Major San Diego museums
Exuberant landscaping and highbrow culture go hand-in-hand in the 1,200-acre Balboa Park. Two major expositions held at Balboa Park, in 1915 and 1935, raised San Diego’s international prestige and gave the park a series of ornate, Spanish-style buildings. Although the buildings were intended to be temporary, their elegant profile amid the park’s palm trees won the hearts of locals; many have survived into the present and several of them now hold sizeable museums.
The park’s major museums are located in two sites. To the south, the Aerospace Historical Centre (http://sandiegoairandspace.org) holds hundreds of pioneering aircraft and spacecraft, and the Automotive Museum (http://sdautomuseum.org) stores some splendid vintage cars. If art is more to your taste than engineering, concentrate on the northern section of the park. Here, along El Prado, a call into the Museum of Art (http://www.sdmart.org)finds European Old Masters, Far Eastern and Asian treasures and a strong trove of American art. Complement it with a visit to the Timkin Museum (http://www.timkenmuseum.org), which has some wonderful Russian icons alongside works by Rembrandt, Rubens and Cézanne, and by casting an eye over the contemporary works displayed in the gallery of the San Diego Art Institute (http://www.sandiego-art.org).
Also on El Prado are the Museum of Natural History (http://www.sdnhm.org) – with fossils and precious stones in abundance – and the Museum of Man (http://www.museumofman.org), with interesting but lightweight displays on Native American cultures and in-depth accounts of anthropological expeditions. Several smaller collections – the Museum of San Diego History, the Museum of Photography, the Hall of Champions and the San Diego Railroad Museum – are also worthwhile.
Don’t feel obliged to visit all of Balboa Park’s museums: there’s much to be said for simply strolling and picnicking, and making a leisurely exploration of the park’s minor attractions, such as the Palm Arboretum, the Spreckels Organ Pavilion – with 5,000 pipes, claimed to be the world’s largest pipe organ – and the arts and crafts work shops of the Spanish Village.
Balboa Park also has its share of evening activities. Diverse dramatic productions are staged at the Old Globe Theatre (https://www.theoldglobe.org) – a replica of its 15thC London namesake. There’s opera at the Casa del Prado Theatre, and giant-screen IMAX films, exploring the natural world and beyond it, are shown at the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theatre and Science Centre (http://www.rhfleet.org).
Winter sun: Balboa Park and the San Diego area have winter sunshine.
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