Guide to Balboa Park Museums Free Tuesday

If you’ve lived in San Diego long enough you’ve probably have heard of the Balboa Park Museums Free Tuesday. 

Residents Free Tuesdays—as the Balboa Park free Tuesday is properly called—are a set of rotating Tuesdays that allow residents of the City and County of San Diego, and active military personnel to visit Balboa Park museums for free. 

Balboa Park Free Tuesdays can be a great way to take in a little arts, culture, and education on a budget. It can be a fun opportunity for grandparents to take their grandkids on an adventure or for anybody to hit multiple museums in a day and avoid paying admission at each one. 

What is There to See?

Balboa Park museums offer something for everybody. 

There are the large family-friendly institutions like the Natural History Museum and the Fleet Science Center. Both of these feature rooms full of hands-on learning exhibitions that bring science to life. There is also the Museum of Us, which offers a fun and immersive exploration of human history and culture. 

If you’re more into visual art, sculpture and craft, there are popular art institutions like the San Diego Museum of Art and the Mingei International Museum. Both offer a fascinating look at art and culture from around the world. 

Regular park goers also have their favorites. The Model Train Museum is equal parts mesmerizing and wholesome in its quirk. The Japanese Friendship Garden offers a serene walk through a representation of a traditional Japanese tea garden. The San Diego Air & Space Museum offers an up close look at some of the most amazing innovations in flight the world has ever seen. 

Whichever museum or set of museums you plan to see, get there early and expect a crowd. Balboa Park free Tuesday is incredibly popular and most museums often reach capacity. 

Which Museums Are Free Which Days?

Balboa Park free Tuesday doesn’t mean every museum is free every Tuesday. Different Balboa Park museums are free on different Tuesdays of the month.

Below is a list of the typical schedule, but it’s highly recommended that you double check each individual Balboa Park institution as you plan your day. 

First Tuesday

Second Tuesday

Third Tuesday

Fourth Tuesday

Fifth Tuesdays

  • Regular admission prices are in effect

Visitors will be required to present ID confirming residency. Each museum has their own rules on how many children are allowed free admission per adult. 

Free admission is generally limited to the museum’s permanent exhibitions, and may not include special exhibitions and films. 

What if I can’t make it on Tuesday?

If getting a day off of work on a Tuesday and braving the crowds sounds daunting to you, you’re not alone. Don’t worry, there are other cost-friendly alternatives to seeing your favorite Balboa Park museum. The most popular option is to purchase a Balboa Park Explorer Pass. This offers year round access to many of the park’s museums for an annual fee. Many museums also offer group discounts and participate in multiple programs throughout the year to make admission more affordable. 

There is also the ​​Museums For All program which offers museum admission at $2 per person with an EBT, SNAP or WIC card. This is not available at all museums so call ahead to find out if they offer the discount at the places you would like to visit. 

What else is there to do in Balboa Park?

While the free museums are the obvious draw, Balboa Park is full of fun things to do and see, many of which are free every day of the year. 

Many museums have a portion of their collection in areas where the public can view them for free. For instance, the Mingei International Museum has a free exhibition gallery on the first floor. The San Diego Museum of Art has installed a number of sculptures for public viewing in the Plaza de Panama, as well as a sculpture garden behind Panama 66. The Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA) has altered their admission to a “pay what you can” policy. Admission to the Timken Museum is always completely free. 

Other Balboa Park attractions include the iconic Botanical Building which is currently closed for repair, but is free when it is open. There’s also no charge to enjoy the view of koi fish and beautiful water lilies in the adjacent Balboa Park Lily Pond. 

Young visitors might like the challenge of seeing how many fountains they can count, or get excited for a scavenger to find all of Balboa Park’s nineteen (!) outdoor gardens

For a break, you can bring your own blanket and lounge on the lawn by the Lily Pond or sit at a table to watch the roller skaters in the Palisades Plaza in front of the Air and Space Museum. The Spreckels Organ Pavilion can also be a nice spot to stop for a rest. You might even catch a free rehearsal concert of the famed Spreckels Organ.

Up for a walk around central San Diego? Two bridges on the popular “San Diego seven bridges” walk are in Balboa Park, making it a great place to start the tour.

What is there to eat in Balboa Park?

Food options are plentiful in the park as well. Panama 66 serves salads, sandwiches, and local draft beers on an open patio. The Tea Pavilion at the Japanese Friendship Garden offers tea and Japanese inspired lunchtime fare. There is also the newly opened CRAFT CAFÉ in the Mingei International Museum with salads, bowls, and paninis. Of course, you can always bring a picnic to enjoy on one of the many grassy areas. 

Bottom line, Balboa Park free Tuesday can be great fun. A curious mind with an eye for exploration will find plenty to entertain themselves in this beautiful gem of a park within our city.  

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