San Diego’s awesome museums offer hands-on play and encourage kids to learn and explore. But springing for the entrance fee for your entire clan can get expensive! Luckily, we’ve found 10 family-friendly museums that offer free admission days to discover all they have to offer without breaking the bank. So, mark your calendar and scroll down to see when to visit these spectacular museums for no charge!

photo: Peter Carney

San Diego Air & Space Museum

Take off at this kid-pleaser in Balboa Park. Go the fourth Tuesday of the month and you and your brood get in free. First off, rev your engines at the Speed: Science in Motion Exhibit where fast cars are cool. Notably, budding mechanics can try their hand-eye coordination as a pit crew team member. Additionally, with over 60 aircraft and a kids-only area, your aviation expert will be over the moon.

San Diego Air & Space Museum
Balboa Park
2001 Pan American Plaza
San Diego, Ca
619-234-8291
Online: sandiegoairandspace.org

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The Nat

Let out a dino roar because everyone gets free admission the first Tuesday of the month. Littles dig the hands-on activities and giant dinosaur fossils at the Fossil Mysteries Exhibit. Next, look behind the scenes at the Unshelved: Cool Stuff from Storage Exhibit. Truly, see what the Nat stores in their secret vaults for future research. Likewise, the 3-D show is well worth the small fee. Then, after exploring the exhibits (or if you just need a break) grab a coffee and snack while the littles roam the nearby dino play zone that's near the indoor cafe.

San Diego Natural History Museum
Balboa Park
1788 El Prado
San Diego, Ca
619-232-3821
Online: sdnhm.org

Japanese Friendship Garden

Feel the beauty of the waterfalls and greenery as you stroll the pathways of this Japanese Friendship Garden. Skip right past the entrance fee the third Tuesday of the month. As well, explore the Japanese rock garden and take in the current indoor display. Spotting the large, friendly koi fish will earn high ratings from your little guppies. (If you're lucky you may see the golden one!) When done, head to the Tea Pavilion for a teriyaki rice bowl and green Sencha tea.

Japanese Friendship Garden
Balboa Park
2215 Pan American Road. E
San Diego, Ca
619-232-2721
Online: niwa.org

photo: Chris Schneider

Fleet Science Center

The Fleet Science Center is always a crowd-pleaser for the crew. Get the fam in free the first Tuesday of the month. (Go early and avoid large crowds). Begin with the MythBusters: The Explosive Exhibition where you're the science detective solving myths. Likewise, stay for the superhero paintball show––it's a must-do. Also, the Taping Shape Exhibit creates tunnels and spaces to explore out of tons of packing tape! On the other hand, little ones (five years and under) get hands-on in Kid City at the ball wall, fire truck and grocery store.

Fleet Science Center
Balboa Park
1875 El Prado
San Diego, Ca
Online: rhfleet.org

photo: Nikki Walsh

San Diego Museum of Art

Inspire future artists here. Firstly, for youth 17 and under admission is free every day. Secondly, for everyone to have a good time, we recommend the Family Drop-In Day. As the focus changes, check the calendar for what interests you. On these days, littles usually make a craft that reflects the current theme, play games or explore art via a treasure hunt. After, littles like to climb the serpent sculpture out front. (It's on padded ground).

San Diego Museum of Art
Balboa Park
1450 El Prado
San Diego, Ca
619-232-7931
Online: sdmart.org

photo: Amy Roost

San Diego Railroad Museum

All aboard to tour this model railroad museum for free on the first Tuesday of the month. Budding railroad lovers will delight in finding local spots near the tracks like the Carlsbad Flower Fields. Also, there's a touch of whimsy like the kids climbing out of the trunk at the drive-in movie! The Thomas the Train area is also a big hit. And be sure to experience the perspective of the Choo-Choo cam. It's set on the front of a moving toy train!

San Diego Railroad Museum
Balboa Park
1649 El Prado
San Diego, Ca
619-696-0199
Online: sdmrm.org

photo: New Children's Museum

The New Children's Museum

Build, explore and create! Although not quite free on the second Sunday of the month, admission is only three dollars per person. Firstly, (and tons of fun!) dive-in to the interactive Sketch Aquarium where kids' designs pop-up on the giant underwater screen. Further, discover the rooms, nooks, ladders and crawl spaces in the Wonder of Sound Exhibit. On the other hand, if you have a little one (four years and under) head to their special space to play amidst the giant food in Wobbleland.

The New Children’s Museum
200 W. Island Ave.
San Diego, Ca
619-233-8792
Online: thinkplaycreate.org

photo: Rachel Cobb

San Diego Botanic Garden

Ground yourself in nature––it's free on the first Tuesday of the month. (There is a two dollar parking fee). Toddlers love the dino sand dig, train and pint-sized house in the Seeds of Wonder Garden. Toni's Treehouse, musical instruments and water play will engage bigger kids in the Hamilton Children’s Garden. All around it's fun to explore this natural wonder and roam among the amazingly beautiful trees and plants.

San Diego Botanic Garden
230 Quail Gardens Dr.
Encinitas, Ca
760-436-3036
Online: sdbgarden.org

photo: California Surf Museum

California Surf Museum

Paddle in to this local surf museum in Oceanside. Little groms 11 years and under are free (always!), and the first Tuesday of the month grown-ups are admitted for one dollar. Discover how surfboards evolved, read Bethany Hamilton's story and touch Kelly Slater's surfboard! Then head outside for the perfect photo-op in the secret surf spot.

California Surf Museum
312 Pier View Way
Oceanside, Ca
760-721-6876
Online: surfmuseum.org

San Diego Automotive Museum

Vroom, vroom! Discover the culture of autos and motorcycles throughout history. Bring the whole crew (for free!) on the fourth Tuesday of the month. You'll find Shaggy and Scooby's Mystery Machine and kids can hop in and "drive" a race car! Don't miss the great photo-op as they sit on a real (stationary) motorcycle complete with a mountain road backdrop. Also, check out Louie Mattar's 1947 Cadillac that he calls a home on wheels (it has a kitchen sink)!

San Diego Automotive Museum
Balboa Park
2030 Pan American Plaza
San Diego, Ca
619-231-2886
Online: sdautomuseum.org

featured image: Tomas Del Coro

Do you know of a free family museum day? Tell us about it below.

-Nikki Walsh

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