Whether you live in the city or are just visiting for the weekend and seeking fun things to do in San Diego, the San Diego Automotive Museum (SDAM) is a must-see. Car fanatic or not, there’s plenty to pique your interest here.
The museum highlights the automobile’s contributions to our culture by teaching visitors about the automobile’s social and technological past, present, and future. This is done through diverse exhibits, ranging from historic barn cars to international motorcycles.
The San Diego Automotive Museum also flaunts an impressive collection of vintage cars. Trust us when we say this collection is a car enthusiast’s dream come true and that you should see it.
While there are cool cars and motorcycles to look at, what’s even more interesting is why they are there. It’s also fun to see the evolution of styling and horsepower over the years, but look out for these favorites.
- The museum’s robust collection of motorcycles is a pleasant surprise to most guests. Forty motorcycles sit on display, dating all the way back to the early 1900s.
- Calling all Back to the Future fans—the museum has a DeLorean DMC-12 on their show floor. Guests can even hop in the car for a picture.
- A collection of classic cars is the focal point of the San Diego Automotive Museum. Each one is complete with a short description and original price.
- Louie Mattar’s Cadillac alone is enough reason to visit the museum. We won’t spoil the story behind the car. Just know it’s worth seeing in person.
- Remaining true to southern California’s culture, the SDAM boasts a collection of vintage lowriders that are fun to peruse and learn the history behind.
In this super-cool video, not only do you see the cars and motorcycles on display inside the museum, but you learn about how they restore and keep the cars in working condition.
Top 5 Things To Know About the San Diego Automotive Museum
The San Diego Automotive Museum is easy to navigate, but we’ll provide a few extra tips to ensure you make the most of your experience.
If you’re a San Diego resident, you can visit for free on the fourth Tuesday of every month. All you have to bring is your I.D.
If you’re not a resident but are planning on visiting, you can buy your tickets in advance online. However, they’re only good for one week from the purchase date. Prices include:
- Adults (18-64): $14.50
- Seniors (65+): $10
- Military (With ID): $10
- Student (With ID): $10
- Youth (5-17): $8.50
- Ages 0-4: FREE
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 SDMRM and over 50 other San Diego attractions.
Use promo code lajollamom 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.
You can also buy a gift certificate to the museum for any friends or family members planning on visiting San Diego soon.
Check the calendar for hours of operation before you go because the museum occasionally closes for exhibit changes and special events.
The museum is conveniently five minutes from downtown San Diego, in Balboa Park’s Pan American Plaza. It’s easy to access from major freeways, including the I-5 and Highway 163.
You’ll park for free in the Pan American Plaza parking area (you can’t miss it) and will easily be able to walk from your car to the museum. If the lot is full, you can look for free street parking.
If you’re in the mood for a day of edutainment, you’re in luck — SDAM neighbors the San Diego Air and Space Museum and the Comic-Con Museum. Other popular Balboa Park museums are a short walk away.
If you can’t make it to the San Diego Automotive Museum but want to see their cars, keep an eye out for external opportunities.
For example, the museum participates in the Cajon Classic Cruise Car Show in Downtown El Cajon, just twenty minutes west of Balboa Park. The show features different types of cars every Wednesday. Check their calendar to find a day that piques your interest. The SDAM staff will be on-site to chat and answer any questions you or your little ones may have.
Cars and Coffee
As you can see, San Diego Automotive Museum is well-known for interacting with the community. Another way they do this is through cars and coffee. On the third Sunday of every month, the museum invites San Diego residents or visitors to bring their classic cars and chat with staff over coffee.
The event takes place at 7:30 a.m., and the museum opens early at 8 a.m. with a discounted ticket price until 10 a.m.
If you’re not in town for the cars and coffee event, they participate in similar events, where you can talk to museum staff and view the cars. The details are below:
- Cars, coffee, and doughnuts: Monthly on the 24th at 6755 Mira Mesa Blvd Suite 128, San Diego, California 92121 at 7 a.m.
- JBA Speed Shop cars and coffee: On the second Sunday of each month at 5675 Kearny Villa Rd, San Diego, CA, 92123, at 5:30 a.m.
The SDAM showcases a regular collection of vintage cars and motorcycles, but they keep things interesting through creative, rotating exhibits.
A few of their past spotlight exhibitions included Evel Knievel’s motorcycle, steampunk creations, and cars with characters—an exhibit featuring automobiles from popular movies, such as Cars and Scooby Doo.
If you’re curious about which exhibit you’ll get to experience, check their website’s current exhibitions page or sign up for their newsletter to receive notifications about upcoming exhibitions.
Why We Love the San Diego Automotive Museum
There’s plenty to adore about the San Diego Automotive Museum.
If you’re wondering how long to spend at the museum, plan for about an hour to walk through or longer if you’re a car enthusiast.
Vocational Education Academy
The SDAM does a lot of good, but the vocational education academy is the most noteworthy.
The museum partners with community colleges and automotive businesses to provide under-resourced students with post-secondary education in the automotive field. The academy also teaches students responsible fiscal skills, such as budgeting.
Upon graduating from the academy, students are prepared with a portfolio of skills and set up with interviews at local automotive shops, such as Discount Tire and NAPA.
The San Diego Automotive Museum has an impressive selection of automotive literature, ranging from repair manuals to vintage magazines.
Over 65,000 pieces of literature make up the museum’s library. This vast collection likely has the answer to any automotive-related question you’ve ever had.
Knowledgeable volunteers staff the library and are more than able to point you in the right direction. However, even if you don’t have any burning questions, the library is undoubtedly worth perusing.
In addition to knowledgeable groups of volunteers, the museum also has a well-versed and friendly staff. Visitors frequently rave about how much the employees enhance the experience.
They’re vessels of knowledge prepared to answer any of your questions or supply fun facts about a piece of their collection you find interesting.
If you have questions that come up before or after your visit, you can find the staff’s contact information on the museum’s website.
The Gift Shop
SDAM has the gift shop of kids’ dreams. The amazing gift shop contains fun shirts, memorabilia, and a collection of vintage hot wheels.
If you can’t make it to the gift shop in person, hop online. The museum’s gift shop is so good that they’ve posted some items on eBay.
Even better? Anything you purchase in the gift shop goes back to the automotive museum. Meaning your purchase isn’t only improving SDAM but helping along efforts like the vocational education academy.
Top photo credit: Another Believer, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons