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San Diego, California

San Diego: Art Museums

With the opening of the recent Pacific Standard TimeArt in L.A. 1945-1980 arts initiative, it’s quickly become clear that the Southern California arts scene is no longer content to be ignored. Amid the palm trees and sprawling beaches of San Diego lies a noteworthy and emerging arts scene—from established museums to newly renovated galleries to eclectic street art, San Diego has something for everyone with a creative spark.

The San Diego Museum of Art (SDMART), located in the historic Balboa Park, officially opened its doors in 1926 and has since become home to classic Spanish works (from Goya and El Greco) as well as standout Italian works (from Giorgione to Veronese). The architecture of the museum itself is worth the journey, as the building’s façade recalls elaborate Spanish design. Throughout the year, the museum holds a “Culture and Cocktails” event, featuring live music and exotic drinks in an effort to showcase classic art in a new light.

Located within a stone’s throw of SDMART, the Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA) is one of the three museums in the United States dedicated exclusively to the collection and preservation of photography. Nearing its thirty-year mark, the museum holds works by Alfred Stieglitz and Dorothea Lange in its permanent collection, while featuring emerging local photographic and film works.

If classical oil paintings and photography aren’t your thing, check out the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (MCASD). With two locations—in La Jolla and Downtown—the museum serves as a hub for innovative art and a monthly Thursday Night Thing (TNT) series, which features live music, artist talks, and interactive performances.

Whether you’re a tried and true museum aficionado or an adventurous art-goer, there is surely something for you in San Diego’s alternative art scene. Though it may not be on the same playing field as the Bay Area arts scene, it’s still worth looking out for. (Alexandra Morales)

San Diego Art Museums: Art Museums Around San Diego

Below are our San Diego Art Museum recommendations, with information on location, admission, transportation/parking, museum history and other points of interest in San Diego Art.

Mingei International Museum

The Mingei International Museum has all types of art from around the globe. Its permanent collection, built since its establishment in 1978, includes more than 19,600 objects of folk art, craft, and design. In 1996, it moved into its current space, a 41,000-square-foot building to accommodate its burgeoning collection. Its collections are divided nationally and by region, and include art from Mexico, India, China, Japan, Indonesia, Africa, the Middle East, the U.S., and pre-Columbian art from Central and South America. ...more...

Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (MCASD)

One museum at two locations reflects all angles and edges of contemporary art. The original museum (in La Jolla) began in a community art center in 1941 and now the museum has a permanent endowment fund of more than $40 million, with an operating budget of $6 million. Besides being filled with innovative engaging art, both the downtown and La Jolla museum buildings themselves are worth a visit. ...more...

Museum of Photographic Arts

The museum seeks to inspire, educate, and preserve the broadest possible spectrum of photographic arts. Its permanent collection features 9,000 images by Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Stieglitz, Ruth Bernhard, and 850 other photographers. Since it was founded in 1983, the museum has been dedicated to conserving and exhibiting photography from the medium’s whole history. ...more...

San Diego Museum of Art (SDMART)

Situated in downtown’s Balboa Park (the home of the 1915–1916 Panama-Pacific Exhibition), the San Diego Museum of Art is the fortunate recipient of the largesse of several local families, most notably the Timkens, who put up the funds for the original building, and the Putnum sisters (Irene, Anne, and Amy), who donated more than two-thirds of the museum’s vast European collection. On the walls are paintings by Spanish artists Murillo, Zurbarán, Cotán, Ribera, and El Greco; Italian masters Giorgione, Giotto, Veronese, Luini, and Canaletto; as well as Rubens, Hals, and van Dyck from the Northern European School. ...more...

Timken Museum of Art

Another Balboa Park art museum built with Timken money and filled with European art by the Putnum sisters, here you’ll see masterpieces by many 16th- to 19th-century Spanish, Dutch, Flemish, French, and Italian artists, as well as some American art and Russian icons. ...more...