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San Diego Museums and Parks Guide

Whether you’re already living in San Diego or if you’re visiting for the first or the nth time, there are always new sites and attractions that are must-see for every local and tourist. Take a look at some of the city’s best destinations through this comprehensive San Diego Museums and Parks Guide by San Diego Party Ride.

In a city where the weather is pleasant all year round, San Diego is certainly a great destination for any traveler no matter the season. If you’re looking for a place to bring your family, San Diego, California should surely be one of your top choices. With all their parks and museums, one day wouldn’t be enough because both kids and kids at heart would definitely have the time of their lives! Below are some of the top destinations you can include in your travel itinerary.

Must-Visit San Diego Museums and Parks

Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium San Diego

Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public exploration center for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego. Be overwhelmed by the fun and excitement this destination brings. Enjoy countless activities and have a perfect view of the Pacific Ocean at the Birch Aquarium. During your visit, you will see over 60 habitats of more than 5,000 fishes and invertebrates that come from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest, the tropical waters of Mexico, and beyond. They also have an oceanographic museum which showcases research discoveries by Scripps Oceanography scientists.

There are a variety of events happening yearly at the Birch Aquarium. Make sure you schedule your visit around the event dates to make your trip even more special. Some of these events include the Springfest: Immersion, which is an evening of live music inspired by the sea, the Seas ‘n’ Greetings that happens during the Christmas holiday season, World Oceans Day, spring celebrations with the Eggstravaganza, the Haunted Aquarium that features science’s amusing spooky side, California Shakeout, California Coastal Cleanup, and a number of book signing events.

When visiting the Birch Aquarium, here are 5 stops you shouldn’t miss these attractions, which are certainly some of the best San Diego museums and parks:

Kelp Forest

There are plenty of kelp forests across most of San Diego’s waters where many species of sea creatures are found. The Birch Aquarium has a Giant Kelp Forest, which is a two-story 70,000-gallon tank that boasts of countless colorful fishes and other sea animals. It’s literally a giant tank so you wouldn’t miss it during your visit!

The Very Old and Huge Bubble Coral

This old Bubble Coral is approximately 2 feet tall and 30 inches across. It surely is a sight to see and it’s magnificent to experience something that may have existed before you did. This huge Bubble Coral has been with the Aquarium for 27 years!

Falcifer Butterflyfish

There are only four of these fish available for public viewing and Birch Aquarium has two of them! This fantastic pair has been with the aquarium for over 20 years. Falcifer was first chosen as the logo for Birch Aquarium.

Catalina (Bluebanded) Goby

Catalina Goby is commonly found in Catalina Island located 25 miles off the California Coast. This beautiful brightly colored fish is from the Eastern Pacific Ocean and is surely a sight to see.

Seahorse Propagation

The seahorse propagation facility can be found in the kids’ area of the Birch Aquarium. You will see bubbling planktons and seahorses in their different life stages when you visit this spot.

The underwater world remains mysterious and exciting for everyone. At Birch Aquarium, you need not dive into the depths of the sea just to enjoy the beautiful and relaxing sight of all these water creatures. You may schedule your visit on any day from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The establishment is closed on some holidays so you better check with them before going. Tickets are available online or through the ticket booth at the Birch Aquarium. 

Balboa Park

Balboa Park San Diego

Balboa Park is a safe, family-friendly place where you can enjoy a large number of attractions in the heart of San Diego. The park is packed with things to enjoy for everyone! It has 17 museums, several mesmerizing gardens, some performing arts venues, and many other cultural and recreational attractions. You can also find the world famous San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park. This is a destination you wouldn’t want to miss when visiting this beautiful city. It was originally called City Park and was declared a national historic landmark. Just a few minutes from downtown, this amazing park is ranked as one of the best parks in the world!

Balboa Park is the largest urban cultural park in the United States. Because there are so many places to see and enjoy in just one park, it is best to plan your trip in advance. Most definitely, if you’re visiting San Diego, you’re trip wouldn’t be complete without making a stop here. Among the many attractions, you can visit in Balboa Park are the following:

Botanical Gardens

If you’re tired of all the concrete of urban living, the Botanical Gardens of Balboa Park will certainly give you a breath of fresh air. There are more than 2,100 plants here. Because of its undeniable picturesque charm, you shouldn’t forget your camera so you can take plenty of photos in the Botanical Gardens.

Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center is for those who are in love with the magic and mystery of science. Kids of all ages will definitely enjoy the interactive displays. They can touch and play with many of the exhibits giving them a unique scientific experience. The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, established in 1973, is home to the world’s first IMAX movie dome.

Museum of Man

If human history never fails to amuse you, then you will definitely love the Museum of Man. Discover the life of the past and learn what they had then versus what we have now. The attractions are endless. You’ll see instruments of torture from centuries and decades ago. You may also have a taste of a variety of beers at the BEERology exhibit where they can show you the ancient craft of beer brewing. You mustn’t miss out on the Ancient Egypt exhibit if you want to see ancient artifacts and real mummies. There’s also a monster creation and myth area. If you’re not tired yet, you can climb up the California Tower so you can have the best view of San Diego.

If you have any concerns or questions while you’re at the Balboa Park, you can simply visit the Balboa Park Visitor Center. The staff is known to be very nice and accommodating. They’re right across the Prado Restaurant by the House of Hospitality. They have the most current and comprehensive information on the numerous activities and attractions that take place at the park. They also offer brochures, maps, guided tours, and other recommendations.

You may visit Balboa Park any day from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM except on some holidays, so make sure you check their schedule before going!

Mission Bay Park

Mission Bay Park San Diego

One of the most famous aquatic sites in San Diego and the largest of its kind in the United States, Mission Bay Park is more than 4,200 acres of land and water. There are swimming areas in eight of the 19 sandy beaches across 27 miles of shoreline. There are an estimated 15,000,000 visitors coming to the park yearly!

Whether you simply want to sunbathe on the beach, enjoy thrilling water sports with friends, play beach volley and frisbee, or ride bikes around the beautiful park, needless to say, a day would never be enough to enjoy all of Mission Bay Park.

It took about a couple of decades between the 1940’s and the 1960’s to develop the Mission Bay Park. All the effort was worth it because it continues to be enjoyed by millions of locals and tourists every day. To ensure that it remains available for the public to use, there was a ban on private ownership of land and permanent residential developments in the area. Furthermore, there are limitations to commercial developments too so that the beauty of the Mission Bay Park will remain preserved.

Because it is so large, you must plan your trip in advance. Among the places you can visit in Mission Bay Park are the following:

  • Bonita Cove
  • Crown Point
  • De Anza Cove
  • Fiesta Island
  • Hospitality Point
  • Mariner’s Point
  • Mission Point
  • Model Yacht Pond
  • Playa Pacifica
  • Rose Marie Starns South Shores Park
  • Ski Beach
  • Sunset Point
  • Tecolote Shores North
  • Vacation Isle
  • Ventura Cove

Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter San Diego

Gaslamp Quarter is in the historic heart of San Diego. Its breathtaking Victorian architecture and rich history make this tourist attraction one of the must-visit places in the city. There are plenty of activities for adults and kids of all ages. There are theaters, art galleries, concert venues, symphony halls, and museums are abundant. Thankfully, there are walking tours available so you can enjoy most if not all of this tourist site during your visit.

You can spend an hour and a half at the Children’s Architectural Tour. It costs only $6 for kids and adults. You can contact the Visitor Services Manager at 619-233-4692 or via e-mail at to schedule a tour.

Gaslamp Thursday Walking Tour is every Thursday at 1:00 PM. The Saturday Tour is at 11:00 AM. Both start at starting at the Davis-Horton House at 410 Island Ave. and lasts 90 minutes rain or shine. Ghosts of the Gaslamp Walking Tour lets you experience haunted history with Davis-Horton House Historian, Sandee Wilhoit, who will recount ghostly happenings of the past and present. The tour takes place on Fridays at 5:00 PM, lasts 90 minutes and the walking distance is about half a mile. You may also get on the historic walking tour where you can learn the Gaslamp Quarter’s remarkable history and enjoy capturing photos of the Victorian architecture. 

After the long walks, you surely want to re-energize with their mouth-watering meals and refreshments from a vast selection of cuisines you can choose from. The Gaslamp Quarter comes with numerous restaurants and fast-food joints where you can enjoy dishes of all kinds to your heart’s content. Restaurant areas and choices include Steakhouse, Seafood, American, Italian, Sushi, Mexican, Pizza, Ethnic, Late Night, and Quick Bites. Because of the abundance of food choices, eating will surely play a huge part before, during, and after your tours around the Gaslamp Quarter.

Whaley House Museum

Whaley House Museum San Diego

The Whaley House is a Greek Revival structure built in 1857 by Thomas Whaley, an early settler in San Diego California. He first used the building as a storage room but later on converted to a county courthouse between 1869 and 1870. It was the first ever brick house in San Diego. The area where it was built is now known as Old Town. The Whaley House building is incredibly magnificent as the bricks used to build it was made at Whaley’s kiln, a huge oven or a heated enclosure used for burning or drying pottery and bricks. Plaster walls made from seashells adds to the overall uniqueness of the house. The upper floor rooms were used as meeting rooms and also became San Diego’s first commercial theatre. The Whaley family lived there only until 1885 before moving to New Town, now known as Downtown San Diego.

People are drawn to the Whaley house because of its beautiful architecture. More than that, it is also known to be one of the most haunted houses in the United States. Some would say that one glance at this house and you can already tell there’s something peculiar or even scary about it. Learning about its dark history can give you chills up your spine. It is highly recommended for you to do some advanced reading on the history of the Whaley house prior to visiting to appreciate it even more.

It has been written that the Whaley house is built over grounds that used to be public gallows where people were executed. One of the few who faced a tragic death was the controversial Yankee Jim Robinson who was hung in 1852, five years before Whaley House was built. Stories say that his feet were scraping the ground while he hung from the noose and it took almost close to an hour before he died. There are some Whaley house visitors who would claim that Robinson’s ghost still haunts the area especially by the stairs, which is said to the exact spot where he died.

It is one of Southern California’s most popular tourist destinations with approximately 125,000 people visitors annually. It is open all year round, closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas day. They close at 5:00 PM on the 4th of July, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Tickets are sold at the Whaley House Museum Shop right next door to the Whaley House. The shop also carries a selection of Whaley House souvenirs, such as t-shirts, shot glasses, coffee and beer mugs, and a lot more.

Other museums you can visit while you’re in the area are:

  • Adobe Chapel
  • Derby-Pendleton House
  • Marston House Museum & Gardens
  • Santa Ysabel Store & Backcountry Visitor Center
  • Warner-Carrillo Ranch House
  • Whaley House Museum

USS Midway Museum

USS Midway Museum San Diego

San Diego is a huge military town. You will see bases all over the city, especially around the San Diego Bay. The USS Midway Museum is a must-visit and they offer tours throughout the entire property. It is home to what was once the glorious USS Midway carrier who saved thousands of lives during the war era.

USS Midway was the longest-serving aircraft carrier. It played an important role in the chaotic period of the 20th century and became host to 225,000 sailors. It was built during the desperate times of World War II and was only commissioned after a week of the said war. The USS Midway was once the largest ship and was the first US aircraft carrier to pass the Panama Canal. USS Midway has been a part of world history as it aided not only the United States but many of its allied countries.

For 47 years, the USS Midway has played a major role in some of the most historic operations and exercises after World War II including Operation FROSTBITE, Operation SANDY, NATO exercises, SILVER LANCE exercise, Operation FREQUENT WIND, Exercise TEAM SPIRIT, MIDLINK ’77, JMSDF (Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force), Operation ERNEST WILL, Operation CLASSIC RESOLVE, Operation DESERT SHIELD and Operation DESERT STORM. It was witness to the action in the Vietnam War and served as the Persian Gulf flagship in Operation Desert Storm.

On April 11, 1992, the USS Midway was decommissioned in San Diego. It remained in storage in Bremerton, Washington until 2003 and was donated to the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum. The USS Midway Museum opened in June 2004 offering the opportunity to explore 60 different exhibits and 29 restored aircraft aboard, including some that have flown in World War II. Your visit comprises of a self-guided audio tour where you can have a look at the crew’s sleeping quarters, engine room, ship’s jail and the primary flight control room. There’s also a cafe where you can have a snack or meal during your visit. The museum has a gift shop where you could buy unique gifts, souvenirs, and clothing. There are also nearby attractions you could visit including the Seaport Village, Embarcadero Marina Park, and the San Diego Children’s Museum.

Belmont Park

Belmont Park San Diego

Belmont Park offers numerous attractions and exciting activities for every member of the family. It is most known for The Giant Dipper, which is the most noticeable attraction in the entire park mainly because of its gigantic size. You will also find an old-fashioned carousel and bumper cars for that classic and vintage playtime feel.

The Wave House is also in Belmont Park. It has two simulation rides, the Flowrider and the Flowbarrel. There’s also the Rush Laser Tag and Arcade that would certainly sweat you out!

Belmont Park is located west of Sea World in San Diego at 3146 Mission Blvd. in the heart of Mission Beach. They are always open and their attractions can be enjoyed from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM, Mondays through Thursdays and 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM, Fridays through Saturdays. Do visit the Belmont Park website for a complete list of attractions and calendar of events.

The Best San Diego Museums and Parks Experience with San Diego Party Ride

We understand how you want your vacation in San Diego to be as relaxing and enjoyable as possible. Being behind the wheel as the designated driver can get tiring especially if you don’t know your way around the city. San Diego Party Ride has a fleet of limousines and party buses to choose from whether you’re a party of 2 or a large group of friends and family. Our transportation services are safe and reliable, just perfect for your trip around the best San Diego museums and parks. We transport passengers from San Diego International Airport (SAN) to any theme park or museum they desire! With an epic fleet including San Diego Shuttle Buses, Coach Buses, Party Buses, and Limousines, we have your transportation needs covered. Call us at 619-354-1429 to book your very own ride!