Art Museums To Visit In The San Diego & Imperial Counties

Balboa Park is known as the Smithsonian of the West. It houses a rich history of the arts and offers cultural offerings that includes 17 museums and performing arts venues. It’s a 1,200-acre urban cultural park in San Diego with so much to offer. The park’s site is one of the oldest in the United States dedicated to public recreational use and was named after the Spanish maritime explorer, Vasco Núñez de Balboa. The Panama-California International Exposition, held in Balboa Park during 1915–1916 celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, promoted San Diego as a seaport, and also showcased San Diego as a growing cultural center. Today, Balboa Park and the surrounding areas in San Diego and the Imperial County offers amazing opportunities to engage in and celebrate the arts. You can check out some of them below.

The San Diego Museum of Art

1450 El Prado, Balboa Park,
San Diego, CA 92101

The San Diego Art Museum building itself is a work of art that is deeply rooted in rich history. You can see immediately see the carefully detailed Spanish Colonial–style architecture of the 1915 Exposition in architect William Templeton Johnson upon arrival, but people stay for the fine arts of painting and sculpture.

Visiting the museum is easy too if you are a resident. The San Diego Museum of Art offers free admission to San Diego County Residents (with ID) on the third Tuesday of every month. And for non-residents and residents alike, museum attendees can sit back enjoy craft cocktails or draft beer, take in the view of the Museum’s Sculpture Court and Garden, and enjoy an evening of music from San Diego’s finest jazz musicians every Wednesday at Panama 66, a counter service restaurant at the museum.

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

MCASD Downtown
1100 & 1001 Kettner Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92101

MCASD La Jolla is closed for a major renovation and expansion project that will quadruple current gallery space, but you can see “Yve Laris Cohen: Meeting Ground” at the Downtown San Diego location until September 2, 2018. At the downtown location museum goers can experience contemporary art in a historic setting at the Jacobs Building, which formerly was the Santa Fe Depot baggage building. From there, you can view a site-specific installation by artist Richard Serra.

Timken Museum of Art

1500 El Prado, Balboa Park
San Diego CA 92101

Timken Museum of Art is a fine art museum that was established in 1965. It is the only Balboa Park museum with free admission, but you should definitely check out this museum for its collection.  In 2015, in honor of the Museum’s 50th anniversary, the Timken acquired a Zurbarán 3/4 portrait of St. Francis in meditation. The Timken is the only San Diego museum with a Rembrandt in its permanent collection.

The museum’s founding benefactors, Amy and Anne Putnam, were related to two Revolutionary War generals, Israel Putnam and Rufus Putnam. Coincidentally, one of the museum’s most important acquisitions in recent decades is the John Singleton Copley painting of the woman who may well have triggered the Revolutionary War, Margaret Kemble Gage.

Mingei International Museum

Balboa Park, Plaza de Panama
1439 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101

The word mingei, meaning ‘art of the people,’ was coined by the Japanese scholar Dr. Sōetsu Yanagi by combining the Japanese words for all people (min) and art (gei), which fits this museum’s mission. Mingei International Museum has a focus on objects of use that arise from daily life in cultures around the world, demonstrating beauty in the unexpected and pure expressions of human creativity. You can discover folk art, craft, and design in the museum’s growing collection featuring over 26,000 objects from 141 countries. If you want to come to a place rich in human history visit the Mingei International Museum.

Oceanside Museum of Art

704 Pier View Way
Oceanside, CA 92054

Oceanside Museum of Art, located in Oceanside, began holding exhibits in 1995.  It doesn’t take long to walk through, but the exhibits offer a great array of media with a beautiful display of work from local artists. You can currently view the “Big Read Partnership,” “The Museum of Civilization,” and “Survival Is Insufficient” exhibitions that are in partnership with Oceanside Public Library and whose themes surround the novel, Station Eleven, until August 5. However, there are a number of innovative exhibitions that run through the fall that you can check out as well. This museum is very community-oriented and does an amazing job of celebrating art through engagement, education, and innovation.


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