the ultimate san diego family getaway part 4: museums and galleries

Our correspondent, MJ, packed her family, their bags and their passports and headed to San Diego for the ultimate family getaway. This is Part Four of a series feature on some of the many family-friendly adventures available in the coastal city. In this post, MJ gives us the scoop on some notable museums and galleries in San Diego. Be sure to check out part one, two, and three

For a city with seemingly endless sunshine, San Diego also offers a lot of activities that don’t require “solar power.” It’s home to over 70 museums, historical sites and galleries and while we obviously didn’t see all of them, here are some that we did like and a couple more that we wished we had time for.

San Diego Natural History Museum

Also known as “The Nat,” this museum is located in Balboa Park and is the oldest “scientific institution” in Southern California. With four levels full of educational wonder, there is always something for the kids to “ooh” and “ahh” at.


In addition to the fossil and prehistoric exhibits (notably seeing the skeleton of a giant sloth, which was pretty darn big indeed), the Nat also has some California-centric exhibits. The one we liked the best was Coast to Cactus in Southern California, which is a new exhibit to the museum. We were able to learn about what animals can be found locally, how diverse the San Diego landscape is, and even had the chance to sit in a small Airstream camper and feel like one with nature.


The kids really liked the “Unshelved” exhibit, which gives visitors a behind the scenes look at all the different specimens that the museum has catalogued and stored. To be honest, the kids liked this exhibit because of all the jars of animal poop they got to see. But in addition, it was cool to see a variety of insects, and everything from feathers to shiny gemstones and bones. It’s hard to imagine why any of this stuff would ever be stored away!


San Diego Natural History Museum
1788 El Prado, San Diego
Tickets are $19 for adults, $12 for kids 3-12 (free under 2)

Tips & Tricks

  • The San Diego Natural History Museum is located in Balboa Park, which houses a lot of other cool museums, gardens, and attractions. If you have the time, spend the whole day there and check out the Fleet Science Centre, Museum of Man, San Diego Air & Space Museum, The San Diego Museum of Art, and of course, the San Diego Zoo.
  • If you are thinking of checking out more than one museum at Balboa Park, look into the Balboa Park Explorer Pass to save some money.
  • We didn’t get a chance to experience the theatre, but the museum also they have the largest Dolby® 3D theater for a museum in California. Check their website for the daily theatre schedule.
  • The museum is stroller-friendly, but avoid bringing it if you can. There’s so much to see that the kids just ran from one exhibit to the next, leaving our stroller empty 99% of the time.
  • Make sure to check the website ahead of time for the daily events and operating hours.
  • The Nat also encourages visitors to download the “Wifarer” app for a more engaging museum experience.

USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway was actually one of the longest-serving aircraft carriers (1945-1992). It only “recently” became a museum in 2004 and has become one of the most popular warship museums in the USA. After spending a good chunk of our day there, we understood why.

It is gigantic.

While there were flight simulator rides available and the “Voice of the Midway” movie in the Battle of the Midway theatre, the kids really just wanted to explore, so we did. The Midway has self-guided audio tours tailored for adults and for the kids, a Junior Pilot Program, where they have a kid-friendly self-guided audio tour and a fun “scavenger hunt” based on the tour. At the end of the tour, the kids can hand in their checklist to get a pair of their own “wings” complete with a super-short (but cute) ceremony from a USS Midway Docent.


Being able to explore almost the entire aircraft carrier was really cool. We had recently learned that Dave’s uncle served on the USS Midway, which really hit home as we walked through the ship. We went Below Deck and walked through the “chow line” and wardroom (kitchen and dining area), the “sick bay” where crew members had doctor visits and dental checkups and even experienced the Engine Room, where working conditions would get really (really) hot. The ceilings are low and the living spaces are tight; crew members had to live in those conditions for extended periods, which blew Olivia’s mind.



Our favourite part was the Flight Deck and seeing all the different planes that may have landed at one point or another. We walked through all the different aircraft and couldn’t even imagine the level of skill required to land your airplane on a floating vessel. There were a few military ceremonies happening at the same time, which really added to the whole Midway experience.


I also wanted to highlight the amount of people it takes to staff the USS Midway every day. From ticketholders, greeters, tour guides and more, it is 100% volunteer-run, with many of them being former military members. Everyone was super helpful and very knowledgeable. Whether your kids like airplanes or not, this is a must-do while in San Diego.

USS Midway Museum
910 N Harbor Drive, San Diego
Tickets are $23 for adults, $17 for students 13-17, $10 for kids 6-12 (under 5 free)

Tips & Tricks

  • Save $2 and avoid the lines by purchasing your tickets in advance
  • They are open every day from 10am -5pm
  • We highly recommend that the kids participate in the Junior Pilot Program. It’s super easy to complete and gives them something to look forward to!
  • While the Flight Deck and the Hanger Deck are pretty spacious, the exhibits Below Deck are narrow and can feel cramped when busy.
  • There is a café that serves lunch fare on the ship.
  • There are lots of stairs and lots of people, so avoid bringing a stroller.
  • Don’t forget to take a picture at the nearby Unconditional Surrender statue!

Comic Art Gallery

My husband’s ultimate dream would be to attend the San Diego Comic-Con. While the timing was off (and the tickets to Comic-Con are way beyond our budget), we settled for checking out some local comic stores, including visiting the San Diego Comic Art Gallery.

We stumbled into the gallery after eating lunch at Liberty Public Market, which is filled with yummy food options and craft vendors. The market is part of Liberty Station, which used to be an old Navy Training Centre. Now it’s full of cool little eateries, shops and galleries, like the Comic Art Gallery. While the comic gallery itself is fairly small, Dave spent some time catching up with an old friend (“Galaga” the arcade game) and the kids did enjoy seeing the larger-than-life Raphael statue, not to mention the room full of comic memorabilia. We did spend a couple hours exploring Liberty Station; so if you have time to spare, make sure to wander around!


Additionally, Comickaze Comics, Books and More is located right across the gallery for those who need an additional comic and graphic novel fix. Bonus: they have some pretty neat kids book selections too!

Comic Art Gallery
2765 Truxtun Road, San Diego
Admission is free

The New Children’s Museum

Located just in between Gaslamp Quarter and Seaport Village (where you can catch a SEAL Tour), The New Children’s Museum is a place where kids can “think, play and create,” through hands-on art installations that encourage creativity and using all senses.

photo from New Children’s Museum

We were bummed that we didn’t get the opportunity to check it out. There are numerous exhibits that our kids definitely would have enjoyed, including the MAKE/SHIFT exhibit, where kids can let their imaginations soar among a collection of furniture, fabric, cardboard boxes, ropes and other “loose parts” (pretty much the best place ever), Woobleland, a toddler area themed like a giant kitchen sink and we also would have liked to drop in on one of the many art studio classes available. To celebrate their 35th year (and 10th as the New Children’s Museum), they’re currently raising money to bring back the “No Rules Except…” exhibit, which is literally, a room full of mattresses and pillows. How awesome is that!

The New Children’s Museum
200 W. Island Avenue, San Diego
Tickets are $14 for adults and children (under 1 free)

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Because of traffic and bad timing, we never made it to La Jolla, where the Birch Aquarium at Scripps is located. About a 10-minute drive from the popular Children’s Pool Beach, Birch Aquarium is part of the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego, so it only makes sense to have the public visit and learn about ocean science through their exhibits and interactive programs.

photo by Birch Aquarium

Notably, they have numerous feedings daily, where “aquarists” feed sharks, sea turtles, invertebrates and more. You can even watch them dive into the 70,000 gallon, two-storey high Giant Kelp Forest, which is home to many species found locally in San Diego’s waters.

Coming up in June (just in time for summer vacation), they’re introducing “Oddities: Hidden Heroes of the Scripps Collections” a new comic book-inspired exhibit showcasing ocean species and their “super powers.”

Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Tickets are $18.50 for adults and $14 for children 3-17 (Under 2 free)

There is definitely no shortage of things to do in San Diego. The biggest takeaway we got from visiting was that whether you stay outside or take it indoors, family-friendly fun is definitely within arms reach!

By: Marjolyn “MJ” Dimapilis

yoyomama was provided with complimentary admission to these attractions in return for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are our contributor’s own and not influenced by the San Diego Natural History Museum, USS Midway Museum, Comic Art Gallery, the New Children’s Museum or the Birch Aquarium at Scripps.

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