San Diego Air & Space Museum is one of the most popular places in Balboa Park and attracts thousands of visitors annually.
It’s home to dozens of aircraft and spacecraft recreations and restorations and the perfect place to spend a few hours in San Diego with kids or even without.
While the Museum’s main location is at Balboa Park, it has additional storage and a restoration workshop at Gillespie Field, a local airport in El Cajon. You can visit this small annex to see some military jets, private sport aircraft, and small racing planes on display.
In the Balboa Park location, visitors can visit the six permanent exhibitions, pay an extra price for the special rotating exhibit, or take a tour of the restoration area (if a restoration is being worked on). The permanent exhibitions include:
- The Theodore Gildred Rotunda
- The World War I Gallery
- The World War II Gallery
- The Golden Age of Flight Gallery
- The Edwin D. McKeller Pavilion of Flight
- The Modern Jet & Space Age Gallery
There is another area dedicated to special exhibits and visiting displays as well (additional ticketing may apply).
San Diego Air & Space Museum is one of 17 museums in Balboa Park, a local haven of gardens, trails, restaurants, and the San Diego Zoo.
Highlights & Things to Do
These San Diego Air & Space Museum highlights are ones that visitors particularly enjoy:
- Original Apollo 9 command module: In 1969, a crew tested the Apollo spacecraft in Earth orbit. It was the first time the Apollo flew in full, and it proved that it would work in outer space.
- Spirit of Saint Louis replica (Charles Lindbergh’s plane): The Spirit of Saint Louis completed the first single-passenger nonstop from New York to Paris flown by Charles Lindbergh in 1927.
- Space exploration 3D/4D movies: The museum has its own 3D/4D theater, which shows different movies in either format. Check the schedule for what’s playing during your visit.
- Wright Brothers 1902 glider (reproduction): Designed in 1902 and the third of a series from the Wright Brothers, this glider was the first fully controllable aircraft.
- Ryan Firebee II: The Ryan BQM-34F Firebee II is part of a series of target drones built in the 1950s and used by the U.S. Navy between the 70s and the 90s.
- Blue Angel 1: The F/A-18 A Hornet “Blue Angel 1” was part of the Blue Angels, U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron.
- Flight simulators: The museum has four flight simulators where you can experience aerial combat, flight training, and the Bermuda Triangle. Additional fees apply to the simulators.
This is just a small sampling of the many aircraft and replicas housed by the San Diego Air & Space Museum. It’s one of the only aerospace museums to be an affiliate of the Smithsonian.
Top 5 Things to Know About the San Diego Air & Space
Before visiting the San Diego Air & Space Museum, some practical information is helpful to know. This includes any special events happening, what the prices are, and whether the museum is running any specials that day.
Parking is free in Balboa Park. Try the Pan American or Balboa Park parking lots near the museum. You can also try street parking along Park Blvd.
Tickets and Hours
The main campus of the San Diego Air & Space Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m daily, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Ticket prices are as follows:
- Adult (12+): $23
- Child: (3-12): $13
- Senior (65+): $19
- Student (with ID): $19
- Retired military (with ID): $19
- Active military (with ID) $0
- Infant (0-3): $0
The Gillespie Field Annex is much smaller but less interactive. It is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Tickets cost $5 for adults over the age of 12, while children are free. A good rule of thumb for any San Diego museum is to check the hours of operation before you go, as they can be subject to change.
Two Sightseeing Pass Choices
Bundle admission to SDMRM with other attractions across San Diego or just in Balboa Park.
Go San Diego Pass
Both the All-Inclusive and Explorer sightseeing passes include SDASM in Balboa Park and over 50 other San Diego attractions.
Use promo code LJM10SDO for 10% off through December 31, 2022.
Balboa Park Explorer Pass
This pass includes 16 participating Balboa Park Museums.
Choose one of three pass options that include 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.
If you’re bringing children to the museum, know it’s okay to touch some of the replicas, and the originals are usually roped off.
The highlight for adventurous kids (44″ tall and above) and adults is usually the state-of-the-art flight simulators. In pairs of two, passengers can experience taking off and piloting a fighter plane. It’s not for people who experience motion sickness.
Once they’ve worn themselves out on their flight missions, head to the 3D/4D theater to learn more about the wonders of space. With interactive seats and physical special effects, the movies shown will come alive for you and your kids. Educational films about the sky and beyond are shown on a rotating basis.
The Museum puts on regular events throughout the year that can include fun things like Pumpkin Chucking in October, events on famous aerospace anniversaries, and hosting NASA engineers and other flying legends for talks and interviews.
There are also school field trips, contests, and workshops for attendees who live close to San Diego.
Visitors can take advantage of rotating exhibits and monthly specials. Past rotating exhibits include an interactive Galileo exhibit, the Aerospace Hall of Fame, and Legends of Engineering.
And, don’t forget that October is Kids Free San Diego all month long at the Museum (in addition to many other attractions across the county) where two kids 12 and under can enter free with a paying adult.
Check the calendar before you visit to see if your time in San Diego overlaps with any of the above.
The Flight Path Grill
You can have lunch at the Museum’s Flight Path Grill. It’s open Friday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., but you can get their prepared meals at the museum’s store, too. The Grill offers hot dogs, salads, snacks, and other treats.
From souvenirs to costumes and clothing, the San Diego Air & Space Museum’s shop has something for everyone. They even have space food and autographed plaques, and more! Dehydrated ice cream, anyone?
Make sure you save some time to explore the shop and find your favorite gift.
Why We Love the San Diego Air & Space Museum
The San Diego Air & Space Museum is one of the coolest museums in Balboa Park.
It’s modest in size, but packed with interactive exhibits that teach minds young and old about what they’re looking at. So, you do look at neat planes and space objects, but it’s tough to miss the history lessons woven in along the way.
We find that families with toddlers on up to teens like to visit the museum. It’s also in the same area as the San Diego Automotive Museum, and the new Comic-Con museum. However, it’s pretty easy to reach the rest of Balboa Park on foot from here, so park your car and head out for the day.
Fun fact: The Museum is housed inside the Ford Building, a property built by the Ford Company for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. It’s a member of the National Register of Historic Places.
The San Diego Air & Space Museum is home to dozens of airplanes, hundreds of replicas, and several interactive exhibits, all in one historic building. If you visit Balboa Park, this museum is a must-stop for families with children.