Take your kids’ curiosity and love of learning on the road to one of San Diego’s many spectacular museums that offer hands-on play and encourage exploration. Even better, do it without paying a dime! We’ve found 9 family-friendly museums that offer free admission days to discover all they have to offer without breaking the bank. Scroll down to learn about San Diego’s free museum days.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

Go on the fourth Tuesday of every month (except Dec.) and you and your brood get in free. Blast off to the exhibit SPACE: Our Greatest Adventure to experience an immersive exhibit for all ages that explores humanity's quest for the stars. You can even take a selfie on the moon, Mars and the International Space Station. Additionally, with over 60 aircraft and a special kids-only play area called the Kid's Aviation Action Hangar which includes a “U-Fly-It” machine, a flight simulator experience in a real wind tunnel atmosphere and a romp in the Museum's simulated moon’s surface, your pilot in training 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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photo: Beth Shea

San Diego Natural History Museum

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. Then, after exploring the exhibits (or if you just need a break) grab a coffee and snack while the tots roam The Backyard play area 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 the Japanese Friendship Garden. Skip right past the entrance fee the third Tuesday of every 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: Fleet Science Center

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 Don't Try This At Home! exhibition where kids can watch live science shows and learn about the power of liquid nitrogen. Next, watch the IMAX adventure Superpower Dogs to learn about some of the most extraordinary canines on the planet. Good to know, little ones (five years and younger) can get hands-on and get their wiggles out 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

San Diego Museum of Art

Inspire future artists here. For youth 17 and younger, admission is free every day. We recommend the Family Drop-In Day recommended for families with kids ages 6-12. As the focus changes, check the calendar for what interests you. On these days, kids usually make a craft that reflects the current theme, play games or explore art via a treasure hunt. After, little ones like to climb the serpent sculpture in front of the museum. (It's on padded ground).

Good to know: This museum is best suited for older kids who know they need to be quiet and not touch the artwork while exploring the museum.

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

San Diego Railroad Museum

All aboard to tour this model railroad museum for free on the first Tuesday of the month. Budding conductors will delight in finding local spots built into the miniature railroad landscapes 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: Beth Shea

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 endless array of plant and flower species.

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

California Surf Museum

Paddle in to this local surf museum in Oceanside. Little groms 11 years and younger always get in for free, 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

––Nikki Walsh & Beth Shea

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