5 must-see San Diego visual arts experiences


Art has the power to broaden one’s perspectives, but to do that, it requires reflective thinking and a bit of effort.

San Diego is an amazing visual arts destination, full of opportunities to discover, but one must have an adventurous spirit in order to find these gems.

A collection of small neighborhoods waiting to be explored, the following arts venues were chosen to move you around the city in order to experience some of the very best art in the area. From well-established museums in Balboa Park to street-side murals, there is so much to see.

Balboa Park

There are 17 museums in Balboa Park and while they are not all art museums, a few rise above the rest. The sleek building that houses the Timken Museum of Art serves as an excellent foundation for a visit. The collection features masterworks by Rembrandt, perhaps the most well-known portraitist in Western art history, and Jacques-Louis David, the individual who was the most influential on 19th century academic art. These artists are staples of history and established a grounding for traditional notions and characteristics of what we consider art today.

From there, the San Diego Museum of Art continues this story of art with modern favorites, like American artists Stuart Davis, Wayne Thiebaud and Georgia O’Keeffe, who were part of challenging conservative notions of art making during the 20th century.

And lastly, the Mingei International Museum will offer something quite different and post-modern with its collection of practical items that are reclassified as art in the museum context.

Quint Gallery

San Diego does not have a central arts district — instead a number of influential galleries are spread throughout the city. Quint Gallery, one the premier venues for contemporary art, is an excellent example of this sprawling philosophy. Located just off Interstate 5 in Bay Ho, it’s adjacent to a surf and skateboard shop along with a host of warehouse companies. Yet, it’s ironically perfect for our Southern California lifestyle. It’s easy to park and visit one of its two exhibition spaces that feature new artists each month.

La Jolla art institutions and UCSD campus tour

As the media for making art expanded in the modern era, art became something you could see outside a gallery or museum. Murals of La Jolla is a great example of this extension. Established in 2010 by The Athenaeum and the La Jolla Community Foundation, it offers a number of impressive public arts projects throughout the village. Contemporary works by John Baldessari, Gajin Fujita and Ann Hamilton have made touring the village an adventure. In a similar vein, the campus of UC San Diego has become world-renowned for it contemporary art installations. The Stuart Collection facilitates site-specific works throughout the campus. From Do Ho Suh’s “Fallen Star” that appears crashed into the side of a building to Barbara Kruger’s “Another” inside the atrium of Price Center East, the works facilitate a dynamic dialogue with the science-savvy campus.

Chicano Park

Located underneath the Coronado Bridge, Chicano Park is an inspiring collection of installations, murals and community gardens. The explosion of form and color is overwhelming, and it’s not uncommon to see other artists and filmmakers working in the park because of the inspirational and powerful messages that adorn views in every direction. You won’t find any chain stores or coffee shops in this area because the surrounding neighborhood of Barrio Logan has made great efforts to keep small businesses by local residents. The authentic feel is unique as is the neighborhood history that made Chicano Park a reality.

Just a few blocks away from the park is an experimental center for the arts called Bread & Salt. The tall building is adorned with artwork and holds a number of art studios, exhibition spaces, in addition to organizing a number of events through the year. Bread & Salt serves as a space to further your own education in the arts as they continue to introduce artists to the community.

North Park street art

One of the most surprising ways to experience art is through plethora of street art that adorn the walls of our city. The neighborhood of North Park is particularly good at facilitating this type of work. With its abundance of alleys and walkable streets, the walls have attracted artists from around the world. Mixing commerce with the arts, North Park understands the power of the arts to change one’s perspective when simply walking down the street. This progression — moving art from inside a gallery or museum to the community — is part of the evolution of art history. In addition, it illustrates San Diego’s move toward becoming a contemporary arts venue.

San Diego is certainly one of the most beautiful cities in the United States, and its beauty is complimented by an abundance of visual arts spaces, museums, galleries and experiences that expand and broaden how we understand art. While there are many reasons to explore San Diego, it’s the arts scene evident in these locations that makes it a world-class destination.

G. James Daichendt is an art critic and dean of the colleges and professor of art history at Point Loma Nazarene University.