December 15, 2023

Know Before You Go: Top Tips for Visiting the Art Museum

The San Diego Museum of Art

Welcome to The San Diego Museum of Art in beautiful Balboa Park, San Diego. Compiled here are some of our top tips to help you get the most from your visit to the art museum and Balboa Park.

Getting to the Museum

The San Diego Museum of Art is located at 1450 El Prado in the heart of Balboa Park. Walk, bike, bus, trolley, or drive. There are countless ways to get here. The best access to the Museum is by way of Park Boulevard or the historic Cabrillo Bridge. Explore our helpful driving directions to Balboa Park and the Museum for details on how to best approach the Museum by car from the north, east, south, or west.

Parking in Balboa Park is free and available to the public throughout the park. The closest parking to the Museum is in the Alcazar lot, located southwest of the Museum and just a short walk away. The Organ Pavilion parking lot has abundant parking located a 10-minute walk from the Museum. Additional parking is available in the Inspiration Point, Palisades, Federal, Balboa, Natural History, and Zoo parking lots. Handicap parking is available in all lots.

Trams are available for free to transport you into the heart of Balboa Park from three parking lots. Trams run daily from Balboa Park parking areas at Inspiration Point, on Pan American Plaza, and behind the Hall of Champions, stopping at the Plaza de Panama in front of the Museum. With stops in or near three major parking lots, the free Balboa Park Tram loops around the cultural district throughout the day. Trams pick up/drop off at each of its five stops every eight to ten minutes, though delays may occur during especially busy times in the park.

Public transportation is available through the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS), which provides easy bus access to Balboa Park from downtown San Diego, North Park, Hillcrest, and Mission Valley. MTS public transportation maps and routes to Balboa Park are available online. Review the times for Bus Route 120, Bus Route 7, and Bus Route 215, the main bus routes that serve Balboa Park.

Biking into Balboa Park is also simple. There are new and improved bike paths along Park Boulevard and bike racks are available throughout the park, including in front of the Museum.

Getting to the Museum once in Balboa Park is a quick walk away. Walk toward the heart of Balboa Park and you’ll see the Museum anchoring the Plaza de Panama, opposite the Plaza de Panama Fountain and El Cid Statue. Entry into the Museum is up the stairs or via the ADA ramp at the right of the building entrance.

What to Bring (and Leave at Home)

Here’s what to bring, and what to please leave at home, for the best art museum experience.

We recommend bringing the following into the Museum: smiles, friends and family of all ages, and cameras without flash. Also, please note that The San Diego Museum of Art is located in the heart of Balboa Park. As such, we recommend wearing comfortable shoes to walk through the park and within our twenty Museum galleries. You may also want to bring a camera to capture the sights within the park and Museum. We encourage you to share your Museum experience and photos with friends on social media. Photographs may not be published, sold, reproduced, transferred, distributed, or otherwise commercially exploited in any manner. Flash photography and video recording is prohibited in the galleries.

Items to please leave at home include oversized bags and objects that could unintentionally damage the art. Bags larger than 16x16x8 inches are not permitted in the Museum. The following items are also not allowed in the Museum: umbrellas, backpacks, baby carriers worn on the back, food or beverage, plants, and other large items. Flash photography, the use of tripods, monopods, extension sticks (also known as selfie sticks), and the use of movie or video recording are prohibited. Please plan to leave these items at home. Pets and emotional support animals are also not permitted within the Museum.

Enhancing the Art Museum Experience: Museum Amenities 

The Museum has a variety of free amenities available to help enhance your time at the Museum and make your visit more accessible.

Coat check is a complimentary service offered to all Museum guests. While we may not often have coats on in sunny San Diego, coat check is also available to stow food, drinks, backpacks, and oversized items, including bags exceeding 16x16x8 inches and umbrellas, as these items are not allowed inside the Museum. This is a free option to all, so we encourage its use.

Wheelchairs and walkers at the Museum are available for your convenience. The Museum has complimentary wheelchairs and walkers available for use on a first come, first served basis while visiting the Museum. Please inquire at the admission desk and have a driver’s license available for holding. We regret that wheelchairs and walkers cannot be reserved in advance, nor may they leave the building. All parts of the Museum are accessible to visitors using wheelchairs or mobility equipment. The access ramp entrance is located at the east end of the front of the Museum and an elevator is located in the Museum rotunda.

Portable stools are also available to all Museum guests. These fold-out, backless seats can be carried throughout the Museum so you can sit to ponder or sketch the art on view without being reliant on the bench seating scattered throughout the galleries. Please ask about these stools at the admission desk to learn more and check out a portable stool for use while inside the Museum.

Plan Your Visit to the Art Museum

The San Diego Museum of Art’s collections include more than 32,000 objects from across the globe, and that range in date from 3,000 B.C. to the present. Exhibitions showcase works from the permanent collection as well as art loans and touring exhibitions developed with Museum curators. The 20 galleries in The San Diego Museum of Art and five galleries at our nearby Museum of Photographic Arts at The San Diego Museum of Art (MOPA@SDMA) exhibit works from around the world and across time and media. Visit our Exhibitions webpage to see what’s currently on view and allot one to three hours to explore the Museum in person.

Free guided tours are available daily. Highly trained Museum docents offer multiple tours each day. Free with Museum admission, each tour lasts approximately 40-50 minutes. No pre-registration is required, but space may be limited. Meet your tour guide at the Docent Desk in the Museum rotunda prior to the posted tour time.

The San Diego Museum of Art app brings the Museum collection to life. Hear fascinating stories behind the art, artists, and styles through curator-led videos and custom audio tours. Powered by Guru, the award-winning San Diego Museum of Art app features beacon-enabled technology that interacts with smartphones to show location-specific content as visitors move through the galleries. From historical significance to entertaining factoids, the app provides insight and perspective in the palm of your hand. Plus, see art come to life with augmented reality! The San Diego Museum of Art app is free and easily downloadable on iOS and Android devices. Download the free San Diego Museum of Art app from the App Store or Google Play.

Service animals are welcome inside The San Diego Museum of Art. Service animals that are trained to do work or perform specific tasks for the benefit of an individual with disabilities are welcome at the Museum. For more information about service animals please visit the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) informational webpage on service animals. Pets and emotional support animals are also not permitted within the Museum.

Youth 17 and under visit free. The Museum is great for all ages and youth 17 and under always receive free admission. Children younger than 14 years of age must be accompanied by a parent or other adult (age 18 years or older) at all times. We request one adult chaperone for every ten children under the age of 15.

The Museum’s sculpture garden is free to all guests and a great place to enjoy the San Diego sunshine alongside a range of Modern and Contemporary sculptures. Located past the Panama 66 restaurant, the May S. Marcy Sculpture Garden features lush landscaping, picturesque views of the California Tower and San Diego sunsets, and abundant twentieth-century sculptures. The garden has a large and versatile lawn that can accommodate presentations, ceremonies, alfresco film, receptions, and seated meals.

The Sculpture Garden is open 11:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays; 4:00 p.m. –10:00 p.m. Wednesdays; 11:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Thursdays; 11:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 11:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m. Sundays when private events are not occurring. Entry is free. Drinks purchased from the Panama 66 restaurant may be enjoyed in the Sculpture Garden. Otherwise, no food or outside drinks are allowed inside the garden at any time. As inside the Museum, we ask that guests do not touch, lean on, or place items on the sculpture pedestals.

Dine at the Museum. Enjoy outdoor dining at Panama 66, The San Diego Museum of Art restaurant located in the May S. Marcy Sculpture Court. Take in views of the Museum’s sculpture garden and enjoy local craft beers on tap, exhibitions-themed cocktails and dishes, and locally sourced seasonal sandwiches, salads, and entrees.

Appreciating the Art on View

We have a few guidelines in place to help keep you, fellow patrons, and the art on view safe. These guidelines and the presence of security personnel are in place for the safety and preservation of the treasures on display, all of which are original works of art.

Art needs personal space too. We know it’s tempting to get super close to the art to see each small detail, but we kindly ask visitors to keep 12 inches from the art, and we have tape on the floor throughout the Museum to help you visualize that safe distance. Think of it as giving the art some personal space. For the safety of the art, we ask that backpacks be worn on the front and large items be checked in coat check. Please do not lean on walls or cases, either to write or for physical support. Feel free to sit on the benches or the floor as you look, talk, write, or draw.

Keeping a safe space from the art also means that we ask visitors not to touch the art, including outdoor sculptures. Though one touch may not seem like much, even the slightest contact can damage the surface of a painting, discolor stone, and even rust metal. It is our goal to preserve the art in our collection for future generations, keeping it as the artists intended it to be seen. We thank you for your consideration.

Thanks so much for your interest in The San Diego Museum and MOPA@SDMA! We look forward to seeing you soon!