San Diego,