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Indoor Activities to do in San Diego

Fun Indoor Activities To Do in San Diego

San Diego may be known for its stunning beaches and sunny climate, but beyond the coastline lies a treasure trove of indoor activities waiting to be explored. Dive into a world of indoor entertainment and discovery, where you can immerse yourself in world-class museums, fascinating aquariums, and a variety of creative pursuits. Whether you’re seeking unique entertainment options or simply looking to escape the weather, San Diego offers something for everyone indoors. So, step inside and uncover the hidden gems that await you, rain or shine, and indulge in the diverse array of indoor activities that this vibrant city has to offer.

San Diego Natural History Museum

San Diego Natural History Museum

The San Diego Natural History Museum, founded in 1874, is a prominent museum showcasing the natural history of Southern California and Baja California. In its formative years, the museum played a pivotal role in connecting the community to the wonders of the natural world. Today, it continues to uphold this tradition, offering a wealth of captivating exhibits that delve into the diverse natural landscapes of Southern California and Baja California, Mexico.

The museum features permanent and rotating exhibits, including “Fossil Mysteries” and “Coast to Cactus in Southern California,” which take visitors on a journey through the region’s geological past and present-day ecology. The Living Lab allows visitors to get close to native animals while “Unshelved” offers a glimpse into the museum’s vast natural history collection. The museum also has a giant-screen theater showcasing nature documentaries.

Things To do at the San Diego Natural History Museum

Upon entering the museum, one of the first things to catch your eye will likely be Al (or Alice), a life-sized model of an Albertosaurus. This 17-foot-tall exhibit provides a great photo opportunity and serves as a fascinating introduction to the world of paleontology.

The “Fossil Mysteries” exhibit unveils the prehistoric past of Southern California. You’ll encounter giant dinosaur skeletons, marine reptile fossils, and fascinating stories about the region’s ancient inhabitants.

Get up close and personal with some of the region’s fascinating creatures at the “Living Lab” interactive exhibit. Observe desert iguanas, marvel at the intricate workings of a beehive, and even come face-to-face with a rattlesnake (safely behind glass, of course!).

Ever wonder what treasures are hidden away in museum collections? The “Unshelved: Cool Stuff From Storage” exhibit offers a rare glimpse behind the scenes, showcasing fascinating specimens that are not typically on display. You might see anything from mummified animals to bizarre deep-sea creatures.

Make sure to visit the “‘Meg’ The Megalodon” exhibit. This reconstructed model of the prehistoric shark, complete with an awe-inspiring set of jaws, gives you a sense of the scale and grandeur of this giant marine predator.

Finally, take a stroll through the “Coast to Cactus” exhibit. This interactive display presents the diverse ecosystems of Southern California, from its sun-drenched coasts to its desert landscapes. It’s an engaging, hands-on experience that provides fascinating insights into the region’s unique ecological makeup.

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

The Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, established in 1903 as part of the Marine Biological Association of San Diego, stands as one of the oldest aquariums in the U.S. Named in honor of supporters Ellen Browning Scripps and E.W. Scripps, the aquarium is a public outreach center for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, it welcomes over 439,000 visitors annually, including more than 40,000 school children, offering a glimpse into the wonders of the ocean through its diverse exhibits.

Within its walls, visitors can embark on a journey through marine ecosystems, exploring indoor activities such as the “Hall of Fishes” and the “Giant Kelp Forest.” Housing over 3,000 animals representing 380 species, including fish, invertebrates, and mammals, the Birch Aquarium not only showcases marine life but also serves as an educational hub. Its mission extends to providing hands-on learning experiences for K-12 students, fostering climate awareness and environmental stewardship among future generations. Whether marveling at colorful fish or participating in interactive programs, guests of all ages can immerse themselves in the beauty and importance of our oceans at the Birch Aquarium.

Things To Do at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps

When you visit the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the “Hall of Fishes” is an absolute must-see. It’s home to over 60 habitats of fishes and invertebrates, from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest to the tropical waters of Mexico and beyond. Be sure to check out the “Kelp Forest” exhibit — a 70,000-gallon tank showcasing the fascinating marine life that inhabits these lush underwater forests.

Another highlight is the “Tide Pool Plaza,” featuring three living tide pool displays where you can touch and learn about tide pool animals with the stunning La Jolla coastline serving as a backdrop. It’s an engaging interactive experience for visitors of all ages.

For those interested in conservation, the “Seahorse” exhibit is a must. It showcases the aquarium’s successful breeding program and includes creatures like seadragons, pipefish, and several species of seahorses.

“ElasmoBeach” at Birch Aquarium offers a unique glimpse into the marine life of La Jolla, with a large outdoor tank exclusively designed to mimic the sandy seafloor typical of the area. This captivating habitat is home to an array of sharks and rays, including the graceful leopard shark and the elusive Pacific angelshark. While visiting “ElasmoBeach,” guests have the rare opportunity to observe these magnificent creatures in a setting that closely resembles their natural environment. Although direct interaction with the sharks and rays is not part of the experience, the exhibit provides an intimate look at the fascinating behaviors and characteristics of these marine animals, enhancing awareness and appreciation for their roles in the ocean’s ecosystem.

Lastly, don’t miss the “Giant Pacific Octopus” exhibit. Marvel at the sight of this intelligent and elusive marine creature that will leave a lasting impression. This fascinating exhibit offers a peek into the mysterious world of one of the ocean’s most captivating predators.

USS Midway Museum

USS Midway Museum

Located in San Diego, California, the USS Midway Museum proudly holds the title of the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century, serving the United States Navy from 1945 to 1992. This storied vessel played pivotal roles in major conflicts, including the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm, earning distinction as the only carrier to participate in all significant Vietnam War battles. Decommissioned in 1992, the USS Midway found a new purpose as a museum ship in 2004, offering visitors a unique opportunity to delve into its rich naval history.

Today, the USS Midway Museum stands as the longest museum ship globally and the most popular naval warship museum in the U.S. Visitors can explore its decks and engage in indoor activities such as interactive exhibits; a self-guided audio tour; and a journey through the flight deck, hangar deck, and below-deck mess deck. Approximately 200,000 sailors served aboard the USS Midway, contributing to naval aviation breakthroughs and participating in humanitarian missions. Despite being built in just 17 months, the USS Midway boasts a legacy marked by resilience and innovation, making it an iconic symbol of American naval history.

Things To do at the USS Midway Museum

Embark on an immersive journey through naval history at the USS Midway Museum, where visitors can explore a myriad of captivating exhibits and experiences. Delve into the heart of the ship with the “Hangar Deck” exhibit, where historic aircraft and artifacts await, including the powerful R-2800 Twin Wasp engine and iconic World War II aircraft. Descend below deck to discover the “Below Deck” exhibit, offering insight into the daily lives of sailors and the inner workings of this legendary vessel. Step into the “Flight Deck” exhibit and marvel at the expansive array of aircraft that once soared above the seas, each with its own storied past. Dive deep into the “Battle of Midway” exhibit, commemorating the pivotal historic naval battle that shaped the course of World War II. From interactive displays to historical artifacts, the USS Midway Museum offers a dynamic exploration of naval heritage that will captivate visitors of all ages.

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Exploring the San Diego Model Railroad Museum offers visitors a fascinating journey through the history of railroading in California. Founded in 1982, the museum’s mission is to preserve the heritage of railroading through intricate miniature representations of California railroads. As the only accredited model railroad museum in the country, it stands as one of the nation’s largest hubs celebrating the artistry, craftsmanship, and imagination behind model railroading. Inside the museum, guests can immerse themselves in indoor activities in San Diego, discovering the rich history of model railroading while marveling at the intricate details of the exhibits. Notably, in the 1930s, pioneer model railroader Minton Cronkhite played a pivotal role in designing and constructing several scale model railroads, including a remarkable exposition O scale model railroad in Balboa Park.

Things To Do at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum

The Tehachapi Pass: This layout is the museum’s crown jewel, featuring a realistic recreation of the Tehachapi Loop, a famous railroad engineering marvel. Visitors can watch trains climb the loop, pass through tunnels, and cross bridges, all in stunning detail.

The Toy Train Gallery: This whimsical exhibit is a delight for children and adults alike. It features a variety of classic toy trains, including Lionel sets, and even has a “Choo-Choo cam” mounted on one of the trains, so visitors can experience a train ride from the engineer’s perspective.

The Centennial Railway Garden: This layout is a delightful representation of Balboa Park in miniature, complete with the park’s most iconic landmarks. It’s a great way to see the park from a different perspective and learn about its history.

The San Diego and Arizona Eastern HO Scale Layout: This layout features a recreation of the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway, which operated in Southern California from 1882 to 1953. Visitors can see trains travel through mountains, deserts, and even a drive-in movie theater.

The O Scale Layout: This layout showcases the San Diego and Eastern Railroad, which operated in San Diego County from 1885 to 1942. Visitors can see trains travel through the city of San Diego, as well as the surrounding countryside.

Whaley House exterior and couple

Whaley House

The Whaley House, an iconic landmark in San Diego, stands as a testament to mid-19th-century Greek Revival architecture. Constructed in 1857 by Thomas Whaley himself, it was a groundbreaking achievement as the city’s first two-story brick building, crafted from bricks produced in Whaley’s own brickyard. Born in New York City in 1823 to a Scots-Irish family, Thomas Whaley sought new opportunities in California during the gold rush era. Settling in San Diego after marrying Anna Eloise Delaunay in 1853, they moved into their newly built home on August 22, 1857, marking the beginning of a rich history for the Whaley family.

Constructed on the site of one of San Diego’s first public gallows, the Whaley House served multiple purposes over the years, embodying the dynamic history of 19th-century California. Originally the Whaley family’s residence, it also housed a general store, San Diego’s second county courthouse, and the city’s first commercial theater, the Tanner Troupe Theatre. Despite experiencing several tragedies during the family’s residency, the Whaley House retained its significance in San Diego’s history. In 1960, it transitioned into a Historic House Museum, preserving its architecture, furnishings, and storied history for future generations. Today, visitors can explore the Whaley House, experiencing its history firsthand while delving into its ghostly reputation, which attracts paranormal enthusiasts from around the world, adding an extra layer of intrigue to this historic site.

Tours of the Whaley House

Embark on an unforgettable journey through America’s Most Haunted House® with the Whaley House’s diverse tour options. Choose the self-guided Daytime Tour for a leisurely exploration, or opt for the Evening Guided Tour to delve into the property’s intriguing history and supernatural lore led by experienced guides. For those seeking a thrill, the After Hours Paranormal Investigation offers an immersive experience, complete with ghost-hunting equipment and chilling tales of paranormal encounters. Dive deeper into the mysteries of the Whaley House and explore the Greek Revival architecture and authentic decor while discovering original antiques and furniture. Don’t miss out on the Whaley House’s Special Events throughout the year, providing indoor activities in San Diego that offer a unique perspective on this iconic haunted landmark.

Fleet Science Center

Fleet Science Center

Established in 1973, the Fleet Science Center in San Diego, California, is a science museum and planetarium known for its innovative approach. It was the first to combine interactive science exhibits with a planetarium and an IMAX Dome theater, setting the standard for many science museums today. Their mission is to connect San Diego residents to the power of science and its potential to create a better future.

The Fleet Science Center offers a variety of educational and engaging experiences for visitors of all ages. Explore interactive exhibits like “Kid City,” a play area for young children, or “Studio X,” where you can experiment with art and technology. Immerse yourself in the wonders of the universe with “The Sky Tonight” planetarium show, or catch an educational film on the giant dome screen of the IMAX Dome Theater.

Things To Do at the Fleet Science Center

The Fleet Science Center features a plethora of interactive exhibitions and activities designed to engage visitors of all ages. One of the main attractions is the IMAX Dome Theater, which offers an immersive 360-degree cinematic experience. Visitors can watch educational films that transport them to the depths of the ocean, the far reaches of space, or into the microscopic world of cells. The films change regularly, so there’s always something new to discover.

For younger visitors, “Kid City” is a must-visit. This interactive play area is designed for children aged five and under, providing hands-on activities that stimulate learning through play. Children can explore the “Little Learners Lab,” the “Fire Station,” the “Ball Wall” and the “Grocery Store,” all of which foster curiosity and creativity.

Another unique attraction is the “Pulseworks VR Transporter,” an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience that combines motion seat technology and VR headsets for an unforgettable journey. Whether you’re flying through space or diving deep into the ocean, the Pulseworks VR Transporter offers a thrilling sensory adventure.

At “Studio X,” visitors can become scientists for a day. This hands-on lab offers daily scientific experiments and demonstrations, allowing visitors to experience the excitement of scientific discovery firsthand. And, of course, there’s the plethora of rotating and permanent exhibits that cover a wide range of scientific disciplines. From learning about climate change in “Weather Wonders” to exploring the physics of “Don’t Try This at Home,” the Fleet Science Center’s exhibits are sure to spark curiosity and ignite a passion for science and discovery.

Museum of Contemporary Art

Museum of Contemporary Art

Founded in the early 1950s by a group of forward-thinking individuals, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) has evolved into a premier cultural institution in San Diego. Originally established as the Art Center in La Jolla, the museum underwent several name changes over the years to better reflect its focus and mission. In the early 1970s, it became known as the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, with a commitment to showcasing artworks from 1950 to the present day. This shift in focus marked a significant milestone in the museum’s journey, solidifying its dedication to contemporary art.

In 1990, another name change occurred, rebranding the institution as the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art. However, due to confusion with another local museum, the name was once again modified to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Throughout its history, MCASD has remained committed to providing engaging indoor activities that promote contemporary art and spark meaningful conversations. From thought-provoking exhibitions to interactive workshops and educational programs, the museum offers visitors a dynamic and immersive experience that celebrates the diversity and innovation of contemporary art. With its rich history and ongoing dedication to artistic excellence, MCASD continues to be a beacon of creativity and inspiration in the San Diego community.

Things To Do at the Museum of Contemporary Art

The MCASD’s permanent collection features over 4,700 works of art from 1950 to the present, with a focus on art from California, Mexico, and the Pacific Rim.

Highlights of the collection include:

James Turrell, “Raemar (Blue)” (1968): This immersive light installation is a signature piece by James Turrell, a pioneer in the field of light and space art. Visitors enter a darkened chamber and experience a shifting, blue-light environment that alters their perception of space and form.

Ellsworth Kelly, “White on Black” (1967): This large-scale painting by Ellsworth Kelly exemplifies his minimalist style, characterized by the use of simple geometric forms and bold colors.

Richard Diebenkorn, “Ocean Park #46” (1971): This painting is part of Diebenkorn’s famed “Ocean Park” series, which depicts the landscape of California’s Pacific Coast. The abstract shapes and vibrant colors evoke the energy and beauty of the ocean.

Alexander Calder, “Mobile” (1951): The MCASD has a significant collection of works by Alexander Calder, one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. This mobile, with its colorful, abstract forms, is a beautiful example of Calder’s kinetic sculptures, which are designed to move and interact with the surrounding space.


What are the best things to do in San Diego with kids on a rainy day?

San Diego offers a range of exciting indoor activities for kids on a rainy day. The San Diego Natural History Museum and the Birch Aquarium at Scripps are great picks for young nature enthusiasts, offering engaging and educational exhibits. Little engineers will love the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, boasting impressive miniature train exhibits. Lastly, the Fleet Science Center is perfect for budding scientists, with its interactive displays and IMAX theater. These attractions ensure a fun-filled day, regardless of the weather.

What are the best historic attractions to visit in San Diego on a rainy day?

The USS Midway Museum and the Whaley House are excellent choices for a rainy day in San Diego. The former allows you to explore a historic aircraft carrier, while the latter, known as the most haunted house in America, offers intriguing ghost tours. Both provide fascinating insights into different facets of San Diego’s rich history.

What indoor spots in San Diego offer the best cultural experiences?

For those seeking the best cultural experiences indoors in San Diego, you’re in for a treat. The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego stands out as a beacon of modern art, offering a diverse range of thought-provoking exhibitions. The San Diego Museum of Art, nestled in the heart of Balboa Park, showcases masterpieces from around the world, providing a comprehensive look at various art movements and periods. The USS Midway Museum offers a slice of naval history and maritime heritage, allowing visitors to step aboard an actual aircraft carrier.

Where in San Diego can I find engaging indoor science and technology exhibits?

For an exceptional indoor science and technology experience in San Diego, the Fleet Science Center is unmatched. Situated in the picturesque Balboa Park, this museum is a hub of interactive science exhibitions and workshops complemented by awe-inspiring planetarium shows. Covering diverse scientific topics from chemistry to space exploration, it offers an educational adventure for visitors of all ages.

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