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 over 100 hands-on exhibits and all-ages programming.
We’ve been regulars here for years, and there is always something new to see or do. The Fleet is also on our list of best things to do in San Diego with kids.
Below are our favorite exhibits and activities as well as important logistics to know before you go.
If you’re short on time, these are the highlights to hit:
- Heikoff Giant Dome Theater: this theater offers an immersive experience complete with a 76-foot wrap-around screen. Other highlights include laser technology, IMAX capabilities, and state-of-the-art surround sound. Here you can catch documentaries, IMAX movies, and educational experiences.
- Tesla Coil: A true crowd-pleaser is the Tesla coil. Invented by Nikola Tesla himself, this device produces extremely high voltages of electricity.
- Kid City: This section of the Fleet Science Center is open to visitors five years of age and under. This attraction makes this destination a favorite for parents with young children. There are activities such as the Ball Wall, the Little Learners Club, and even a special Infant Area explicitly designed for infants in the crawling stage.
- Virtual Reality Experience: This VR experience is perfect for space lovers. With the help of some VR goggles, this immersive experience allows patrons to experience a moonwalk, a ride on the Cosmos Coaster, soar through space on Apollo 11, or take a trip back in time to a prehistoric oceanic scene. Additional fees apply.
- Design Zone: Back by popular demand, this experience allows you to discover how innovators apply mathematical principles to create music, video games, skate parks, and more.
Know Before You Go: Hours, Tickets, Parking, Food
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Before visiting the Fleet Science Center, check out essential details like hours, ticket prices, nearby food, gift shops, and parking.
Tickets and Hours
Check with the museum directly for hours on the day of your visit. Generally, the museum’s hours are every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, note that the galleries stay open until 8:15 p.m. on the first Wednesday of the month for the Sky Tonight Planetarium Show.
Each ticket includes all galleries and entry to one documentary in the Heikoff Dome. There are benefits to becoming a member, but daily admission at the ticket booth is currently:
- $24.95 for adults
- $22.95 for seniors
- $19.95 for children aged 3-12
- Children 2 and under are free
We sell tickets for the same price all in, too. San Diego County residents, local college students, and active-duty military also get free admission to The Fleet’s exhibit galleries and discounted Heikoff Giant Dome Theater show tickets on the first Tuesday of each month. Get the full list of eligible promotions.
Discount ticket Choices
Buy single-day admission at a discount or opt for a multi-attraction sightseeing pass like Go San Diego.
Go San Diego Pass
Both the All-Inclusive and Explorer sightseeing passes include Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park and over 50 other San Diego attractions.
Use promo code LJM10SD0 for 10% off!
Balboa Park Explorer Pass
This pass includes 16 participating Balboa Park Museums.
Choose one of three pass options: a Parkwide Pass good for seven consecutive days, an Annual Pass (best for residents), or a Limited Pass that includes any four participating venues good for one day.
Where to Eat
If you get hungry exploring the Fleet Science Center, check out the Craveology Cafe. Its patio overlooks the lovely Bea Evenson Fountain and San Diego Natural History Museum.
The counter-order cafe serves hot sandwiches, flatbread pizzas, smoothies, frappes, salads, and wraps. They also serve beer, wine, and ice cream.
The Awesome Gift Shop
After you’ve had fun exploring every inch of the Fleet Science Center, check out the North Star Science Store gift shop.
This store is full of unique gift and souvenir options. This is a great destination for educational gifts, do-it-yourself-kits, and everything chemistry, astronomy, and biology.
It’s a good place for cool holiday and birthday gifts, some you won’t find in the average toy store.
Parking behind the Fleet Science Center is free. You’ll find the parking lot at Space Theater Way off Park Boulevard. If you can get there just before the museums open at 10 a.m., you can usually find nearby parking.
9 Fun Things to Do at Fleet Science Center
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 dome 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 that 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 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.
Go to the Little Learner’s Lab or the Grocery Store for tactile play. 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. Pulseworks VR Transporter
You can travel all around San Diego on your own, but to get to space or deep under the sea, you will 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 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. Additional fees apply.
4. 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 more.
Look out for the Make-It Workshops on Saturdays. A small materials fee applies and you get to bring the results home.
5. “Do Touch” Exhibits
The greatest thing about the Fleet Science Center is that you can look at AND touch interactive displays where your children are encouraged to interact with them.
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 in the permanent or temporary exhibits.
6. Temporary Exhibits
The Fleet Science Center doesn’t let its exhibits stagnate. Temporary exhibits appear for limited runs, which helps keep members and frequent visitors engaged.
7. Youth Programs — Like Camps and STEM Workshops
While visiting San Diego museums like Fleet Science Center on a whim is a fantastic idea, look at the special programming calendar to see if there’s an event worth planning around.
STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is a huge focus, and the museum does a lot to help spark kids’ interest in these topics.
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 activities your kids can participate in:
- Junior Club: Meets every third Saturday of the month; for kids in grades 1 to 4.
- Sunday Science Club: Meets every second Sunday of the month; for children in grades 5 to 8.
- SciTech: After-school programming for girls in grades 4 to 6.
- Camps: The Fleet offers full-day camps every season.
8. 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 four 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).
9. 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,” “Suds & Science,” and “Two Scientists Walk Into a Bar.”
On the first Monday of every month, seniors can enjoy the center at a discounted price all day.
Top 5 Unique Facts About the Fleet Science Center
This museum has been a favorite of tourists and locals for decades, and it’s easy to see why. Here are five interesting facts about the Fleet Science Center.
It’s Been Part of the San Diego’s Cultural Scene Since 1957
Originally known as the San Diego Hall of Science, this museum was created in 1957. Since then, several additions and construction projects have made the Fleet Science Center the marvel it is today.
The science center has also undergone a few name changes and was officially rebranded to the Fleet Science Center in 2016.
It’s a Non-Profit Educational Organization
That’s right. The Fleet Science Center is a non-profit. Their mission statement is to ensure everyone, regardless of age, sex, and race, is connected to the power of science.
During the holiday season, Fleet Science Center also partners with other non-profits, including Toys for Tots. Leaders from the community serve on the board of trustees, including physicians, physicists, researchers, and engineers.
Impressive Green Initiatives
The Fleet Science Center received the LEED Silver Certification in 2010. Many steps must be taken to achieve such a high eco-friendly rating.
However, the museum’s efforts to be green have dated back much earlier. Since 1998, the museum has worked hard to reduce energy and water use massively. The center uses fewer resources today than it did in the 90s.
The museum has also installed solar panels and worked with Project CONNECT to educate the public on energy consumption.
Offers Accessibility Mornings
For guests that would benefit from low-sensory experiences, the Fleet Science Center offers Accessibility Mornings every third Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
During this time, the museum works to reduce sound and provides a special documentary screening with a lower volume and without dimmed lighting.
Admission is free for one guest and one chaperone. Guests are welcome to stay for the rest of the day.
Great Educator Discounts
If you’re a teacher or an educator, you’re in luck. The Fleet Science Center offers fantastic discounts and freebies for educators.
Simply join the Teacher Partner Program by providing your teacher ID at the check-in counter. Once your registration is complete, you’ll receive free, unlimited admission throughout the year and one free IMAX experience.
You’ll also receive a $10 discount on a family membership and a 15% discount at the gift shop.
Why We Love the Fleet Science Center
The Fleet Science Center is an excellent option for couples and families visiting the city. While San Diego is world famous for its gorgeous weather, we get an occasional scorcher or downpour.
We cannot recommend the Fleet Science Center enough if you’re searching for an indoor activity for you or your family. So, whether you’ve had too much sun or want to learn something, come to Balboa Park and prepare to be amazed.
We also love how there is something for everyone at this museum. How often can you find an activity that’s appropriate for all ages? With spaces designed for crawling infants to exhibits on nanoscience, there are spaces for your crazy toddler and curious teenager to enjoy.
Last but not least, this museum is interactive to the fullest. Patrons love exploring two full floors of exhibits and displays. You’ll feel like you got your money’s worth after exploring the entirety of the museum and then sitting down for an immersive film experience. Most people spend two to four hours enjoying the museum.
What are your favorite things to do at Fleet Science Center San Diego?