Free Tuesdays in Balboa Park

Residents and active military can get free admission

Panoramic view of the facade of an ethnic building, Alcazar Garden, Balboa Park, San Diego, California
  Glowimages/Getty Images 

As a public service to San Diego, most of the museums and galleries in the Balboa Park area offer free admission on Tuesdays every month, to residents and active military personnel and their families.

The free admission offer rotates among the hotels, so certain museums are free on certain Tuesdays of the month. The free admission usually applies only to the venue's permanent collections, not any special event, attraction or exhibit which may be in process at the time of your visit.

History of Balboa Park

In 1868, San Diego civic leaders set aside the land for what was then called City Park. Botanist and landscape architect Kate Sessions helped beautify the park, planting hundreds of trees, some of which survive today. The city of San Diego continued to improve the park and built roads and water systems. In 1910, the park was renamed for Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa. 

The San Diego Natural History Museum and the Marston House were the first two museums in Balboa Park. It grew over the years to include a total of 17 museums.

The Timken Museum of Art, which opened in 1965 and was designed by Frank Hope and Associates, has free admission year-round. Its permanent collection includes works by Rembrandt, Jacques-Louis David, and John Singleton Copley.

Here is the schedule of free Tuesday admissions other Balboa Park museums.

First Tuesday Free Admission

  • Reuben H. Fleet Science Center: "The Fleet" was the first science center to use an IMAX dome as part of its planetarium exhibits. It's been part of San Diego since 1973 and is named for Reuben H. Fleet, founder of the U.S. Air Mail service. 
  • Centro Cultural de la Raza: This museum focused on Chicano, Latino, Mexican and Native American cultures, was founded in 1970. 
  • San Diego Model Railroad Museum: The world's largest operating model railroad museum has 28,000 square feet of scale and model trains.
  • San Diego Natural History Museum: The Nat, as it's known, was founded in 1874 as the San Diego Society of Natural History, and moved to Balboa Park location in 1917 (note that the free admission is not valid for 3-D films).

Second Tuesday Free Admission

  • Museum of Photographic Arts: This is a "pay-what-you-wish" museum, which was started in 1972 as a museum without walls, and later moved into a custom-designed building in Balboa Park in 1983.
  • San Diego History Center: Established in 1928 by local philanthropist George Marston, this museum is one of the oldest of its kind on the West Coast. It moved from its original home on Presidio Hill to Balboa Park in 1982. 
  • Veterans' Museum and Memorial Center: This museum was formed in 1989 to honor military veterans.

Third Tuesday Free Museum Admission

  • San Diego Art Institute: Originally called the San Diego Business Men's Art Club, this museum was founded in 1941. It shows the work of artists from across Southern California. 
  • San Diego Museum of Art: This museum, which opened in 1926, grew out of a desire for a permanent public art installation following the Panama-California International Exposition of 1915. It was formed from the merger of the San Diego Art Guild and the Friends of Art. Its permanent collection includes works by El Greco, Goya, Monet, Matisse, Dali, and O'Keeffe.
    • San Diego Museum of Man
      • Japanese Friendship Garden 

    Fourth Tuesday

    • San Diego Air & Space Museum
      • San Diego Automotive Museum
      • San Diego Hall of Champions
      • House of Pacific Relations International Cottages

    If a month has a fifth Tuesday, Balboa Park museums will have regular admission prices.