If you want to bring your children somewhere fun and educational in San Diego, choose the Fleet Science Center. This is one of San Diego’s best museums in Balboa Park where people can learn about the power of science through hands-on exhibits and all-ages programming.
We’ve been regulars here for years and there is always something new to see or do. Below are our favorites.
1. IMAX Dome Movies
Sure, you can take your kids to the movies and watch a regular film. But why not kick it up a notch and bring them to an IMAX theater?
At the Fleet Science Center, the Heikoff Giant Dome Theater is a 76-foot wraparound movie theater with 16,000 watts of digital surround sound. Every day, guests enjoy multiple showings of educational shows, such as “The Living Sea,” “Turtle Odyssey,” “Superpower Dogs,” and “Volcanoes.”
It’s a great place to rest in-between sightseeing in Balboa Park. The movie schedule is online so you can plan accordingly.
2. Kid City
Do you have children under 5 years old? Kid City is specially designed to stimulate your little ones’ senses.
Your kids can choose from several places to entertain themselves:
- Fire Station
- Infant Area
- Ball Wall
- Grocery Store
- Little Learner’s Lab
- Magnetic Wall
- Block Corner
The Fire Station simulates a real fire truck and helps children with their motor skills through the different levels and knobs you can find all throughout. If you have toddlers and infants, take them to the Infant Area for safe, soft play.
At the Ball Wall, your children will enjoy multiple features that’ll exercise their senses. Not only can they put balls in different chutes, but they can also access an air blower close by to spin some pinwheels and make musical sounds.
For tactile play, go to the Little Learner’s Lab or the Grocery Store. At the Little Learner’s Lab, your kids can experiment with different objects of varying sizes, shapes, and textures. Same with the Grocery store; they can also exercise their math skills here.
3. Dream! Design! Build!
I can’t tell you how many hours we’ve spent in “Dream! Design! Build!” which an exhibition designed for kids who love to build.
First up is the Fit-a-Brick Build Zone. Here, they can make their own creations with either LEGO bricks or LEGO DUPLO blocks.
My daughter and her friends still love the KEVA planks, which stand for “knowledge, exploration, visual arts.” These planks are made of maple wood and both you and your children can participate in a few challenges that include:
- Impossible Structures.
- Think Like an Architect.
4. Pulseworks VR Transporter
You can travel all around San Diego on your own, but to get to space or deep under the sea, you’re going to need a little bit of help. Thankfully, Fleet Science Center has just what you need.
The Pulseworks VR Transporter is a virtual reality adventure simulator. It can put you on the Moon for a spacewalk, take you on a riveting trip through space, or show you what the prehistoric ocean looked like.
This simulator uses both motion technology and surround-sound to give you an out-of-the-world experience. The VR aspect brings it to another level since you and your kids can look around and see things from your own perspectives.
5. Studio X
Studio X is great for older kids. They have free reign to make their own creations during free studio hours.
It’s an innovation studio with drop-in hours where guests can participate in the project of the day. For example, you can make scribble bots, automata, and much more.
Look out for the Make-It Workshops on Saturdays. A small materials fee applies and you get to bring the results home.
6. “Do Touch” Exhibits
The greatest thing about the Fleet Science Center is that you can look AND touch interactive displays where your children are encouraged to interact with them.
In fact, this is the main theme of the museum. So be sure to check out every corner, as there’s always something new to play with whether it’s in the permanent or temporary exhibits.
7. Temporary Exhibits
The Fleet Science Center doesn’t let their exhibits stagnate. Temporary exhibits appear for limited runs which helps keep members and frequent visitors engaged.
8. Youth Programs
While visiting San Diego museums like Fleet Science Center on a whim is a fantastic idea, but do look at the calendar of special programming to plan around.
Here, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is obviously a huge focus and the museum does a lot to help spark kids’ interests in these topics.
To give you an idea, children in grades 1 to 4 can join Junior Science Club on the third Saturday of the month. Not only will they get to perform some experiments and other activities, but they’ll also get to hear from local scientists.
Here are some of the other clubs your kids can participate in:
- Saturday Science Club for Girls: Meets every second Saturday of the month; for girls in grades 5 to 8.
- Sunday Science Club: Meets every second Sunday of the month; for children in grades 5 to 8.
- Young Scientists Workshops: Meets on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays; for children ages 3 to 5.
9. The Sky Tonight
Every first Wednesday of the month, Fleet Science Center puts on an astronomer-led planetarium show. Every month, they’ll explore a new topic, so you can come every 4 weeks to learn something completely new. Since it’s very dark in the theater, it’s recommended you leave your children under 5 at home.
After each show, you’ll get the chance for a free telescope viewing outside with the San Diego Astronomy Association (weather permitting).
10. Adult Programs
Looking for something to do on your own or with your spouse? Think about having adulting at Fleet Science Center (really) or one of their off-site programs.
They have a wide selection of adult programs, such as “Exploring Ethics,” “Night of Science,” “Suds & Science,” “Two Scientists Walk Into a Bar,” “Maker Hour,” and “Crossover Where Comics & Science Meet.”
On the first Monday of every month, seniors can enjoy the center at a discounted price.
11. Eat at Craveology
Craveology is a kid-friendly cafe where you and your kids can relax and grab a bite. Sit on the patio and enjoy a great view of the Balboa Park Bea Evenson Fountain.
The cafe has homemade soup and vegetarian options, so your children will get some nutritious food. And if you want to really kick back and relax, they even have beer and wine available.
12. Edutainment-Filled Gift Shop
Get your kids something to remember the trip by purchasing some souvenirs at the North Star Science Store. There are DIY science kits, magnifying glasses, and lots of neat trinkets in a variety of price ranges.
It’s a good place for cool holiday and birthday gifts, some you won’t find in the average toy store.
Best Ways to Buy Fleet Science Center Tickets
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There are several ways you can buy Fleet Science Center tickets. You can buy directly through the museum. There are also benefits to becoming a member.
However, with the San Diego Natural History Museum across the courtyard and other Balboa Park museums nearby, you might be tempted to peek inside of others.
For residents and those who want to museum-hop or on a Balboa Park-centric vacation (remember, the San Diego Zoo is here, too), consider the Balboa Park Explorer Pass which bundles admission to multiple museums across one day or seven days. Residents and frequent visitors should take advantage of the annual pass (we have it). The San Diego Zoo can be added only to the seven-day pass.
If you’re going to be visiting multiple San Diego attractions, including ones outside of Balboa Park, you should look at the Go San Diego pass.
PLEASE NOTE: Go San Diego passes are not qualifying tickets for the annual Kids Free San Diego promotion in October.
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What are your favorite things to do at Fleet Science Center San Diego?
Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).
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